Anthony Sowell became known as the Cleveland Strangler after eleven rotting corpses were found in his home at 12205 Imperial Avenue. For 2 years Sowell had been luring in women under the guise of smoking crack cocaine. Once the victim was in his house, Sowell would rape, torture, and strangle them to death.
A Rough Upbringing
Anthony Sowell was born in Cleveland in 1959 to working-class parents. Anthony’s mother, Claudia Garrison, raised him and his several siblings after his father left him when he was just a toddler.
After several years of moving from home to home, the family finally ended up at 1878 Page Avenue. It was in this house that Anthony experienced an abusive childhood. Accounts vary on the type and severity of abuse Anthony was exposed to, but family members have claimed that there was emotional and physical abuse carried out by Anthony’s mother, Claudia, and grandmother, Irene Justice.
Anthony would be forced to watch his sisters be stripped down, tied to the stairwell banister, and beaten. The punishments became so severe that the children would often see which of them could be beaten the worst without crying.
Experts aren’t 100% positive that Anthony Sowell was sexually abused, but he did recall some troubling signs that show he was, such as smearing feces on a child’s doll when he was only 3 or 4 years old.
All the children raised at 1878 Page Avenue would eventually enter a mental institution and / or be heavily addicted to drugs or alcohol.
The Few, The Proud
Anthony Sowell dropped out of Shaw Highschool and at seventeen he impregnated his girlfriend Twyla Austin, whom he gave birth to his daughter Julie.
To help support Twyla and his newborn, Sowell joined the Marine Corps on January 24, 1978, and was sent to Parris Island, SC for bootcamp. Sowell excelled during his Marine training, finishing as an honor graduate before being sent to his permanent duty stations.
For the next 8 years Anthony would raise the Marine ranks in North Carolina, California, and even Okinawa Japan. Along his journey, Sowell turned to alcohol and heavy drinking. His so-far stellar record was blemished with an AWOL charge and some other minor related alcohol offenses.
It was in Okinawa that former Marine acquaintance claim that Anthony Sowell developed and refined his sadistic nature. One former colleague stated that Anthony, “had his war with these foreign women for the whole time he was in Okinawa. He tied the girls to chairs and put ropes around their necks. He liked to talk about how he choked and strangled them.”
Sowell’s saving grace was a fellow Marine, Kim Yvette Lawson, which he married while serving in Japan. She would later claim that she only married Anthony so “he wouldn’t drink himself to death” or receive a dishonorable discharge.
With the support of his new wife, Anthony straightened up enough to receive an honorable discharge on January 15, 1985, however, his life would continue to spiral down.
Goodbye Marines, Hello Prison
Anthony kept low for a few years after his discharge in 1985, but soon served serious prison time for a serious accusation of raping a pregnant woman. The incident occurred when the woman’s car broke down on Euclid Avenue.
Sowell spotted the woman in distress and offered her a ride in which he brought her to his home and for several hours held her captive and raped her repeatedly. Appearing remorseful Sowell apologize repeatedly before continuing with his next sexual assault.
Anthony was arrested, but became a fugitive after not showing up to his court hearing. On June 24, 1990, Sowell was accused of another rape telling his victim that “she was his bitch, and she had better learn to like it.”
Anthony Sowell was given a sex offender status and placed in prison from 1990 to 2005, after which began residing in the now infamous 12205 Imperial Avenue.
More Bad Choices
Much like in his Marine boot camp, Anthony Sowell thrived in structured environments. It is only when he has no rules or guidelines to follow that his life becomes deranged.
They released Sowell from prison on June 20, 2005, at 45. He kept his residence tidy and well-kept and got his first actual job working at the Cleveland baseball stadium in food services. Always the athlete, Anthony seemed to enjoy working in the stadium where the Cleveland Browns and Chiefs practiced.
To neighbors, family, and friends, Sowell was on track to live a happy life, but then he met the woman who would change his life forever.
Malt Liquor and Crack Rock
Lori Frazier was instantly attracted to Anthony Sowell. She was the niece of the Mayor of Cleveland, but struggling to keep her addiction to crack cocaine a secret from her family.
Anthony had little to offer her, but he was clean and kept a tidy home. Sowell was gainfully employed, meaning he could provide to Frazier what she really needed most, her next hit of crack.
Sowell worked hard to support Frazier’s growing crack addiction, steering clear of using the drug himself, however it was only a matter of time until he became just as addicted as her.
As Anthony fell deeper into his crack addiction, Lori Frazier pushed further away. They both can’t be fiends, not if they were to have the job security to support their addiction.
As Frazier became more distant, Sowell became more withdrawn and stuck at home. Anthony filled his lonely nights with whichever woman wanted to smoke the drug with him for the exchange for sex.
Many women walked in and out of 12205 Imperial Avenue, 11 of which stayed for good.
What’s That Awful Smell?
Many of the Imperial Avenue residents did not have air conditioning in the hot Cleveland summer months. And during these months you could usually notice windows propped open, allowing a breeze to waft through the home. However,, for several years, until Anthony Sowell’s arrest, homeowners kept their windows shut lest they preferred the stench of rotting human flesh entering their homes.
The putrid smell was so poignant that city inspectors constantly paraded about the neighborhood attempting to discern the origin of the smell.
These city officials settled on citing Ray’s Sausage Company, a mom and pops sausage factory boasting 57 years of service to its community, never with a complaint about the smell.
Citing Ray’s with unable to “adequately control odors and vapors” the United States Department of Agriculture forced the business to replace its entire plumbing system at an estimated $20,000.
The disgusting stench still filled the streets even after Ray’s plumbing upgrades. Little did anyone know, the origin of the awful smell was originating from many rotting corpses at 11205 Imperial Avenue, Anthony Sowell’s place.