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Anthony Edward SOWELL

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "The Cleveland Strangler"
 
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Convicted rapist - Kidnapping - Necrophilia
Number of victims: 11
Date of murder: 2007 - 2009
Date of arrest: October 31, 2009
Date of birth: August 19, 1949
Victim profile: Crystal Dozier (38) / Tishana Culver (31) / Leshanda Long (25) / Michelle Mason (45) / Tonia Carmichael (53) / Nancy Cobbs (43) / Amelda Hunter (47) / Telacia Fortson (31) / Janice Webb (49) / Kim Yvette Smith (44) / Diane Turner (38)
Method of murder: Strangulation with household objects
Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on August 12, 2011
 
 
 
 
 

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anthony sowell the house the victims
 
the trial 1 the trial 2
 
 
 
 
 
 

Anthony Edward Sowell (born August 19, 1959) is an American serial killer, identified in press reports as the "Cleveland Strangler". He was arrested in October 2009 as a suspect in the murders of eleven women whose bodies were discovered at his Cleveland, Ohio duplex in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood.

Sowell was charged with 85 counts of murder, rape, and kidnapping; he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but later changed his plea to simply "not guilty". On July 22, 2011, he was convicted on all but two counts against him, including the murders of the eleven women whose bodies were found in his house in 2009. On August 10, jurors recommended the death penalty for Sowell. On August 12, Judge Dick Ambrose upheld the jury's recommendation.

Military service

At the age of 19, Sowell entered the United States Marine Corps on January 24, 1978. He attended recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina, then was further trained as an electrician at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. On July 13, 1978, he was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, also in North Carolina. In 1980, Sowell spent a year overseas with the 3rd Force Service Support Group, then returned to Cherry Point. He was then ordered to Marine Corps Base Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan on January 20, 1984. A year later, he transferred to Camp Pendleton in California for three days until his discharge on January 18, 1985. During his seven-year Marine Corps career, Corporal Sowell received a Good Conduct Medal with one service star, a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, a Certificate of Commendation, a Meritorious Mast, and two Letters of Appreciation.

1989 attack, incarceration and release

In 1989, a woman who was three months pregnant went to Sowell’s home voluntarily. When she tried to leave, he bound her hands and feet with a tie and belt, then gagged her with a rag. The victim told police: “He choked me real hard because my body started tingling. I thought I was going to die.” Sowell was charged with kidnapping, rape and attempted rape. He eventually pleaded guilty to the charge of attempted rape, and as a result he served 15 years in prison. He was released in 2005.

Sowell worked in a factory until 2007 when he began collecting unemployment benefits. Neighbors said he earned a living selling scrap metal. They complained to the health department of a foul smell in the neighborhood. He was a member of an online dating service, where he stated that he was a "master" looking for a submissive person to "train".

Lori Frazier, the niece of Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson, began a relationship with Sowell shortly after his release from prison and resided in his home. She claims to have smelled the stench of decaying bodies and that she was told that the smell was coming from Sowell's stepmother and when she moved out that the smell was from Ray's Sausage Shop, located across the street from his house. There is some confusion about when Frazier stopped living in Sowell's home. In a video interview she mentions moving out in 2007, but in a published article she is said to have been living there until 2008. Another article quotes a friend of Frazier's stating that Frazier stopped spending time at Sowell's home in 2008.

Discovery of bodies and arrest

In September 2009 Sowell invited a woman he knew to his home for a drink. On September 22, 2009 she reported to police that after a few drinks, he became angry, hit her, choked her and raped her as she passed out. On October 29, police arrived at his home with a warrant to arrest him for the alleged rape. He was not there, but they found two bodies on the floor in the living room. He was located and arrested two days later.

The bodies of four other women were found throughout the home, buried in a shallow grave in the basement and in crawl spaces in the house. After digging in the backyard, investigators found three more bodies and the remains of a fourth. Police also found a human skull in a bucket inside the house, which brought the body count to eleven.

At the time of his arrest, Sowell was 50 years old. He had been living at that location for four years. He was held on $6 million bond. His trial was repeatedly delayed: first to February 14, 2011 at the request of Sowell's defense attorneys who requested more time to prepare, and later to May 2 at the request of the prosecution due to scheduling conflicts.

