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Authorities Investigate Possible Serial Murders In Cleveland


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

A man is in jail in East Cleveland, Ohio, as police continue their investigation into three grisly killings. Over the weekend, the bodies of three women were found wrapped in plastic bags.

Nick Castele of member station WCPN reports.

NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: Last Friday, someone in the hardscrabble city of East Cleveland noticed a foul smell and called the police. Officers arrived to find a woman's decomposing body stashed in a garage. East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton says later that day, they arrested Michael Madison, a registered sex offender, after a standoff in nearby Cleveland.

MAYOR GARY NORTON: We questioned that individual. And based on some things that he told East Cleveland police, we came back and did another canvass of the area.

CASTELE: They then found another body in a lot near the garage and then a third in the basement of an abandoned house. Mayor Norton says all three were the bodies of African-American women, and police believe they had been dead for six to 10 days.

NORTON: They were all wrapped in what we believe to be four to five layers of trash bags with tape and all in the fetal position and within 100 yards of each other, all three victims.

CASTELE: Resources are stretched thin in East Cleveland where the median household income is just $21,000. The city recently was forced to lay off police officers. Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Norton rallied about three dozen volunteers who searched for more bodies in nearby abandoned homes.

NORTON: Without your work fanning out to this broad area, we don't have enough police to cover all of the ground you covered today.

CASTELE: Officials identified one of the victims as Angela Deskins, a 38-year-old Cleveland woman who was last seen in June of this year. Forty-three-year-old Michael Pritchett remembers her as a quiet woman and says about once a month, she would stay at his house with his sister and his son.

MICHAEL PRITCHETT: I was just trying to be like comfort her, comfort her or something like that. So anytime she want to come over, she was hungry and my sister would cook, and she was welcome to eat and all of that.

CASTELE: East Cleveland Police Chief Ralph Spotts says there could be more bodies nearby, and police and the FBI will continue the investigation.

RALPH SPOTTS: We did have information that we felt that there may be more to this, which is why we are continuing to do searching. We are continuing to use our other agencies to help us along.

CASTELE: The suspect, Michael Madison, now sits in an East Cleveland jail charged with three counts each of aggravated murder and kidnapping. A judge set his bond at $6 million. Madison pleaded guilty in 2002 to attempted rape and was sentenced to four years in jail. He was out in 2005 on post-release control and completed that in 2008. As a sex offender, he registered his address with the county every year, but it was at a home in a different neighborhood about four miles from where the bodies were found.

Vanessa Jones runs a home daycare in East Cleveland and says she's known Madison for about eight years and that sometimes he showed frustration toward women.

VANESSA JONES: He never talked about doing anything to anybody or anything like that. It's just women, all women. You know, normal conversations men have.

CASTELE: These latest deaths are yet another instance of violence against women in a low-income Cleveland-area community. This echoes the case of Anthony Sowell, convicted in 2011 of killing 11 women and stashing their bodies in his home. About three months ago, Ariel Castro was accused of kidnapping three women and holding them hostage for about a decade. Law enforcement agents are now re-examining old rape kits hoping to solve cold cases. As residents here process the shock of another high-profile murder case, the county medical examiner is working to identify the other two victims. For NPR News, I'm Nick Castele in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nick Castele