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Cleveland serial killer highlights police indifference
November 4, 2009 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Alleged serial killer and convicted rapist Anthony Sowell is creating even bigger problems for the Cleveland police department, who have been accused of joking about missing victims, passing the blame onto those victims and outright incompetence. As of today, the body count is up to 10 (plus one skull), and people around the world are wondering what went wrong.
posted by bitter-girl.com (69 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Joking about the victims? This a bad thing? Humans joke about things to release tension. I interned at the Holocaust Museum. You shoulda heard the jokes there. And these were people all dedicated to the cause. I couldn't bring myself to do it, but it was common. I don't hold it against them.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:00 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


As for the incompetence, the reports make it pretty clear that multiple reports did come in and weren't followed up on. That's where the real problems lie. I could care less if they are joking about it. But I want the crimes solved.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:01 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


This: "What upset me so bad, when I went to the police to try to report her missing, the Fourth District would not take the report, because she lived in (a nearby police district), (even though) she disappeared right around the corner from them, we found the car there. We went to (the other police district) after she was gone three weeks. They belittled it. They made jokes, (such as) 'Oh, go home, she'll show up by Christmas, after the drugs are all gone.' And they wouldn't even take the report. I had to go back up and demand to see the officer in charge. That's the only way I got her reported missing." isn't gallows humor; it's the dehumanization and marginalization of a woman who was likely raped and murdered.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:03 AM on November 4, 2009 [26 favorites]


It's also not joking about the victims within the department, it's joking about them to the people who are calling for help in locating them.
posted by hermitosis at 9:06 AM on November 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


people around the world are wondering what went wrong

The victims were black. That's it. That's why the police did not give a shit.

Note to serial killers: if you kill young white girls, you are fucked and you have maybe a year of activity to look forward to. If you kill gay men, women of color, or especially gay men of color, you have a good two or three decades before anyone starts noticing.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:09 AM on November 4, 2009 [41 favorites]


Joking about the victims? This a bad thing?

Not reading the article before you comment is a bad thing.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 9:12 AM on November 4, 2009 [11 favorites]


Brings to mind the callous law enforcement "professionals" of Milwaukee who returned a bleeding, drugged Konerak Sinthasomphone to the hands of his Jeffrey Dahmer, writing the incident off as a lover's quarrel. No surprise that if you're marginalized in this country, don't expect much help from a white cop.

But hey - everything turned out great for law enforcement there. The two officers appealed their termination and were reinstated with back pay. They were named officers of the year by the police union for fighting a "righteous" battle to regain their jobs.*
posted by porn in the woods at 9:12 AM on November 4, 2009 [10 favorites]


Joking about the victims? This a bad thing? Humans joke about things to release tension.

uh no they are joking about shit when people are attempting to file a missing persons report read the fucking links
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:13 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Note to serial killers: if you kill young white girls, you are fucked and you have maybe a year of activity to look forward to.

C'mon. You've just got to be aware that there's a white underclass, and choose your victims from there.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:16 AM on November 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


The victims were black. That's it. That's why the police did not give a shit.

I think more accurately they're hardcore drug addicts. From the article:

Sowell started to try to choke her. The woman said Sowell remarked, "You're just another crack (blank) from the street. No one will know if you're missing."
posted by electroboy at 9:17 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


people around the world are wondering what went wrong

The victims were black. That's it. That's why the police did not give a shit.

Note to serial killers: if you kill young white girls, you are fucked and you have maybe a year of activity to look forward to. If you kill gay men, women of color, or especially gay men of color, you have a good two or three decades before anyone starts noticing.


Probably a bit more complicated than this, as Cleveland does have black homicide detectives. But the powerless have always had a harder time getting attention from the authorities.

Young white girls do get the ratings for the cable nets. Atrios calls it WWWA? Where the White Women At?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:18 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


the body count is up to 10 (plus one skull),

You can just say eleven. I'm not a doctor, but I think missing a skull often results in death.
posted by dortmunder at 9:18 AM on November 4, 2009 [29 favorites]


Thank God this sort of thing would never happen in Canada. Especially that enlightened, laid back paradise known as Vancouver.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:19 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


mr_roboto's link reminded me of a similar mefi story:

My Date With Willy Pickton, in the sense that lots of people knew something was wrong, but no one really did anything about it.
posted by electroboy at 9:23 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can just say eleven. I'm not a doctor, but I think missing a skull often results in death.

