CLEVELAND - Police and prosecuters alike now agree Anthony Sowell's alleged rapes and murders began long before the bodies of eleven women were discovered and unearthed at this Imperial Avenue home in Cleveland.
"I sincerely believe there's more out there," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason said. "We've just got to find them."
To find the "other" cases, Mason asked his cold case unit to look in to dozens of unsolved murders of women around the two homes where Sowell lived. The unit pinpointed 24 unsolved murders where biological evidence, like semen or blood from the killer, was obtained. That biological evidence is now being examined by the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office to see if DNA can be extracted for comparison to Sowell's DNA profile.
But some of those cases now being examined were supposed to be sent to the Bureau of Identification and Investigation Lab in Richfield five years ago.
NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATION OF RAPE KITS
In 2005, NewsChannel5's Chief Investigative Reporter Duane Pohlman exposed nearly 3,000 rape kits, which likely contain semen and other biological evidence from the perpetrators, sitting unopened and untested in Cleveland Police Division's evidence room. The kits, dated from 1993 and earlier, were deemed not to be a priority because most of the cases could no longer be prosecuted. So, they sat dormant.
But some of the rape kits were tied to murders, which can still be prosecuted. And rape cases could be solved if the kits were sent to the lab, where the DNA could be compared to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a repository for DNA profiles of known criminals and sex offenders, like Anthony Sowell.
Following our NewsChannel5 Investigation in 2005, then-Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro promised to make sure all of the rape kits would be tested by tapping in to federal funding.
"We'll get them tested," Petro told us in 2005, "And I think it'll prove valuable."
PROMISE NOT KEPT
Five years after our original investigation, Pohlman discovered the rape kits and boxes still sitting in the evidence room.
The problem is simple and common for Cleveland Police: the promise of much needed money from Columbus was never delivered. Cleveland blames Columbus. Columbus blames Cleveland. In either case, it's clear the resources were never devoted to clearing out the cold cases.
"I've never been directed to look at the cases pre-93," Cleveland Police Division's Scientific Examiner Charles Sikora told NewsChannel5, adding that he's not aware of any funding to deal with these very old cases.
With severe funding cuts in the past five years, Commander of the Bureau of Special Investigations James Chura said Cleveland can't afford an officer to begin the first step of sorting through the rape kits to determine which ones are valid for testing.
Commander Chura said an unknown number of cold cases could be solved if the kits are tested.
"Perhaps another rapist, multiple offender, a serial rapist," Chura said, "We could find a pattern."
But a promise of money never materialized and the rape kits, including crimes now thought to be tied to Sowell, were never analyzed.
Pohlman brought his findings to the current Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.
"We can’t speak to what was represented by others years ago," Cordray's office staff wrote in an email. "But Attorney General Cordray understands the unique value of DNA evidence and is committed to working with local law enforcement to make use of such evidence to bring justice to those who deserve it whenever possible."
Cordray then added a promise to help get the cold case rape kits tested once and for all.
"We look forward to working with the Cleveland Police Department to examine any of the evidence that may still me useful."
Until that happens, the kits and the stacks of boxes in the evidence room continue to gather dust.
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