CLEVELAND, Ohio (AFP) – An accused serial killer who allegedly kept the bodies of 11 women in and around his Ohio home for more than two years and blamed the stench on a nearby sausage factory goes on trial here Monday.
The gruesome case that unraveled on October 29, 2009 had officials scrambling to explain why the crimes weren’t discovered sooner.
The women allegedly killed by Anthony Sowell were exclusively poor, black and hampered by lifestyles that took them on and off the streets.
Because of that, they weren’t always reported as missing immediately.
Nor did police pay much attention to cries for help that could have saved the lives of six of his victims.
One bloodied woman flagged down police in December 2008, telling them of her desperate escape from the registered sex offender’s house.
But police found she wasn’t a “credible” witness and declined to press charges even though they found blood and signs of a struggle in Sowell’s home.
A second woman was also ignored after she told police in April 2009 that Sowell had raped her repeatedly over a three-day period at his home after telling her that she needed to be “trained like an animal.”
Then, in September 2009, a third woman went to police and told them Sowell lured her to his house, raped and strangled her with a cord, then let her go when she regained consciousness.
It wasn’t until police knocked on the door of the yellow house a month later with an arrest warrant that the bodies were discovered.
The officers went inside when Sowell didn’t answer their knock and followed the unbearable stench to two rotting corpses laying on a bed on the third floor.
On the skeletal hand of one body, gone since November 10, 2008, were three junk jewelry rings.
A weeks-long search of the house and yard found eight more bodies and a human skull in a bucket.
Sowell, 51, was arrested as he walked down the street two days after the first bodies were found.
He faces the death penalty if convicted of nearly 100 charges, including kidnapping, rape, molesting a human corpse, robbery and attempted murder.
Sowell moved back to Cleveland after leaving the Marines in 1985, but was there just five years before he was sent to prison for the violent rape of a pregnant woman.
When he got out in 2005, he again returned to his old home and was soon living with a girlfriend, Lori Frazier, niece of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. “I just wondered why, why would he do this,” Frazier told WOIO television shortly after his arrest.
“He took care of me, good care of me, and I never thought no bodies were in the house.”
Frazier said she’d often asked Sowell about the smell in the house.
At first, Sowell said it was the poor housekeeping habits of his stepmother, who lived on the ground floor. Later, he said the smell emanated from the nearby meat factory, Ray’s Sausage.
The first victim — 36-year-old Crystal Dozier, whose remains were found buried near the backyard fence — had not been seen since May 2007.
Then came Tishana Culver, 29, who had been missing since June 2008 and Leshanda Long, 25, who disappeared in August 2008.
Michelle Mason, 44 and Tona Carmichael, 53, vanished in October 2008.
At least five of the remaining victims could have lived if Sowell had been jailed after the December 2008 attack or April 2009 rape.
Kim Smith, 43, vanished in January 2009. Nancy Cobbs, 44, was last seen in April 2009.
Amy Hunter, 47, disappeared sometime in the spring of 2009.
Janice Webb, 48, and Telacia Fortson, 31, were last seen in June 2009.
Diane Turner, 38, disappeared in September 2009.
Jury selection begins Monday and opening statements are not expected until mid-June.
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