COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Anthony Sowell, who was sentenced to death for killing 11 women and hiding their remains in and around his home in a case that raised concerns about authorities spoiling the situation of missing black women, died in a hospital.
Sowell, 61, died on Monday of death due to a terminal illness at Franklin Medical Center, said JoEllen Smith, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The death was unrelated to COVID-19, he said.
Cleveland police investigated a rape case in October 2009 when Sowell’s house was searched and two bodies were discovered. Eventually, the remains of 11 women were uncovered.
Prosecutors said most of the victims struggled with an addiction and died of strangulation. Some were beheaded, others were demolished to such an extent that the coroners were not sure how they died.
In an interview with police, Sowell said he was targeting women who reminded him of his former girlfriend, who was addicted to cocaine and left shortly before the murders began.
Neighbors blamed the stench of the rotting body of the neighboring sausage factory, which spent $ 20,000 on new plumbing fixtures and sewers to try to eliminate the odor.
For Cleveland, the case was a moment of counting. Relatives of the murdered women, who were black and many black residents, said police did not take the disappearance of the victims seriously because of their race and problematic background, and complained about how officers handled reporting missing persons. Police say some of the victims have never been reported missing.
In response, Cleveland police reviewed how the investigation of missing persons and sexual crimes was handled based on recommendations issued after the remains were found.
Michael O’Malley, the Cuyahoga County Attorney, said his “thoughts and prayers” were with relatives and friends of Sowell’s victims, whom he called a monster.
“I hope law enforcement and criminal justice have learned from the mistakes that have allowed this diabolical predator to go unnoticed for so long,” O’Malley said.
Joann Moore, whose sister, Janice Webb, was among the victims, said Tuesday that she is still trying to process a mixture of emotions.
“The ultimate goal was to see through this and see that he had gained justice,” she said. “It was something else we couldn’t see, he took his last breath.”
What happened more than a decade ago was a tragic story for the city of Cleveland. It was a tragic story for us that this could continue, ”he said.
“I still miss my sister. I know he’s watching his son, kids, and siblings, ”Moore said.
Sowell “could have been stopped years before we did our job,” said Zack Reed, a former member of Cleveland City Council who had Sowell’s house in his east department. He said it was unfortunate that the sausage company was never compensated for the improvements made.
Cleveland police could not connect the dots and did not notice that a missing person had been killed by many drug addicts and women living on the margins of society, Reed said Tuesday.
“We didn’t thoroughly investigate those missing women,” she said. “We didn’t take their family and community seriously.”
Sowell was convicted and sentenced to death in 2011 for the murder of women. He was also convicted of raping two other women and attempting another. His execution was not planned.
Sowell was a former Marine who had a brutal childhood and struggled with his mental health, John Parker, one of his defenders, said Tuesday.
“He wasn’t a monster and he wasn’t evil,” Parker said. “Childhood abuse and severe mental health problems have damaged him. Rest in peace.”
In 2014, the ground was broken at the memorial at the site where the remains of Sowell’s victims were found.
In 2019, Cleveland filed a lawsuit filed two Sowell survivors. The women claimed that a police detective had mismanaged the investigation into the charges against Sowell, allowing her to remain free and fall victim to more women.
Sowell continued to appeal his case. Most recently, in May, the three-judge panel of the 8th District Court of Appeal held unanimously that Sowell had not provided sufficient evidence that he had not been given a fair trial and that his lawyers had ineffectively represented him at the sentencing stage.
The panel also upheld the lower court’s decision rejecting Sowell’s request for relief after judgment.
Associate press writers John Seewer, Toledo and Mark Gillispie, Cleveland, contributed to the report.