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Hunt for FBI study of Anthony Sowell is a lesson in apathy: Andrea Simakis

September 9, 2018

Hunt for FBI study of Anthony Sowell is a lesson in apathy: Andrea Simakis

CLEVELAND, Ohio – By now, I’d like to be able to tell you that I’d gotten some clear answers from the city about whether it followed through on a much ballyhooed set of reforms to make Cleveland a safer place for women.

Instead, I’ve gotten mired in the La Brea Tar Pit that passes for the city’s public information system. That’s not just a problem for me and my editors. It’s a problem for all of us.

In August, I wrote about how I’d been trying to get a copy of a study conducted by the FBI of the Anthony Sowell case, and any recommendations agents made to Cleveland police, for some three months.

The FBI “study” was referenced in a list of more than two dozen reforms proposed by a mayoral commission in March of 2010 to improve the investigations of missing persons and sex crimes cases.

And there was much room for improvement.

On October 29 2009, the bodies of two women were discovered in Sowell’s house on Imperial Avenue. The next day, three more victims were unearthed. In a twist Stephen King couldn’t get away with in fiction, Sowell was arrested on Halloween night.

The grisly body count continued – 11 women in all – and it wasn’t long before we learned how badly Cleveland cops had bungled the case. Police ignored desperate pleas from the families of vanished women. They dismissed reports from living victims who said Sowell, a registered sex offender, had attacked them.

Here’s what I wanted to know: The reforms weren’t just paperwork – at least they weren’t supposed to be. They were promises made by Mayor Frank Jackson to ensure a predator like Sowell would never again use Cleveland as his killing ground.

Had Jackson delivered on those promises? If so, had they gone far enough? Nearly nine years after the hard lessons of the Sowell murders, were reports of rapes taken more seriously?

It didn’t feel like it in March, when Jackson fielded questions from reporters about why 60 rape cases were shelved by a former sex crimes detective. The stunning dereliction of duty resulted in at least one suspect in an uninvestigated case raping another woman.

Colleagues had been chasing No. 26, the last of the commission’s suggested reforms, for years so I started there: “Implement recommendations from the study of the Sowell case conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.” What were they, I wondered?

I haven’t gotten any deeper into the list of reforms, not yet anyway, because the city hasn’t offered a straight answer to that question:

No such records exist, I was told.

And, those records might have been destroyed.

And, ask the FBI.

So far, my requests for a sit down with the Mayor or Safety Director Michael McGrath have been ignored.

It was up to the FBI to explain things.

“There was no need to do a study,” the FBI’s Vicki Anderson told me. “You had an offender that was identified. You had all the victims.”

What agents did do, she said, was make seven recommendations.

Most were executed soon after Sowell’s arrest and focused on gathering what was known about Sowell – a former Marine – and his victims and putting that information into the FBI’s Violent Crime Apprehension Program data base to see if there were any similar unsolved crimes in the U.S. or around the globe. Agents also produced a time line of everywhere Sowell had lived, including those places he was stationed when in the military, and queried cops in those areas for any similar open cases.

The FBI suggested its Evidence Response Team go through Sowell’s house and the vacant lots next door with imaging tools searching for more bodies.

No additional victims linked to Sowell were found.

The final FBI recommendation was completed two years later, in October 2011, when agents conducted a two-day seminar on serial sexual assault and murder for Cleveland homicide and sex crimes detectives, as well other cops in the area. Some 230 law enforcement personnel from Northeast, Ohio showed up.

“It was really good training. The room was packed,” Anderson said.

Charitably, Anderson chalks up the city’s profusion of confused responses to a misunderstanding of terminology – in other words, what constitutes a study.

But that doesn’t explain the multiple choice answers the city has dished out over the last three months.

What’s the cause of that? a. Incompetence?

b. A deliberate attempt to dissemble?

c. All of the above?

My guess is d. – none of the above – because the answer that has emerged is more troubling: a city government that doesn’t seem to care enough about questions regarding women and their safety to bother to get it right.

I don’t need an FBI profiler to help me figure that one out.

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