Serial Murderer's Grisly Home Haunts Cleveland Community
LIANE HANSEN, Host:
We're joined now by Phillip Morris, a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. This past week Morris wrote a column for the paper titled "A Serial Killer Apparently Works Best in a Silent City." And he joins us by phone from his office. Welcome to the show.
M: Thank you.
HANSEN: What do you know about Anthony Sowell, the man suspected of killing these women?
M: Well, the more we learn, the more amazing it is to realize that this guy hid in the wide open. The guy was routinely seen by his neighbors, even described by a merchant who lives next door as a nice guy.
HANSEN: But he had been convicted of rape in 1990 and spent 15 years in prison
M: He had served 15 years, came home in 2005, moved into a home that was owned by his stepmother. And, as I said, the guy just seemed to fit right into the neighborhood.
HANSEN: And describe the neighborhood where his house is.
M: It's a typical inner-city Cleveland neighborhood that has a fairly high foreclosure rate. In terms of the working demographic, I'd say working poor.
HANSEN: You posed a question in your column: does an entire community bear some responsibility when a serial killer goes to work in a backdrop of dead silence. Did neighbors ever try to alert authorities?
M: Yes, there is some evidence. But we know in terms of neighbors' complaints that over the years they had complained about a foul odor, but they had always chalked it up to the sausage store, which was on the corner right next to the suspect's house.
HANSEN: Well, what about when members of the community shared their concerns with the police? I mean, what was the response of the police?
M: Well, the best place to start is around September 22nd, which is when a rape allegation was made by a woman. And when detectives tried to follow up on the complaint, it took them six weeks before they were able to get her to sit down, tell her story. And it was at that point that they went to make an arrest and that's when they discovered two of the bodies.
HANSEN: But police had never gone to the house before.
M: You had sheriff deputies that would occasionally make a spot-check just to confirm that he was still living there. The spot-check is part of the whole program with tracking registered sex offenders.
HANSEN: Some of the victims' family members say local police ignored them at first when they made an effort to file missing person reports. But some other families never even bothered to search for their missing loved ones. How could that happen?
M: It's a sad tragedy when you look at the type of women that Anthony Sowell is accused of preying on. These were women who were, for the most part, impoverished. Women who had very loose affiliations with their family, in large part because of substance abuse. It is heartbreaking when you think about the number of families who had missing relatives on the streets for years and weren't able to find out where these young ladies were until this discovery was made.
HANSEN: Do you think 11 women could've gone missing with such little attention in a more affluent neighborhood?
M: Absolutely not. I think after the first woman went missing in an affluent neighborhood, not only would you had a sustained police presence, but you would've had an extreme community reaction.
HANSEN: You also point the finger at your own newspaper. You write, was this newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, somehow also a party to silence, ignorance, if not rank indifference? How do you answer your own question?
M: Well, of course I was being rhetorical to an extent, but the question remains, who's culpable in all of this? Are we part of the problem? I don't know the answer to that question, but I wanted to pose it because I wanted the community to start thinking about how we're all part of this. We're in this together. This is our city and we had a serial killer operating with complete reckless abandon right before our eyes.
HANSEN: Phillip Morris is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. We reached him in his office. Thank you very much.
M: Thank you.
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