Even worse: How could so many women go missing right around a violent sex-offender's home -- especially a house that reeked of death so badly that neighbors complained to the city? No parole officer went in to see if there was something amiss. No police detective brought a cadaver dog by to check out the stench.
Is this an anomaly? Is this a particularly bad police department? Is the city totally uncaring about these women because they were black, in a rundown area? No. This scenario occurs over and over across the country, which is why the handling of serial-homicide investigation needs to change.
First, let's look at the police department. Can you say "not enough manpower and funding to handle all their cases"? You bet. Any big city police department is drowning under its caseload. Shrinking tax dollars mean slashed city budgets, including public safety funding. Cities are furloughing officers and hiring no new ones. Detectives don't have the time or manpower to clear backlogs of rape and murder cases, let alone reports of missing people.
Complicate this with the victims themselves. It's unlikely that all of Sowell's victims were drug addicts, alcoholics, or prostitutes (he could have grabbed a church lady coming by with tracts on how to bring Jesus into his life). But the more times the possible victim has disappeared before (off on a drunk, out of town with a boyfriend, off to score drugs), and the longer her rap sheet before she went missing, the more likely it is that an overworked detective won't take time away from rape and murder investigations to spend hours tracking down some woman who is off bingeing in Atlantic City.
Anthony Sowell knows all this very well. He knows which victims to grab: those who are easy to con, and those police are unlikely to look for. Some victims won't go to the police because they have criminal records, or they don't believe the authorities will believe them. Tanja Doss was attacked by Sowell four years ago, but never reported the assault for just that reason. Sowell also knows police don't like to admit there are serial rapists and serial killers in their jurisdictions, because that means community pressure. Serial murder cases are extremely difficult to solve and terribly time consuming. The police are just too tired to deal with more demands.
There are, however, methods which could improve this situation. One is to establish a Suspected Serial-Homicide unit. All missing persons, unsolved rapes and sexual murders go into the unit's database and are monitored. This way someone is paying attention to a map that would, for example, eventually have shown a lot of dots around Anthony Sowell's house. There would also be a dedicated detective or two to link crimes together and pay extra attention to violent sex offenders who have been released back into the community.
We could also use more training in psychopathy for detectives, parole officers, and parole boards. Many are unable to recognize psychopathic manipulation and ploys. Some will think Sowell is rehabilitated (which can never happen with sex offenders) and no longer dangerous if he periodically offers barbeque to neighbors (which Sowell apparently did). Essentially, for many dealing with sexual psychopaths, if they see no evil and hear no evil, the sex offender is behaving himself.
Some people ask if Sowell is one of those brilliant serial killers who are always portrayed like Hannibal Lecter in movies. The answer is no. Most serial sex offenders are of average intelligence, but they get lucky because they grab their victims when no one sees them do it, often pick victims who aren't missed, and their crimes get lost in the excess of criminal activity in the jurisdiction. Investigative methods and training often fail to identify these predators.
Anthony Sowell was one of those who got lucky. His house smelled like dead bodies for years, but many thought the smell came from the sausage factory next door. The owner of the factory went nuts trying to eliminate the smell, spending thousands of dollars replacing equipment, because even he thought the horrific odor might be the factory's doing. What a break for Sowell!
Sowell, a 50-year-old ex-Marine, was previously convicted when he was 30. He received just 15 years for kidnapping, choking, and raping a woman, because a plea agreement reduced the charge to attempted rape. So, actually, Sowell isn't even a convicted rapist, though he is a registered sex offender. Considering the violence the woman faced before she escaped, I bet she would have ended up dead if she hadn't jumped out of a window. I also bet Sowell committed many more crimes before he got caught for this one. Unfortunately, he did his time, and in June 2005 he was released and given another chance at life; another chance to rape and kill.
Sadly, 11 or more women will never get their second chances.