For up to 11 years, Ariel Castro held three women captive in his home – chaining, raping and beating them after abducting them from the streets of Ohio.
When finally his turn came to be a prisoner, he lasted just 33 days of his 1,000-year sentence before taking his own life.
An inquiry was under way yesterday at the prison where Castro, 52, was found hanging in his cell late on Tuesday night.
His death represented the final chapter in a horror story that began with the kidnap of single mother Michelle Knight, 21, in 2002, followed by Amanda Berry, 16, a year later and Gina DeJesus, 14, in 2004.
It was not until May of this year that their ordeals became known, after Miss Berry – who gave birth to a daughter by Castro during her captivity – broke through the front door of the house in Cleveland, Ohio, and called police. Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts of rape, kidnapping, assault and aggravated murder in July.
“I guess this is how it needed to be…maybe this is for the best,” said his cousin, Maria Castro Montes, after hearing the news yesterday.
She added: “We just need to close this chapter of our lives, and hopefully those girls can heal and move on. There’s only one person’s justice now and that’s his Lord and he’s got to meet Him now and he’s got to do his explaining. That’s the final judge and jury.”
Castro had been in protective custody – held alone in a cell and checked on by prison guards every 30 minutes – but had not been placed on suicide watch, despite his lawyer, Craig Weintraub, having voiced fears that he may try to take his own life.
Officials at the Correctional Reception Centre in Orient, Ohio, where Castro was serving his sentence, had refused a request from Mr Weintraub for the inmate to be assessed by a forensic psychologist, two weeks before he killed himself.
“I know most of Greater Cleveland will be looking on this as a joyous day, but for his family it is anything but,” said Mr Weintraub. “He’s still a human being. This is still a civilised society. There’s still an obligation to prevent our inmates from committing suicide.”
Castro’s three victims declined to comment on news of his death.
Ms Knight, the first of his victims, was snatched in 2002. While on her way to her social worker’s office she got lost and walked into a shop to ask for directions. Castro offered to show her the way – but instead drove her to his house, dragged her into his basement, chained her up and placed a motorcycle helmet on her head. “Days turned into nights. Nights turned into days. Years turned into an eternity,” Miss Knight, now 32, told Castro during his sentencing hearing in July.
He got her pregnant five times during her time in captivity, but forced her to miscarry by punching her in the stomach and starving her.
“I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning. I will live on, but you will die a little every day as you think of the 11 years of atrocities you inflicted on us,” Miss Knight said during her victim-impact address in court.