Victims

On November 5, 2009, the first of the eleven victims was identified as Tonia Carmichael, a 53-year-old African American woman who disappeared more than a year earlier. Her body was found buried in the backyard. She appeared to have been strangled and was identified through the use of DNA evidence. Her mother had reported her missing in December 2008.

On November 5, 2009, the second victim was identified as Telacia Fortson, a 31-year-old African American woman who disappeared five months earlier. Although she had been missing since June, her mother did not report her missing until she heard the news coverage regarding the dead bodies discovered in Sowell's home.

On November 8, 2009, three more bodies were identified. Crystal Dozier was a 38-year-old African American woman who went missing in May 2007. Dozier, the mother of seven children, had a criminal record and a history of drug abuse. She lived in the area where her body was discovered. Her family reported her missing to the Cleveland Police Department. This was not the first time she had gone missing, and the family accused the police of failing to investigate. The family took it upon themselves to post fliers and call hospitals.

Amelda "Amy" Hunter was a 47-year-old African American woman. Hunter, a beautician and a mother of three, had a criminal record and a history of drug abuse. She did not live in the area where her body was found, but she did visit frequently. A previous injury left her unable to use one of her arms. Her family did not report her missing until after police began removing bodies from Sowell's house.

Michelle Mason was a 45-year-old African American woman who was last seen in October 2008. She was a mother with a criminal record and a history of drug abuse. She lived in the area where her body was found. According to records, the police conducted a full investigation when her family reported her missing.

Records of missing persons going back to Sowell's June 2005 release from prison are being searched and DNA testing is being conducted on the bodies found at Sowell's house. Protesters holding posters of missing loved ones have gathered outside his home.

East Cleveland police are also reopening several cold cases from the late 1980s. The murders by strangulation used a similar modus operandi and stopped when Sowell was arrested in 1989. The FBI is gathering information to see if Sowell may be linked to unsolved cases in cities where he once lived.

Identified bodies

Name Age Date of death
 Crystal Dozier 38  c. May 2007
 Tishana Culver 31  c. June 2008
 Leshanda Long 25  c. August 2008
 Michelle Mason 45  c. October 2008
 Tonia Carmichael 53  c. December 2008
 Nancy Cobbs 43  c. April 2009
 Amelda Hunter 47  c. April 2009
 Telacia Fortson 31  c. June 2009
 Janice Webb 49  c. June 2009
 Kim Yvette Smith 44  c. July 2009
 Diane Turner 38  c. September 2009

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Ohio serial killer Sowell gets death penalty

Associated Press

August 12, 2011

A serial killer deserves the death penalty for murdering 11 women and dumping their bodies around his property, a judge said Friday.

Judge Dick Ambrose announced the decision after a 45-minute analysis of Anthony Sowell's crimes and background factors in Sowell's favor. Formal sentencing was to follow a series of statements from the relatives of victims.

Sowell slumped back in his chair without emotion as the judge announced his decision.

Dozens of relatives were in the courtroom. As the sentencing hearing began, deputies passed around boxes of tissues to the relatives and warned against any outburst. Those asking to address the court included the daughter of 1 victim and a woman whose niece was killed by Sowell.

Court administrator Greg Popovich said that with a number of people expected to make statements, the hearing could run up to 3 hours.

Sowell was seated in court wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, his hands cuffed with waist chains. He was arrested on Halloween 2009, 2 days after police went to his house on a sexual-assault complaint and began finding bodies.

He went on trial in June and was convicted July 22 on 82 counts: aggravated murder, kidnapping, corpse abuse and evidence tampering.

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Pinky Carr has said the case "screamed death penalty." Her prosecution colleague, Richard Bombik, said "if this guy doesn't get the death penalty, nobody should."

Sowell's defense team, John Parker and Rufus Sims, rested without calling witnesses and instead focused on sparing his life with sympathetic testimony about his troubled childhood, his Marine Corps service and good behavior while serving 15 years for attempted rape.

The women began disappearing in 2007, and prosecutors say Sowell lured them to his home with the promise of alcohol or drugs. Police discovered the 1st 2 bodies and a freshly dug grave in late 2009 after officers went to investigate a woman's report that she had been raped there.

Many of the slain women had been missing for weeks or months, and some had criminal records. They were disposed of in garbage bags and plastic sheets, then dumped in various parts of the house and yard. There was little left of one victim: a skull in a plastic bucket with non-human bite marks on the edge.

