True Crime: Relive the horrifying story of the Cleveland Strangler
Serial killers, more common than you ever want to think about, and we hope that they’re all in the Bad Place being tortured by eyeball spiders or ear wasps. Whatever new and inventive ways to prolong the suffering of these men and women who brought terror & tragedy to the lives of so many people. Yesterday, on Feb. 8, a serial killer Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Strangler, died after a terminal illness.
Who is the Cleveland Strangler? Believe it or not, this wasn’t a case that we were immediately familiar with. When we think about Cleveland serial killers, then the Cleveland Torso murders tend to pop up on that front. But Anthony Sowell was one horrible human being, who took the lives of 11 women before he was caught and sentenced. Here’s everything you need to know on that front.
Before heading into killing
Anthony Sowell, before he became the Cleveland Strangler, was a well-decorated U.S. Marine. He served from 1978 to 1985, serving for seven years, over the course of his career a Good Conduct Medal with one service star, a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, a Certificate of Commendation, a Meritorious Mast, and two Letters of Appreciation. After that, he returned to Cleveland.
But there was a history that could be seen as leading to his crimes. No one’s history is an excuse for such actions, but there was homelife that definitely produced the Cleveland Strangler. There were a lot of children in the home with seven of them from Sowell’s eldest sister, who died after a chronic illness. Sowell’s mother would mercilessly physically abuse her grandchildren.
One of Sowell’s nieces recalled being whipped with electrical cords while her aunts & uncles watched. Sowell would rape his niece starting from the age of 10 almost every day for two years. Reportedly, other males in the home would also participate in these horrific assaults.
In 1989, Sowell attacked Melvette Sockwell, who was three months pregnant at the time, when she attempted to leave his home. He tied her up and choked her so badly that she thought that she was going to die. He was charged with kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder for which Sowell pled guilty and served a 15-year sentence. He was released from prison in 2005.
Unfortunately, this did not serve as a deterrent for his murderous actions. He said he was a master looking for a submissive partner to “tame” and neighbors complained of a foul odor coming from his home. He also, somehow, dated the niece of the Cleveland Mayor Frank G Jackson for a time, who smelled the decaying bodies but was told various different stories by Sowell. Somewhere between 2007-2008, she moved out.
No one knew about the bodies until 2009 when Latundra Billups was invited to Sowell’s home for a drink. After he had a couple of drinks, he assaulted, choked, and raped her. Billups went to the police who arrived with an arrest warrant. Sowell had fled, but he was captured two days later. Either way, police went inside which is when they started to find the bodies.
The bodies were in his home?
Much like John Wayne Gacy, Sowell’s 11 murder victims were found in and around his home. Bodies were found in the basement, in crawl spaces, in the backyard. One skull was found in a bucket. Most victims were killed by manual strangulation, leading to the name the Cleveland Strangler. Some of the bodies still had the ligatures used to kill them on them.
In addition to the murders, Sowell also raped three women. He would invite them home to smoke crack cocaine with him and then assault them. He would be charged with 11 counts of aggravated murder and 74 counts of rape, kidnapping, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse. Initially, he pled “not guilty by reason of insanity”, but later changed it to just “not guilty”.
Sowell was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to death. He was still exhausting his appeals as late as May 2020. Sowell died of an unnamed terminal illness that wasn’t related to COVID-19.