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‘We Used So Much Bleach’: How An Ohio Serial Killer Damaged A Sausage Shop’s Reputation
When a foul smell permeated a Cleveland neighborhood, people blamed a longstanding local business, Ray's Sausage. They were wrong.
It’s been a decade since now-deceased serial killer Anthony Sowell, infamously known as the Cleveland Stranger, was convicted of murdering 11 women whose remains were found at his three-story house.
“Snapped Notorious: The Cleveland Strangler,” premiering Saturday, July 24 at 9/8c on Oxygen, features bracing interviews with women who escaped Sowell’s house of horrors. The two-hour special retraces the depraved crime spree and its indelible stain on the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
The owner of Ray’s Sausage, a family business located next door to Sowell’s house that was razed in 2011, recalls the grisly events like they happened yesterday. She will never forget the smell in particular. A mysterious putrid stench permeated the neighborhood for years and raised residents’ complaints. It was finally traced to the decomposing bodies of Sowell’s victims.
“We used a lot of bleach,” proprietor Renee Cash, 79, told Oxygen. “We used so much bleach we could have made a commercial.”
The business, which makes and distributes pork products and was launched in 1952 by Cash’s father, was doing what it took to keep going and save its reputation because before the decaying corpses were found by police, some pointed the finger at Ray’s Sausage, claiming tainted meat was causing the overwhelming odor filling the air at Imperial Avenue and East 123rd Street.
“City inspectors came to the street to try to determine the source of the smell,” investigative journalist and author Robert Sberna told “Snapped Notorious.” “Eventually they blame that smell on the sausage factory next to Sowell’s house. Basically forced the owners to make changes to their business, new sewer traps, new ventilation systems that cost the owner about $30,000.”
The company complied, prosecutor Richard Bombik told producers. “But the smell never goes away.” The business wasn’t the source of the problem.
It wasn’t until a woman who escaped from Sowell made an official statement to authorities that police made the gruesome discovery inside Sowell’s house on October 29, 2009. Sowell was arrested two days later. He was convicted in July 2011 and sentenced to death a month later.
In addition to the financial blow on the business, along with lost business due to negative publicity, the reverberations of Sowell’s crimes took an emotional toll, Cash has said.
Cash first got wind that something was horribly amiss by watching birds in her neighborhood. “They used to perch on a wire that runs near the business,” she told Oxygen. “Then, after the smell started coming, they stopped coming. I told my daughter, ‘Something is going on. The birds stopped coming.’ And that was because of the smell. It was a terrible smell. But I didn’t know what dead people smell like.”
“After this was all over,” she continued, “a guy who lived down the street told me, ‘Wow, you know what, I was in the service and I know what dead bodies smell like. And when I walked by, people kept saying that the smell was Ray’s Sausage. And I said, ‘No, it ain’t.’ I said to him, ‘Why didn’t you come ring our doorbell and tell us that before?’”
Ray’s Sausage was involved in the case in another way. One of the business’ security cameras captured the moment when a woman dropped to the ground from a third-story window of Sowell’s house in order to escape him.
Footage of her fall is seen in the Oxygen special. She played a key role in police finally capturing Sowell, who died in a prison hospital in February 2021 at age 61 from an unspecified terminal illness.
Cash acknowledges that Sowell’s heinous crimes hurt the company’s esteem. “Our reputation was damaged but the product has been so good,” she said. “We’ve been here so long. When you have a good product, it speaks for itself.”
Cash still hopes to move Ray’s Sausage to a different neighborhood. “I’m working on that right now,” she said.
To learn more about the case, watch “Snapped Notorious: The Cleveland Strangler,” premiering Saturday, July 24 at 9/8c on Oxygen.