A woman told authorities in December that a man now accused of killing 11 women had beaten her and tried to rape her, and police and prosecutors are giving conflicting explanations for why a case was abandoned that could have led them months earlier to the bodies scattered around the suspect's stench-filled house.
The woman's complaint, nearly 10 months before police started finding bodies in Anthony Sowell's home, adds to the questions about whether law enforcement, neighbors and victims did enough to catch a suspected serial killer. Five of the victims disappeared after the complaint was filed.
The woman had scratches around her neck and was bleeding from a deep gash in her thumb when she flagged down police near Sowell's home on Dec. 8, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press.
Police said they found what appeared to be blood on a tissue in the driveway and footprints in the snow indicating a possible struggle.
The report shows that police went into the house and to a third-floor landing, where they saw a trash can containing broken glass, a sweater, pink sweat pants and panties.
They knocked on the door of a third-floor apartment, Sowell answered and they arrested him. They saw drops of blood inside the house and scratch marks on Sowell's face.
Police suggested that Sowell be charged with robbery, but he was released after two days, Cleveland Lt. Thomas Stacho said Friday. Stacho said a detective presented the information to a prosecutor.
The prosecutor herself decided the woman wasn't credible and wrote a note saying so "underneath a box that the prosecutor checked indicating that the complaint was unfounded," Stacho said.
City prosecutor Victor Perez told The Plain Dealer that the detective was the person who felt the woman was not credible. Perez was not in his office Friday morning. A message left for him at the mayor's press office wasn't immediately returned.
Stacho said the police department is not pointing fingers at prosecutors.
"We're not in position to judge them on making that decision," he said. "We simply give them the facts."
Meanwhile, the FBI returned to the neighborhood Friday to conduct two days of thermal imaging, x-ray and other tests on the house next door to Sowell's in the hunt for more evidence.
On Friday, Sowell, 50, appeared in court and entered not guilty pleas to rape, kidnapping, attempted murder and felonious assault in the separate report of an alleged Sept. 22 attack.
Police investigating that report searched his home beginning Oct. 29, and found the remains of 11 women. Authorities believe Sowell, who served 15 years for attempted rape and has been a registered sex offender since 2005, lured them into his house with the promise of getting high, then strangled them and left their bodies inside or buried in the backyard.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O'Donnell set bond at $1 million on the charges and continued Sowell's $5 million bond from last week, when he was charged with five counts of aggravated murder.
Sowell nodded when the judge explained his rights and shook his head no when O'Donnell asked if he could afford an attorney. Wearing an orange jail jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him, Sowell appeared engaged and alert, at times bouncing slightly on his feet.
Gayle Williams, assistant county prosecutor, said the woman who accused Sowell of rape remains very fearful of him and is concerned for her safety.
"She was only breaths away from becoming another victim of Mr. Sowell," Williams said.
O'Donnell appointed Brian McGraw to be Sowell's attorney. McGraw, who was not in court, said he met with Sowell later Friday at the county jail, but declined to comment on the case or describe his conversation with Sowell.
In the December police report, the woman told police she had bought a beer at a corner store near Sowell's home and that he had asked her to have a drink with him when she passed by his house.
When she refused, she says, he blocked her path, punched her and dragged her to the back of the home. He choked her and dragged her inside, where he told her to remove her clothes, the woman said.
She said she fought him off and escaped.
Based on a statement from the woman, Stacho said, police determined it was not a sex case, and requested the robbery charge because Sowell allegedly assaulted the woman and stole her property.
A phone number for the woman's sister was listed on the report but is not in service.
Some neighbors and family members of victims have accused Cleveland police of not taking missing-persons cases seriously in the downtrodden neighborhood. Another woman has said Sowell attacked her inside his house in April, but that she didn't tell police because she thought a drug conviction made it unlikely they would take her seriously.
Remains of 10 of the 11 victims found at Sowell's home have been identified, and funerals for the women are to continue this weekend.
Across the street from Sowell's house, a memorial that started out a week ago with just a few faces and names on a plywood panel now covers the board as well as the brick wall of a chicken and pizza restaurant. There are dozens of pictures of missing women as well as handwritten notes, some expressing condolences for the 10 women whose remains have been identified and others posted by people holding out hope that their loved ones are not among the victims.