The rotting bodies created an overpowering stench that neighbors blamed on an adjacent sausage factory. The owner spent $20,000 on new plumbing fixtures and sewer lines, to no avail.

Most of the victims were nude from the waist down, strangled with household objects and had traces of cocaine or depressants in their systems. All the victims were black, as is Sowell.

Jurors sat through weeks of disturbing and emotional testimony before convicting Sowell. They saw photographs of the victims' blackened, skeletal corpses lying on autopsy tables and listened to police describe how their bodies had been left to rot in Sowell's Cleveland home and backyard.

Sowell took the stand Monday to make an unsworn statement in which he apologized.

"The only thing I want to say is I'm sorry," Sowell told the jury. "I know that might not sound like much, but I truly am sorry from the bottom of my heart."

The jury didn't buy it: They said his statement, which was guided by questions from Parker, sounded rehearsed and lacked remorse.

Sowell wasn't subject to cross-examination, so prosecutors didn't get to ask why he killed the women and lived in the house for two years with their remains bagged in corners or buried in the backyard.

Sowell mostly sat impassively during the trial but smiled at childhood recollections by a half-brother and a greeting from his stepmother's 88-year-old mother, who looked up from the witness stand and seemed surprised to see him.

 
 

The road to Imperial Avenue

By Tony Brown and Joe Guillen - The Plain Dealer

January 24, 2010


1959-1978: Shy boy, troubled home

The house at 1878 Page Ave. in East Cleveland stood out in the 1960s; it was lime-green.

It stands out now because it was the childhood home of serial killing defendant Anthony Sowell.

Neighbors remember that the roomy, two-story house between Euclid Avenue and Forest Hill Park had a nice back yard. And, back then, it was an overwhelmingly white, mostly working-class neighborhood, just beginning its slow slide into abject poverty.

"That was a gorgeous house," said Katie L. Tabb, who raised her children just down the street.

Inside those walls, Anthony lived out much of his childhood with his half-sister and seven cousins. The cousins moved into the home after their mother died.

"We were always really unsure what the [family] layout was," said Chip Fleshman, who grew up on Page.

Anthony's mother, Claudia Benson Garrison, and his maternal grandmother, Irene Justice headed the household. Justice is dead, and Claudia Garrison could not be located to comment for this story.

His father, Thomas Sowell, was absent.

"I never saw a father, no," recalled Tabb. In fact, said Ramona Davis, 49, one of Anthony's live-in cousins, the absent Mr. Sowell was not even talked about. "For some reason, [Anthony] and his father didn't get along."

Sowell not only lacked a father figure in his childhood, but he also witnessed abuse, two of Sowell's cousins said in separate interviews. Ramona Davis and her twin sister, Leona, say an adult would force them to strip "butt-naked," tie them up and beat them. Electrical extension cords often were used to bind and whip them, the cousins said.

"It was psycho," Ramona Davis said.

Anthony was not beaten, both twins said, but he watched the beatings.

And, Leona said, he also connived to create trouble for his cousins. Anthony would secretly drink his grandmother's Pepsi or start a fight, then blame Leona, who got punished, she said.

If Anthony's childhood was as dysfunctional as his cousins describe, Tabb didn't see it reflected in his behavior.

"He was the kindest child you wanted to deal with," Tabb said. "He was always very respectable."

Anthony was shy and skinny, said Cavana Faithwalker, an artist and staff member at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Faithwalker met him in the early 1970s, when Anthony attended Kirk Junior High.

"He was a little quiet and never one to start a conversation," Faithwalker wrote in an e-mail. "If you said, 'Hi,' he would say, 'Hi.' If you asked a question, he would answer it. He was friendly, sort of, in that he would smile whenever I looked in his direction."

Anthony's family, while not rich, was not poor, Fleshman said. But when he got to be high-school age, he couldn't afford a car.

"He was a walker, you know?" Fleshman said. "To have a car as a high-school kid was a big deal." Anthony the teenager was no ladies' man, either, Fleshman said: "I never knew him to have a girlfriend."

Acquaintances subjected Tony to a "constant ritual of teasing," especially about an assumed lack of sexual experience, Faithwalker said. Occasionally, he got angry.

