Imagine being snatched off the street, taken to someone’s house and held captive for years – sometimes over a decade. Beaten, chained and abused...
Whenever a long-term abduction hits the headlines, the world is stunned.
Thankfully, wicked cases like these are rare – but they never get any less shocking.
Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus
To the outside world, Ariel Castro was an outgoing, friendly school bus driver living in Cleveland, Ohio. But until 2013, what the world didn’t know was that he was an abductor, a rapist and a torturer to three girls he’d snatched from the streets.
In 2002, Castro lured Michelle Knight, 21, to his house, and detained her. A year later, he kidnapped Amanda Berry, 16. And in 2004, Gina DeJesus, 14, was abducted after accepting a lift home from Castro.
He held the three girls in two rooms inside his house, chained them, beat them and raped them. In order to prevent their escape, he blocked the windows with boards, created a makeshift alarm system, removed doorknobs and installed locks.
One rape committed against Amanda Berry resulted in her falling pregnant. Amanda’s baby was delivered by Michelle in their dingy room. But it was her daughter, at age 6, who would be the women’s saviour.
On 6 May 2013, the child said to her mother: ‘Daddy’s car is gone.’
Castro had gone, leaving the bedroom doors unlocked. Amanda fled downstairs, broke part of a door and yelled for help. A neighbour gave her a mobile phone. ‘I’ve been missing for 10 years,’ she told authorities.
All the victims received medical treatment, were reunited with loved ones and given support to rebuild their lives.
Castro appeared in a Cleveland courtroom in August 2013 and pleaded guilty to 937 charges. He was sentenced on 1 August 2013 to life without parole – plus 1,000 years.
Castro told the court: ‘I’m not a monster, I’m a normal person.’ One month later, he was found dead in his cell. It seems he was unable to tolerate even a fraction of the hell of captivity that he’d inflicted on three innocent girls.
On 2 March 1998, 10-year-old Natascha Kampusch was walking to school in Vienna. Suddenly, a man stopped and bundled her into the back of a van.
Everything happened very fast, she later wrote in her autobiography.
For the next eight years, Natascha was imprisoned in a cell beneath her abductor Wolfgang Priklopil’s suburban home.
During the early years, she reports that she was treated well. But when she reached puberty, she says Priklopil ‘started treating me as if I were dirty and disgusting’, and would kick and punch her.
She was allowed upstairs to do housework – always semi-naked to keep her from escaping.
At 14, she spent the night above ground for the first time. Priklopil tied her wrists with plastic cuffs. When she reached 15, the beatings became even more frequent. Sometimes up to 200 a week.
Natascha was held for 3,096 days…
In August 2006, she finally managed to escape while Priklopil was cleaning his car. Later the same day, the headless corpse of Wolfgang Priklopil, 44, was found on a railway line just outside the Austrian capital. He’d killed himself.
Some seven years after her escape, the Press reported that Natascha, then 25, still held complex feelings for Priklopil. She admitted for the first time that he’d raped her – but also that she’d bought his house and car, and she carried his photo with her.
Perhaps only Natascha can understand the troubled feelings she appears to have for her captor.
In March 1976, the town of Port Moody in Vancouver, Canada, was frantically searching for a missing child. Abby Drover, 12, had vanished on her way to school. While police combed the area, concerned locals took to the streets.
Among their number was a man who knew just where the young girl was. Donald Alexander Hay was a neighbour of the Drovers. But unbeknown to Abby’s family – and his own – he’d kidnapped her and was keeping her in a dungeon under his garage.
The gloomy 6x6ft room was entered by an obscured trap door. All Abby had inside was a damp, dirty mattress, a single light, a portable toilet and a sink. The hell hole was to be Abby’s home for six months.
Hay raped Abby, and she spent much of the time chained up. He only fed her biscuits and chocolate.
Upon rescue, she told police she’d kept her sanity by guessing whether it was day or night, and reading the books she’d had with her the day she was taken. Once she wrote a message to Hay, on pink paper, reading: I just wish you would be my friend.
But in August 1976, Hay’s wife called police to their home following a domestic disturbance. As the officers drove away, they spotted Hay climbing up from the dungeon, trousers round his ankles. And they heard a whining – Abby.
As she was rushed to hospital, Hay was arrested. ‘I thought I was helping her,’ he said. Hay was handed a life sentence for kidnap and having sex with a minor.
Meanwhile, Abby – reunited with her family – fought to live a normal life. By 2001, Hay was up for parole. ‘Please don’t let him out,’ Abby pleaded. Hay remained locked up until his death in 2006.