CLEVELAND - It draws the attention of passersby as they crane their necks unsuccessfully trying to see beyond its walls and into the secrets that lie buried inside. It is the house on Cleveland's Imperial Avenue where the bodies of 11 women were found nearly two years ago.
The story of the beige vinyl-sided structure is really a tale of two houses because long before the house became one of horror, it was the home of a loving family. That family, now long gone from the structure, met with a WEWS-TV news reporter who showed gory pictures from inside the house they once loved.
When the jury hearing the serial murder case of Anthony Sowell toured the three-story house on Imperial Avenue, video and still photographers went along, capturing scenes inside. What the jury saw and what the cameras recorded were bizarre sights far from what Kimberly and Barbara Roquemore remembered when their family rented the first floor from Sowell's grandparents for a period of 40 years.
"They were wonderful people -- honorable, friendly, caring, considerate and warm," recalled Kimberly, remembering the landlords, ancestors of Sowell.
The Roquemore women shook their heads in disgust as they viewed pictures from inside what had spiraled into a house of horrors.
Kimberly's memories of the house on Imperial, in Cleveland's Mt. Pleasant neighborhood on the southeast side of the city, are strong and true.
"There were so many years of joy, happiness, and celebration," she said, her mind turning back to a happy time in the house.
However, the house draws a far different feeling as the public hears the stories of the bodies of 11 women found in and around the house. Years ago, it was a place where a family celebrated life, observed holidays, birthdays and the day-to-day moments lived by a family that rented from the ancestors of the man now on trial.
In effect, the Cleveland structure is a tale of two houses, though each bears the same street address. The house of yesteryear still lives is in a family's collective memory. As well, the house of yesteryear still lives as it is chronicled in the former tenants' photograph album depicting loved ones gathered, smiling for the camera as they sat around a table.
In the old photographs are smiling faces in front of portraits on the wall and curtains at the window. They are frozen moments in time that are held on the pages of photograph albums showing family members the way they were when they lived together under the same roof.
The house of today is peppered with filth and rags. The holes in the walls silently scream of where bodies of murdered women had been secretly entombed, later exhumed once police discovered the secrets the house held. The news photographers of today focused their cameras on the house now empty of occupants' voices. The cameras carried into the house of today captured the piles of junk clustered on dusty floors.
Adding to the macabre story is a photograph of a woman's high-heeled shoe placed on top of a microwave oven. Strangely, there is a Holy Bible on a small table. Its cover is closed. All the scenes of today are as they were when police pushed in the doors of the house to discover the murderous secrets it held.
The jurors, investigators, court officials, lawyers and photographers who walked through the house -- now considered evidence in the serial murder trial of Anthony Sowell -- noticed the musty and dusty smell of the many months. With air-filtering masks over their noses, they walked through the smell of death left by the decomposing bodies of women whose last breaths were taken there.
Anthony Sowell has pleaded not guilty to all the charges filed against him. In court for hearings and now for his trial, he has said nothing publicly other than to voice his innocence.
There have been no living witnesses to come forward to tell what happened inside the house on Imperial Avenue, so prosecutors will use the evidence they have unearthed and pulled from the walls and floors of the house. The attorneys of both prosecution and defense will give voice to what has been found. But if walls could talk, what would these walls remember?
They would tell of the family that had rented the house many years ago, long before the bodies of missing women were found inside. The walls would speak of the times of a family working to raise the children and send them to school. The walls would remember holiday celebrations and front porch conversations as family members watched the traffic near their doorstep.
However, the walls would also remember what happened to the 11 women whose bodies were found buried and cast aside in the three-story frame dwelling. The mirror still hanging in the house of Anthony Sowell saw what happened. However, images in a mirror are only there as long as the objects are before it. The mirror, as do the walls, has no memory it will share.
Were walls and mirrors human witness that could remember and talk, what testimonies would they give to what went on in the house