Prime suspect in US kidnapping is Jekyll-and-Hyde figure

Ariel Castro, prime suspect in the Cleveland kidnappings, emerged Wednesday as a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure, a musician who tinkered with cars in his back yard but also allegedly abused and beat his ex-wife and children for years.

With his brothers Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, the 52-year-old former school bus driver faced criminal charges over the decade-long disappearance of Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32.

The three women were freed Tuesday from a white two-story, four-bedroom house that Castro owned at 2207 Seymour Avenue in a diverse, lower-income class section of Cleveland crossed by Interstate freeways.

Clearly he was proud of his Puerto Rican heritage, flying the flag of the US Caribbean territory from the front porch.

Castro was the scion of a large family that had migrated after World War II from Yauco, a part of Puerto Rico famous for its coffee, to Cleveland, then an industrial power house by Lake Eire.

His father, Nona Castro, who died in 2004, ran a used car lot, while his uncle Julio "Cesi" Castro, 78, remains a pillar of the city's Hispanic community with the Caribe Grocery corner store he still runs.

On Seymour Avenue, Castro by and large had a good reputation.

"I've lived here a year. I barbecued with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot and listen to salsa music. You see where I'm coming from?" restaurant worker Charles Ramsey, the neighbor who helped Berry escape, told local television.

Ramsey also recalled seeing Castro out in the back yard playing with his dogs -- on his Facebook page, Castro's likes include "We Love Chinese Cresteds" -- and tinkering with cars and motorcycles.

Julio Castro, however, said his nephew isolated himself from his extended family after his father's death in 2004 -- the year DeJesus went missing, a year after Berry disappeared, and two years after Knight was last seen.

"Perhaps he was the type of person who was living two lives," he told CNN's Spanish channel.

In 2005, Castro's ex-wife Grimilda Figueroa, who died last year, alleged in a family court filing that Castro "frequently abducts" the couple's two daughters Emily and Arlene "and keeps them from (their) mother."

The same filing said Figueroa had suffered two broken noses, broken ribs, a knocked-out tooth, two dislocated shoulders and a blood clot in the brain, and demanded that a judge "keep (Castro) from threatening to kill" her.

The couple's son Anthony Castro, 31, a banker in Cincinnati, Ohio, told Britain's Daily Mail newspaper Tuesday that his mother moved herself and the three children out of the house in 1996 after years of violent abuse.

"I was beaten as well," he said. "We were never really close because of that and it was also something we never really talked about."

There is no indication that Castro was charged for domestic violence.

For 22 years, Castro drove school buses, but not without a number of incidents that ultimately led to his firing in November 2012 from a job that paid $18.91 a hour, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper reported.

In 2004, he left a special-education pupil alone in a parked bus while he grabbed a burger. In 2009 he was suspended for an illegal U-turn. In 2012 he improperly used a bus to go shopping, earning a second suspension.

The final straw came last year when he walked away from his vehicle at an elementary school two blocks from his home for a couple of hours "to rest," according to school board records.

After hours, Castro played bass guitar -- on his Facebook page he recently posted an image of a custom-made six-string bass -- with a popular local Latino band, Grupo Kanon, on and off for 15 years, the Plain Dealer reported.

"He could do the job, but he became increasingly defensive and unreliable in recent years," said band leader Ivan Ruiz, who knew Castro for about 20 years. "It was like he couldn't leave the house."

"He was a senile kind of person. A crazy kind of person. He was weird... He was always late for gigs and rehearsals. He always had to leave at the moment. I fired him last year."