Anthony Edward Sowell (born August 19, 1959) is an American serial killer known as the Cleveland Strangler. He was arrested in October 2009 after the bodies of eleven women were discovered by police investigators at his home, 12205 Imperial Avenue, in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio.
Sowell in the wanted flyer issued by the Cuyahoga County sheriff office, November 2009
Anthony Edward Sowell
August 19, 1959
|Criminal penalty||Death sentence for murder.|
Span of crimes
|May 2007–September 2009|
|October 31, 2009|
Anthony Edward Sowell was raised in East Cleveland, one of seven children born to single parent Claudia "Gertude" Garrison. Seven other children belonging to Sowell's sister also lived in the household, having moved in after her death following a chronic illness. According to Sowell's niece, Garrison subjected them to physical abuse while her own children watched from adjacent rooms. In one incident, Garrison forced Sowell's niece to strip naked in front of the other children, then whipped her with electrical cords until she bled. Sowell himself began raping his niece on an almost daily basis for two years, starting when she was 11.
On January 24, 1978, at the age of 19, Sowell entered the United States Marine Corps. 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 releaseEdit
In 1989, Melvette Sockwell, 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 plead 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, a 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 the smell was coming from Sowell's stepmother. When she moved out, she claimed that the smell was from Ray's Sausage Shop, located next door to the Sowell residence. 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 arrestEdit
In September 2009, Sowell invited Latundra Billups 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 he was located and arrested two days later.
The bodies of two women were buried in a shallow grave in the basement and four other women were found on the 3rd floor of the home, 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. Most of the victims were killed by manual strangulation and others were gagged or had ligatures on their bodies when they were discovered.
Sowell also had at least three more rape victims that he had actually let live. All three never reported the attacks, due to their prior drug history or other personal reasons. Many victims were led to his property with an invitation to smoke crack cocaine with him. He was a known drug user throughout his neighborhood.
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 $5 million bond. His trial was originally supposed to start on June 2, 2010 but was repeatedly delayed: first to September 7 to allow Sowell's attorneys more time to prepare, then to February 14, 2011, then to May 2 at the request of Sowell's defense attorneys who needed more time to comb through thousands of records and hours of surveillance video footage shot from the property next door to Sowell's Imperial Avenue home, where the remains of 11 women were discovered in 2009, and later to June 6 at the request of the prosecution due to scheduling conflicts. The trial eventually began on June 6, 2011.
Conviction, sentencing, and appealsEdit
Sowell was charged with eleven counts of aggravated murder and 74 counts of rape, kidnapping, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse. 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. Since September 14, 2011, Sowell has resided on death row at Chillicothe Correctional Institution.
In November 2011, Sowell's lawyers, Jeffry F. Kelleher and Thomas Rein, filed a Notice of Appeal with the Supreme Court of Ohio. Sowell's execution was set for October 29, 2012, but in March 2012, a Motion for Stay of Execution was filed; the motion was granted in April, pending final disposition of the appeal. In October 2012, Sowell's new lawyers, Jeffrey M. Gamso and Erika Cunliffe of the Cuyahoga County Public Defender's office, appealed to have his conviction and death sentence overturned on 21 points, with the main three being:
- that Sowell did not receive a fair trial because of the extensive media coverage. The "media attention was overwhelming, generating thousands of news stories, and…local coverage was 'both frenzied and sustained.'"
- that the courtroom had been closed to the public "during an evidentiary hearing and while a jury was picked"
- and that he had received "lousy legal representation." "Sowell's trial attorneys should have had their client plead guilty to killing the women and then focus their efforts on preventing Sowell from getting the death penalty."
In September 2014, the court asked both parties to address three issues.
On April 5, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments from Sowell's appellant attorneys and the Cuyahoga County D.A. representing the State of Ohio regarding the merits of the closed pre-trial Suppression Hearing prior to Sowell's trial, and the defendant's right to a fair and public trial. The attorneys representing Sowell argued that Sowell's Sixth Amendment right was violated by closing the Suppression Hearing to the press, and that the Court should commute his Death Sentence to Life-In-Prison as a remedy to the structural error that resulted in the violation. They also argued that counsel had made errors, and "urged the Ohio Supreme Court to send the case back to Cuyahoga County for a retrial. 'Frankly we blew it,' attorney Jeffrey Gamso told the Ohio Supreme Court."
The State argued that if Sowell's Sixth Amendment right was violated via the closed pre-trial Suppression Hearing it would not have affected the outcome of the trial, as the evidence was overwhelming, and that "Sowell's attorneys were the ones who asked multiple times in his presence for the jury selection to be done privately, without cameras in the courtroom." The State also asserted that Sowell has never denied his guilt, and that the heinous nature of his crimes—coupled with little mitigating evidence to deny imposing the death penalty—warrants affirming the death sentence.
