Anthony Sowell (the Cleveland Strangler) was born on August 19, 1959 to Claudia Garrison a young, single mother in East Cleveland, OH. Anthony Sowell’s childhood has been described as murky and confusing; like living through a war. He was the third of Claudia’s children and lived with his mother, siblings, and maternal grandmother Irene Justice in East Cleveland. Sowell was a latch-key kid by age 5, wearing a house key around his neck. Outwardly, Sowell appeared to be a polite and kind child, albeit quiet and shy.
Sowell's mother, Claudia, was very abusive. There were no birthday parties, no play dates with friends, no candy or junk food. Claudia had a stash of junk food in her room and would beat the children if they stole from her. The children were expected to do many hours worth of chores and meet Claudia’s rigid standards or they would be punished. Claudia would beat the kids with everything from belts to coat hangers; Irene would beat them with her cane. When the children were to be punished for a real or perceived infraction, they were stripped naked, tied to the banister, and beat them with extension cords or anything that was a whiplike weapon. The abuse was sadistic and ritualistic. When one child was beaten, the others would gather to watch. The twins, Leona and Ramona seemed to be the main targets of the bloody beatings although none of the children were off limits. The youngest of Patricia’s children, Jesse Darnell Hatcher (5 years younger than his twin sisters) also became a target of the abuse. He would be instructed to go into the living room and remove his underwear. He was then bent over a chair and beaten across the legs and buttocks until he bled. Jesse was so severely scarred that he did not like to wear shorts. Sowell once described being asleep one night when his mother came in and started beating him with a cord (years later, Claudia corroborated this story). In another incident Sowell describes a time when Claudia hit him in the head with a hammer. He also accused his mother of making him play with dolls and calling him dumb and useless. Tressa tells a story about a time that Anthony had not completed his chores around the house and had gone off to boxing practice. When he returned home he was playing catch in the yard and ran up to his mother’s car window when she got home and she punched him in the face. He cried, of course, and exclaimed that she had broken his nose. His mother’s reply “I don’t give a fuck”.
There were a total of 11 children living in Sowell's mother's house; 4 were Sowell's siblings and 7 were his late sister's children. As the girls began to enter puberty, the boys became more and more interested in watching the sadistic beatings. Sowell became focused on his niece Leona & he would “frame” her by stealing from his mother’s junk food drawer so that he could watch her get beaten, naked. The beatings blurred the line between sexual desire and violence for Anthony. By 1972, Sowell (age 12) began to sexually assault and beat Leona on a daily basis. Anthony Sowell left high school in 1976 and joined the military. He spent 7 years in the Marines but, he began to exhibit troubling behaviors that included excessive alcohol use, sadistic treatment of women while stationed in Japan, and he even went AWOL for several months.
For more details about the biological and psychological aspects that helped to create the Cleveland Strangler listen to SkB.
After being honorably discharged from the Marines in 1985, Sowell returned to East Cleveland, OH. Over the next few years, Sowell was arrested for possession, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct. He had reportedly begun to smoke crack around this time. In 1989, Sowell was arrested and then convicted for the rape of Melvette Sockwell, sentenced to 5-15 years. He did the maximum time because he refused to participate in sex offender rehabilitation.
In 2005, Sowell was released from prison and did well for awhile but, eventually he began smoking crack again and his violent behavior escalated. From May of 2007 - September of 2009, Anthony Sowell raped at least two women and he tortured, raped, and murdered another 11 women. Sowell buried some of the women in his backyard, he threw 2 of the dead women down into his basement, and he left the bodies (and body parts) of several women scattered throughout the rest of his 4 story house.
To learn more about the effects that his time in prison may have had on his mental health, the impact of excessive alcohol abuse and drug use on his escalating violence and to hear more about the lives of Sowell's "invisible" victims, listen to SkB episodes on the Cleveland Strangler.