EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — A suspicious odor unearthed one body in a trash bag in a rundown neighborhood here, and then two more were found over the weekend, and police expected Monday to charge a man who indicated he might have been influenced by a serial killer whose home was found littered with bodies a few years ago.
Police and volunteers scoured about 40 empty homes Sunday until their search was suspended, with no immediate plans to resume, said East Cleveland Police Chief Ralph Spotts.
He identified the suspect as 35-year-old Michael Madison and said Madison was to be charged Monday but did not elaborate.
An odor led to the discovery Friday of one body in a garage. Two others were found Saturday — one in a backyard and the other in the basement of a vacant house. The victims were found about 100 to 200 yards apart, and authorities believed they were killed in the past six to 10 days.
The bodies of the three women were all wrapped in plastic bags in fetal positions. "It didn't look like a person could actually fit in the bag," Spotts told residents and activists who gathered Sunday to search.
They're part of the latest in a series of high-profile cases involving the disappearance of women from the Cleveland area.
In 2009, the mostly nude bodies of 11 women were found in garbage bags and plastic sheets throughout the Cleveland home of Anthony Sowell, who was convicted in 2011 of murdering the women and sentenced to death. In May, three women who vanished separately about a decade ago were found captive in a rundown house. The owner of the house, a former school bus driver, has pleaded not guilty to kidnap, rape and other crimes.
Madison threatened about a month ago to attack women in the same fashion as Sowell, said Eric Wilson, a neighbor who saw Madison frequently. Mayor Gary Norton said Madison gave similar indications to authorities.
"He said some things that led us to believe that in some way, shape, or form, Sowell might be an influence," Norton told The Associated Press.
Madison was arrested Friday after a police standoff. A woman at a small white house at an address for Madison said the family was shocked by the allegations. She identified herself as a family member and answered a few questions through the blinds of a window Sunday but refused to come out or give her name. It wasn't clear whether Madison has an attorney.
Madison was classified as a sex offender in 2002 when he was sentenced to four years in prison for attempted rape, according to court records. He had previous convictions in 2000 and 2001 for drug-related charges.
Wilson and others said Madison was a neighborhood fixture, constantly walking up and down streets and seen everywhere. Teenager Daniqwa Martin said Madison had offered her a ride in the past but she always declined.
One neighbor, Nathenia Crosby, said she was familiar with Madison and had seen him walking through the neighborhood. She said she had told him to stop chatting with 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.' "
Detectives continued to interview Madison, Norton said. He said authorities have "lots of reasons" to suspect there are more victims, but he refused to say why.
Spotts indicated that Madison'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.
All three bodies were found in the fetal position, wrapped in several layers of trash bags, Norton said. The bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition and it would take several days to identify them and how they died, Cuyahoga County medical examiner Dr. Thomas P. Gilson said Sunday.
Martin, 16, said she smelled the odor Tuesday but ignored it, thinking it was a dead animal.
About three dozen volunteers, including community anti-crime activists, 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. One young searcher crawled under a board screwed across a door to go inside a house.
Barbara Stirtmire, part of a local motorcycle club whose members were pitching in to search Sunday, said she came to help because she knows so many people in the area and herself has a teenage daughter.
"It doesn't make the city look good, I know that," said Stirtmire, 31, who works at a nearby auto parts store. "But as far as everybody coming together, it's beautiful."
The neighborhood in East Cleveland, which has some 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.
Associated Press writers Kantele Franko in Columbus, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Peggy Harris in Philadelphia contributed to this report.