Serial killer Anthony Sowell’s aftermath continues to stoke fears on Cleveland’s East Side: Phillip Morris
Convicted serial murderer Anthony Sowell’s Imperial Avenue home in Cleveland,OH, is demolished, Tuesday, December 6, 2011. But fear in the wake of his slaughter remains strong in certain Cleveland communities.
I first met Renee when they started pulling bodies out of Anthony Sowell’s backyard in 2009.
She called and said she wanted to talk to a reporter. She warned me that she was in the middle of a nervous breakdown and needed to scream.
When I arrived at her East Side home, Renee met me at the door with a picture of Kimberly Yvette Smith in her hand. She gave me the photo and began to shake and sob uncontrollably.
Awkward and haunting doesn’t begin to describe that introduction, but it’s the moment the serial killing became real for me.
Kim, an attractive young lady, was the ninth woman to be found buried in the home of Anthony Sowell, the convict Cleveland serial killer. She was also a close friend of Renee’s, as were four of the other women whose remains were found at the Imperial Avenue property.
But Renee wasn’t worried about Sowell. His career was over. She was worried about someone else; a man who she believed posed a continuing threat to her.
“I’m scared, Mr. Morris. There is someone else out here raping us. I was raped in July at gunpoint. The same guy, with the same M.O. has raped at least three more of my girlfriends. How can we get this guy off the street before he kills someone?“
I’ve thought of Renee often in recent days as the level of tension and fear begins to rise again in certain neighborhoods on Cleveland’s East Side — neighborhoods near the house where Anthony Sowell killed and stashed the bodies of eleven women.
Police took the extraordinary step this week of issuing a warning to women to remain vigilant against stranger abductions as they seek whoever killed 20-year-old Jazmine Trotter and 45-year-old Christine (Crissy) Johnson-Malone.
The bodies of these two Cleveland women were found about a mile from each other last week in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Both died of head trauma and strangulation. Police say they have no evidence the incidents are connected, but a highly stressed community is already rushing to its own judgements.
The fear that another serial predator might have emerged continues to evolve, especially with the news Monday of an attempted abduction in the general vicinity of the two killings.
Perhaps it’s a community’s overreaction. But that is what can be expected in the wake of a successful serial killer, who operated under a city’s radar for years. Even after Sowell’s 2011 capital conviction, the paranoia and fears he stoked live on.
The current attacks have caused some to wonder whether another violent sociopath has picked up the killer’s mantel and resumed his work.
Cleveland, to its benefit, has changed in some important ways since Sowell made women disappear. The city’s police department doesn’t take missing person’s reports as cavalierly as it once did. Officers appear quicker to handle the complaints and more eager to ascertain a missing person’s whereabouts.
And the community is much quicker to report those who go missing. Families are doing a better job of keeping an eye on their own lost sheep and vulnerable loved ones.
Such proactive behavior helps improve the overall level of public safety, as sloppy predators – like Sowell – no longer have the luxury of operating in a climate marked by rank indifference.
Still, the warning and plea of Renee continue to haunt me. I don’t know if she’s living or dead. I have been unable to locate her.
If you’re out there Miss RYO, give me a call.
Her concerns remain just as valid now as they were when we spoke.
The first line of defense against a predator remains vigilance. Members of a community who assume direct responsibility for each other thwart a serial killer from operating under our radar.