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Published: Monday, 11/2/2009

6 victims in Cleveland home were slain, coroner says


CLEVELAND - Six women whose badly decomposed bodies were found at the home of a convicted rapist were all victims of homicide, the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office said yesterday.

At least five of the women apparently had been strangled, said Powell Caesar, a spokesman for the Cuyahoga County coroner. Decomposition made it difficult to determine how the sixth died, he said. The bodies "could have been there anywhere from weeks to months to years," he said.

The victims have not been identified, Mr. Caesar said. Two were black, but the race of the others hadn't been determined, he said.

Anthony Sowell, a 50-year-old registered sex offender, was arrested Saturday when officers saw him walking down the street of his east-side neighborhood.

No charges have been filed regarding the bodies.

The gruesome discovery left some in the community concerned about women whom they had not seen in a long time.

Ida Garrett, 72, remembered a friend who was reported missing in April. "I think one of them is her," she said.

The first bodies were found Thursday night when police went to Sowell's home to arrest him on new charges of rape and felonious assault, but he wasn't there. The woman in that alleged attack survived. She said she knew Sowell and was raped at the house.

Sowell previously spent 15 years in prison for choking and raping a 21-year-old woman who was lured to his bedroom in 1989, police said.

As a registered sex offender, Sowell was required to check in regularly at the sheriff's office, which said he complied. Officers also visited his home, most recently on Sept. 22, just hours before the woman reported being raped there.

But since Sowell wasn't on parole or probation, they didn't have the right to enter his house - until Thursday when they had search-and-arrest warrants.

The three-story house is in a crowded inner-city neighborhood of mostly older homes, some boarded up, and small corner stores. Some neighbors said a bad smell came from the house several months ago, but they thought then that it might be natural gas.

Sowell often walked around his neighborhood asking for money and looking for scrap metal to sell, neighbors said. He returned to the family home in 2005 after his release from prison.

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