Ariel Castro locked his wife in a wooden box, repeatedly imprisoned her in their home and viciously beat her as part of a two-decade campaign of violence and death threats, her family have alleged.
Relations of Grimilda Figueroa said Castro made visitors wait 40 minutes before answering his door, and confined them to a single room while a radio played at high volume.
"He is a man with two faces," Elida Caraballo, his former sister-in-law, said. "Were we shocked by the news? The way Ariel was? No."
They also disclosed that Castro's daughter Angie had dinner at his house just hours before his three captives emerged, and was disturbed to learn she had been just a few metres from them.
Caraballo tearfully recounted the violent ordeal of her sister, who died last year aged 48, after leaving Castro and securing custody of their four children. She had suffered a brain tumour.
"Everybody needs to know that my sister was abused by him," said Caraballo. "She was a victim. She didn't do anything but cook, clean and take care of her kids."
Grimilda Figueroa met her future husband when the Castros moved into the house opposite her family's home during the 1980s. Their father, Pedro, became a car dealer after arriving in the US from Puerto Rico, where one of his arms was said to have been chopped off with a machete during a gang dispute.
"I never did get along with them. I just never did," said Caraballo, who claimed Ariel Castro frequently shoplifted and showed his fiery temper while his brothers Pedro and Onil were hard-drinking and unpleasant.
Ariel Castro and Figueroa first lived with both sets of parents, limiting his ability to be violent, Caraballo said. His behaviour worsened dramatically when they moved into their own house in 1993.
"I would go over to the house and be knocking at the door, and she was there and he wasn't, and I'd say, 'Open the door,' and she'd say, 'I can't, he locked it.'
"He broke her nose, her ribs, her arms. She was put into a box. He locked her in and told her, 'When you're ready to come out, I'll tell you to come out."'
Caraballo's husband, Frank, said Castro had once "beat her so bad" that he came to blows with his brother-in-law. "I was hitting him, too, because I was tired of her being abused." On one occasion, Castro sent his wife flying down stairs and she cracked her skull. She later blamed the fall for her brain tumour.
Castro allegedly behaved worse as the couple had children. His son Anthony has described being beaten and banned from entering locked sections of the house. "He was so strict," said Caraballo. "Angie was a little baby, and he wouldn't let us touch her. He didn't want anybody anywhere near his daughters."
Figueroa fled the couple's house in Seymour Ave after a particularly bad beating in 1996. After helping her remove her possessions, police detained Castro, but charges were not pursued. Yet Castro continued to threaten to kill her for the following decade, according to court documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph. Figueroa alleged in a domestic violence case in August 2005 that she had suffered a "blood clot on the brain", which she described as an "inoperable tumour", because of violence from Castro. She also claimed to have twice suffered a broken nose, had both her shoulders dislocated and her ribs injured, in addition to a "knocked-out tooth" and "lacerations".
Castro, then 45, "threatened to kill" Figueroa and daughters three or four times in 2005, and "frequently abducts" his daughters despite losing custody, the documents alleged. A temporary protection order which banned Castro from contacting his family was dismissed after less than three months when his wife's lawyer failed to turn up to a court hearing.
Frank Caraballo, who grew up next door to the house in Seymour Ave, recalled going into its basement as a boy. "It's a little dungeon with one of those doors that you can lift up on the side. It's brick, old-fashioned, with one of those old trapdoors."
He said that Castro suffered so badly from road rage that he once provoked a furious dispute with a bodybuilder, who took a baseball bat from his car and smashed Castro's windscreen.
The Caraballos said that they were most disturbed that their 19-year-old daughter, Elida-Marie, visited Castro's house in recent years. "She told us that the only thing he said was, 'You stay in this room, and do not go in any other room. I want you to stay in this room only,"' said Caraballo. "She took it as him being rude. But she said he would always turn the radio up high. And before anybody could even visit, you'd have to wait 35 or 40 minutes before he would let you in."
Her sister said that when Figueroa died last year Castro and a brother turned up uninvited to her wake, drank heavily and cracked jokes. "She couldn't even stand up. If she did, she would fall straight to the ground. And she was partially paralysed. She blamed it all on Ariel."