10 Seemingly Normal People Who Were Keeping Human Captives in Their Homes

When it comes to the most shocking misdeeds, 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 wild 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.

  • A 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. 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 taken) for 10 years.

    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 counts of assault, and aggravated murder. He was given a life sentence but spent a month in prison before he took his own life.

  • 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.

    Satō cut all her hair off and dressed her in men’s clothing. 

    Its unclear why but Fusako was taken with Nobuyuki to a hosptial and there she found a police officer and identified herself to him.

  • 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 sharming 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.

    To make matters worse, his wife, (Elisabeth’s mother) was clueless about all of it. 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 lost consciousness. 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 sleeping state. 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 passing of the infant Michael, as well as for everything he put his daughter through in captivity. 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 Tormented Her To Her End
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Gertrude Baniszewski Held Sylvia Likens Captive And Tormented Her To Her End

    Gertrude Baniszewski was paid to care for sisters Sylvia and Jenny Likens while their parents were traveling as carnival workers. The Baniszewski family physically and verbally abused both of the Likens girls until the focus shifted solely to Sylvia.

    Sylvia was 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.

    In October, 1965, Sylvia Likens died in the basement. Her official cause of death was brain hemorrhaging. After finding her victim dead, Baniszewski concocted a story for the police claiming that Sylvia had been attacked by a group of young men. However, when the police came to investigate. Jenny took this opportunity to say, “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 to 21 years in prison for the roles they played in the abuse.

  • Michael J. Devlin Held Shawn Hornbeck Captive For Over 4 Years
    Photo: Franklin County Sheriff's Department / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    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. Delvin threatened and abused the boy, made him terrified of trying to escape, and even made Shawn take on the last name Delvin.  

    Devlin decided to abduct another child, 13-year-old Ben Ownby, but Delvin’s truck was recognized by 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. He’s been serving his multiple life sentences since 2008.

  • Colleen Stan Was Kept In A Box Under Her Captor's Bed
    Video: YouTube

    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.

    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. This continued until Janice decided she wanted to get her husband help, so she helped Colleen escape. 

    Cameron was found guilty, and was sentenced to 104 years in prison.