Ligatures, drugs found in Ohio deaths

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 4:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 4:29 p.m.

CLEVELAND — Eight of 11 women whose remains were found in a sex offender's home were strangled by various household objects, and nine had traces of cocaine or depressants in their systems, according to autopsy reports obtained by The Associated Press.

The reports released Thursday by the Cuyahoga County coroner's office reveal that women found at Anthony Sowell's Cleveland home last year were killed with objects including a belt, a rope, an electrical charger, a knotted fabric cloth and the strap of a shoulder bag. Many still had the ligatures around their necks.

Three of the women were bound at the wrists, and two were bound at the wrists and ankles by cloth or shoelaces. One victim was nude, and four were nude from the waist down.

Two of the women were listed as dying of homicidal violence of an undetermined nature because their bodies were so badly decomposed, said Dr. Frank Miller, the county coroner.

The autopsy on the 11th victim hasn't been completed because only her skull remained. Some of the victims may have been strangled by hand, Miller said.

Sowell has pleaded not guilty to killing the women and hiding their remains in and around his home in an impoverished neighborhood. Since the bodies were found in November, he has been charged with attacking five other women who survived.

The autopsies also revealed similarities in the manners in which the bodies were disposed of and the horrors the women may have endured. Five of the women, buried in the backyard, were sheathed in plastic sheets or garbage bags that were held together by duct tape and electric cable.

One woman's body, found in the basement under a mound of dirt, was nude and gagged at the mouth with her shirt tied behind her head.

Prosecutors say Sowell, 50, lured vulnerable women to his home with the promise of alcohol or drugs. Police discovered the first two bodies and a freshly dug grave after officers went to investigate a woman's report that she had been raped there.

The coroner said severe decomposition meant there was no scientific evidence of rapes.

Asked for comment about the autopsies, prosecutor's spokesman Ryan Miday said: "We look forward to holding Sowell accountable for all his heinous crimes."

Many of the women found in Sowell's home had been missing for weeks or months, and some had criminal records. Some victims' families said they believe police didn't take their disappearances seriously.

Earlier Thursday, a county grand jury returned a 10-count indictment against Sowell, accusing him of attacking a woman at his home in September 2008, more than a year before the bodies were found. The woman told authorities Sowell beat her, raped her and held her against her will.

Defense attorneys for Sowell did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.


Associated Press writers Matt Leingang in Columbus and John Seewer in Toledo contributed to this report.

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