CNN’s Easy Prey


http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/10/26/cleveland.sowell.victims.one.year/index.html?iref=allsearch

Nine-year-old Jonathan Carmichael thought his mother was Superwoman.
He observed her unstoppable force, working double shifts as a medical secretary so they could live in a modest town house in a decent neighborhood. He saw her fly off to do overtime, and then surprise him and his sister with toy cars and video games and a trip to Disneyland.

But by the time he was 12, his super mother had vanished, replaced by a crack cocaine addict. He watched her pawn the gifts she’d bought him to feed her habit.

If Jonathan felt confused, his sister Donnita was angry. She was 18 when the mother she once knew went missing. Donnita loved her and she hated her. She argued with her and listened to her. She tried desperately to save her from her addiction. And when she failed, she stopped calling her “Mom.”

Sometimes, their mother, Tonia Carmichael, disappeared for days or weeks at a time. So on November 10, 2008, when her children heard she was missing, it seemed, sadly, like nothing new.

She was gone.

So were Crystal Dozier, 38,
and Tishanna Culver, 29.
And Le’Shanda Long, 25,
and Michelle Mason, 44.

They were all black women with ties to the quiet neighborhood of Mount Pleasant in the eastern part of Cleveland. They were all mothers, some grandmothers, some second cousins. Almost all struggled with a drug addiction at some point in their lives. Court records show many resorted to stealing and some turned to prostitution to support their habits.
Six more women would disappear after 52-year-old Tonia:

Kim Yvette Smith, 43.
Nancy Cobbs, 43.
Amelda Hunter, 46.
Telacia Fortson, 31.
Janice Webb, 48.
Diane Turner, 38.

When police found their bodies in October 2009 — all on one man’s property — everyone wondered: How could 11 women in the same town disappear over two years without public notice?

Police believe the women were easy prey for Anthony Sowell, a convicted sex offender who served 15 years for the attempted rape of a woman in 1989. Sowell, now 51, had moved to the home on Imperial Avenue in 2005, after his release from prison.

He has been charged with 11 murders, two rapes, one attempted rape and more than 70 other related charges. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and is scheduled to go to trial in February 2011…..

Since the bodies were discovered, other women have come forward, alleging Sowell attacked them. His attorneys would not comment on those allegations either.

Criminologists say serial killers often target people whose lives may be messy or off the grid — prostitutes, runaways and drug users — because their absences might not raise red flags, even for their families.

And there is another suspicion echoing among Cleveland residents, particularly in the black community: that the lives of poor black women aren’t worth much, certainly less than had they been suburban white women.

“We’re saying you don’t have the right to judge whether or not a case is worth being investigated,” said Dave Patterson, a local activist who is pushing the legislature to reform the way police handle missing-persons cases, to give more priority to cases involving adults.

Almost a year after the discovery of the bodies, it is still hard to say why the disappearance of 11 women went largely unnoticed for nearly two years.

Note from me: I do not believe this. If it had been 11 white crack heads that were known to go off for periods of times they also would not have been looked for. The color is not anywhere as ‘important’ as the lifestyle to the press, the general public and yes, even the police. I do not want to sound cold hearted but if the police went chasing after every prostitute and or drug addict that was reported as missing by a family member or friend they would not be able to do anything else. I have had so many friends that get into this sort of circle. They drop out of sight and are found a few months later in some jail maybe even a few states away or they just end up stumbling into the families front door worn out and tired in need of a few months recuperation. They get themselves kind of straight and then the cycle begins again.

The reasons are complex, as were the roller-coaster relationships between the women and the family members who knew they were missing and miss them now.

“I had seen her high, missing, trying to put her life together,” Jonathan Carmichael, now 25, said of his mother. “I had seen her on a good streak for a long time and then she’d hit a bad number and fall right back onto the streets.”
There was no reason to think this time was any different.

