EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — East Cleveland Police Chief Ralph Spotts on Sunday publicly identified the suspect in the deaths of three women, whose bodies were found in trash bags, and officers and volunteers ended searches.
Chief Spotts said that Michael Madison, a 35-year-old registered sex offender, is in custody and is to be formally charged today.
Sunday’s search included about 40 abandoned houses and other areas, but turned up no more bodies in the neighborhood where three were found on Friday and Saturday. Police do not plan to continue searching today.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet identified the three black women found wrapped in plastic bags.
A medical examiner said the bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition and it will take days to identify them and determine how they died.
Madison of Cleveland was arrested Friday night after a two-hour standoff at his mother’s home.
In police interviews, he led investigators to believe he might have been influenced by Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell, East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton said Saturday.
“He said some things that led us to believe that in some way, shape, or form, Sowell might be an influence,” Mr. Norton said.
Sowell is in prison on a death sentence after being found guilty in 2011 of killing 11 women and hiding their remains around his Cleveland home.
Authorities believe the women found over the weekend had been killed within the last 10 days.
East Cleveland police, the FBI, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office, and Cleveland police are involved in the investigation, which also was aided by dogs trained to find cadavers.
About three dozen volunteers fanned out Sunday morning across yards, through vacant houses, and along a railroad track to help police search.
Searchers rummaging through vacant houses in the same neighborhood Sunday were warned by Chief Spotts to brace themselves for the smell of corpses and to look out for trash bags that might conceal a body.
He declined to elaborate on his comments about the possible additional victims. Mr. Norton said authorities had “lots of reasons” to suspect there were more victims, but he refused to say why.
Residents told reporters that the suspect had been in the area talking aggressively to women.
Velvet Farmer, 21, said she has a cousin who lives on the street and had spoken to Madison, who told her his name was “Ivan,” a few times. She said she was shocked to learn he is a suspect.
“I’m glad to be alive,” Ms. Farmer said.
Pam Butcher, 55, said she helped search her neighborhood because she was disturbed by the deaths and said she knew other volunteers were too.
“They are concerned because it could have been one of their family members,” she said. “It could have been one of their kids. It could have been one of their nieces. It could have been one of their aunts.”
One neighbor, Nathenia Crosby, said she had seen the suspect 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 Ms. 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 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.
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 1,000 counts of kidnap, rape, and other crimes.
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 in garbage bags and plastic sheets throughout the home.
Madison is a sexual offender who registered with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office after being released from prison on an attempted rape conviction in 2002. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years. He was given the least serious offender status. He also has a history of drug possession and trafficking.