The Cleveland Strangler

The Cleveland Strangler

2015, Crime  -   19 Comments
Ratings: 7.47/10 from 117 users.

Anthony Sowell methodically targeted the most vulnerable residents of his destitute Cleveland neighborhood. In large part, his eleven known victims lived on the fringes of a society plagued by drug addiction and economic instability. If they existed under more affluent and privileged circumstances, their tragic fate would have likely been avoided. Thus lies the theme of The Cleveland Strangler, a gripping new documentary that provides the kind of narrative that will attract all true crime buffs, but also offers a valuable and sobering social commentary as well.

Handsomely produced by VICE, the film follows former Cleveland resident Wilbert Cooper as he retraces the events which led to the rape and strangulation of eleven women, and the role that race and poverty might have played in law enforcement's sluggish response.

Cooper paints a vivid portrait of his hometown at the time of the murders, and it's an environment laced with despair, gang violence, and the menacing grip of a growing crack epidemic. This proved the perfect breeding ground in which Sowell could operate. Preying upon the desperate and anonymous, he lured each of his victims into his apartment, and disposed of their bodies within the confines of his living space or through burial nearby.

The warning signs were there, but were largely ignored. The film argues that each announcement of a new missing woman would inspire little investigative effort. In a sense, given their precarious day to day existence, these women were unfairly viewed as the architects of their own demise. Had certain leads and clues been followed more doggedly, Sowell's two-year reign of terror might have been thwarted much earlier.

The film offers a series of chilling and deeply emotional interviews with many key figures surrounding the event, including the lead investigators who assumed control of the case once the bodies were discovered, the store owner who complained of the stench of death from across the street to no avail, and the rape victim who barely escaped Sowell's apartment with her life.

In the end, justice was served as Sowell was convicted for his horrific crimes and placed on death row. As The Cleveland Strangler so devastatingly illustrates, the journey to justice was characterized by far too many missed opportunities and costly prejudices.

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19 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Horrified viewer

    ?! The store owner who complained about the stench of death?! Not sure you watched the same doc I did. All that man did was suggest the stench was covered with bleach & then made the chilling comment about there needing to be more Anthony Sowells because all he did was to clean up the garbage (ie the women). Even I e of the victims said when they went in there for help, all he’s supposed to have told them is to leave bc the didn’t want to get involved & that they were bleeding all over the shop floor.

    Truly the shopkeeper seems as revolting as Sowell

    1. Laura C Paglin

      You're confusing the documentary being discussed here with the one I produced called "UNSEEN".

    2. Tyresha Thomas

      Yes i just saw this doc and i said omg did he really just say that. It just turned my stomach

  2. Adrienne Clark

    Mark Gaboury - I think you are reading way too much into this doc by stating that the tone is that the white man is responsible. Our society as a whole is responsible. Here in Cleveland, drugs have and continue to plague our neighborhoods. These women were drug addicts that NO ONE paid attention to. Also, the opioid problem here is mostly of poor whites whose children are always at risk of overdosing. The system broke down because no one really knew what was going on and the police dropped the ball by not keeping Sowell in jail when they had him. You can save the racial BS you trying to spew. The drug addiction crisis affects everyone who is poor and the fact that the women were Black meant they did not matter to the police (both black and white officers). The police didn't even think they had families.

  3. Mark Gaboury

    So the drift and tone of this film is that the white man is responsible for the black man murdering black women who had chosen to be prostitutes and crack addicts. Not working with me, you low-life racist! Leftist policies are what got the man out of prison after six years instead of the fifteen he was sentenced for. Then he started killing. Who's guilty? The murderer, black culture, and the leftists. And notice, folks, that the cops who supposedly didn't do their jobs, were BLACK.

  4. William Tell

    The women who died seem in this documentary to be a footnote the the BLM . If black lives mater where were BLM members when the people went missing?

