Ariel Castro: Shocking side of American fragmentation?

Ariel Castro Kidnaps Three Women for Over a Decade

Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Date of Arrest: 05/06/2013

Ruo Piao Chen and Steven Worthington


The Ariel Castro case, first erupted on May 6, 2013, instantly became a subject of great debate among the American community, receiving significant press coverage and social media uproar. Castro was a 53-year old school bus driver living in Cleveland, Ohio, charged for the kidnapping and rape of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. The victims were rescued after being forcibly kept in his house for over a decade. Castro was able to constrain the three women inside his house for so long in such a crowded neighborhood partially because his extreme privatization of space was not considered alarming by his neighbors. The traditional American value of individualism led to the fragmentation of the neighborhood, both socially and within the urban landscape. This fragmentation debilitated effective communication between residents of Castro’s neighborhood, allowing him mobility in carrying out his crime.

2207 Seymour Ave (Castro’s house)
after the case was uncovered.

American society was founded on the principles of personal freedom and self-governance. These firmly established principles have led to the identification of the United States as the most individualistic country in the world. Beginning with the Declaration of Independence, America’s extensive political documentation focused on individual rights. This avid pursuit of individualism led to an obsessive fixation for personal privacy. Today, we see a nation of people molded by these documents: a nation of antisocial people with personal ambitions. Even the concept of a suburb, a response to densely populated urban areas, derived itself from the individualistic ideal of the American Dream. Whilst countries promoting collective identity developed communal housing in the the early to mid 1900s, The U.S. developed the suburban archetype, where residents lived in their independent, fenced-off plots of land. Many European countries, which at the time were governed by Socialism, developed communal housing units such as the Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles, France and the Narkomfin Building in Moscow, Russia. These community-centered housing units demonstrate a collective society, where each person has an active role within the community. The constituents of a collective community cooperate, support, and interact effectively with each other. This constructed unity is facilitated by design choices such as communal kitchens and social spaces. In collective societies found in Asia and South America, unity and the idea of the brotherhood supercede individual goals and independence. People identify as part of a larger system: “We” instead of as “I”.

The Narkomfin building in Moscow is an example of communal housing, different from American standards of living

Not only was America founded on individualism, but some parts of the country such as Cleveland has developed extreme privatization of personal space. New technology fulfilling our social needs (if a bit falsified over the Internet) almost eliminated the need for dependence and physical interaction between neighbors. Ariel Castro was able to evade judicial attention for so long because of the normalization of antisocial behavior. The American tradition of having a clear separation between public and private lives resulted in a complete privatization of the domestic space. One of Castro’s neighbors, Juan Perez, remarked, “We know everyone but still keep to ourselves.” Perez was not able to detect any suspicious behavior even from someone who lived two doors down from him because of the veil of social privacy. Perez also remarked, “We stick to family. There are some shady people you don’t know about.” Perez’s statement implies that any suspicious behavior should be left unchecked, effectively stifling dialogue between residents. This statement is problematic because the Castro case could have been uncovered sooner had the neighborhood watch been vigilant. He was even caught on security camera at Gina DeJesus’ school when he executed his crimes. Ariel Castro was not a meticulous criminal who was able to cover all the tracks of his crimes. However, because Castro’s neighbors on Seymour Avenue fear consequences that may result in meddling (in part due to Cleveland’s drug crime rates), their superficial concern for neighborhood wellness turned into fuel for more antisocial activity. A lack of collective identity in Castro’s neighborhood attributed to the successful completion of the crime, which had lasted over a decade since the first kidnapping of Michelle Knight in 2003.