"I remember one time on the basketball courts a group of people teasing him about girls, being a virgin, and things in general," Faithwalker said, recalling an incident, later in the 1970s, at Forest Hill Park.

"He tried to talk the 'bitches-and-ho's' kind of talk, but it really wasn't part of him. A cat threw the ball to him. Anthony was so mad. He caught the ball in his stomach. He took the ball and whipped it at the guy. The guy could eat Anthony for breakfast, and would have, except another guy stepped in."

But one of his cousins said Anthony was no virgin.

Sowell, according to Leona, regularly took her upstairs to a bedroom in the Page Avenue house and forced her to have sex with him when they were pre-teens.

"It was happening almost every day," Leona said.

Ramona said she had never witnessed her sister being raped, but she said she believed Leona.

Leona Davis said she tried to report the rapes to authorities, but no one believed her.

Maybe they should have, Leona Davis said: "I don't think [the Imperial Avenue killings] would've ever happened if somebody would've listened to me."


1978-1987: The Marines, a child, a marriage

If you were 18 in the late 1970s and you wanted out of deteriorating East Cleveland, and you wanted out fast, you could always join the Marines.

Which is what Anthony Sowell did, reporting for boot camp on Jan. 24, 1978, at Parris Island, S.C. He had at least three good reasons for getting out of town.

He was a bashful kid who might have found "The Few, The Proud" slogan a tempting boost.

He didn't have enough credits to graduate high school, he said in a 2005 psychological evaluation. (Sowell also said he attended Shaw High School, but East Cleveland officials said they have no record he did.)

And he had just made a Shaw High School student pregnant. His daughter by that union was born 8½ months after Sowell joined the Marines. Neither woman would respond to questions about Sowell.

An unidentified woman, who was with Sowell's daughter when two Plain Dealer reporters approached, said: "You should talk to the Marines."

The Marine Corps would not release much about Sowell beyond the standard name, rank and serial number. Even Sowell's lawyers acknowledged three weeks ago that they knew little about his military career.

One thing is clear: The Marines taught Sowell how to subdue and kill using his hands and how to wield everyday objects as improvised weapons.

After boot camp, Sowell reported to North Carolina's Camp Lejeune on April 24, 1978, for the then-standard, 22-day basic combat training course.

That included hand-to-hand and close-quarters combat to develop what the corps now calls the "warrior ethos." The syllabus included "basic chokes" and "basic weapons of opportunity."

Sowell spent another month at Camp Lejeune learning electrical wiring. He was then assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, N.C., as an electrician.

Sowell spent almost five of his seven years in the Marines at Cherry Point, and lived for at least part of that time in a trailer - blue with a white stripe - situated with seven other trailers in a secluded area.

Five months after returning to Cherry Point from a year-long stint in the Pacific, Sowell got married in September 1981 to a fellow Marine. It was a civil ceremony performed by a magistrate in a historic courthouse in New Bern, N.C. He was 22.

The woman, named Kim Yvette Lawson, died in 1998 while Sowell was serving time in an Ohio penitentiary. Her mother said her daughter told her Sowell was drinking to excess. She married him to help him.

"She didn't want him to get a dishonorable discharge," Norma Lawson said from her home in California. "She was trying to get him through the Marine Corps. She divorced him the day she got out," in 1985.

After a year at Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan, Sowell left the Marines, too, on Jan. 15, 1985, at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Although the Marines said he went AWOL for two months at one point, Sgt. Sowell departed with a foot-locker full of praise, including a rifle sharpshooter award, good conduct medal, a certificate of commendation and two letters of appreciation.

He returned home to Page Avenue, where court records show he resumed an old habit - drinking too much. And within the next few years, he would start working up a long arrest sheet.


1985-1990: Booze, drugs, violence, arrests

The East Cleveland Sowell returned to after leaving the Marines in January 1985 was completely changed.

So was Sowell, who got very busy getting very drunk, and very angry, according to his own admission and his police record.

The East Cleveland population was now 90 percent black. A quarter of East Clevelanders lived below the poverty level. City finances were a shambles.

And much of the Cleveland area was inundated by crack - a new, smokable, potent form of cocaine that swept the country's urban areas in 1985. Crime rates rose and a new subset of female addicts - women so desperate to get high they would sell or barter their bodies to get a few rocks of crack - hit the streets.

