When it comes to the most shocking crimes, the old saying is often true: "it's always the ones you least suspect." The friendly guy next door, the quiet IT tech, the old married couple you see at church every week: they all seem normal enough, but you never really know what’s going on in someone’s head – or in their homes. You could know someone that is keeping human captives locked up in their home right now and not even have a clue.
As absurd and fictional as things like “underground dungeons” and “soundproof bunkers” may sound, there really are crazy people out there who build these things for the sole purpose of storing human captives. This list contains some real cases of people who were held against their will and suffered greatly at the hands of lunatics that appeared normal to the outside world.
Cleveland Man Kept Three Women Captive for 10 Years
Between 2002 and 2004, Cleveland residents Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina "Gina" DeJesus all went missing after accepting a ride home from Ariel Castro. Castro lured each girl, restrained them, and locked them up in his basement, where they would suffer repeated rapes and beatings on a regular basis. To everyone in the neighborhood, Castro was just another guy, no one had any clue that he was keeping three girls captive in his home at 2207 Seymour Avenue (just three miles from the area where they were all abducted) for 10 years.
Amanda Marie Berry was barely 17 years old when Castro abducted her on April 21, 2003. On December 25, 2006, Amanda gave birth to a daughter that DNA evidence confirmed was fathered by Castro. Gina Lynn DeJesus was the youngest - she was just 14 years old when Castro abducted her on April 2, 2004. Twenty-one-year-old Michelle Knight spent her first few captive days tied to a bed without food. All three women were kept either chained up in the basement or tied up in the bedroom. Castro had also impregnated Michelle Knight at least five times, but she never gave birth because he would beat her with dumbbells, starve her, and slam her against walls, causing miscarriages.
All three women described being locked up in the dark for days only to be raped and emotionally abused by Castro once the door was finally opened. They were forced to use small, dirty, plastic toilets, they were only fed once a day, and only allowed to shower once, sometimes twice, a week.
It wasn’t until May 6, 2013, when Amanda Berry got the opportunity to escape with her six-year-old daughter. She was able to get the attention of neighbors and call the police from one of their homes. She identified herself as Amanda Berry, stating that she’d been missing for 10 years and had escaped. She sent Cleveland PD to Castro’s house to free the other two women.
Castro pled guilty to the kidnappings, 937 criminal counts of rape, and aggravated murder. He was given a life sentence (plus 1,000 years for good measure) but spent a whopping month in prison (under better conditions than his captives had been given) before he committed suicide. He was found hanging from a bed sheet noose in his cell.
Nobuyuki Satō Kept a Child Captive in His Mother's Apartment
In 1990, Nobuyuki Satō was 28 years old and sharing an apartment with his elderly mother. This apartment was a mere 200 yards away from a police station, and yet Satō was able to keep nine-year-old Fusako Sano locked up in an upstairs bedroom for nine years and two months without anyone knowing.
Sano endured repeated rapes, beatings, and “punishments” with a stun gun. Satō cut all her hair off and dressed her in men’s clothing. He often threatened her with knives to the point where she was terrified to try escaping even when he left doors unlocked.
At last, Satō’s mother called the police because she thought her son was suddenly acting very weird and aggressive towards her, and Fusako was finally found and rescued. Satō received a 14-year prison sentence.
Josef Fritzl Kept His Own Daughter Captive for 24 Years
In the rural town of Amstetten, Austria, 18-year-old Elisabeth Fritzl was reported missing by her father Josef Fritzl in 1984. But she wasn’t missing: her father, who had been sexually abusing her since she was 11 years old, had lured her into the cellar and locked her in. He forced her to write a runaway letter which he showed to her mother and police to convince everyone she was gone. Since she was 18 and the letter said not to look for her and that she had joined a cult, there wasn’t really much police could do. Fritzl kept his daughter in a windowless, completely soundproof prison beneath the home that was only accessible from a small door hidden in a cabinet.
He repeatedly raped and impregnated his daughter for 24 years and his wife, (Elisabeth’s mother) was clueless about all of it. In 1996, she delivered twins: only one of the babies survived, the other died from neglect while being kept down in the basement. Fritzl burned the dead infant’s body in his oven and left the surviving infante down there with Elisabeth. Elisabeth gave birth to a total of seven of her father’s children; three of the six surviving children were eventually brought upstairs to live in the main house. Fritzl told his wife Rosemarie that their runaway daughter had repeatedly dropped her children off on the doorstep for them to raise.
