By Matt Pearce
7:00 AM PDT, May 9, 2013
When three young women emerged from a Cleveland home Monday evening after being held captive for about a decade, neighbors were thunderstruck. Ariel Castro, 52, who owns the home and who faces kidnapping and rape charges, was known as a sunny face, someone who was good with children.
The neighborhood was shocked. But Fernando Colon wasn’t.
"The first thing I said was, 'I knew it, I knew it,' " Colon told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, adding: "He's a monster. He's the opposite of what people thought he was."
As the case gained worldwide attention, details were trickling out about the dungeon-like conditions in which Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, about 23, and Michelle Knight, 32, were purportedly imprisoned and abused.
A dark portrait of Castro also was emerging. Interviews and court documents detailed long-term, repeated allegations of manipulation and domestic abuse.
Castro and Colon were linked by a romantic partner, Grimilda Figueroa. According to Colon, that led to bad blood and trumped-up allegations of child molestation against him.
In 2004, the FBI questioned Colon about Gina DeJesus, who had vanished April 2 of that year. Colon told The Times that he’d met the girl once; DeJesus was friends with Colon’s stepdaughter, Arlene – Castro's daughter.
Shortly before taking a polygraph test at the FBI's Cleveland office, Colon said he suggested that the FBI look into Castro in connection with DeJesus' disappearance. On Wednesday, FBI officials said they had no written record that Colon had tipped them about Castro.
"I had my suspicions of him; I said to check him out," Colon, 48, told The Times. "And if they had, those girls never would have been in there that long; those girls would have been found."
According to court records and interviews, allegations of abuse against Ariel Castro began in the early 1990s. Castro had three daughters and a son with Grimilda Figueroa between 1981 and 1990. The pair never married. In 1993, Figueroa would say later, Castro attacked her at their home on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland.
Figueroa, who died last year, suffered a broken nose, broken ribs, a blood clot in her brain and two dislocated shoulders, in addition to losing a tooth, according to a court petition she filed against him.
In 1994, a Cuyahoga County grand jury was to hear the abuse allegations, but Figueroa failed to testify. In a sworn statement she gave a decade later – in connection with the child abuse charges against Colon – Figueroa said Castro saw her on the day she was to testify and offered her money and a car if she didn’t tell the grand jury about his beatings.
"He also told me, 'You know what will happen to you if you do testify,' " Figueroa said in the statement. "I knew that he would find me and assault me again. … I was unable to offer my testimony before the grand jury. I did not tell anyone about the threats."
The case against Castro was dropped.
A few months after the grand jury proceedings, Figueroa had surgery. In a later statement, she said he attacked her and kicked her in the head while she lay on the ground. At that point she moved out of the Seymour Avenue house and moved in with her mom. Castro, who had left the home, moved back in.
About that time, in 1995, she met Fernando Colon, who worked security at a hospital.
"When I saw her with the injuries and coming to the appointment … I offered her my help and said, 'If I offered you some help, would you take it?' She said yes," Colon told The Times in a phone interview Wednesday.
Figueroa eventually moved in with Colon, and their relationship blossomed. In 1997, Figueroa won full custody of daughters Emily and Arlene, and in 1998 she and Colon had a son. They did not marry.
Colon said Castro didn't like that Figueroa had left him.
"He was kind of upset about it, because I took the only thing he could control and abuse," Colon said. "He calmed down a little several years later. But between those years, we had many, many confrontations. … During one of our altercations, he said, 'One day I’m going to get you back, and I’m going to destroy your life.' "
That moment, Colon believes, came in summer 2004. A Cleveland Police Department detective told Colon he wanted to question him about allegations that he had sexually abused Castro’s daughters.
Colon and Figueroa said they were aghast at the daughters’ sudden claims.
"I am a stay-at-home mom," Figueroa said in December 2004. "I have never seen any inappropriate conduct between Fernando Colon and any of my children. If anything inappropriate had occurred, my daughters would have been quick to tell me."
Both suspected the girls’ father was manipulating them. Ariel Castro had taken a renewed interest in his daughter, Arlene, in June 2004 – two months after officials believe he kidnapped Arlene’s friend, Gina DeJesus.
