By Helen Kennedy / DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER Monday, November 2, 2009, 1:52 PM
Cleveland Police were scrambling to identify the bodies of six women found in various stages of decomposition inside a convicted rapist's house of horrors over the weekend.
In a scenario ripped from "The Silence of the Lambs," Ohio ex-con Anthony Sowell allegedly strangled a series of women in his three-story house over a period of months - or even years.
Rotting bodies were found in upstairs bedrooms, the living room, a crawl space, a shallow grave in the backyard and another grave in the basement, police said.
"Not a pretty sight inside the home. I stood outside the home for about an hour and the stench from inside was overwhelming," said Cleveland Police spokesman Thomas Stacho.
Investigators were gathering DNA samples and dental records and combing through records of women reported missing since June 2005, when Sowell, 50, was freed after serving a 15-year prison term for choking and raping a woman.
Fearing the worst, some family members of two neighborhood women who went missing in April and June gathered in front of the house, joining reporters watching the police work.
A community vigil was being organized for Monday night.
All the dead women were black, and all died of strangulation, the coroner reported.
Police went to Sowell's house in a dicey neighborhood of southeast Cleveland on Thursday to arrest him for a new sexual assault and serve a search warrant.
Sowell wasn't home, but the smell was so bad the officers headed for the trash-strewn upstairs where they discovered the carnage.
A tipster spotted Sowell walking near his home on Saturday and alerted police, who arrested him without incident.
Sowell had faithfully met with his parole officer and filled out all his sex offender paperwork.
Neighbors knew something was off about Sowell, who smelled so terrible their eyes would water.
"He came into my store last week and reeked so bad, I had to open the front and back doors," convenience store owner Eli Tayeh told the Los Angeles Times.
"I asked why he stunk. He shrugged, bought his beer and walked out."
But people blamed backed up sewers or Ray's Sausage company, housed in an adjacent building.
"We kept away from him and he kept away from us," said neighbor Tamica Pierceton, 26. "We should have said something to someone. I wish I had."