Into this milieu arrived a 25-year-old man at liberty after a seven-year military regimen. He was divorced after four years from a wife worried about his boozing, and - court documents indicate - he was being accused of ducking his responsibilities as the father of a 7-year-old.

Sowell hit the bottle hard.

He had at least six drinks nearly every day during this period of his life, he told psychological evaluators in 2005. He would sometimes start first thing in the morning, and, would occasionally black out, he said.

"He acknowledged having family problems and increased aggressiveness when drinking," the evaluation said.

That aggression surfaced in 1988 when police arrested Sowell on a charge of domestic violence, and he served eight days in jail, East Cleveland police said.

The evaluation doesn't mention illegal drugs, but his arrest record lists a 1988 charge of possessing dangerous drugs, though it does not specify what drug. Other arrests from 1986-1989 included charges of disorderly conduct, DUI and public drunkenness. The records are incomplete, making it impossible to determine the outcomes of those cases.

Meanwhile, terror stalked East Cleveland.

The bodies of three women - two of them suspected drug-users - turned up near Sowell's Page Avenue home.

In May 1988, the body of 36-year-old Rosalind Garner was found in her home on Hayden Avenue. She had been strangled.

Carmella Karen Prater, 27, a resident of Page Avenue and a suspected drug-user, was found in an abandoned home on First Avenue, just off Hayden, on Feb. 27, 1989. The cause of death is unknown.

A month later, on March 28, the body of another suspected drug-user, Mary Thomas, 27, was found near an abandoned building, again on First Avenue.

The red ribbon used to strangle Thomas was still around her neck.

None of the cases is solved.

East Cleveland police reopened the cases after Sowell's arrest in the Imperial Avenue strangler case. No link has been made.

Police did link Sowell to the attempted rape of a 21-year-old woman who was three months pregnant. She told her story to the authorities four months after Thomas' body was discovered.

On July 22, 1989, Sowell met the woman at a motel at Euclid Avenue and Lee Road, the woman told police. The woman, who has a criminal record of drug use, feared police who had arrived at the motel might arrest her.

Sowell told her that her boyfriend was waiting for her at Sowell's house, about 500 yards away, the police report says.

The boyfriend wasn't at Sowell's house, the woman told police. But a bed was.

He threw her on it, and choked and raped her over and over, according to the police report.

When she tried to leave, Sowell bound her hands with a necktie, cinched a belt around her feet and stuffed a rag in her mouth, the woman said. Then Sowell, who had been drinking, fell asleep. She wriggled free and escaped out a window.

A grand jury indicted Sowell in the July 22 case. He did not show for his court date, and on Dec. 8, the court issued an arrest warrant. But Sowell was nowhere to be found.

Seven months later and four miles away, another woman said Sowell raped her, too.

At 1 a.m. Sunday, June 24, 1990, the 31-year-old woman told police, she went to a house on East 71st Street in Cleveland. She sat beside Sowell on a loveseat and started drinking.

Sowell got up, the police report says, came up behind her and starting choking her, spewing a stream of obscene descriptions of sex acts, how and where he would violate her, and announcing that "she was his bitch, and she had better learn to like it."

He dragged her upstairs by the neck and raped her orally, vaginally and anally - even after the woman told him she was five months pregnant and begged him to stop, the woman said.

Instead, Sowell forced her to say, "Yes, sir, I like it," the police report says.

Sowell again went to sleep, and the woman left. When she returned with the police about 8 a.m., he was still sleeping.

The police arrested Sowell, but charges were never filed after police said the woman could not be found to testify.

But the police finally had their man in the 1989 rape case, and Sowell was in jail awaiting trial on those charges, court documents say.

He eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of attempted rape, the record shows, and on Sept. 12, 1990, Judge James P. Kilbane sentenced the prisoner to five to 15 years in prison.

Eight days after sentencing, Sowell was taken to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's prison in Lorain.

The shy kid from East Cleveland was now 31, and a convict.


1990-2005: Prison, 12 Steps, denial

The fifth step in 12-step self-help programs goes like this: "We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

In prison, Anthony Sowell went to the meetings of at least two 12-step programs, Alcoholics Anonymous and Adult Children of Alcoholics, prison officials said.

