Cleveland horror: parallels with kidnap of Jaycee Lee Dugard

May 8, 2013
Nigel Horne

Nigel Horne on the links between Seymour Avenue and the case of a Californian woman rescued in 2009

Getty Images

JAYCEE LEE DUGARD, the American girl abducted at 11 and held captive for 18 years in the backyard of Phillip Garrido's home in Antioch, California, has sent a message of support to the three women rescued from a house in Cleveland, Ohio on Monday after a decade in captivity.

In a statement issued through her publicist, Dugard said the human spirit was resilient, and that the discovery of the three young women so long after their disappearance reaffirms that people whose family members go missing should never give up hope.

Although Jaycee Dugard was incarcerated for much longer than the Cleveland trio, the parallels between the two cases are revealing.

Like the three Cleveland women - Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Wright - Dugard vanished off a suburban street. In her case, it was on the other side of America, in South Lake Tahoe, California in 1991.

What was different was that Dugard was actually seen being picked up by her kidnappers. Her stepfather, Carl Probyn, was watching her walk down the road to catch the school bus when a couple in a car – identified years later as Phillip and Nancy Garrido – performed a sudden U-turn, pulled up alongside Jaycee, grabbed her and sped off. Probyn tried to give chase on his bicycle – but within seconds his stepdaughter had disappeared.

When Dugard was eventually discovered in 2009, she was found to have had two children conceived by rape.

We do not yet know for sure how the three Cleveland women might have suffered in this regard, but police have confirmed that Amanda Berry now has a daughter aged six, called Jocelyn, who was conceived during her mother's incarceration. There are also reports that at least five babies were born in the Cleveland house to the kidnap victims. First reports suggest that none of these other babies survived because their mothers were beaten while pregnant.

Like the Cleveland women, Dugard might have been rescued earlier if authorities had been more assiduous. In Dugard's case, it transpired after her release that Garrido was a registered sex offender on lifetime parole for a 1976 rape case in Nevada. In 1999, the case was taken over by Californian authorities who were supposed to check on Garrido regularly.

But records show that in the course of one year - from June 2001 to July 2002 - he was never visited at all. When parole agents did visit periodically in other years they never asked to see inside Garrido's house and garden, despite commenting in their written reports that he "acted real weird" and displayed "real strange behaviour".

In the Cleveland case, we now know that the police visited 2207 Seymour Avenue twice – once in response to Ariel Castro complaining about neighbours and on another occasion to ask him about an alleged incident of child abduction, after he had driven his school bus around town for two hours with a small boy in the back rather than dropping him off.

If police had entered Castro's home on either of these occasions and seen the padlocked doors now described by his son, Anthony Castro, the three women might have been rescued in 2004.

In short, both cases suggest a lack of care on behalf of the police and social authorities for Americans living unconventional lives in relative poverty.

As Charles Laurence reported at the time of Jaycee Dugard's rescue, the area of Antioch where Phillip Garrido hid her in a sound-proofed shed in his backyard is the "boondocks" - the sort of area people go to disappear.

Seymour Avenue, Cleveland is not the boondocks, but it is a working-class district of a city with an above-average unemployment rate of 9.5 per cent where the recession has taken its toll.

Some houses have been foreclosed for non-payment of loans and city levies – including number 2207 where, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ariel Castro owed $2,501 in unpaid taxes on a house valued last year at $36,100. Other houses are in a poor state because owners have little money to spend on repairs. Broken windows are sometimes simply boarded over, broken doors go unmended.

There are rundown streets like Seymour Avenue in cities across America. In the most severe cases, it is hard to know whether a house is being lived in or not – and if it is, what horrors it might harbour.

Sign up for our daily newsletter