The other three children remained in the basement with Elisabeth, having never seen the light of day in their lives. Finally, one of them, Kerstin, got sick and fell unconscious. Fritzel lied to his wife once again, claiming their long-lost daughter returned to drop off another child for them to care for and that this one needed medical attention. They took Kerstin to the hospital, where it was found she was suffering kidney failure and was put into a medically-induced coma. Doctors sent out a public plea asking for Elisabeth (still believed to be off wandering and maybe in a cult) to come forward so that they could take her daughter's medical history.
It was 2008 when the truth finally came out and Elisabeth (42 years old at this point) and her hidden children (Kerstin, 19; Stefan, 18; and Felix, 5) were finally taken out of their dark prison, stunned by sunlight and the outside world. Fritzl brought his daughter to the hospital, claiming she had just showed up on his doorstep in response to the public plea, but the hospital's DNA testing confirmed the horrible truth: these children were all biologically Josef's children and grandchildren.
Josef Fritzl stood trial for the murder of the infant Michael, as well as rape, incest, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and slavery. He plead guilty to all charges and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Elisabeth and all six of her children and her mother reconnected and have undergone intensive therapy, but they are all adjusting and flourishing in the outside world.
Gertrude Baniszewski Held Sylvia Likens Captive and Tortured Her to Death
Gertrude Baniszewski was paid to care for sisters Sylvia and Jenny Likens while their parents were traveling as carnival workers. Little did the Likens family know, Baniszewski was a sick and twisted woman with cruel children of her own. The Baniszewski family physically and verbally abused both of the Likens girls until the focus shifted solely to Sylvia and even her own sister was forced to hit her or endure the same treatment.
Sylvia was pulled out of school and kept locked in the basement, eating only scraps. Everyone was told that she had been prostituting herself and had run off with some men. Baniszewski even forced Sylvia to write a letter to her parents confirming these lies.
With everyone thinking Sylvia was gone, Baniszewski, her daughter Paula, her son John, and even some neighborhood kids, Coy Hubbard and Richard Hobbs, felt they had free rein to do whatever they wanted to the girl. She was tied up, had scalded water thrown on her and salt rubbed into her open wounds, cigarettes were put out on her skin, and she was even forced to eat her own vomit and feces. Twice that her sister could confirm, Sylvia was forced to insert glass Coca-Cola bottles into her vagina and Baniszewski carved “I’m a prostitute and proud of it” into her stomach.
On October 22, 1965, Sylvia Likens died in the basement. Her official cause of death was brain swelling, brain hemorrhaging, and shock from the prolonged damage done to her body. After finding her victim dead, Baniszewski concocted a story for the police claiming that Sylvia had been attacked by a group of young men after she offered to have sex with them for money. However, when the police came to investigate. Jenny took this opportunity to say, “If you get me out of here I’ll tell you everything.”
Gertrude Baniszewski and her daughter were both sentenced to life imprisonment.
Richard Hobbs, Coy Hubbard, and John Baniszewski, Jr. were sentenced from two ro 21 years in prison for the roles they played in the abuse.
Michael J. Devlin Held Shawn Hornbeck Captive for Over 4 Years
Michael J. Devlin abducted 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck in 2002. Shawn spent over four years in captivity in Delvin’s Missouri home. His entire first month he spent strapped to a futon with his mouth taped shut. Delvin threatened and abused the boy, made him terrified of trying to escape, and even made Shawn take on the last name Delvin. Shawn was beaten, raped, and further exploited when Delvin decided to make pornographic videos.
Devlin decided to abduct another child, 13-year-old Ben Ownby, but Delvin’s creepy kidnapping van was recognized by his neighbor Mitchell Hults and police raided his home four days after Ben went missing. Police found Ben Ownby and were shocked to find Shawn Hornbeck there, too. Both boys were returned to their families and Michael Devlin was convicted of the kidnappings, child molestation, and the creation of child pornography. He’s been serving his multiple life sentences since 2008.
Colleen Stan Was Kept in a Box Under Her Captor's Bed
Colleen Stan was hitchhiking when 23-year-old Cameron Hooker and his 19-year-old wife Janice picked her up, drove her to a secluded wooded area, and pulled out a knife. Hooker forced Colleen to wear a blindfold and gag, and then he strapped a 20-pound wooden box around her head. The next time the car stopped, they were at the home where Colleen would remain a prisoner for the next seven years.