But Step 5 apparently didn't carry over when it came to Sowell trying to get help behind bars for his sexual obsessions.

In 1993, Sowell signed up for sex-offender treatment but was turned down, a parole officer noted. The reason: He would not admit he was a sex offender.

He might have been in denial, but Sowell was also a model prisoner for his 15 years at four different Ohio penitentiaries, officials said. He had no major rule infractions on his record, and only four minor violations.

He took courses called "Living Without Violence," "Cage Your Rage," "Positive Personal Change" and "Drug Awareness Prevention." He called on his Marine training to work as an electrician. And he honed his culinary skills in the prison kitchen, which after his release in 2005 helped him earn a reputation for throwing good barbecues.

"He used to like to cook a lot," said Tanja Doss, who used to go to Sowell's Imperial Avenue home in 2005. "He was a chef."

Sowell had to deal with other prisoners' attitudes about attempted rape.

Carlton Pope, who said he has served 30 years in Ohio prisons, said he met Sowell at Grafton Correctional Institution, where Sowell spent the last nine years and three months of his stretch.

"I shunned him because not only did he seem demented and a psychotic pervert, he carried the stigma of a convicted rapist," Pope said.

Despite his good behavior, the violence of Sowell's crime persuaded parole officials to repeatedly deny his request for release. He served his maximum sentence. He was still in prison in 2002 when he learned that his father, Thomas Sowell, had died.

Sowell won two small victories in prison.

One was a high-school education. On Sept. 17, 2002, Sowell took a GED examination at Grafton and passed with 2,820 points, easily besting the 2,250-point threshold.

The second, according to Doss, was this: Sowell gave up alcohol and any other intoxicants he might have been using.

But in retrospect, Sowell's education and reformation efforts in prison did not prepare him to deal with his problems on the outside when, on June 20, 2005, at age 45, he walked out of prison a free man.


2005-07: A savior? Or a killer in the making?

Out of prison in 2005, Anthony Sowell might have gotten it into his head to try to "help" women who bartered their bodies with men for crack cocaine.

He offered them malt liquor, companionship and shelter from the dangers of the streets on Cleveland's East Side, said four women with drug problems who had encounters with Sowell.

But if Sowell felt betrayed by those he thought he was trying to help, he would terrorize, attack or rape them, according to the police reports made by two women who said Sowell befriended them and then turned on them.

The "helper" theory, a person close to the investigation of the Imperial Avenue strangler case said, is one motive police have pursued in their interrogation and investigation of Sowell.

When he was released from prison, Sowell was apparently clean and sober. A psychological evaluation deemed him unlikely to rape again.

He had to register as a sex offender, reporting to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office once a year until a 2008 federal law mandated that he had to check in every 90 days.

He rented out space in the home of his late father's widow, Segerna Sowell, at 12205 Imperial Ave. in Cleveland, a white, 2½-story double.

He completed "NETworks 4 Success," a program for ex-convicts offered by the Towards Employment nonprofit agency.

And he started dating women who lived or hung out in the poor, crime-ridden Mount Pleasant neighborhood he now called home, according to two of the women's accounts.

Tanja Doss, 43, is one of the women who says she was involved with - and, she says, eventually attacked by - Sowell. Doss said she met Sowell in 2005, when she lived across the street from him.

At that time, Doss said, Sowell did not use crack cocaine. But she and "Tone" drank beer, played chess and barbecued. He told Doss he had been in prison but that he had taken the rap for a crime committed by someone else.

"I used to go over there and be like, 'Tone, what's up?' " said Doss. "He seemed like a regular human being. He had a little laughter in him."

Not everyone thought so.

Reginald McKay, who met Sowell in 2005, described Sowell at the time as: "Not crazy, but strange. Sort of quiet, mousy, sneaky, sort of."

It was around this time that Sowell began dating Lori Frazier, Frazier told a Cleveland television news reporter.

Frazier made headlines after Sowell's arrest in the Imperial Avenue strangler case because Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is her uncle. She declined to speak for this story.

But both the mayor and Frazier - who described herself as a former crack user - have said Sowell and Frazier had a relationship. It lasted from 2005 until 2007 or early¤'08, according to Doss and to Frazier's statements on television.

"He took good care of me," Frazier said. "Good care of me."

