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For two years, the city of Cleveland, Ohio was terrorized by a brutal killer.
Anthony Sowell, easily the most notorious serial killer in Cleveland's history, murdered 11 women and buried their remains in his home and his yard from 2007 to 2009, according to The New York Times. The smell was so overwhelming, a nearby sausage shop's reputation took a hit because people were so convinced it was coming from it. Still, despite the noxious odor and despite the fact Sowell was a convicted sex offender, he wouldn't be brought to justice until a woman survived an encounter with him and went to the police, Cleveland.com reported in 2009.
Sowell preyed on Black women, primarily ones with addictions, luring them into his house of horrors with drugs and alcohol. He would then rape and strangle them. Some did manage to escape, and five of these women tell their story in "Snapped Notorious: The Cleveland Strangler," airing Saturday, July 24 at 9/8c on Oxygen.
Unfortunately, the women he murdered will never be able to share their story in their own words. These are Sowell's victims:
Dozier was 35 years old when she disappeared in May 2007. She was the mother of seven children and a wonderful cook, according to her loved ones. Sadly, Dozier struggled with a drug addiction, especially after one of her sons died.
"She didn't know how to deal with not having her kids around her," sister Annetta Bell told Cleveland.com in 2011. "To find out her son had passed away, that really weighed heavily on her."
Tishana Culver was 33 years old the last time she was seen in June 2008. However, she drifted in and out of her family's lives so often due to drug use and stints in prison, they didn't report her missing.
Culver was a mother to several children, and at one point earned a cosmetology degree and trained as a nursing assistant.
"She loved her kids," ex-boyfriend Marcus Johnson told Cleveland.com. "She would talk about them all of the time, and she just had this big smile on her face whenever she could see them."
Leshanda Long was the youngest of Sowell's victims. She disappeared in August 2008 at the age of 25. At one point, she was getting good grades and participating in DARE, but her troubled past (her parents were drug users and she lived with an aunt) caught up to her. She was pregnant at age 14 and had three kids by the time she was 17.
"She never really had a handle on who she was," Janie Whitehead, a retired Ohio Department of Youth Services social worker, told Cleveland.com, "and the root of her troubles always went to her background."
Tonia Carmichael was a single mom who liked to have fun but work hard: She took classes at Cuyahoga Community College over the years, got a real estate license, and worked as a medical secretary, among other things. She also loved to dress up and do her makeup and go on cruises and outings, but her drug addiction overwhelmed her.
"I think she felt that she could always stop if she wanted to," daughter Donnita Carmichael told Cleveland.com.
"I had like the coolest mom in the world. Anything I wanted to put effort into, anything I was passionate about or proud of doing . . . she'd support," Shannon Liccardo told Cleveland.com of mother Michelle Mason.
At one point, Mason struggled to raise her two sons, dealing with a heroin addiction and an HIV diagnosis. But after being shot and losing her eye, Mason turned her life around. She got off drugs and started living on her own, volunteering with the local AIDS Task Force, and devoting herself to her sons.
Tragically, in October 2008 at the age of 45, Mason was murdered.
Kim Y. Smith
Kim Y. Smith, who was described as artsy with a love of singing, was the only Sowell victim who didn't have children. However, she was a caretaker for her father, who was wheelchair-bound after a spinal injury. In return, he pushed her to get off drugs and stay out of prison.
"Her only desire when she got out of jail was to get back on her feet and take care of her father," aunt Christine Schobey told Cleveland.com.
She disappeared in January 2009 at the age of 44.
Nancy Cobb went missing in April 2008 at the age of 44. She was absolutely devoted to her five grandchildren, attempting to make up for the time she had lost with her own three children due to addiction. She lived just three blocks from Sowell and was friendly with him in the neighborhood.
"Nancy was a good person to the people who knew her, it's just the only person who she hurt and abused was herself," longtime boyfriend Adam Williams told Cleveland.com.
Amelda Hunter was an absolute bookworm, loved ones told Cleveland.com, who said she always had her nose in a book. But when she was 14, she became pregnant from a teacher, family claimed. The child had cerebral palsy, and the stress of the situation led Hunter to drugs.
Hunter would go on to have three more children, although one died from a birth defect. She worked in a variety of jobs, including as a hair stylist and as a home health care aide. She disappeared in spring 2009.
Loved ones say Janice Webb prioritized family above all else. She was a prankster who loved to sing and was a mother to a son. She struggled deeply with a crack cocaine addiction while in Cleveland, though, and went missing in June 2009 at the age of 48.
"She tried to get off the drugs and tried to fight it," sister Audrey Webb told Cleveland.com. "But it was hard for her. Buckeye just wasn't good for her."
Telacia Forston was just 33 when she was killed. Fortson was adopted as a child, and loved ones believe her questions about her past led to her drug addiction. A mother of three, she still obtained her high school diploma, despite her troubles. She vanished in June 2009.
"I think if she had found the love she was looking for, she might not have been in that house," family friend Debra Williams told Cleveland.com.
Diane Turner was the last woman to be killed by Sowell. She was murdered in September 2009 at the age of 38. A mother of six children, she had a difficult childhood marked by abuse and battled a drug addiction for much of her life.
"She didn't bother nobody," ex-boyfriend James Martin told Cleveland.com. "Some of these girls, they'll go out and steal from you. Diane wasn't like that. . . . She was a drug addict, she wasn't no thief. She didn't drink. She was basically a quiet person."
Sowell was sentenced to death in August 2011. In 2021, at the age of 61, he died in prison of a terminal illness, The New York Times reported.
For more on this case, watch "Snapped Notorious: The Cleveland Strangler," airing Saturday, July 24 at 9/8c on Oxygen.
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