Yeah, but they don't know if it belongs to another body he's responsible for killing or if it's just some AskMeFi artifact or what, so I'm reserving judgment for the time being.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:24 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, nothing terrible ever happens in Canada, ethnomethodologist.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:25 AM on November 4, 2009


Yes, nothing terrible ever happens in Canada, ethnomethodologist.

I know he's supposed to say HAMBURGER and all, but that was sarcasm.
posted by electroboy at 9:28 AM on November 4, 2009


Missed the Pickton ref there, electroboy. Still, goes to show there are effed up people everywhere, no? Some just haven't been caught yet.

And if you haven't read this bit in any of the stories yet, Sowell lived next to a sausage shop, which caught a lot of the blame for the nasty smells floating around the neighborhood.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:30 AM on November 4, 2009


Yeah, I read the part about how they replaced their grease trap and sewer line. Poor guys, their business is done for.
posted by electroboy at 9:32 AM on November 4, 2009


> Thank God this sort of thing would never happen in Canada. Especially that enlightened, laid back paradise known as Vancouver.

Don't bet the farm on it.
posted by Decimask at 9:33 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here is a similar story from India. It is depressing how universal the willingness to ignore crimes against poor people/low caste people/people from minority groups is.
posted by bearwife at 9:34 AM on November 4, 2009


These are the wages of the drug war. You have certain precincts who are so disconnected from their citizen base (aside from punishing them for drugs) that you can have a grossly incompetent serial killer rack up a score of bodies before anything happens. The drugs (and, by extension, poverty) are why no one cares. Drugs often fall along racial lines because of how segregation and white flight shaped city landscapes.
posted by codacorolla at 9:35 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


And if you haven't read this bit in any of the stories yet, Sowell lived next to a sausage shop, which caught a lot of the blame for the nasty smells floating around the neighborhood.

Have a little priest?
posted by hippybear at 9:39 AM on November 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Re: joking about missing victims - They made jokes, (such as) 'Oh, go home, she'll show up by Christmas, after the drugs are all gone.

That's not gallows humor, that's a cynical view of the stereotyped missing person: they're black AND they're drug users.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:40 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mayor Frank Jackson defended the work of the police.
"He believes the police did their job properly," said Andrea Taylor, Jackson's spokeswoman.
Ah, well you see there's your problem right there. See, you didn't do your job properly. All along you were thinking you actually did a good job, but in fact, you properly fucked up your job.

If you can't even recognize that you fucked up, you have no hope of ever fixing the problem.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:44 AM on November 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


That's not gallows humor, that's a cynical view of the stereotyped missing person: they're black AND they're drug users.

And of course what completely defies racial stereotype is the killer himself, who (as a black man) just about shouldn't even exist, speaking statistically. Leading me to wonder whether there aren't many, many more non-white serial killers out there than we've ever realized, and would realize were it not for...well, draw your own conclusions.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:47 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


(So as to avoid misinterpretation: Serial killers who aren't white men virtually do not exist. I can't actually think of another black serial killer.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:49 AM on November 4, 2009


I interned at the Holocaust Museum. You shoulda heard the jokes there.

It's a museum. Are we really living in the simulacrum?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:50 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's not gallows humor, that's a cynical view of the stereotyped missing person: they're black AND they're drug users.

And of course what completely defies racial stereotype is the killer himself, who (as a black man) just about shouldn't even exist, speaking statistically. Leading me to wonder whether there aren't many, many more non-white serial killers out there than we've ever realized, and would realize were it not for...well, draw your own conclusions.


