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Cleveland Serial Killer Anthony Sowell Dies in Prison

a photo of Anthony Sowell
Mark Duncan
Anthony Sowell appears at his 2009 arraignment for the murder of 11 women in Cleveland.

Anthony Sowell, who was convicted in 2011 of killing 11 women in Cleveland, died Monday in an Ohio prison medical facility.

A prison spokeswoman said the 61-year-old was admitted Jan. 21 with a terminal illness after spending close to 10 years on death row. She provided no details on his illness, other than that it was not COVID-19 related.

Sowell’s arrest in 2009, and the discovery of the decomposing bodies of 11 women in his house and yard on the East Side, prompted outrage over the neglect shown to neighborhoods and residents in that part of the city.

“Once upon a time this was a viable neighborhood. Everybody got along. But now, everybody's going their own way. They just don't talk anymore. Whatever happens, happens,” a resident said in 2009.

A neighbor of Sowell’s in 2009 described the largely ignored complaints to the city about the strong odor that hung over the neighborhood—eventually found to be from the decomposing bodies in the house and yard on Imperial Avenue.

“When you smell that odor in the neighborhood and you don't get nobody's attention on it, what can you do?” Charles Sharp said.

Cleveland eventually settled a lawsuit for $1 million with six victims’ families who argued that police failed to adequately follow up on reports of Sowell’s violence, allowing the attacks to continue.

Sowell initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but was sent to death row. Appeals up to the Ohio Supreme Court were unsuccessful, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case.

Sowell was arrested by Cleveland police while investigating a rape case. The officers searched his house and found two bodies.

At the time of Sowell’s arrest, Bill Mason, then the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, succinctly described the horror Sowell inflicted on his victims: “Sowell preyed upon vulnerable females by luring them into his house. Once inside, he tormented them, threatened them, and assaulted them. He murdered eleven of them.”
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Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.