In May, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were rescued after 10+ years of captivity at the hands of Ariel Castro. These three brave women survived despicable torture and unspeakable fear in a house of horrors located at 2207 Seymour Ave for over a decade. Unfortunately, this wasn’t Cleveland’s only house of horrors. Just over five miles away at 12205 Imperial Ave., 11 women lost their lives to convicted sex offender Anthony Sowell, The Cleveland Strangler.
Sowell moved into the home after serving a 15 year sentence for a rape conviction. 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.
A factory worker until 2007, Sowell then lived off of unemployment benefits as well as money from metal recycling. During the period of 2005 -2009, Sowell lured women to his home with drugs and alcohol. The women were all African American mothers who had hit upon hard times. Almost all of them struggled with drug addiction, and had turned to prostitution and stealing to support their habits.
During this period neighbors would constantly complain about the smell of death emanating from the house. Several women, fortunate enough to make it from the house, complained to officials about rape and attempted rapes committed against them by Sowell. In both cases little, if anything at all, was done in response. Anthony Sowell also subscribed to an online dating site that specialized in bondage and fetishes. He set up his account in 2005, just after he got out of prison. Listing himself as 5 feet 10 inches, 160 pounds and with a distinctive facial scar, he described himself as a “master” looking for a “submissive,” and as a partier, a people person. Sowell also formed a friendship of sorts with Lori Frazier, the niece of Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson. Frazier lived with Sowell for a period during 2007 & 2008. She claims to have smelled the stench of decaying bodies and that she was told that the smell was coming from Sowell’s stepmother.
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. 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 bringing the body count to eleven. Sowell was arrested two days later. Sowell is suspected in many missing persons cases throughout the country as well as overseas during his stint in the marines. On August 12, 2011 Judge Dick Ambrose sentenced Anthony Sowell to death.
How can the unmistakable stench of death be overlooked or explained away? Once again the cries of society’s,”throwaways” again go unheard. Had it not been for the claims of a politician’s niece, would Sowell still be at large today? I definitely don’t want to visit a city where the smell of death can be ignored as day to day aromas.