In 1989, Melvette Sockwell, who was three months pregnant, went to Sowell's home voluntarily. When she tried to leave, he bound her hands and feet with a tie and belt, then gagged her with a rag. The victim told police: "He choked me real hard because my body started tingling. I thought I was going to die." Sowell was charged with kidnapping, rape and attempted rape. He eventually pleaded guilty to the charge of attempted rape, and as a result he served 15 years in prison. He was released in 2005.
Sowell worked in a factory until 2007 when he began collecting unemployment benefits. Neighbors said he earned a living selling scrap metal. They complained to the health department of a foul smell in the neighborhood. He was a member of an online dating service, where he stated that he was a "master" looking for a submissive person to "train".
Lori Frazier, a niece of Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson, began a relationship with Sowell shortly after his release from prison and resided in his home. She claims to have smelled the stench of decaying bodies and that she was told the smell was coming from Sowell's stepmother. When she moved out, she claimed that the smell was from Ray's Sausage Shop, located next door to the Sowell residence. There is some confusion about when Frazier stopped living in Sowell's home.
In September 2009, Sowell invited Latundra Billups to his home for a drink. On September 22, 2009, she reported to police that after a few drinks, he became angry, hit her, choked her and raped her as she passed out. On October 29, police arrived at his home with a warrant to arrest him for the alleged rape. He was not there, but he was located and arrested two days later.
The bodies of two women were buried in a shallow grave in the basement and four other women were found on the 3rd floor of the home, in crawl spaces in the house. After digging in the backyard, investigators found three more bodies and the remains of a fourth. Police also found a human skull in a bucket inside the house, which brought the body count to eleven. Most of the victims were killed by manual strangulation and others were gagged or had ligatures on their bodies when they were discovered. Sowell also had at least three more rape victims that he had actually let live. All three never reported the attacks, due to their prior drug history or other personal reasons. Many victims were led to his property with an invitation to smoke crack cocaine with him. He was a known drug user throughout his neighborhood.
At the time of his arrest, Sowell was 50 years old. He had been living at that location for four years. He was held on $5 million bond. His trial was originally supposed to start on June 2, 2010 but was repeatedly delayed: first to September 7 to allow Sowell's attorneys more time to prepare, then to February 14, 2011, then to May 2 at the request of Sowell's defense attorneys who needed more time to comb through thousands of records and hours of surveillance video footage shot from the property next door to Sowell's Imperial Avenue home, where the remains of 11 women were discovered in 2009, and later to June 6 at the request of the prosecution due to scheduling conflicts. The trial eventually began on June 6, 2011.
Sowell was charged with eleven counts of aggravated murder and 74 counts of rape, kidnapping, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but later changed his plea to simply "not guilty." On July 22, 2011, he was convicted on all but two counts against him, including the murders of the eleven women whose bodies were found in his house in 2009. On August 10, jurors recommended the death penalty for Sowell. On August 12, Judge Dick Ambrose upheld the jury's recommendation. Since September 14, 2011, Sowell has resided on death row at Chillicothe Correctional Institution.
Known murder victims
|Number||Name||Age||Date of death|
|1||Crystal Dozier||35||c. May 2007|
|2||Tishana Culver||31||c. June 2008|
|3||Leshanda Long||25||c. August 2008|
|4||Michelle Mason||45||c. October 2008|
|5||Tonia Carmichael||53||c. December 2008|
|6||Nancy Cobbs||43||c. April 2009|
|7||Amelda Hunter||47||c. April 2009|
|8||Telacia Fortson||31||c. June 2009|
|9||Janice Webb||49||c. June 2009|
|10||Kim Yvette Smith||44||c. July 2009|
|11||Diane Turner||38||c. September 2009|