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.
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.
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
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
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.
Date of death
c. May 2007
c. June 2008
c. August 2008
c. October 2008
c. December 2008
c. April 2009
c. April 2009
c. June 2009
c. June 2009
Kim Yvette Smith
c. July 2009
c. September 2009
Ohio serial killer Sowell gets death penalty
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
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
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
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
"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,
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
The shy kid from East Cleveland was now 31, and a
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
Another pattern in the Imperial Avenue case also
fits the profile of a typical serial killer: a growing appetite for
In all of 2007, only one woman whose body later was
found at Sowell's home went missing, police said. Then there was a
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
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
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.