Sex offender in custody after bodies found

CRIME SCENE: Two homes where female bodies were found wrapped in plastic bags have been taped off by police with crime scene tape in East Cleveland, Ohio.
CRIME SCENE: Two homes where female bodies were found wrapped in plastic bags have been taped off by police with crime scene tape in East Cleveland, Ohio.

Police have publicly identified the suspect in the deaths of three US women found wrapped in trash bags, and officers have ended hours of searching without finding more bodies. Police do not plan to continue searching today.

East Cleveland Police Chief Ralph Spotts said 35-year-old registered sex offender Michael Madison was in custody and was expected to be formally charged later today.

Sunday’s search looked at about 40 abandoned houses and other areas, but it turned up no more bodies in the neighbourhood where three were found at the weekend.

A medical examiner said the bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition and it would take days to identify the women and determine how they died.

Madison, who was arrested after a police standoff, has indicated he might have been influenced by Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell, who was convicted in 2011 of killing 11 women and sentenced to death, East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton said.

"He said some things that led us to believe that in some way, shape, or form, Sowell might be an influence," he said.

A report of a foul odour emanating from a home led police to the discovery of the first body, found in a garage, and to the suspect.

Two other bodies were later found - one in a backyard and the other in the basement of a vacant house. The bodies, all female, were found about 90 to 180 metres apart, and authorities said the victims were killed in the last six to 10 days.

The bodies were each in the fetal position, wrapped in several layers of trash bags, Norton said.

Cuyahoga County medical examiner Dr Thomas P Gilson said that the bodies were all female and in advanced stages of decomposition. He said that it would take several days to identify them and determine how they died.

"The MO of each body we've found so far was wrapped up in a lot of garbage bags, so if you see anything... and it might not look like it's a body, but it could be - because each bag, the way he had each person was in a fetal position," police chief Spotts said.

"It didn't look like a person could actually fit in the bag."

One neighbour, Nathenia Crosby, said she was familiar with Madison and had seen him walking through the neighbourhood. She said she had told him to stop talking to her daughter and warned him after seeing him talk to her cousin.

"It's very scary, especially when he used to be talking to my daughter," said Crosby, 48.

"But I told him he was too old to be talking to my daughter because she was only 19. When I found out how old he was, I said: 'You need to move on, she's too young."'

The police, FBI, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department went through yards and abandoned houses over about three blocks yesterday (NZ time) and used dogs trained to find cadavers in case there were more.

The neighbourhood in East Cleveland, which had some 17,000 residents, had many abandoned houses and authorities wanted to be thorough, the mayor said.

It's the third recent high-profile case in the Cleveland area that involves missing women.

In May, three women who separately vanished a decade ago were found captive in a run-down house. Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver, has pleaded not guilty to nearly 1000 counts of kidnap, rape and other crimes.

Castro is accused of repeatedly restraining the women, sometimes chaining them to a pole in a basement, to a bedroom heater or inside a van. The charges say one of the women tried to escape and he assaulted her with a vacuum cord around her neck. He also fathered a daughter with one captive, authorities said.

In 2009, Sowell was arrested after a woman escaped from his house and said she had been raped there. Police found the mostly nude bodies of 11 women throughout the home.

Sowell's victims ranged in age from 24 to 52, all were recovering or current drug addicts and most died of strangulation; some had been decapitated, and others were so badly decomposed that coroners couldn't say with certainty how they died. The bodies were disposed of in garbage bags and plastic sheets.

Prosecutors described Sowell in court papers as "the worst offender in the history of Cuyahoga County and arguably the State of Ohio".

He was found guilty in 2011 and sentenced to death.