The domestic space as the pinnacle of privacy in American society is free to be manipulated without viable objections from neighbors. After Ariel Castro’s acts were revealed, police began investigating his house in an attempt to find answers. They found that Castro had made several modifications to his house, effectively transforming the interior of his house into a prison. He attached chains to his bedroom walls and fortified the locks on entryways. Not only did the amendments facilitate the captivity of the women, but they allowed Castro to have a constant surveillance of the women and of his property. A mirror in the backyard allowed him to view his driveway without being seen. Furthermore, he covered his windows and sections of his fence surrounding his backyard. He was able to blend in with his surroundings because his neighborhood was relatively unkempt and in a poor state. Community standards and a collective care for the neighborhood might have raised more suspicion regarding Castro’s day-to-day behavior because such amendments might not have been accepted or gone unnoticed.

Model of Ariel Castro’s house, as presented in court.

Not only is there is a lack of effective communication between families in Castro’s neighborhood, but urban planning contributed to physical fragmentation on a larger scale. According to Cleveland City Planning Commission, there is currently a very small percentage of multi-family homes in the Tremont. Single-family homes are divided by retail or institutional space, effectively creating a suburban environment in the heart of Cleveland. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, the city of Cleveland suffered a major population decline from 2002. Therefore, the lack of neighborhood identity can partially be attributed to the dysfunctional division of the block in terms of program.

A program map of Castro’s neighborhood showing fragmentation of urban planning.


As demonstrated by the Castro case, Both the traditional cultural value of American individualism and the ineptness of the neighborhood to function as a community fueled the concealment of such a heinous crime for so long. Ariel Castro was not an ingenious villain who planned his each and every criminal move meticulously. On several occasions, Castro had been caught on security cameras, alluded to the case to neighbors, and even called Amanda Berry’s mother to tell her that her daughter as “okay.” In response to being recorded on camera, Castro himself said to authorities: “You could have broke the case right then and there.” This case not only demonstrated major holes in the American value system, but also ones in the areas of domestic development, urban planning, and even politics. Perhaps this case, as gruesome and horrifying as it was, suggests new paths to take for both the Cleveland City Planning Commission and the locals  in the neighborhood of Seymour, Ohio.


The video below demonstrates architecture students’ opinions of communities and responsibilities within them.

Shot by: Steven Worthington and Ruo Piao Chen

Students compare and contrast their living experiences both on-campus (either in dorms or apartments) and off-campus. Many students feel as though there is no need to be heavily involved in neighborhoods, and that it’s best to keep to yourself. One architecture student suggests that more community involvement will lead to better development.


Image courtesy of Fox News Latino, May 10 2013.




Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Associated Press, “During FBI Interrogation Ariel Castro Claimed That Police Missed Several Chances To Catch Him,” Business Insider (September 6, 2013).


Welsh-Huggins uses snippets of conversation between Castro and the police to provide a rough self-portrait of the kidnapper. In the article, Castro does not claim to have done anything for which he has to take responsibility, and even indirectly blames the police for not catching him sooner/ This article also brings into question the inadequacy of the police force in the United States today. What if the police was more alert or security was more aware of the clues (if any) dropped by Castro? Is well-trained public servicemen the key in preventing similar cases in the future? The author seems to be indirectly attacking the system of public safety by only releasing facts that support his argument. Although any journalistic approach on the situation is likely to be highly tailored for the sake of readership and dramatized to achieve the maximum amount of emotional impact on a specific audience, this article nonetheless drops clues into Castro’s psychological state, which is critical in understanding the case as a combination of landscape, domestic, and psychological factors.


Pamela Engel “Inside the House Where Cleveland Kidnapper Ariel Castro Held 3 Women For A Decade,” Business Insider (August 1, 2013).


The Engel article gives incredible insight into the layout of Ariel Castro’s house, the site of both the retaining and detaining of his three victims. There are images in this article of personal amendments he made to his house, such as the installation of chains for the purposes of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. Not only does this article walk through the house from the outside to an orthographic model used in Castro’s prosecution, but is very thorough in investigating the house at different scales. This source provides key images that elucidate the actual conditions of the case, and grounds the case based on visual and visceral circumstances.


Timothy Williams and Michael Schwirtz, “Death in Prison of Man Who Held Ohio Women Captive Prompts Investigations,” The New York Times (September 4, 2013).


