CLEVELAND — A convicted rapist who lived among 10 corpses was ordered held without bond today as investigators prepared to begin tearing apart walls inside the house in search of more evidence or bodies.
Anthony Sowell appeared in court under tight security, wearing a blue paper jumpsuit typically used when an inmate might be a suicide risk. His wrists and ankles were manacled, and he walked into court staggering slightly.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Brian Murphy called Sowell “an incredibly dangerous threat to the public” and said Sowell could face the death penalty if convicted of the charges — five aggravated murder counts for the first victims whose cause of death has been ruled strangling. In addition, he faces charges of rape, felonious assault and kidnapping for a Sept. 22 attack on a woman at his home.
Public defender Kathleen DeMetz told the judge that Sowell has medical problems, including a heart pacemaker and cardiac medication. He was laid off two years ago and receives unemployment compensation.
The case now goes before the county grand jury.
Police discovered the first six bodies Thursday and Friday after a woman reported being raped at Sowell’s home. Investigators said they found one body in a shallow grave in the backyard. The rest were inside the house — one in the basement, two in the third-floor living room and two in an upstairs crawl space.
They found four more bodies Tuesday in Sowell’s backyard, as well as a skull wrapped in paper inside a bucket in his basement.
After Sowell’s court appearance, deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said investigators have finished digging through the backyard and will begin tearing apart walls inside the house today in search of more evidence or bodies.
“We’re going to go bit by bit, piece by piece,” he said.
The Cuyahoga County coroner hasn’t identified any of the bodies but is trying to do so through DNA and dental records. The six found last week were black, and five of them were strangled.
Sowell served 15 years in prison for a 1989 rape. On Tuesday, police Chief Michael McGrath said: “It appears that this man had an insatiable appetite that he had to fill.”
A crowd of around 100 people milled about and chatted near the home Tuesday evening. A short while later, around 50 people joined hands and put their arms around each other in the middle of the street and prayed aloud.
One of those in the crowd, Antoinnette Dudley, 29, lives a few houses away. She said she could smell a terrible odor like something was dead all summer. She said she saw Sowell only a few times, mainly drinking beer while he sat on his porch.
“I didn’t think he was that sick,” she said.
As a registered sex offender, Sowell was required to check in regularly at the sheriff’s office. Officers didn’t have the right to enter his house, but they would stop by to make sure he was there. Their most recent visit was Sept. 22, just hours before the woman reported being raped.
For the past few years, Sowell’s neighbors thought the foul smell enveloping their street corner had been coming from a brick building where workers churned out sausage and head cheese. It got so bad that the owners of Ray’s Sausage replaced their sewer line and grease traps.