Reviewed by Rachel EC
House of Horrors by Robert Sberna is the story of Anthony Sowell ( aka. “The Cleveland Strangler”) who was convicted of 11 murders after a SWAT team investigating a rape found 11 corpses belonging to missing women in his home. This book had me absolutely hooked from the first page. It’s written in a classic true crime format and it’s quite a gruesome read.
Robert Sberna paints an incredibly powerful picture of the area in Cleveland where Sowell lived and killed his victims – a ghetto town infested with poverty and a serious crack cocaine problem. Sowell, an ex-marine slowly became a heavy user of crack cocaine and after a number of failed relationships turned into a real life monster.
Sowell had spent time in prison for rape previously, and it’s difficult to comprehend that how easily got away with further rapes and the murder of 11 women over two years as police failed to follow-up statements from families about missing women and women who were victims of horrific sexual assaults by Sowell.
Sowell charmed his victims. He was well liked by neighbours and locals. He was able to talk his victims (mostly wandering or homeless addicts) easily into his home with promises of food, companionship and most of all drugs. His victims were all crack cocaine users with numerous children they had left behind. The low risk category of his victims enabled him to continue to kill women even while there were many signs that he was, at the very least, assaulting women in his home.
The story sometimes seems a little repetitive at times but the 11 women whose bodies were found at Sowells were all very similar in appearance, circumstance and unsavory habits. Repeated sad stories of broken families, neglected children and desperate women in and out of prison and rehab so much that their missing status was often ignored.
It’s definitely not a story for the feint-hearted. The descriptions of the crime scenes and the rapes and assaults are graphic and the story told of the Cleveland area is bleak. A truly eerie true crime read about a serial killer and his victims that never made their way into the media much at all.
House of Horrors is published by Kent State University Press. More information at the author’s website.