Now he is back in custody after four years of freedom, arrested Saturday on new rape charges and after police discovered six decomposing bodies at his home.
Two bodies were identified by county Coroner Frank Miller as black females and one had died of a violent death ruled a homicide. No race or gender was determined for the others. Autopsies were performed on all six bodies but no cause of death or names were announced.
Police spokesman Lt. Thomas Stacho said Sowell was walking down the street on the east side of Cleveland when authorities spotted him and took him into custody. Sowell initially denied he was the man authorities were looking for but admitted his identity as officers began fingerprinting him, Stacho said.
Police established a command post in the neighborhood to take missing-person reports and additional information on outstanding missing persons in the neighborhood.
Teresa Hicks, 48, was among the neighbors who said they were relieved about the arrest but left with a heightened fear of crime. She said she has known Sowell since high school.
"He was crazy," she said from her porch. "Sometimes he would just go off if he didn't have his way."
Darren Dunlap, 38, frequently visits the neighborhood to see his brother or friends. He said Sowell was known for borrowing money and looking for scrap metal to sell.
Hicks said she didn't think Sowell had a job but understood from conversations with him that he lived on a monthly check. She said she didn't know its source.
Police were checking crime reports to find matches for similarities to the most recent allegation against Sowell or the 1989 rape case against him that resulted in his conviction. They also were checking missing-person reports back to June 2005, when Sowell was released.
The first two bodies were found Thursday night when police went to Sowell's home to arrest him on charges of felonious assault and rape. Detectives with a search warrant found the bodies on the third floor of a duplex and began checking a fresh grave dug in the basement. Their advanced state of decomposition suggested the bodies had been in the home a long time. By Saturday, six bodies were counted.
Minutes before Sowell's arrest, police Chief Michael McGrath tried to reassure parents that it was safe for their children to go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood if they followed standard precautions like avoiding strangers and staying in a group.
Hicks said her daughter would not be going door-to-door.