CLEVELAND – Anthony Sowell, sentenced to death for killing 11 women and hiding their remains in and around his home in a case that raised concerns about authorities downplaying the plight of missing Black women, has died in prison of an illness.
Sowell, 61, had been receiving end-of-life care at Franklin Medical Center for a terminal illness when he died Monday, said JoEllen Smith, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The death was not related to COVID-19, she said.
Cleveland police were investigating a rape case in October 2009 when they searched Sowell's house and discovered two bodies. They eventually uncovered the remains of 11 women.
Most of the victims had struggled with addiction and died of strangulation, prosecutors said. Some had been decapitated, and the bodies of others were decomposed to such an extent that coroners couldn’t be sure how they died.
In interviews with police, Sowell said he targeted women who reminded him of his ex-girlfriend, who had been addicted to cocaine and left him shortly before the killings began.
Neighbors had blamed a stench from the rotting bodies on an adjacent sausage factory, which spent $20,000 on new plumbing fixtures and sewer lines to try to make the smell go away.
The case was a moment of reckoning for Cleveland. Relatives of the slain women, who were Black, and many Black residents said police didn’t take the disappearance of the victims seriously because of their race and troubled backgrounds, and complained about how officers handled missing-person reports. Police said some victims were never reported missing.
In response, Cleveland police overhauled how they handled missing-person and sex crime investigations based on recommendations issued after the remains were found.