Neighbor Says Police Knew About Rapist’s House

The police in Cleveland were notified repeatedly about violence in the house of a convicted rapist where the decomposed bodies of six women were found last week, a neighbor said Monday.

The neighbor of the man, who was arrested Saturday night after the bodies were found, said the police had done little, despite the calls.

Fawcett Bess, 57, the owner of Bess Chicken and Pizza, across the street from the house, said that about two weeks ago, he found the man, Anthony Sowell, in the bushes alongside Mr. Sowell’s house naked and standing over a woman who was bloodied, beaten and also naked. Mr. Bess called 911, he said, and an ambulance soon took the woman away. But the police showed up two hours later and never interviewed him, he said.

“Nobody did anything because she is a girl walking around the streets,” Mr. Bess said. He said he did not know what had happened to the woman, or if the police had followed up on the matter.

Mr. Bess said that a month earlier, he had been approached by another woman who showed him bruises and blood on her neck that she claimed were from an attack by Mr. Sowell. The woman told Mr. Bess that the police had taken a report but appeared to do little investigating, he said.

“If people had come to tell us about this guy’s history, then maybe we would have paid more attention,” he said.

The claims were supported by police records that indicate Mr. Sowell was accused by one woman of choking and raping her in his house on Sept. 22. It was after this accusation that the police decided to conduct the search in which they found the decaying bodies. Police records indicate it took several weeks to assign an officer to the case and to obtain a search warrant.

Police records also show that on Dec. 8, 2008, another woman filed a report accusing Mr. Sowell of stopping her in front of his house and forcing her to the back door, where he punched, choked and tried to rape her.

“There were several incidents at the house that we were aware of, and we have investigated everything we had heard about,” Lt. Thomas Stacho, a spokesman for the Cleveland Police Department, said. “We are doing everything we can.”

Detectives were struggling Monday to identify the six bodies. They brought in cadaver dogs to search for more bodies, and met with the families of missing local women to gather information.

The discovery of the bodies led some crime experts to question whether the methods of tracking convicted sex offenders were sufficient. “It’s not clear what the answer is,” said Kristen Anderson, who oversees the sex offender tracking team at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Ms. Anderson said the Sowell case raised questions that were also raised in the case of Jaycee Dugard, the young California girl who was kidnapped and held for 18 years. The man charged with kidnapping her, Phillip Garrido, was also a convicted sex offender. The police visited him regularly to confirm his whereabouts.

“As a society, we’re still debating where the acceptable line is between an offender’s rights and privacy versus public safety,” Ms. Anderson said.

Like Mr. Garrido, Mr. Sowell seemed to have followed all the reporting requirements.

After serving 15 years in state prison for choking and raping a woman, Mr. Sowell, 50, registered with the state as a sex offender when he moved into the neighborhood in 2005, and he began checking in regularly with law enforcement authorities, as required by state law.

The area in the east side of Cleveland where Mr. Sowell lives is predominantly black and very poor. Judy Martin, who lives in a Cleveland suburb and is the director of Survivors/Victims of Tragedy, said there was a question about whether missing-person reports, especially those involving members of minority groups or people who live in poor neighborhoods, were taken seriously enough by the police.

“We have a lot of women of color who disappeared and who police just never even bothered to look for,” Ms. Martin said.

Meanwhile, the police, who have yet to file charges against Mr. Sowell relating to the six bodies, are trying to gather evidence.

“We can believe that this guy killed them,” Lieutenant Stacho said. “But we have to prove it.”

The police plan to tear down walls to be sure there are no more bodies in the house. Some of the bodies already found were so decomposed that an expert from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History was called in to help narrow down when the victims were killed.

Over the weekend, the police set up a command post near Mr. Sowell’s house and urged people to come forward with information on missing relatives or friends. Only four people have provided information, the police said.

No comments: