Neighbors of alleged US serial killer 'smelt bodies'
Neighbors of alleged US serial killer Anthony Sowell had apparently complained about a foul smell for years, but many believed it was coming from a sausage factory next door.
The 50-year-old convicted rapist was arraigned Wednesday on a string of murder charges as investigators examined the gruesome remains of up to 11 bodies unearthed at his home in Cleveland, Ohio.
Local councilman Zack Reed said he would push for an independent investigation into why complaints about the smell didn't lead to an earlier discovery.
"Residents are mad and they have every right to be mad," he told AFP.
Reed said his office called the public health department about two and a half years ago after a neighbor reported the smell. He wondered whether an earlier detection could have prevented some of the murders.
"I know darned well that our health department should have been able to tell the difference between the smell of a dead body and the smell of dead meat," he told AFP.
At the arraignment hearing, defense lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Sowell should be granted bail as he had a heart condition that required him to wear a pacemaker and had other undisclosed medical problems.
Prosecutors were adamant the alleged serial killer, who has already served a 15-year stint behind bars for a 1989 rape, should continue to be kept under lock and key.
"The state believes he is an incredibly dangerous threat to the public," assistant county prosecutor Brian Murphy told the hearing.
A frail looking Sowell stared straight ahead at judge Ronald Adrine as he was ordered to remain in jail pending trial on five charges of aggravated murder. Police said they expected further charges to follow.
"After 26 years on the bench, this is without question the most serious set of allegations I've ever faced," said Adrine, refusing bail due to the "gruesome nature" of the crimes and the defendant's criminal history.
The horrific murders came to light last Thursday when police went to Sowell's house to arrest him on unrelated rape and assault charges for a September attack on a woman who survived.
Sowell was not in but instead police discovered the decomposing bodies of six women over two days in the house and yard.
Four were reportedly found rotting in the back garden with other remains inside the house. Investigators unearthed four more bodies and a skull at the property on Tuesday, bringing the total number of victims to a possible 11.
"We have located 10 bodies and a singular skull," Cleveland police spokesman Thomas Stacho told AFP. "It is not known yet if the skull is an 11th victim."
The first six bodies have all been identified as African-American women and coroners are working on the sex and race of the rest with the help of an anthropologist from a local museum. At least five of the women were strangled.
None of the victims have yet been formally identified and earlier in the week worried family members clasped photos of missing loved-ones outside the Sowell house, fearing the worst.
Local ministers met with the city's police chief Wednesday to offer their support for families and friends of victims once they have been identified.
Sowell was arrested on Saturday after a local resident recognized him walking down the street and notified police. He did not try to resist arrest.
Neighbors said his family had lived for many years at the relatively well-kept house in Imperial Avenue, where he had returned in 2005 after being released from prison.
On unemployment benefits after being laid off from his job about two years ago, Sowell lived on the third floor and liked to sit on the concrete front steps at the front of the house.
He was often spotted rolling a shopping cart down the street collecting cans and scrap, said residents in the poor Cleveland neighborhood, which is dotted with vacant and boarded-up buildings.
"It's a hard pill to swallow," said Wanda Thomas, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades. "People used to look out for each other. Now people are scared," she told AFP.
Police said they planned to search vacant buildings within a half-mile radius of Sowell's home, looking for additional bodies.
Sowell's case will now be forwarded to a grand jury. He faces a possible death penalty if found guilty.