Cleveland, Ohio has its first serial killer since the unsolved “Torso Murders” back during the heyday of “Untouchable” Eliot Ness. While Ness never discovered the perp of that mysterious string of killings, not for lack of trying, the opposite situation exists with accused multiple murderer Anthony Sowell.
Sowell was released from a 15-year prison sentence he had served for a 1990 rape conviction. He returned to East Cleveland to live with an elderly aunt who, according to somewhat unreliable sources, moved to a nursing home soon after. Sowell registered as a sex offender and was supposedly visited by police on a regular basis. This claim seems dubious, now.
Since the first six bodies were found in Sowell’s home October 29, the community has been accusing Cleveland police of ignoring numerous missing person reports; complaints by several women in the neighborhood of assault, attempted rape, and kidnapping; and reports of putrid odors emanating from Sowell’s house since at least 2007. A sausage-making facility next door was blamed for the lingering stench.
Besieged by bad publicity and the unprecedented enormity of the crime, Cleveland Police Chief McGrath defended the local precinct and offered: “Police will not be surprised if nobody filed missing-persons reports on some of the people.”
What about the ones for whom there were missing person reports? Several neighbors who fear their loved one is a victim have spoken to the media and claim they made reports, put up flyers, and contacted the police without hearing any updates.
Violent crime in Cleveland has decreased substantially in the past decade, as it has around the country, and while the east side neighborhood where Sowell committed these blatant, in-your-face acts is not the worst or most dangerous neighborhood in town, it deserves more diligence. Was it because the victims are likely all African-American women, many of whom may have indulged in some controlled substances from time to time? Was it because the authorities routinely dismiss “missing person” reports on people living on the “fringe”? Maybe the issue is not race but rather socioeconomics. There’s no money in investigating missing persons, just lots of paperwork and time-consuming interviews of the neighbors. There’s much more revenue and glamour in drug busts and traffic tickets.
Some angry neighbors, who are becoming even more outraged as the body count grows, are accusing the CPD of negligence, indifference, and incompetence, especially now that the victim count is up to ten, and possibly eleven, with the discovery of a skull in a bucket in the house. The mayor was spared a reelection loss on Tuesday and may have dodged a bullet, but the police chief has some ’splainin’ to do. Especially when we read that it took “several weeks” to obtain a search warrant after the most recent (September 22) accusation of assault and rape was reported against Sowell.
Several weeks? Heck, we know from watching Law and Order that you can get a search warrant in an hour. Any judge in Cleveland would have signed one after reading Sowell’s arrest record and learning that he had been released in 2005 after doing a 15-year stint for rape. Sowell was finally arrested Saturday, October 31 and is being held without bail.
So, who will win the blame game when more bodies are found? And it’s pretty likely they will be, considering Sowell’s history of violence, drug use, and predatory habits; yet, he’s been out of prison for four years without incurring so much as a disorderly conduct charge by Cleveland’s finest.