On December 8, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Anthony Sowell, affirming his aggravated murder convictions and death sentence. In May 2017, Sowell appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In October 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court said that it would not review Sowell's appeal. In February 2018, the Ohio Supreme Court denied a request by Sowell to reopen his appeal.
On November 5, 2009, two of the eleven victims were identified. The first to be identified was Tonia Carmichael, a 53-year-old African American woman who had disappeared more than a year earlier. Her body was found buried in his 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.
The second victim was identified as Telacia Fortson, a 31-year-old African American woman who had 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, 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, 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 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 were searched and DNA testing was conducted on the bodies found at Sowell's house. Protesters holding posters of missing loved ones gathered outside his home at the time.
East Cleveland police also reopened several cold cases from the late 1980s. The murders by strangulation used a similar modus operandi and had stopped around 1989, the same time that Sowell was arrested. The FBI at the time was gathering information to see if Sowell may have been linked to unsolved cases in cities where he once lived.
Known murder victimsEdit
|Number||Name||Age||Date of death|
|1||Crystal Dozier||35||c. May 2007|
|2||Tishana Culver||31||c. June 2008|
|3||Leshanda Long||25||c. August 2008|
|4||Michelle Mason||45||c. October 2008|
|5||Tonia Carmichael||53||c. December 2008|
|6||Nancy Cobbs||43||c. April 2009|
|7||Amelda Hunter||47||c. April 2009|
|8||Telacia Fortson||31||c. June 2009|
|9||Janice Webb||49||c. June 2009|
|10||Kim Yvette Smith||44||c. July 2009|
|11||Diane Turner||38||c. September 2009|
After Sowell's conviction, in December 2011, Sowell's former residence at 12205 Imperial Avenue was demolished on the order of city leaders. Sowell resides on death row at Chillicothe Correctional Institution.
House of Horrors: The Shocking True Story of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Strangler, written by Cleveland-based journalist Robert Sberna, examines Sowell's crimes and profiles the 11 women he murdered and the six women who survived his attacks. The book was released in October 2012 by Kent State University Press. House of Horrors was named 2012 True Crime "Book of the Year" by ForeWord Reviews.
Nobody's Women: The Crimes and Victims of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Serial Killer was written by Michigan-based crime author Steve Miller. The book details Sowell's murders and how he selected his victims. It was released in October 2012 by Penguin Publishing.
Unseen, a documentary film about the victims and survivors of Sowell, was produced by Laura Paglin and released in 2016. The film, which premiered at the Cleveland International Film Festival, is distributed by FilmRise.
Letter to the publicEdit
In November 2012. Anthony Sowell released a letter through the website Serial Killers Ink. The letter was to the people of Cleveland. Sowell railed against former trial judge and newly elected Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty and addressed the issue of artwork which he had recently sent to the owner of the website.
- "Six bodies at US rapist's house". BBC News. October 31, 2009. Retrieved November 1, 2009.
- Serial killer Anthony Sowell began raping niece when both were children, witness testifies, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, 2 August 2011
- "Marine Corps says accused serial killer stationed twice at Cherry Point and once at Camp Lejeune". Havelock News. November 5, 2009. Archived from the original on November 9, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-05.
- Boneand, James (November 5, 2009). "Skull in a basket as police search Anthony Sowell's home for more bodies". The Times. London. Retrieved November 5, 2009.
- "Anthony Sowell was considered unlikely to attack again in 2005 evaluation". CBS News. 2009-11-05. Retrieved 2009-11-05.
- Martinez, Edecio (November 4, 2009). "Anthony Sowell Cruised Sex Fetish Site While Dead Bodies Rotted in His Cleveland Home". CBS News. Retrieved November 4, 2009.
- Smith, Ryan (November 12, 2009). "Mayor's Niece Lived With Alleged "Cleveland Strangler" Anthony Sowell and Rotting Bodies". CBS News.
- Morris, Phillip. "Why didn't the serial killer kill her, she wonders?", Cleveland.com, 24 November 2009.
- "Police discover 10 victims at Anthony Sowell's home". Cleveland Metro. November 3, 2009. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
- Baird, Gabriel (8 November 2009). "Names put to three more victims in Anthony Sowell case". The Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland Live. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- "Anthony Sowell accused of killing".
- "Trial for serial killing suspended".