She was whipped, burned, starved, raped, and even dangled from the ceiling by her wrists. Cameron would place her in a small, coffin-like box at bedtime and slide her underneath his bed. Colleen was brainwashed into believing Hooker was a part of some larger organization called “the company” and if she tried to escape the company would get her. He even made her sign a “slave contract.”
For most of her captivity, Colleen spent her time in that box under the bed until Hooker wanted sex. But after a while she was “trusted” enough to walk around in the main house freely to do chores and take care of the couple’s children, and eventually she was allowed to go out in public with Janice. Everyone thought she was just a live-in nanny and housekeeper, no one had any idea she was being held captive and was too terrified to escape or ask for help. This continued until Janice decided she wanted to get her husband help, so she helped Colleen escape. Janice asked her not to tell anyone what really happened and Colleen’s Stockholm Syndrome was so intense that she agreed to keep the couple’s secrets - and she did.
It wasn’t until Janice’s plan to rehabilitate her husband failed and he ended up murdering a 19-year old named Marie Elizabeth Spannhake that Janice confessed everything to police herself. She told them about her husband’s recent killing and the kidnapping and raping of Colleen Stan. Once police questioned Colleen, she finally came out and told the world what she had been through and Hooker was arrested. He was found guilty of kidnapping, sodomy, and rape, and was sentenced to 104 years in prison. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with Spannhake’s murder.
A Married Couple Kept Girls in Their Cellar
Marc Dutroux’s and his wife Michelle Martin may have seemed like a normal couple to their neighbors, but little did anyone know, the couple was keeping a 12-year old girl captive in their home and Dutroux was a serial killer Belgian authorities had been looking for.
The child in question was Sabine Dardenne. She was only 12 years old when serial killer and child molester Mark Dutroux kidnapped her back in 1996. Prior to his arrest, Marc Dutroux was known only as “The Monster of Belgium.” Dutroux snatched little Sabine when she was out on a bike ride and locked her up in his basement. She was sexually abused repeatedly for the 80 days she spent chained up in his home. He fed her lies about how her parents didn’t want her back and that he was her “savior.”
This monster was also responsible for the deaths of four other little girls that he kidnapped and sexually abused. Eight-year-olds Melissa Russo and Julie Lejeune ended up dying of starvation in the couple’s basement while Dutroux did a stint in prison for car theft. Apparently, his wife and partner in crime “forgot” to feed them while he was gone.
His other two victims were also brutally abused and suffered a slow, terrifying deaths. Dutroux’s decided to bury both 17-year-olds, An Marchal and Eefje Lambrecks, while they were still alive. It was after he kidnapped another girl, 14-year-old Laetitia Delhez (about 75 days after he took Sabine), that he was placed at the scene because his car was recognized, but the two girls weren’t found for two days following Dutroux’s arrested.
Police never got a confession out of Dutroux for murdering any of the girls, but they had enough evidence to give him life in prison. His wife and accomplice Michelle Martin was sentenced to 30 years in prison for letting those two little girls starve to death in the basement. She only served 16 years before being released.
Wolfgang Priklopil Kept Natascha Kampusch as a Slave
In 1998,10-year-old Natascha Kampusch was dragged into a white van and her whereabouts wouldn’t be known for eight years. Wolfgang Priklopil seemed like just another communications technician; no one had any idea that he was the one who had abducted Natascha, or that he was keeping her in a tiny, windowless, soundproof basement beneath his house. Natascha was stuck in that dank little hole for six months before he would let her come upstairs into the main house, where he began treating her like a slave.
Natascha was kept half naked and forced to cater to all Priklopil’s OCD-driven whims. If she did so much as leave a fingerprint behind, he would beat her. He didn’t want her leaving stray hairs around so he made her wear a plastic bag over her hair and then he eventually shaved all her hair off. She was physically abused, raped, and severely under fed. By the time she turned 18, she was so malnourished that she’d only grown six inches in the last eight years and she weighed less than 100 pounds.
Priklopil was bold enough to let Natascha vacuum his car one day and while he turned his back to take a call, she made a break for it. She ran as fast as she could to another house and beat on the door for help. She was finally rescued but severely traumatized and suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Priklopil committed suicide before he could be apprehended by jumping in front of a train.