Frazier lived with Sowell in the Imperial Avenue house in what looked like a monogamous relationship, Doss said.

Doss said she moved to New York by 2006 but would come back to visit Imperial Avenue. Occasionally, she would knock on Sowell's door.

"He'd say, 'I got a woman now, so you can't come and visit me,' " Doss said. That woman was Frazier, Doss said. "I'd see them walking together and all that."

In another sign of outward stability, Sowell got a steady job in March 2006, through NETworks 4 Success, as a rubber-molder at Custom Rubber Corp. on East 55th Street in Cleveland.

"He was a very good employee," said company President Charlie Braun.

But by 2007, Sowell's personal and work lives started to unravel.

And women on or near Imperial Avenue began to go missing, women whose decomposing bodies would later be found in and around Sowell's house.


2007-09: The smell of death

2007 was a bad year for Anthony Sowell.

It's also when the stench of death came to linger on Imperial Avenue.

In 2007 or early 2008, Sowell ended a nearly three-year, live-in relationship with Lori Frazier, Frazier and others said. But he remained hung up on her for another two years, two other women who knew Sowell said.

In July 2007, after Sowell didn't show up two days in a row, Custom Rubber Products Corp. fired him, company President Charlie Braun said. Sowell's means of self-support were reduced to collecting and selling scrap metal.

About the same time, in May or June 2007, the woman believed to be the first Imperial Avenue strangler victim, Crystal Dozier, went missing, police said.

That June also marks the first time an Imperial Avenue neighbor called Councilman Zack Reed to complain about odor of decaying flesh, Reed said.

The stink got stronger. And more women went missing, and at an ever-increasing rate.

Sowell was a familiar figure in the ragtag army of men and women who push shopping carts through snow and sun scavenging for scrap copper and less-precious metals among the abandoned and torn-down homes in the decay of inner-city Cleveland.

Scrapper Kim Kemp sells her Saturday haul first thing the next morning at Ohio Metal Recycling Inc. on Grand Avenue, one of the only such businesses in the city open on Sunday.

"Everybody knew him," said Kemp, who said a scrapper friend of hers was invited to smoke crack at Sowell's house.

"He smoked [crack]. I guess he did what he did to get his hustle."

On Imperial, Sowell was a regular and neighborly fixture, inviting others over for cookouts, chess games and malt liquor. His libations of choice were "forties" of King Cobra, 40-ounce bottles of an Anheuser-Busch brand valued for its relatively high 6 percent alcohol content, cheap price and lack of flavor.

And among neighborhood women looking to "kick it" - smoke crack and drink- Sowell was known to have a party place beyond the reach of his stepmother/landlady, whose disabilities prevented her from climbing the two flights of stairs to the third floor.

"He was a cool - supposed to be a cool person," said Doss, a former friend of Sowell's from 2005 who returned to Cleveland in 2007 after living in New York. "Like I said, 'Let's go drink a beer.' 'All right, cool.' 'Let's go smoke a joint.' 'Cool.' "

Sowell had experience with drugs in the late 1980s, his East Cleveland police record says.

Sowell started smoking crack cocaine not long after his release from prison in 2005, said Allen Sowell, his half-brother.

By 2007, Doss said, Sowell had the gaunt look typical of a chronic crack abuser. And by 2009, Doss said, she smoked crack with Sowell, in tandem with drinking, a dangerous combination linked by medical studies to aggression.

And Sowell himself admitted to an emergency medical crew that he had been smoking crack and drinking all day when an ambulance showed up at his house in an Oct. 20, 2009, incident.

At least two women voluntarily went to Sowell's in 2009 for what they thought would be good times, but the good times suddenly turned violent, they said. They survived to tell strikingly similar tales, in police reports and - in one case - in extensive interviews.

Their stories - one from Doss, who said in interviews and in a police report that Sowell attacked her on April 21, and another from a police report about an alleged Sept. 22 rape involving a 36-year-old former Imperial Avenue resident - offer insight into what might have happened to the women whose bodies were found at Sowell's house.

Sowell is accused of using alcohol and/or drugs to lure vulnerable acquaintances, drug users with criminal pasts who lived on the fringe, police and prosecutors said.

The encounters began unthreateningly, but turned violent after the beer and drugs ran out, or a question Sowell didn't like was asked, according to the two women.

