Anthony Sowell, the man who killed 11 women at his Cleveland home and then lived among their remains, doesn't sound like a monster when you talk to him.
"He's charismatic, very glib and charming," said Robert Sberna, who interviewed Sowell a half-dozen times by phone as he researched his book. "I found him to be not unintelligent. I found him to be narcissistic, though."
Sberna, a longtime journalist who grew up in Strongsville, was captivated by the story of the serial killer who raped, tortured and murdered 11 women in his Cleveland home.
Days after the news broke in 2009, he visited Sowell's Imperial Avenue house, while police were still digging for more victims in the back yard.
"I knew it was going to be a big story," Sberna said. "I thought if I was ever going to write a book, this was my chance."
House of Horrors is a gripping account of the Imperial Avenue killings as the story unfolded, told in detail through Sberna's first-hand reporting and interviews with survivors, family members and investigators -- and with Sowell himself.
A Voice for the Victims
Sberna said as he investigated the story, he found people dismissing the victims -- crack addicts who were lured to Sowell's house by the promise of drugs.
"They were being demonized because of their lifestyle," Sberna said. "But when you start getting into it, you see crack is a nasty addiction."
He chose to tell their stories, painting portraits of troubled women whose disappearances over a two-year period caused no more than a ripple of concern for anyone other than their families.
He also spoke with survivors -- five women who were attacked by Sowell, but lived to talk about it.
The Killer's Own Words
And he interviewed Sowell from Death Row, where he discovered a killer willing to talk about his crimes, but not necessarily express remorse.
"He didn't really hold himself accountable for what happened," Sberna said.
The book details the interviews and includes letters Sowell wrote to the author, offering to exchange an in-person intervew for $300 worth of items from the prison commissary.
At one point, asked about what happened on Imperial Avenue, Sowell alludes to pressure that "just kept building."
"I just had to release it," Sowell said.
Sberna threw his book launch party, not coincidentally, on the third anniversary of the raid on Sowell's Imperial Avenue house that uncovered the first of 11 bodies.
A few hundred people braved the first winds of Hurricane Sandy Oct. 29 to gather at Old Town Hall for the party.
The book was published by Kent State University Press, which has a large true-crime history series, according to Susan Cash, marketing director.
"This fits right in," Cash said. "And Bob is a very good writer, so we were happy to publish it."