As more and more women went missing, did the smell of decay at Anthony Sowell's home suggest something sinister – a serial killer at work?


Something sinister was happening in Cleveland, Ohio. Between 2007 and 2009, 11 women had gone missing.

On 22 September 2009, one woman was lured into a house on Imperial Avenue, where a stench of decay filled the street. She was brutally raped. An electrical cord was tightened around her neck until she passed out. Somehow she survived and escaped.

On 29 October 2009, police went to the house to arrest her attacker, Anthony Sowell.

The 50-year-old was nowhere to be seen. But they found two bodies on the floor in the living room. Another was buried in the backyard, decayed beyond recognition except for the plastic jewellery falling from her fingers. She’d been strangled.

Rotting corpses of other missing women were discovered buried in shallow graves around the house and in the garden. In total, 11 bodies were found. The skull of one woman was found in a bucket in the basement.

Anthony Sowell was arrested. But what turned him into the Cleveland Strangler?

Anthony Sowell in court for sentencing (Photo: PA Photos)

Anthony Sowell in court for sentencing (Photo: PA Photos)

Anthony Edward Sowell grew up without a father figure. He also witnessed hideous abuse.

Sowell’s nieces and nephews moved into the family home after their mum died. Two of the girls were regularly stripped naked, tied up and beaten with electrical cords by adults. Though Anthony wasn’t punished himself, he watched.

Then, aged 11, Sowell allegedly started raping one niece.

Eight years later, when he was 19, Sowell enlisted in the US Marine Corps after getting a girl pregnant. In 1981, he married a fellow marine. But she quickly became concerned about how much he was drinking. The day after he left military service, they divorced. Sowell began drinking more and became increasingly violent.

In 1989, Sowell raped a pregnant woman he lured to his bedroom. When he fell asleep, the woman escaped and told police.

Sowell pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of attempted rape and was sentenced to 15 years. He served the full sentence.

While in prison, he was turned down for a sex-offender treatment programme because he refused to admit he was sex offender. In his mind he was the victim.

When he left prison in 2005, he was deemed clean and sober and ‘unlikely to rape again’.

He rented out a room in his stepmother’s house on Imperial Avenue, and started dating Lori Frazier. But in July 2007, Sowell was fired from his job. His relationship with Lori ended and he started smoking crack.

Cleveland Bodies Found

PA Photos

All the while, women were going missing as the smell of decay filtered out onto the street. It was the decomposing bodies of the women he was believed to have killed. The serial killer had stuffed their bodies into bin bags and plastic sheeting, before burying them.

Following the rape of the woman who escaped in 2009, Sowell was arrested again, and in 2011, he was convicted of killing the 11 women.

He was sentenced to death, but has appealed. Some of the victims’ families have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming not enough was done to monitor the depraved sex offender.