A week ago, when Ariel Castro admitted his guilt and signed a plea agreement, one of the document’s 41 sections specified that he had to forfeit his house and give money to pay for its destruction.
With that deal in hand, the authorities in Cleveland began Wednesday to tear down the rundown three-storey building at 2207 Seymour Ave. where Mr. Castro had repeatedly abused three young women as he held them captive for the past decade.
Amid cheers and applause, the demolition began with an aunt of Gina DeJesus, one of the victims, at the controls of an excavator as she took the first hacks at the house’s top floor.
Taking a wrecking-ball to a building that was the scene of a horrible crime is partly a healing act to erase the stigma of the place, partly a move to ward off curiosity seekers, memorabilia collectors and other aficionados of the ghoulish.
Even Google has been involved in wiping away the Castro house from the public eye. The building is blurred out in Google Streetview.
Gus Frangos, the president of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, which had acquired the Castro property, has said the demolition crew had been instructed to make sure no debris would be left at the scene.
The rubble will be carted away and pulverized.
“We are taking a lot of precautions trying to keep … scavengers from getting the material,” Mr. Frangos told the Cleveland Plains Dealer.
Cleveland has had experience with this problem in the past.
Two years ago, the city razed the house of Anthony Sowell, who had been convicted of killing 11 women and keeping their bodies inside and around the two-storey building. But already, in previous months, a collectors’ website had sold soil samples from the property’s yard, at $25 for one-gram bags.
The site, which trades in what some call “murderabilia,” offers for example a handwritten letter by serial killer Ted Bundy for $3,000 (it is sold with a certificate of authenticity). A signed painting of Walt Disney’s Seven Dwarfs by John Wayne Gacy goes for $1,375.
In Ontario, similar concerns about unsavoury attention led to the destruction of the house where Paul Bernardo tortured, raped and killed the schoolgirls Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, in the Port Dalhousie section of St. Catharines, Ont.
For nearly three years after his arrest, the house sat vacant, drawing vandals and gawkers. It was torn down in 1995. A new residence was eventually built on the site, with a new street number.
In British Columbia, Robert Pickton’s Port Coquitlam pig farm was razed in 2003, even as he waited for his trial on 27 charges of first-degree murder. The families of dozens of missing women whose remains were discovered on the farm were invited to watch as the buildings were torn down, an event one relative said felt like a “cleansing.”
More recently, the cottage in Tweed, Ont., where sex predator Russell Williams strangled to death Jessica Lloyd (one of the two women he killed), was sold to his neighbours. They said they might destroy it, and have pledged to keep the property out of the public eye. The sale will also help settle lawsuits filed by another victim of Mr. Williams’s sexual assaults.
Back in Cleveland, the destruction of Mr. Castro’s house will also bring financial benefits to his victims.
As part of the 18-page agreement that he signed when he pleaded guilty, Mr. Castro transferred ownership of his house to the Cuyahoga Land Bank and forfeited more than $22,000 for use in securing and demolishing the property.
Because the contractor who razed the house volunteered to do it free, the $22,000 will be turned over to the Cleveland Courage Fund, which was set up to help support his three victims.