Many Unanswered Questions About Cleveland Serial Killer

Anthony Sowell's house on Imperial Avenue on Cleveland's east side.
Anthony Sowell's house on Imperial Avenue on Cleveland's east side.
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Cleveland Police Special Operations Chief Ed Tomba stepped out of a Justice Center courtroom with mixed feelings yesterday morning. On the one hand, he was relieved that murder suspect Anthony Sowell, a convicted sex offender, had been formally charged. On the other hand, he was still trying to comprehend the magnitude of Sowell's alleged crimes.

ED TOMBA: In 24 years in law enforcement, we've never seen anything like it.

Officials have now identified one of the 11 victims --- 53-year-old Tonia Carmichael, who has been missing for about a year. After police informed the Carmichael family, Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller provided some of the first forensic details of her murder and that of the others.

FRANK MILLER: They are all African American women. 7 died of ligature strangulation. 1 - Manual strangulation. 2- undetermined / 1- ongoing autopsy. A case of strangulation or homicidal violence.

Miller says some of these crimes may date back as far as 2005, the year when Anthony Sowell returned to his home neighborhood after serving a 15-year sentence for rape. Sowell's neighbors stood across the street from his white duplex, watching TV crews from around the world setting up cameras and satellite dishes. Darnissa Wiley says, until recent weeks, there was no reason to suspect what was going on in the house.

DARNISSA WILEY: He had a block party in the summertime. He barbequed for the whole neighborhood. People were going in his house, in his backyard, and no one knew that kind of behavior was going on.

Despite the fact that the a strong stench hung in the air, she never tied it to the house or suspected it was decomposing bodies. Some neighbors blamed it on a nearby sausage factory. Charles Sharp says he figured it was a dead dog that had been hit by a car. He went downtown to City Hall to complain, but says nothing ever came from it.

CHARLES SHARP: When you smell that odor in the neighborhood and you don't get nobody's attention on it, what can you do?

That report to authorities is one of several that remain unexplained. Did officials investigate? When? If not, why not? Some residents have complained that they had no idea that Sowell was a registered sexual predator and that police were slow to investigate reports of missing women in the neighborhood. That's understandable, according to Dr. David Licate who directs the Criminal Justice Program at the University of Akron, He says the sheer number of registered predators living in the mainstream population is hard to keep tabs on.

DAVID LICATE: It takes a lot of human resources to do that. Obviously today budgets are not in the favor of law enforcement or any other business enterprise in terms of hiring.

The sheriff's office handled Sowell's probation check-ups but whether the Cleveland police were aware that he was a convicted sex offender or when they knew is still unclear. Ada Averyhart, who lives a couple of blocks from the crime scene says city officials bear part of the blame for being slow to react to the recent events in her neighborhood, but she also worries about a culture of silence that pervades these streets.

ADA AVERYHART: 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.

Local councilman Zack Reed has organized a gathering of area ministers this morning at 10:00 for what's billed as a community meeting to pray for healing and to seek justice. Reed is also calling for public hearings to get answers to the many unanswered questions about this tragedy.

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