I find this very interesting. I've never thought about this at all. No comment here. Just very interesting.
posted by jefficator at 9:51 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't fathom someone murdering more than four people; past that it is beyond my comprehension. Yes, I can count, but I'm more likely to make or listen to jokes about cases such as this or Pickton because I'm trying to wrap my head around the fact that one individual was responsible for so many deaths.
posted by variella at 9:52 AM on November 4, 2009


I can. A pretty unusual case though.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:53 AM on November 4, 2009


From the article in the Los Angeles Times:

"The stench of decay was overwhelming," said Lt. Thomas Stacho, spokesman for the police department. "The closest I got was 15 feet from an open door, and it was more than bad enough. I can't figure out how the neighbors didn't know something was wrong."

They did.

For months, they said, they gagged whenever they walked past the wood-framed house, with its listing porch and neatly mowed lawn. Some recalled that Sowell's clothing smelled bad enough to make their eyes water.

"He came into my store last week and reeked so bad, I had to open the front and back doors," said Eli Tayeh, who owns the Amira Imperial Beverage convenience store across the street. "I asked why he stunk. He shrugged, bought his beer and walked out."

Neighbors blamed the smell on mundane causes: body odor, the garbage bins Sowell picked through for scrap metal, the raw meat next door at Ray's Sausage Shop.


[...]

On Sept. 22, deputies with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department did a spot check on him to confirm that he was living at the address where he was registered, officials said.

The neighbors not saying anything, I can see. But the Sheriff's Department really visited his address and didn't notice anything suspicious about the smell?! And these are presumably Cleveland cops - not small town Andy Griffith types - who must have recognized something off about it. There's just this mentality in Cleveland that bad parts of the city are unfixable and it's better to stay away or keep to yourself/not ask too many questions. Everyone knows terrible things are going on, but it's accepted as a fact of life you joke about. "Oh, I had to drive through the East Side, I was afraid I was gonna get murdered, lol."

That attitude is so prevalent among people who live in/around Cleveland, it's tragic but unsurprising to see how its infected the ublic officials.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:53 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


My late reply was to kittens for breakfast.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:54 AM on November 4, 2009


kittens, I don't want to link the places that have posted the full list (mostly Aryan Nation/white power sites), but their links point elsewhere, so here's a few of the 50+ black serial murderers...

one, two, three

Reading through some of the links reconfirms that the police don't seem too worried about lower-income, drug-addicted women who go missing.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:56 AM on November 4, 2009


(So as to avoid misinterpretation: Serial killers who aren't white men virtually do not exist. I can't actually think of another black serial killer.)

The sniper in and around Washington DC a few years ago is African American.
posted by Maisie at 9:57 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't actually think of another black serial killer.

Rare, but they exist. Although I imagine it's a numbers game. Serial killers are a tiny percentage of the population, which in America is still overwhelmingly white.
posted by electroboy at 10:00 AM on November 4, 2009


The DC Snipers were technically spree killers, tho more controlled and calculating than most examples of the breed. Colin Ferguson was a mass-murderer.

And yes, there probably are a good number of serial killers who escape notice because they choose minority victims... including minority serial killers.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:17 AM on November 4, 2009


There were many expressions of shock and surprise voiced in the media in 2002 when the "D.C. Sniper" turned out to be two Black males. Two of the stereotypes surrounding serial killers are that they are almost always White males and that African American males are barely represented in their ranks. In a sample of 413 serial killers operating in the United States from 1945 to mid-2004, it was found that 90 were African American. Relative to the African American proportion of the population across that time period, African Americans were overrepresented in the ranks of serial killers by a factor of about 2. Possible reasons why so few African American serial killers are known to the public are explored.

African Americans and Serial Killing in the Media, behind a paywall.
posted by ofthestrait at 10:22 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


In a sample of 413 serial killers operating in the United States from 1945 to mid-2004, it was found that 90 were African American. Relative to the African American proportion of the population across that time period, African Americans were overrepresented in the ranks of serial killers by a factor of about 2. Possible reasons why so few African American serial killers are known to the public are explored.

Whoa. If so, then yeah, that IS interesting.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:26 AM on November 4, 2009


There's just this mentality in Cleveland that bad parts of the city are unfixable and it's better to stay away or keep to yourself/not ask too many questions. Everyone knows terrible things are going on, but it's accepted as a fact of life you joke about. "Oh, I had to drive through the East Side, I was afraid I was gonna get murdered, lol."