A month after Barbara reported her daughter missing to police, a 40-year-old Cleveland woman, a deep gash on her right thumb and scratches on her neck, frantically approached a patrol car in the Mount Pleasant area, according to police records.

She told officers a man in a gray hoodie offered her beer, and when she declined, she said, he punched her in the face several times, tried to rape her and dragged her toward a house at 123rd Street and Imperial Avenue.
“He just kind of twisted my neck, twisting it, twisting it, twisting it,” Gladys Wade, who managed to escape from the man, told CNN last year. “I was gouging his face at the same time. At the same time, I was trying to take his eyeballs out. It was like the devil, you know? Eyes glowing.”

Note from me: I am sure her description of the events included descriptions like this which although to the general public paints a mental image of an evil attacker the police see as a person embellishing and possibly seeing things through drug hazed eyes. Again, I am not being cold hearted, I feel for this woman and she is in NO WAY to blame for the attack.
You also can not blame the police too much. From our living rooms it is so easy to say they should have been more vigilant but we do not hear the stories that they do. We are not privy to the many times prostitutes or ‘Johns’ come into the station telling tall tales that involve crazy descriptions. They may shock us but they hardly raise an eyebrow in the police station.

The man, who Wade said was known as “Tone,” was in fact Anthony Sowell, police reports show. Sowell told police a different story. He claimed Wade, who had a record for forgery and assault, had robbed and assaulted him, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.

Sowell, who had spent 15 years in prison for attempted rape, had grown up in East Cleveland, a suburb of Cleveland. He had joined the Marines at 18, an opportunity that took him to California, North Carolina and Japan, according to authorities. He served eight years, then returned to East Cleveland. People who interacted with him after his release said he appeared to be “a normal guy,” known around the neighborhood for selling scrap metal.

On December 8, 2008, when police went to Sowell’s house after Wade’s complaint, they knew he was a sex offender, according to an e-mail from Nancy Dominik, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland Police Department.
He was in the Tier 3 category, the most dangerous classification in Ohio, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office said. Officers had checked on him numerous times at his home. During those visits, the officers didn’t notice a smell or anything unusual, said spokesman John O’Brien. He also pointed out that officers weren’t allowed to enter the home during the checkups.

But a police report from the December 8 visit shows authorities saw blood droplets on the walls and steps.

Note from me: I would REALLY like to hear more on this. Was it blood droplets or brown spots? This is the one quote from this article that disturbs me. I know information is still restricted since the case has yet to go to trial but I hope that more information on this detail comes out soon.

In a second report written two days later, a Cleveland officer said they did not see any “visible signs” of Wade being punched in the face. The officers told CNN affiliate WKYC that they dropped the case after Wade declined to press charges.

After Wade’s complaint to police, six more women would disappear.

The police have pointed out that only four of the 11 families reported their loved ones missing. The department has also said it is currently reviewing its missing-persons practices.

The Cleveland police received 1,576 missing-person reports last year, and as in most cities, missing children cases receive top priority.

Among the families that didn’t file a missing-person report was that of Amelda Hunter.
Her son, Bobby Dancey, recalls his mother whipping up pepperoni pizzas from scratch. They used to laugh and joke at the dinner table together. She taught him to dance in their living room, four houses away from where Sowell lived.
But she also abandoned her son countless times to use drugs. So when she disappeared in the summer of 2009, Dancey never filed a police report.
“She had left before,” he said quietly.

After analyzing more than 110 serial murders, Steven Egger, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Houston at Clear Lake in Texas, found at least 75 involved victims who were drug abusers, homeless or prostitutes.

“People are quoted on television saying they deserve it because of their lifestyle, forgetting about the fact that it’s somebody’s daughter, wife, possibly somebody’s mother,” Egger said.

There is no simple method of categorizing serial killers. Many people believe serial killers are reclusive misfits or white males, but that is not true, according to the FBI. Authorities have caught serial killers who are black, Asian and Hispanic, but they say white serial killers usually receive the most media attention.

