CLEVELAND — Suspected serial killer Anthony Sowell seemed like a "civilized person" on the April evening that Tanja Doss went up to his third-floor bedroom for a beer — until, she said, he leapt up and began choking her and threatening to kill her.
The 43-year-old woman told the Associated Press on Thursday that she survived a night of terror through a combination of calm and cajoling, prayer and trickery. But when she escaped the next morning, she didn't tell police. Her past conviction on a drug charge, she said, made it unlikely they'd take her seriously.
"Now, I feel bad about it," she said, "because my best friend might be one of the bodies."
Police and a cadaver dog re-entered the home Thursday where Sowell apparently lived among the reeking, rotting corpses of 10 women and the paper-wrapped skull of another in a basement bucket. Sowell, who served 15 years in prison for attempted rape, is being held without bail on five aggravated murder charges.
Just days after her own escape, Doss was helping search for her friend Nancy Cobbs. Now Cobbs is among about two dozen missing women whose friends and family fear fell victim to Sowell.
Only three of the victims have been identified so far — Tonia Carmichael, 52, of Warrensville Heights; Telacia Fortson, 31, of Cleveland; and Tishana Culver, 31, also of Cleveland.
Doss believes she only narrowly escaped the fate of those dug up from Sowell's yard.
Sowell also faces charges of rape, felonious assault and kidnapping after a Sept. 22 attack on a woman at his home. A message left with the county public defender's office was not returned Thursday.
Near Sowell's home, a plywood memorial hangs from a chain link fence, the word MISSING stenciled in black. Five stuffed animals and an artificial rose adorn the sign, which holds fliers showing 13 missing women and three men.
The fliers reflects not just fears that their bodies might be on Sowell's property, but also community members' frustrations with how they say police treat missing-persons reports from their downtrodden neighborhood.