"He would pick her [Arlene] up from school or from my home on Liberty Avenue," Figueroa said in a December 2004 statement. "He now contacts her by telephone quite often. Mr. Castro has also purchased Arlene a lot of clothing, [CDs], a Walkman and a cellphone. … Some of the clothing is inappropriate for her age and I will not let her wear it.” Castro also promised Emily a new SUV, Figueroa said.
Neither daughter has spoken to the media since their father’s arrest.
On Nov. 1, 2004, the girls’ stepfather, Colon, was indicted on 28 counts of rape, kidnapping and molestation, according to a Cuyahoga County indictment.
"Outside of the police station, Ariel Castro told me to go along with the complaints against Fernando Colon and he would buy me a new car," Figueroa said in the December statement. "I told him that I don’t need anything from him. Castro was laughing and excited. He told me that he [Colon] would know what it’s like to be on the other side of the badge. Castro then suggested that we all go out to dinner. Castro believes that we will be together again."
As the prosecution against Colon progressed, the Castro daughters moved away from Cleveland, and Castro resumed his threatening behavior, Colon said.
In August 2005, Figueroa requested a restraining order against Castro, saying he had threatened to kill her and her daughters three or four times through the course of the year.
The last threat came shortly before Colon's trial.
Figueroa said her daughters were getting cold feet about testifying, according to private investigator Chris Giannini, who employed Colon and helped his defense in the case. Giannini told The Times that the girls’ mother called him on Aug. 25, 2005, to say that Castro had threatened to kill her if the girls didn’t return to Cleveland to testify. She filed for a protection order against Castro a few days later.
Colon's case was heard without a jury, and he was represented by an attorney who is no longer a member of the bar.
Giannini told The Times he thought Castro, whom he interviewed before the trial, was untrustworthy, as was the girls’ testimony.
"Both daughters testified very vaguely. 'Yeah, Fernando touched me,' " Giannini said. "It was very vague; it was so vague it was unbelievable."
Castro testified against Colon; but his son, Anthony, and Figueroa testified for Colon, according to Colon and Giannini.
Colon's court-appointed attorney was Robert A. Ferreri, who had been admitted to Ohio’s state bar in 1980 but suspended twice, in 1999 and 2000, according to documents on the Ohio Supreme Court's website. In 2011, Ferreri resigned from the law as he faced further discipline. According to court documents, his resignation is "unconditional, final and irrevocable." Ferreri could not be reached for comment.
The judge aquitted Colon of most of the charges, but convicted him of four counts of gross sexual imposition. He was sentenced to three years of supervised community control and had to register as a sex offender.
"I absolutely thought that I was going to win," Colon said. "It was heartbreaking for me, because I knew my life practically was over. So I was really upset and hurt at the same time."
On the day of sentencing, Colon said, he learned that Figueroa was relocating to Fort Wayne, Ind., where her children had moved. The pair broke up soon afterward.
Now, Colon said, he is unemployed and can’t get work because of his conviction.
"Nobody wants to get me for any type of job," he said.
The family's problems continued.
In 2006, Emily Castro had a baby, and in April 2007, she slashed the 11-month-old girl’s throat, fearing that her sisters and mother were having affairs with her boyfriend, according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.
"She didn’t think straight," Figueroa testified at her daughter’s trial, the newspaper reported. "She would think things about people that wasn’t true, paranoid."
The baby, Janyla, survived and recovered. In 2008, Emily Castro was convicted of attempted murder and battery and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Four years later, Figueroa died at 48. The cause or location of her death were not mentioned in her obituary.
During this whole period, officials believe, Ariel Castro continued to keep three women captive, as well as a child born to one of them in his home.
Castro took a shine to Facebook, where, according to an account bearing his name and photograph, he posted upbeat updates and chatted with family members.
Among other posts, on April 22, Castro shared an image with text that read: "A real woman will not use their child as a weapon to hurt the father when the relationship breaks down. Do not lose site of the fact that it is the child that suffers. Share or like if you agree."
Alana Semuels in Cleveland and Ari Bloomekatz in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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