How The Cleveland Strangler Almost Ruined A Sausage Business

Between 2007 and 2009, Anthony Sowell, who became known as the Cleveland Strangler, lured at least 12 women to his Cleveland, Ohio, home by promising them alcohol and drugs. After arriving at Sowell's home, the women were restrained, sexually assaulted, and ultimately killed. As reported by A&E TV, one woman, Vanessa Gay, managed to escape Sowell's home with non-life-threatening injuries. However, 11 others were not so lucky.

Cleveland 19 reports that the remains of 11 women were eventually recovered in and around Sowell's home. Authorities confirmed two bodies were found on the third floor of the home, two were buried in the crawlspace, one was found buried in the basement under a staircase, five were found buried in the backyard, and the skull of another victim was found in a bucket in the basement.

According to A&E TV, Sowell's victims were ultimately identified as 53-year-old Tonia Carmichael, 33-year-old Tishana Culver, 44-year-old Nancy Cobbs, 38-year-old Crystal Dozier, 31-year-old Telacia Fortson, 47-year-old Amelda Hunter, 24-year-old Leshanda Long, 45-year-old Michelle Mason, 44-year-old Kim Yvette Smith, 38-year-old Diane Turner, and 49-year-old Janice Webb.

In the months and weeks prior to the discovery of the grisly scene, neighbors called authorities several times to report a foul odor coming from the vicinity of Sowell's home. However, the odor was blamed on a sausage factory, which was next door to Sowell's home.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Ray's Sausage was nearly forced to close

As reported by, Ray's Sausage is a family-owned meatpacking business that was founded in 1952 and remains open to this day. However, accusations that the company was responsible for the foul odors wafting throughout the neighborhood nearly destroyed the business. At one point, the owner was forced to have the building's entire sewer system removed and replaced, as the city blamed the sewer for the odor of rotting meat. It was ultimately made clear that the odor was not coming from Ray's Sausage, but the family was stuck with a hefty bill and a damaged reputation.

Although the city of Cleveland had suggested they would assist Ray's Sausage with relocating and expanding their business, Cleveland 19 says it never came to fruition. Ray's daughter, Leslie Lester, said it would cost more than $80,000 to make the move without the city's help, and she and her family never heard back from the city. At this point, the family simply does not have $80,000. They are also having trouble securing a business loan, as they have never sought financing and have not established a credit history with any banks.

As stated on the company's website, the family still hopes to relocate and expand their operations at some point. They would also like to obtain a Federal USDA certification, which would allow them to sell their products outside the state of Ohio.

Anthony Sowell became known as the Cleveland Strangler

Although Ray's Sausage was initially blamed for the foul odors, authorities discovered the actual source of the smell in late October 2009. One month earlier, Anthony Sowell lured Vanessa Gay to his home to have a few drinks together. As reported by, Sowell attempted to strangle Gay with an extension cord. Once she was subdued, he proceeded to rape her until she lost consciousness.

Gay managed to escape Sowell's home after she promised not to tell authorities what happened. She also agreed to bring him $50 cash. Although it took more than a month, Gay eventually went to the police to report the assault. On October 29, 2009, reports that authorities went to Sowell's house with a warrant for his arrest. Although he was not home, they entered the house and were horrified to find several decomposing bodies, which they realized were the source of the foul odor.

Authorities conducted an extensive search of Sowell's house and property. By Wednesday, November 4, Cleveland19 reports that law enforcement officials found the remains of 11 different women. As it was determined that eight of the 11 victims were strangled, Sowell was dubbed the Cleveland Strangler.

Anthony Sowell was a convicted sex offender

A native of East Cleveland, Anthony Sowell enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 1978 (via After serving eight years in North Carolina and Okinawa, Japan, he returned to East Cleveland. Within two years of his return, he was reported to authorities for two different rapes. Sowell ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of attempted rape and was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison. Although he was up for parole several times, Sowell ended up serving his entire sentence.

Sowell was released on June 20, 2005. At the time of his release, he moved into a house owned by his father and stepmother. As he was convicted of a sex crime, he was required to register with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office once per year. In 2008, a new law required him to report to them every 90 days. According to, authorities began receiving reports of a foul odor in the neighborhood in June 2007. In November 2008, it became apparent that women were beginning to vanish from the same area.

Anthony Sowell evaded arrest several times

On December 8, 2008, a woman who was visibly distraught, disheveled, and bleeding approached a police car asking for help. As reported by, the woman said she went to Anthony Sowell's home voluntarily. However, when he offered her some beer, and she declined, he physically assaulted her and attempted to remove her clothing. Although Sowell was arrested for the assault, the charges were dropped when the victim refused to cooperate.

According to, Sowell cooperated with the conditions of his sex offender status and regularly checked in with the sheriff's office. However, the deputies were also tasked with verifying Sowell's reported address. On September 22, 2009, deputies went to Sowell's home and confirmed he was living at the home on Imperial Avenue. However, they did not go inside the house. Hours later, Sowell lured Vanessa Gay to his house, where he physically and sexually assaulted her. Although she ultimately survived the attack and escaped, she waited a month to discuss the assault with detectives.

In the meantime, on October 20, neighbors called authorities to report that a nude woman either fell or was pushed out of a second-story window at Sowell's home. According to, Sowell told the officers the woman accidentally fell out of the window after binging on drugs all day. As the woman refused to talk to authorities, there was no proof that a crime had occurred.

Anthony Sowell died in prison

Nine days later, after speaking with Vanessa Gay, authorities finally discovered the extent of Anthony Sowell's crimes. As reported by CNN, Sowell was charged with 85 criminal counts, including aggravated murder, rape, abuse of corpses, and kidnapping. Although he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, Sowell was found guilty on all counts and was ultimately sentenced to death.

In February 2021, CNN reported that Sowell died at the age of 61. Prison authorities confirmed he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and spent his final months in the end-of-life unit at the Franklin Medical Center — which is part of Ohio's prison system. Although the nature of his illness was not disclosed, prison authorities confirmed it was not related to COVID-19.

Sowell's former home on Imperial Avenue was demolished in 2011. According to Cleveland19, the land was turned into a memorial park — which is called the Garden of 11 Angels — in remembrance of Sowell's victims in November 2021.