Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Anthony Sowell: The Cleveland Strangler

Just the Beginning?


Before his prison term, Sowell had served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He enlisted at 18, trained as a sharpshooter and achieved the rank of corporal. Stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Okinawa, Japan, he received two good conduct medals. In light of his connection to the missing women, the F.B.I. is investigating whether Anthony Sowell might be responsible for unsolved crimes in the Carolinas, California, or Japan during his 1978-1985 Marine enlistment. A California woman alleged that he raped her in 1979, but the case never came to trial, and police no longer have records.

Police have reopened three unsolved East Cleveland murders from the late 1980s. Rosalind Garner was strangled in her home on Hayden Avenue. Two other women, Carmella Prater and Mary Thomas were found strangled in abandoned buildings on East First Street. Prater had been living down the street from Sowell, on Page Avenue. In 2010 Sowell told police he did not know them.

Reports from neighbors indicated that there may be more bodies out there. They told investigators that they would sometimes see Sowell dragging large garbage bags down the street. They also say the dumpster behind his house would sometimes smell especially bad — like the rotten, deathly air around the house. Police and F.B.I. continued throughout November 2009 to use thermal imaging, x-rays and ground-penetrating radar to examine Sowell's property, and an abandoned lot next door.

On Nov. 15, police searched the house four doors down from Sowell, after a 9-year-old girl living there found an as-yet-unidentified piece of possible evidence. On Nov. 18, the F.B.I. resumed digging at Sowell's and the house next door. They took away multiple bags of evidence.

Sowell was arraigned in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on November 16, 2009 on charges of attempted murder, rape, kidnapping and felonious assault.

After finding the bodies, police set up a station near the house and asked possible victims' family members to come forward. Few did. The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center set up a hotline and hopes to hear from other women who escaped Sowell. Lt. Stacho says that police will listen to all victims and family members, regardless of their criminal or drug histories.


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