The Times always does fantastic coverage outlining the facts of the case with little obvious intent of historical distortion. This article covers the suicide of Ariel Castro by highlighting a series of chronological events leading up to the case. The article provides key details about Castro’s behavior in jail as well as his actions prior to conviction. It also gives biographical information about Castro’s personal history, painting a rather standard ex post facto portrait of his twisted character.


Encyclopedia Entries


Lukes, Steven M. Encyclopedia Brittanica, 8th ed., s.v. “Individualism.” Chicago: Enyclopedia Britannica, 2009.

This encyclopedia entry sheds light on the term “American individualism,” a political concept that was present since the founding of America as a nation. It explains the historical context under which the term was first created, and its influence in society today. This entry is especially important in understanding the driving factor behind Castro’s successful concealment of his crimes for so long.


Jakobi, Anja P. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization, s.v. “human trafficking.” 2012.

This entry is important in defining human trafficking. It demonstrates that the Castro case was not a case of human trafficking because he did not commercialize the women, but used them for his own purposes. The entry establishes important distinctions between the two that would otherwise be confusing to navigate in terms of the case.


Scholarly Articles


Margaret Marsh, “From Separate to Togetherness: The Social Construction of Domestic Space in American Suburbs, 1840-1915,” The Journal of American History, Vol 76, No. 2 (Sep., 1989), pp. 506-527.


This article is important in establishing a set of historical ground rules that define traditional American domestic space. The gendered domestic space came from a combination of domesticity from the family-centered traditional female value with the suburban focus of masculine ideals. In order to understand Castro’s case on a deeper level of gender subjugation, prior knowledge of domestic space is required.


Michele Elliott, “Child sex abuse prevention: What offenders tell us,” Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 19, Issue 5 (May 1995), pp. 579-594.


This article is a compilation of interviews with ninety-one child sex offenders, giving insight to the methods and psychological states of criminals similar to Ariel Castro. This article provides a large collection of other people to which Ariel Castro can be compared. By analyzing the similarities and differences between cases, we can derive a deeper understanding of Castro’s personal motivations and further understand the construction of landscape near and around his house.


Orthographic Documentation


Ariel Castro Model Home. Photograph. August 1, 2013. Accessed September 7, 2013. photos-show-inside-of-ariel-castros-home-2013-8.


A photograph of a model of Ariel Castro’s house shows the room partitions and general layout

of the house. Castro’s prosecutors used the model to explain how and where Castro kept the kidnapped women against their will, hidden, for over a decade.


Video and Audio

“See inside house where where women were found.” Video file, 2:49. May 7, 203. Accessed September 10, 2013.

This video generates understanding of the geographical relationship between Castro’s house and where the three women were kidnapped. A crudely made Sketch-up model of his house is presented, suggesting possible areas where he could have kept the women: either in the second floor bedrooms or chained up in the basement. This video is important in establishing connection between the nature of the crime and the site linked to that crime.


“Cleveland Kidnapper’s ‘House of Horrors’ Destroyed.” Video file, 00:34. August 7, 2013. Accessed September 7, 2013.

The video shows the demolition of Castro’s house, an event open to public viewing, symbolizing the removal of painful experiences through physical action of demolishing a house completely rids it of evidence and covers up what further clues can be used to deduct his abnormal behavior.

the end of the victim’s suffering. The house, labeled “the house of horrors”, was also erased from Google’s street view. This demonstrates both a symbolism in demolition as well as an ironic idea of censorship.


“What neighbors suspected in Cleveland.” Video file. Posted May 7, 2013. Accessed September 7, 2013.


This video begins to examine the neighborhood and neighbors of Ariel Castro. Many neighbors did not suspect anything and took Ariel Castro as a normal enough neighbor. Others, however, saw suspicious activities on Castro’s property. Some neighbors called the police. As with much other journalism on this case, the overbearing question here is, how did Castro keep 3 women captive for over a decade with little to no speculation from his community and neighborhood?

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