Serial killers usually blend into their surroundings. A combination of biology and environment influences someone to become a serial killer, the FBI says.

“These killers know what they are doing is wrong, but they simply don’t care,” said Jack Levin, professor of sociology at Northeastern University.
“They choose to do it because it makes them feel good.”

The bodies at Sowell’s home were finally discovered when a 36-year-old Cleveland woman went to police.

On September 23, 2009, she reported that Sowell had invited her into his home for beer. Her description of what happened there was eerily similar to the events laid out by Sowell’s 1989 victim and, later, by Gladys Wade.
The woman said Sowell punched her in the face and began performing oral sex on her. She was able to escape, she said, by promising to return the next day.
Officers issued a warrant for Sowell’s arrest based on her account.
They entered his home on October 29, 2009. First, they discovered two bodies rotting in the attic, then five more more buried in the backyard. Eventually the body count reached 11.

Police continue to investigate Sowell. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason is reopening 75 cold cases. In East Cleveland, the suburb where Sowell lived in the 1980s, police are looking into three murders that involved strangulations and one missing person. They believe Sowell may be connected.

<img src="Anthony Sowell,serial killer” alt=”Anthony Sowell” />

  1. Thanks for the comment on my blog.

    You make some really good points. I agree that race isn’t a huge a huge issue when it comes to the medias coverage of missing prostitutes. Whatever the race is, there’s likely to be very little coverage of the case if they are into prostitution or drugs. However, among non-prostitutes, I do think race will come into play.

    When you look at how the media covers missing persons stories, they prefer to cover a missing person that the middle class can relate and connect too as much as possible. After all, that means increased interest and increased ratings. With someone like Natalee Holloway, so many people could connect with her story in some way. College students could see themselves in her position, parents could see Natalee as their daughter, etc. It’s not as easy for the public to connect with a missing person that may be a minority, may be poor, may have been into prostitution, etc. I don’t agree with it, but that seems to be how it is sadly.

    With the lifestyle of women (and men) into drugs and prostitution, you’re right that they often go missing for periods of time. That was an obstacle in the Green River Killer investigation. Many prostitutes were reported missing and police had no idea who may or may not have been a victim. The police didn’t have an easy job and they still don’t.

    However, when looking at cases with missing prostitutes, I do feel that older cases should be treated as involuntary disappearances and the idea of a serial killer should be investigated. While prostitutes that turn up fine are reported missing all of the time, that’s just it, they turn up fine. If a prostitute has been reported missing for 2-3 years, then I think it should be looked at closer. With the Green River Killer investigation, there was so much confusion as the killings began in 1982 with who may be a victim. However, by late 1983-1984, police knew who was likely a victim of the Green River Killer because they were the missing prostitutes that still weren’t turning up.

    For instance, in January 1984, the Seattle Times published a list of 14 missing women’s disappearances that may be connected to Gary Ridgway. All of them (to my knowledge) were believed to be into prostitution and had disappeared in the previous 12-18 months. Of these 14 women, 10 were later found dead, with Ridgway admitting to the murder of 9 of those 10 women. Another 2 of the 14 I was unable to find any information on. My guess with those 2 is that they were found safe, or their disappearances were ruled out as being connected to Ridgway. Finally with the last 2 of the 14, they remain missing and Gary Ridgway has admitted to their murders. So while prostitutes are reported missing all of the time, it seems like the majority of them turn up within a few months. I wonder if there are any official statistics to back that up though.

    So should the police just focus on older cases? Of course then you could argue that those older cases are less likely to be solved. If the women fell into danger years prior when they were reported missing, they are likely dead. The argument could be made that police should instead spend their time focusing on more recent cases where lives could possibly be saved.

    In all, it’s a very complex topic. Just thought I’d throw in a few thoughts, all which are just my opinion of course. 😉

  1. August 7th, 2011

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