    1. Petite

      William Tell. BLM as an organization has a specific scope. The scope (mission) is to combat the police brutality against African Americans. There are many problems within the African American Community and there are organizations that attempt to address those different problems. Therefore, the argument "where were BLM" with this or problem or that problem is suggesting the organization and is therefore misleading and not fair. If you feel that there is a problem to be address, create your own organization to address that particular issue instead of pointing fingers at an organization whose scope is not to address that. It doesn't make it wrong it is just what their focus is. Do you ask the Breast Cancer Foundation what about throat or colon cancer? No, you don't. Does that mean the other cancers are not deserving of attention? No, it does not. It simply means that is what that organization's focus is. All the finger pointing and what about this is or that is not helpful and is a weak argument. By the way, the Black Lives Matter movement/organization began is 2013. The murders is this case were discovered in 2009. I believe the footnote you are referring to in this story is regarding the STATEMENT that BLACK LIVES "DO"MATTER and the ignoring of the missing woman is indicative that they do not. That is different from the BLM organization.

  5. Jan

    VICE used to make very good documentaries. Not anymore. To spin this tragedy into being a race issue is disgusting, White meth addicts face the same problems of credibility as black and drug abuse is the issue here, not race war. But hey, who cares. They got a political point to prove. It's the system built on injustice of white privilige. Dissolve the force then, as white men's invention, and police your neighbourhood according to african traditions of law enforcement.

  6. JD

    It was a good documentary but was misleading. The title makes you believe it's about the criminal when it's really about the incompetency of the Chicago Police Department. You also can't say that this a race issue. Yes, all of the victims were black but so were the retired police officers he interviewed. And I would venture to guess that most of the officers on the force were black as well because it is an area where the residents were/are predominately black. If they were white prostitutes/drug addicts, and it was a predominately white police department, it would be the exact same situation. There have been many serial killers that targeted white prostitutes/drug addicts and when those women were reported missing, it was put on the back burner as well; so it wasn't a race issue. The women were targeted because of their high-risk lifestyle. Sowell was able to manipulate them into either thinking they were getting drugs and/or money to come back to his house where he was able to do these despicable and heinous things. The survivors were ignored by police because society has allowed for the degradation of prostitutes and drug addicts for so long that they are viewed as scum with no pertinent place in this world making them expendable. It's sad.

    R.I.P to all the ladies whose lives were lost at the hands of this monster. And may the families & friends find peace as well.

  7. Tommy

    Sad, heartbreaking story....bottom line - drugs kill....drugs kill individuals as well as communities...

  8. GoldenLady

    This comment "This movie isn't supposed to be about racial inequality. The guy who killed those black girls WAS a BLACK MAN. So what the heck?" profoundly shows how non-blacks will never understand the plight of black people. Despite the killer being black, the authorities did not take him serious simply b/c his victims were black, poor, and on the streets. Were they of another race, their lives/stories would have been treated w/ more value.

  9. bad documentry

    This movie isn't supposed to be about racial inequality. The guy who killed those black girls WAS a BLACK MAN. So what the heck?

  10. Zazzua

    That was the most touching documentary I have ever seen. From anger, to despair to grief I felt it all. My condolences to the families and admiration to those women who fought back and survived. To those people in authority who didnt stop this man from killing- you get my middle finger thrown up high and proud. There is no justification for the neglect you served to these women and this community.

  11. Nat

    Wow, America is falling apart. Being black is an issue. The government tries to pin us against each other. Being white is an issue too because I don't feel any difference between our races. I am so ashamed of this country I just want to leave, but it takes money. I'm a poor white person because of disabilaty and I am sick of being treated the way I am because I'm poor. I don't think it's a race issue. I think it's a social issue that turns into an issue when any minority is less likely to be given a job. I can't work so I'm less valuable to society. God, there are racist on both sides and I will never deny that but I believe most people want to get along and be seen as equal. I think it's time for a revolution. Get the rich ass society money making corporations out of business so we the people can take back our Democracy (The people rule).

  12. Deanna

    Beautifully Told..Real

  13. Cormac

    Really good documentary, the documentary maker simply let the families of the victims and detectives tell the story with only small pieces of interjection from him. Really well made and thought provoking.

  14. john

    Good and powerful film. Shows another aspect of racism and classism. Best documentary film I've seen since "Dark Days".

  15. eddy

    Interesting subject, and point of view. The doc does shed light on the attitude and efforts of law enforcement in regards to the poor, black, drug addicted victims and how that contibuted to the killer's ability to claim so many victims - But, unfortunately, even with the access and interviews with many of the detectives and victims involved in the case, seems to fall flat.

  16. Jeane Kroecker

    Why captions in German??