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Onlookers flock to site of Cleveland killings

Image: Serial sex offender slayings in Cleveland
Neighbors Tee Johnson, left, and Cordell Solomon, right, look at a make-shift memorial near a house where 11 bodies have been discovered in Cleveland, Ohio. David Maxwell / EPA file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Reggie Turner stopped by a growing memorial to 11 victims of an alleged serial killer because he knew one of the women. Michelle Lee came to pay her respects as a mother and grandmother. Mark Mason and two buddies rode their motorcycles to just take a look.

The street corner opposite the home dubbed Cleveland's "House of Horrors' buzzes with visits from mourners, well-wishers, politicians and the curious.

"We wanted our children to understand what has occurred, to understand how people go missing," said Cliff Westwood, who brought his 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son by the house late Saturday afternoon.

Police discovered the first two bodies and a freshly dug grave Oct. 29 at the house on the city's east side. By Oct. 31 six bodies had been identified. The number grew to 11 by Tuesday.

In the first few days, there was no memorial, no outward expression of grief. Even after five bodies were unearthed from Anthony Sowell's backyard Tuesday, only a few candles flickered on the sidewalk across from the house.

The missing board went up late Wednesday afternoon. It stayed empty for a few hours. The next morning there were about a dozen names and faces, mostly women and mostly black. A few were white or Hispanic.

Some fliers carry the names of women — "Amy," "Nancy," — whose remains have been identified. Others beg for news about people long missing and unlikely to be among Sowell's alleged victims, all of whom were black. "Missing Person-Christina Adkins," one says. "Last Seen on January 10, 1995."

Many people wrote notes on the board. "God Bless," "R.I.P.," "We die young cause we living fast."

Yellow police tape stretches across Sowell's house and the abandoned house on the left. A police cruiser sat outside the house Sunday, part of an around the clock presence, though authorities say they have no immediate plans to go back inside and search.

City council members visited the corner Thursday. Mayor Frank Jackson was there Friday.

‘It could have been my mother’
Lee made the 25-minute drive from suburban Highland Heights to the scene because she couldn't stop thinking about the victims.

"It could have been my mother. It could have been my sister. It could have been my grandma. It could have been my daughter," said the 47-year-old Lee, a caregiver. "I feel this connection to come down and just show my love and support."

Turner, a chef, said he knew victim Nancy Cobbs well and last saw her April 24, his 57th birthday. He came to see if he knew any other faces on the board.

All seven of the victims identified so far battled addictions with drugs or alcohol, according to their families and court records.

Two lived on the same street as Sowell. The rest either lived in the neighborhood or hung out there, often to get high.

The pile of mementos by the memorial board rose on Sunday — at least seven bouquets of flowers; more than two dozen stuffed animals, mostly bears, and a Raggedy Ann doll. The flames of several candles flickered weakly in the morning light.

Michael Beard, a 46-year-old Chicago factory worker with cousins in the area, drove six and a half hours Saturday to see the scene. "This is history, basically," he said Sunday.

Gary Goins, 44, a machinist who lives nearby, bought a $3 brown-and-white stuffed dog to put on the fence above the board. He said the news was hard because he has a female relative with a drug addiction whose behavior reminds him of Sowell's alleged victims. She's not among the missing.

Some visitors made no pretenses about their curiosity. Mason and two friends, trying to figure out where to ride on a beautiful day Saturday, decided on the Imperial Avenue crime scene.

"When you go for a motorcycle ride, you need a destination. We're like, where should we go to?" said Mason, 32, who knows the poor neighborhood well through his job repossessing houses.

"It's always more fun when you have somewhere to ride to."