One neighbor remembered occasional late-night deliveries of groceries to the boarded-up shoebox of a house in a rough-edged West Side neighborhood here.
One neighbor says a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the back yard of the house a few years ago.
Still another said his sister had once seen a figure in an upstairs window, pounding on the glass.
On Tuesday, a stunned neighborhood learned that these were glimpses of a horrifying truth. For about a decade, police said, three women were imprisoned inside the home at 2207 Seymour Ave.
Those years of captivity ended late Monday when Amanda Berry, who had not been seen since she left her job at a Burger King on April, 21, 2003, when she was 17, appeared at the front door of the house, accompanied by a young child, and screamed, "I need help! I need help! I have been kidnapped for 10 years!"
After two neighbors freed her by kicking in the chained front door and helped her make an urgent call to 911, three men were arrested in connection with the case: Ariel Castro, 52, the owner of the house, and his brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50. Berry and the child, along with Gina DeJesus, who had disappeared while walking home from middle school in 2004, and Michelle Knight, who had vanished at age 20 in 2002, were treated at an area hospital and reunited with their families.
The case recalled other kidnappings, like that of Jaycee Dugard, who was held prisoner in California for 18 years; Elizabeth Smart, who spent nine months in torment after being grabbed from her bedroom in Salt Lake City by Brian David Mitchell; and six women who were snatched, held and tortured in Belgium in the mid-1990s.
"These are some of the most catastrophic kinds of experiences a human being can be subjected to," said Kris Mohandie, a forensic psychologist who has been a consultant in other long-term kidnapping cases.
The perpetrators of such crimes, Mohandie said, have been men "who have had longstanding fantasies of capturing, controlling, abusing and dominating women."
Such men, he said, use a perverse system of rewards and punishments to create fear and submission in their victims, who quickly lose all sense of self and become dependent on their captors. "Total control over another human being is what stimulates them," he said.
Angel Cordero, one of two men who helped Berry escape by kicking in the door, said that she appeared ragged — her clothes dirty, her teeth yellowed and her hair "messy" — and that the child with her looked "very nervous," as though she had never seen anything outside the house before.
At a news conference Tuesday, authorities pleaded that the three women, now in their 20s and early 30s, be given space to recover.
In eastern Tennessee, Berry's father, Johnny Berry, told WJHL-TV that he spoke to her for the first time Monday night by phone at his home in Elizabethton.
"She said, 'Hi, Daddy, I'm alive,'" Johnny Berry said. "She said, 'I love you, I love you, I love you,' and then we both started crying."
Meanwhile, neighborhood residents spent the day shaking their heads in disbelief over what the police said had taken place inside the house. Public records show that the property was in foreclosure and the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, Timothy J. McGinty, described it as in bad shape.
Neighbors said, however, that Ariel Castro appeared to be "a regular Joe" who chatted with families on their porches, waved hello in the street and invited neighbors to clubs where he played bass with several Latin bands.
"He was not a troublemaker," said Jovita Marti, 58, whose mother lives across the street from the house on Seymour Avenue.
But Zaida Delgado, 58, a family friend, said that Ariel Castro also had a darker side.
"There was something not right about him," she said. "He could be flakey and off the wall. He was also arrogant, like 'I am Mr. Cool, I am the best.' He had an attitude, like 'I am God's gift.' "
Some residents expressed anger at the police, who they said had not done enough to find the missing women.
"The Cleveland police should be ashamed of themselves," said Yolanda Asia, an assistant manager of a store that rents furniture and appliances. "These girls were five minutes away. They were looking for years and years; they were right under their nose."
In fact, one of the woman may have been a close friend of Ariel Castro's daughter, Arlene. She appeared on the Fox program America's Most Wanted in 2005 to talk about her "best friend," Gina DeJesus. Arlene Castro was identified on the program as the last person to have seen DeJesus before she disappeared and she recounted on the program how they had been walking home from school together that day.
Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter saw a naked woman crawling in the backyard several years ago and called police. "But they didn't take it seriously," she said.
Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of the house in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. "They walked to side of the house and then left," he said.
Julian Cesar Castro, an uncle of the three brothers who owns the Caribe Grocery on the corner of Seymour and W 25th Street, said he and his brother Julio, Ariel's father, had migrated from Puerto Rico.
Julio died in 2004, Julian Castro said. Ariel had a wife, Angie, and children but the marriage ended.
In recent years Ariel had grown more withdrawn, his uncle said. "It could have been because of the hiding personality," he said.
On Tuesday, a sign hung on a fence decorated with dozens of balloons outside the home of DeJesus' parents read "Welcome Home Gina." Her aunt Sandra Ruiz said her niece had an emotional reunion with family members.
"Those girls, those women are so strong," Ruiz said. "What we've done in 10 years is nothing compared to what those women have done in 10 years to survive."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.