- Chuck, Crow. "Pleasant conversations with Anthony Sowell turned violent without warning, 3 women testify". The Plain Dealer. cleveland.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Atassi, Leila. "Suspected serial killer Anthony Sowell told police he 'punished' drug-addicted women, interrogation video reveals". cleveland.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Atassi, Leila. "Anthony Sowell hinted at yet undiscovered horrors, police sergeant testifies". cleveland.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Shaw, Scott. "Anthony Sowell trial: Surviving family members of Imperial Avenue killings recount their anguish". The Plain Dealer. cleveland.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Scott, Michael. "More 'grotesque' detail expected in third week of Anthony Sowell capital murder trial". The Plain Dealer. cleveland.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Shaw, Scott. "Anthony Sowell admitted to stashing bodies in Imperial Avenue home, neighbor testifies". The Plain Dealer. cleveland.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Shaw, Scott. "Nurse takes stand in Anthony Sowell serial murder trial, describes taking DNA evidence". The Plain Dealer. cleveland.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- "Day 16: Anthony Sowell trial". Newsnet5.com. Archived from the original on 2015-04-27. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Fong, Marvin. "Judge acquits serial-killings defendant Anthony Sowell on 2 of 85 counts, state rests its case". The Plain Dealer. cleveland.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- Scott, Michael. "Week one of Anthony Sowell trial hard on victims' families: video interview with PD's Stan Donaldson". The Plain Dealer. cleveland.com. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- "'House of horrors' suspect due in court". CNN. March 24, 2010. Archived from the original on November 7, 2009. Retrieved March 24, 2010.
- Scott, Michael (10 August 2011). "Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell's sentence: jury recommends death". The Plain Dealer. cleveland.com.
- "Anthony Sowell to die for murders of 11 women; judge accepts jury's advice". cleveland.com. 12 August 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
- "Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Offender Search Detail". Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
- "Case No. 2011-1921 Entry" (PDF). Supreme Court of Ohio. April 2, 2012. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
- "APPELLANT'S REPLY BRIEF AND ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR" (PDF). Supreme Court of Ohio. April 25, 2013. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
- Peter Krouse (April 26, 2013). "Anthony Sowell's attorneys dispute prosecutors' claims that serial killer got fair trial". Northeast Ohio Media Group. cleveland.com. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
- Rachel Dissell (October 3, 2014). "Ohio Supreme Court asks whether Anthony Sowell's right to a public trial was violated, attorneys respond". The Plain Dealer. cleveland.com. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
- Peter Krouse (March 12, 2013). "Serial killer Anthony Sowell was given a fair trial, Cuyahoga County prosecutors claim in court filing". Northeast Ohio Media Group. cleveland.com. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
- "Case No. 2011-1921 Entry" (PDF). Supreme Court of Ohio. September 3, 2014. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
- Jackie Borchardt (April 5, 2016). "Anthony Sowell's lawyer asks Ohio Supreme Court to save his life". cleveland.com. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
- "Ohio Supreme Court upholds convictions of mass murderer Anthony Sowell". cleveland.com. December 8, 2016. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
- "Anthony Sowell appeals case to U.S. Supreme Court". cleveland.com. May 25, 2017. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
- "Anthony Sowell, notorious Cleveland serial killer, appeals case to Supreme Court". CBS NEWS. May 23, 2017. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
- "U.S. Supreme Court will not hear Cleveland mass murderer Anthony Sowell's appeal". cleveland.com. October 2, 2017. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
- "Ohio Supreme Court won't reopen Anthony Sowell appeal". cleveland.com. February 14, 2018. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
- Kates, Brian (November 5, 2009). "Police ID first of 11 victims found decomposing in Anthony Sowell's Ohio home as Tonia Carmichael". New York Daily News. Retrieved November 5, 2009.
- "2nd Victim: Cuyahoga County Coroner ID's Second Imperial Body". WIOO Action News. 5 November 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-11-08. Retrieved 2009-11-05.
- "East Cleveland: Did suspected serial killer also strike in 1989?", WKYC-TV, 7 November 2009.
- Roberts, Soraya (9 November 2009). "Anthony Sowell rape and murder case goes international". Daily News. New York.
- Cleveland to demolish serial killer's home, CNN.com, 5 December 2011
- Sowell's Imperial Avenue Home to be Demolished Tuesday Archived December 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, WJW-TV, 5 December 2011
- True Crime winners, 2012 at ForeWord Reviews
- Nobody's Women: The Crimes and Victims of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Serial Killer. Google Books. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
- MSU grad Chris Hansen returns with 'Killer Instinct' Detroit Free Press, August 17, 2015
- Russ, Dick (November 12, 2010). "Anthony Sowell's 'artwork' for sale online". Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
- Krouse, Peter (November 12, 2010). "Serial killer Anthony Sowell's artwork back on 'murderabilia' website". Retrieved November 13, 2012.
- Freeman, Kevin (November 12, 2010). "Death Row Drawings: Sowell's Controversial Artwork is Selling". Retrieved November 13, 2012.
- Russ, Dick (November 12, 2010). "Anthony Sowell 'artwork' buyer defends purchase". Archived from the original on February 9, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2012.