In Doss' case, she said Sowell slapped her, choked her and forced her to strip naked after he ran out of crack. She curled up on a bed, and Sowell eventually left her alone.

In the Sept. 22 case, the woman told police that Sowell reacted violently after she asked him about another woman who said Sowell had attacked her. Sowell then raped the woman in the Sept. 22 case while tightening an electrical extension cord around her neck until she passed out, a police report says.

In both cases, the women said, he became preternaturally calm after the attacks, offered them money, food or clothing, and watched as they walked out the door.

These traits line up with several facets of the profile of sexually sadistic serial killers used by the FBI and police departments to identify suspects in cases.

The instantaneous rage, followed by calm, is particularly telling, according to criminal behavior profiling experts. The pattern is consistent with a "heating-up, cooling-down" cycle of behavior often seen in sexually sadistic killers, said City University of New York crime historian Harold Schechter, author of "The Serial Killer Files."

Another pattern in the Imperial Avenue case also fits the profile of a typical serial killer: a growing appetite for violence.

In all of 2007, only one woman whose body later was found at Sowell's home went missing, police said. Then there was a year-long gap.

In 2008, four women linked to him disappeared, and another woman claimed he attacked her. The bodies of the four were later found at his home. The fifth woman was bleeding when she approached police and told them Sowell punched her in the head and demanded she take her clothes off on Dec. 8, 2008.

Then, in 2009: Eight.

Six of the women whose bodies were found at Sowell's house went missing last year. Add to them two others: Doss, who said she was assaulted by Sowell in April, and the woman who reported he raped her on Sept. 22.

That escalation in the frequency of violent episodes linked to Sowell's Imperial Avenue home - one in 2007, five in 2008 and eight in 2009 - suggests the strangler had become addicted to the sexual thrills associated with serial killers, said Stephen T. Holmes, a criminologist at Orlando's University of Central Florida and the author of a series of books on serial killers.

In other words: the killer had to have more and more violence to satisfy his insatiable lust.

What exactly prompted the rage that led to the Imperial Avenue slayings remains a mystery, though it obviously was aimed at women in general, and specifically at women who sold their bodies and risked their lives for drugs, Schechter said.

Two women who had encounters with Sowell in 2009 said he remained obsessed with Frazier, the former admitted crack user he broke up with in 2007 or early 2008. Frazier would not comment for this story despite repeated requests.

Doss said Sowell showed her, in April 2009, a purple sweat suit he had bought for Frazier. And the woman in the Sept. 22, 2009, incident said Sowell still kept some of Frazier's clothes around, two years after their relationship ended, the police report says.

Sowell's world came crashing down Oct. 29, when police went to his house to arrest the gaunt 50-year-old in the Sept. 22 case. He was gone. What they found was a nightmare scenario of decomposing bodies.

Sowell saw the commotion of emergency vehicles at his house on the night of Oct. 29 and before asking for a ride back to his sister's house on East 131st Street, eluding arrest, he said this to neighbor Debbie Madison:

" 'That girl made me do it.' "

As the body count rose, police found and arrested Sowell on Oct. 31, while the city reacted in horror and disbelief, and the world watched in fascination.

Little more about Sowell has been forthcoming from police and prosecutors as the city awaits his trial on charges of murder and rape in Cleveland's grisliest serial-killing spree since the Torso Murders of the 1930s.

But questions remain.

Why, for instance, didn't police and prosecutors pursue charges against Sowell after a bloodied woman claimed Sowell attacked her at his Imperial Avenue home in December 2008?

Although several legal experts have said enough evidence existed for a grand jury to indict Sowell, authorities decided the woman wasn't credible and dropped the case. Six more women whose bodies were found at Sowell's Imperial Avenue home disappeared after the cops let Sowell go.

And conclusions can be drawn.

The evidence suggests, for example, that Sowell -- while ultimately responsible for his own actions -- was shaped by and operated in a deadly subculture that is underpoliced and underserved by the social safety net.

It is a world of casual brutality and degradation where sexual favors and drugs are ready currency, a world that many of us, safe behind the locked doors of our cars and in the relative comfort of our homes, choose to not think about, even though it exists so close to our own little worlds.

But, if we look, glimpses of it can be seen through the lens of the life of the man born Anthony Edward Sowell.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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