One neighbour saw a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard. Another heard pounding on the home's doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows.
Both times police visited the Ohio home, but never entered. Inside, three woman were captive. They had been held since their teens and had had up to five pregnancies between them after being raped.
After 10 years locked inside the house, Amanda Berry managed to escape yesterday and put an end to the misery.
The three men in custody were identified by police as brothers Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.
In spite of all the searches, the women were in a Seymour Avenue address in Cleveland near where they were last seen.
Now details are emerging about the hell the trio had to endure.
One may have become pregnant numerous times, with one of the victims having at least three miscarriages because she was so malnourished.
The women - identified as Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32 - were found with a six-year-old girl whom police believe to be Berry's daughter.
Police sources in Ohio told news affiliate WKYC the women were repeatedly raped and beaten by their captors. The sources also said the young women, who were abducted in their teens, had had up to five pregnancies between them.
One neighbour said a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago. Another heard pounding on the home's doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows. Both times, police showed up but never went inside, neighbours said.
Knight reportedly told police that she was hit in the head and may have suffered hearing loss.
One source said the captors would beat the pregnant girls. Two sources said it was unclear what followed the pregnancies, but the babies didn't survive.
Investigators were going through the home for clues, including the backyard where they found "disturbed" dirt. The sources did not know whether that was related to the pregnancies.
Berry disappeared at age 16 on April 21, 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King.
DeJesus went missing at age 14 on her way home from school about a year later.
Police said Knight went missing in 2002.
Authorities said it will be some time before the details of the ordeal come out, as FBI agents go about the delicate task of interviewing the women.
LOCKS ON DOORS
According to the Daily Mail, Ariel Castro kept padlocks on the doors to his basement and members of his own family were not allowed to venture near them.
In an interview with the mail, Ariel Castro's own children admitted they thought he could be capable of such a crime.
His son Anthony Castro, 31, spoke of his shock at his father's alleged crimes and revealed how his father asked him just weeks ago whether he believed the kidnapping of Amanda Berry would ever be solved.
"If it's true that he took her captive and forced her into having sex with him and having his child and keeping her hidden and keeping them from sunlight, he really took those girls' lives," he said.
Anthony Castro, a banker who lives in Columbus, Ohio, had barely spoken to his father since he and his sisters moved away from the family home in 1996 to escape the abuse.
He said his father was a violent, controlling man who nearly beat his mother to death in 1993 while she was recovering from brain surgery.
"He doesn't deserve to have his own life any more. He deserves to be behind bars for the rest of her life. I'm just thankful they [the girls] are alive."
He told the Mail there places in their own house they could never go, and if they disobeyed, they faced the very real possibility of a vicious beating.
"There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic. Locks on the garage."
All three women may have been held in the Seymour Ave home the whole time they were gone, investigators said.
Police are lauding Berry as a "real hero" for breaking free after 10 years of captivity.
"The real hero here is Amanda. She's the one that got this rolling. We're following her lead," Cleveland police deputy chief Ed Tumba said at a press conference. "Without her we wouldn't be here today."
Berry broke through a door with the help of a neighbour and called police on Monday evening (local time). Within minutes, police were at the modest two-storey home.
Neighbours said they heard cries for help coming from a house just before 6pm, and when they went to investigate, helped kick open the door of the home to get the women out, ABC News reported.
Berry, police said, "broke out of the lower part of screen door" to freedom. Frantically, she called 911. "I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years," Berry told a 911 operator. "And I'm here. I'm free now."
All three women were taken to Metro Health Medical Center where they were examined and reunited with their families. They have since been discharged.
Neighbour Charles Ramsey told WEWS-TV he heard screaming and saw Berry, whom he did not recognise, at a door that would open only enough to fit a hand through. He said she was trying desperately to get outside and pleaded for help to reach police.
"I heard screaming," he said. "I'm eating my McDonald's. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house."
Another neighbour, Anna Tejeda, was sitting on her porch with friends when they heard someone across the street kicking a door and yelling. One of her friends went over and told Berry how to kick the screen out of the bottom of the door, which allowed her to get out.
Tejeda said she gave Berry her telephone to call police.
Neigbour Juan Perez told NBC's Today show he rarely saw anyone at the house. "I thought the home was vacant," he said. "I didn't even know anybody lived there."