This will be interpreted as snark, but its not: What DO you do about it?

"Education" "Community Building" etc are great long-term solutions. Are there more?

In my city headlines have been made recently because the new mayor has sent the entire police force, neighborhood by neighborhood, to pick up offenders, etc. The city has been rejoicing in the crime reduction.

I live in a "nice" and "safe" part of town. I can vote for progressive people, vote for appropriate spending referendums, and refuse to participate in conversations that relegate the "dangerous" and "run-down" parts of town to inevitability, but what else can I do to combat a real problem?
posted by jefficator at 10:27 AM on November 4, 2009


And yes, there probably are a good number of serial killers who escape notice because they choose minority victims... including minority serial killers.

I think most serial killers select victims from their own race. Whether that's a conscious choice or whether it's due to the defacto segragation present in a lot of communities, I don't know.
posted by electroboy at 10:28 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


re black serial killers: try this. profiles generally show serial killers to be white males, between the ages (roughly) of 18 & 40, so that's what the cops look for. i think the cops are getting a little smarter, but it's a whole lot easier to hide if the people who are looking for you have the wrong description.
posted by msconduct at 10:29 AM on November 4, 2009


re black serial killers: try this.

I'd take anything with a link to the Aryan News Network with a grain of salt.
posted by electroboy at 10:33 AM on November 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


No comment here.

Ceci n'est pas une commentaire.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:38 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


African Americans and Serial Killing in the Media, behind a paywall.

This appears to be the same paper, and free.
posted by electroboy at 10:39 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Houston version.

I attended a community police presentation in New Orleans where the high ranking officer said that the people in the auditorium need not fear the murder rate because all of the murders were "drug related".

Then about five years later the very same officer was shot fatally in his front yard and the police said it was "random".
posted by bukvich at 10:43 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


N.H.I.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:05 AM on November 4, 2009


For some reason, it reminds me of Dorothea Puente, but maybe it's just because this guy has a higher frag count so far.
posted by drstein at 11:06 AM on November 4, 2009


I thoiught I was appalled at the fact that people can just disappear and nobody would notice. But, reading further, what appalls me is that people disappear, their disappearance is noticed, reported to the police, and ignored. Yes, they were a drug user. No, drug users don't simply disappear -- if that were the case, it would never get reported, because it would be expected. Yes, sometimes they vanish for a little while, because they leave or whatever, becore resurfacing. But it shouldn't be the default position of the police that this is what has happened, even if it is statistically likely. The default position should be: If it has been reported, it's unusual, and, if because the disappearance is out of character for the person who has disappeared, and it's worth investigating.

Actually, the default position should be, if a wealthy white person came in and said their daughter disappeared, how would we treat it?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:34 AM on November 4, 2009


I could have sworn the SF Chron showed a picture of a white guy with a goatee originally...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:40 AM on November 4, 2009


Case Western Reserve University, where I went to school, is a mile away. The sad thing is, I figure the students are reacting to a serial rapist in their neighbourhood with a facepalm, a smirk, and a pitiful 'Oh, Cleveland.'
posted by spamguy at 11:46 AM on November 4, 2009


Making jokes about the victims.

I'm sorry.*

* not really
posted by mistersquid at 11:49 AM on November 4, 2009


electroboy: WHOOPS! that's what i get for trying to participate in a conversation at the same time i'm working. google, paste, splat!

maybe you'll find alternet a bit more credible?

seriously. my point is simply that the penchant crosses color lines.
posted by msconduct at 11:52 AM on November 4, 2009


I don't know if the Ridgeway example is the best one to support the idea that victims from the white underclass attract as little attention as minority victims. The Green River killings were pretty high profile, especially in and around western Washington. Ridgeway got away with it for so long (as I understand it) because forensic technology just hadn't caught up with him yet. The police had him on their radar for a while (like, a decade iirc) before he was arrested. (And didn't Ridgeway's victims include women of color? I guess I could look this up on Wikipedia but I'm lazy.)
posted by Neofelis at 12:09 PM on November 4, 2009


