EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Authorities responding to a report of a foul odor from a home ultimately discovered three bodies and arrested a registered sex offender who sent police and volunteers through a poor Ohio neighborhood in a search for more victims Sunday, officials said.
East Cleveland Police Chief Ralph Spotts had cautioned searchers to be prepared to find one or two more victims. But after a day-long search that included 40 abandoned houses and other areas, no more bodies were found.
Spotts identified the suspect as Michael Madison, 35. He said Madison is expected to be formally charged Monday but did not elaborate.
Mayor Gary Norton said Madison, who was arrested Friday after a police standoff, has indicated that he may have been influenced by Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell, who was convicted in 2011 of murdering 11 women and was sentenced to death.
“He said some things that led us to believe that in some way, shape, or form, Sowell might be an influence,” Norton said.
It’s the latest in a series of high-profile cases involving the disappearance of women from the Cleveland area.
The odor led to the discovery Friday of one body in a garage. Two others were found Saturday — one in a back yard and the other in the basement of a vacant house. The bodies of the three women, all wrapped in plastic bags, were found about 100 to 200 yards apart, and authorities believed the victims were killed in the past six to 10 days.
Searchers rummaging through vacant houses in the same neighborhood Sunday were warned by Spotts to brace themselves for the smell of rotting bodies and to look out for trash bags that might conceal a body.
Spotts indicated later Sunday that the suspect’s comments haven’t provided clarity on whether more bodies might be found.
“He really hasn’t stated that there’s any more, but he hasn’t said anything that would make us think that there’s not,” Spotts said.
Norton said authorities have “lots of reasons” to suspect there are more victims, but he declined to say why.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Madison has an attorney, and no one was commenting Sunday afternoon at the address his mother’s home.
All three bodies were found in the fetal position, wrapped in several layers of trash bags, Norton said. He said detectives continue to interview Madison, who used his mother’s address in Cleveland in registering as a sex offender, the mayor said.
Cuyahoga County medical examiner Thomas P. Gilson said Sunday that the bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition and that it would take several days to identify them and how they died.
About three dozen volunteers fanned out Sunday morning across yards, through vacant houses and along a railroad to help police search. The chief advised them to watch for missing floor boards as they looked inside houses.
The neighborhood in East Cleveland, which has about 17,000 residents, has many abandoned houses, and authorities want to be thorough, the mayor said.
“Hopefully, we pray to God, this is it,” he said.