An innocuous American street that had an awful secret

A Cleveland police officer stands outside the house where three missing women were discovered alive. Photo: REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

It is the most innocuous street in an unremarkable suburb of a routine American city.

2207 Seymour Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio, has nothing distinctive about it.

Even the boarded up windows are common in a city devastated by the housing crisis that swept Middle America.

But what is unusual - in fact what's simply astonishing - is that there are people living on the street who suspected some awful secret was contained within the house.

Investigators question neighbours across the street from the house where three women were found. Credit: REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

Elsie Cintron told me she had phoned the police in July of last year explaining something "weird" was going on at the property. They brushed her off. Yet Cintron's grand-daughter had seen a naked woman crawling in the back garden.

Nithsa Lugo, another neighbour, said that from one vantage point locals had seen a chained woman being walked like a dog. Then the owner had put fences up.

It is clear that the Cleveland Police Department has a lot of explaining to do. At a press conference, the authorities expressed relief at the outcome and announced "the healing can begin."

Not for the detectives, it can't. An investigation into three missing women can be wrapped up. But an internal probe needs to start.

Amanda Marie Berry (L) and Georgina Lynn Dejesus pictured before they went missing in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Credit: Police

Locals have their suspicions about why this could happen, and some blame themselves as well as the police. They admit the community simply assumed the three women were dead.

It was a disastrous assumption. So if there is a lesson to be drawn from Seymour Avenue and this surreal and harrowing story it is this: Never assume a missing person is dead. Never give up hope.

It's what Kate and Gerry McCann have been urging for so many years as the search for Madeleine went cold and people gave up.

Gerry and Kate McCann whose daughter Madeline disappeared from a holiday flat in Portugal six years ago. Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Rightly, the McCanns will look at Seymour Avenue and pray that somewhere their precious daughter will also be found.

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