It's ok, mistersquid, the Flats really does look like a Scooby Doo ghost town.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:20 PM on November 4, 2009


I live in Shaker Heights and go to school at Cleveland State. Last night I was sitting at a table studying and some students nearby were talking about the body count and laughing about how it was going up. I really don't know how you laugh at something like that unless you've completely disconnected yourself from the reality that, stupid cops and bad part of town or not, those were real people and presumably they had family or friends who loved them. "Oh, Cleveland" indeed.
posted by palidor at 12:25 PM on November 4, 2009


Ridgeway targeted runaways and prostitutes, regardless of race.
posted by bearwife at 12:30 PM on November 4, 2009


"Newsworthiness" regarding a murder/disappearance rarely has anything to do with the anything intrinsic to the victim herself.

The amount of air-time a murder/disappearance receives is usually in direct proportion to the number of traits shared by the victim and the target audience of the network's advertisers.

If blacks and Hispanics had the purchasing power of white suburbanites, you would quickly see increased coverage of black and Hispanic murders/disappearances.
posted by jefficator at 12:54 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have no issue with them joking about the victims after having read david simon's book "homicide," which devotes a few pages to that very issue. his point is that it is a tough job to investigate these crimes, that detectives have to deal with it in some way and that dark humor often is the easiest one available to them. that does not mean they don't take it seriously.

I do however have a problem with lack of effort, incompetence and -oh yeah- murder.
posted by krautland at 2:10 PM on November 4, 2009


This will be interpreted as snark, but its not: What DO you do about it?

I don't think there's a lot individuals can do about it, honestly. At least, I don't know. I just think the problem is that this mentality has perhaps spread to the police force, who obviously have the ability to do something about it and instead make jokes about drugs.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:36 PM on November 4, 2009


I have no issue with them joking about the victims

Um, you should read that "joking" link to the end. In this case the police joked about the victim to the victim's mother who was trying to report the victim missing:

We went to (the other police district) after she was gone three weeks. They belittled it. They made jokes, (such as) 'Oh, go home, she'll show up by Christmas, after the drugs are all gone.' And they wouldn't even take the report. I had to go back up and demand to see the officer in charge. That's the only way I got her reported missing."

I hope that changes your opinion.
posted by mediareport at 2:57 PM on November 4, 2009


Time for another hastily made Cleveland tourism video.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 4:18 PM on November 4, 2009


And sadly, Tonia Carmichael (mentioned in the "joking about" link) was just identified as one of the women found in Sowell's house.

That makes me incredibly angry, and terribly sad.
posted by ltracey at 7:53 PM on November 4, 2009


What a banner day for Cleveland posts, at least the one about the rock pavilion was amusing, this is just sad. It's just one of many things that go on the ghetto of Cleveland that nobody notices or cares about (nobody being the white suburbanites that run the area).
posted by greatalleycat at 9:03 PM on November 4, 2009


If we can't joke about serial killers, then what's the point of having them?
posted by Eideteker at 10:00 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


"If we can't joke about serial killers, then what's the point of having them?"

Really? In this thread? Really?
posted by jaduncan at 5:15 AM on November 5, 2009


There's a Hellmouth in Cleveland.
posted by RussHy at 5:21 AM on November 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


I hope that changes your opinion.
posted by mediareport at 2:57 PM on November 4


It won't. In certain people's opinions, incompetence and corruption in law enforcement are just "misunderstandings" and further, we civilians should be grateful that we aren't summarily executed for attempting to file a police report. There's no need to read the links or anything, just post "we don't know all the facts they were probably investigating him and by ignoring report after report they were . . . um . . . . giving him a false sense of security! Yeah! And joking about it to a dead woman's mother is so he will be overconfident and also they were blowing off steam that's why they tazed that pregnant lady!"

The fact that someone could do such a thing for a living and yet also be clearly unable to even make up an excuse that's somewhat realistic is beyond tragic.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:49 AM on November 5, 2009


"Really? In this thread? Really?"

I know! I was surprised, too!
posted by Eideteker at 6:45 AM on November 5, 2009


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