Cleveland case seems to fit rare category

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By Andrew Welsh-Huggins and John Seewer
Sunday, November 8, 2009

Authorities say Anthony Sowell lured women into his home in a busy Cleveland neighborhood, killed them -- most by strangulation -- and scattered their remains throughout the inside of the house and buried some in the back yard.

Such brazenness defies logic, but experts identify a narrow subcategory of serial killers, including the 1893 Chicago Fair killer, H.H. Holmes, and Milwaukee cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, who kill in their own homes.

"These types are so rare that you can't make a summary estimation as to why or what went wrong or anything," said Robert Keppel, a national serial-killer expert who investigated serial killer Ted Bundy in Washington state in the 1970s.

Sowell had the perfect lair, authorities say. His home and back yard -- a burial site for five victims -- were shielded by an empty home to the left and the windowless brick wall of a sausage company on the right. Any time the stench of decaying bodies blew over the street, neighbors blamed the meat processing next door.

His house stood out only because it was one of the nicest on a block dotted by homes with peeling paint and broken windows, some of them vacant.

It looked safe.

Sowell often sat on the front steps, sipping beer out of a bottle and greeting residents passing by on their way to the corner store that was just steps away.

Sowell's alleged approach reflects an obvious point, said forensic psychologist N.G. Berrill: the potential role of mental illness in such unusual behavior.

"The fact that they would dirty their own nest, as it were, is peculiar to me and suggests a level of mental illness or sickness," said Berrill, director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science.

-- Associated Press

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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