Nation/World

Foul odor leads Ohio authorities to grisly find

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Authorities responding to a report of a foul odor from a home discovered a body and arrested a registered sex offender who led police on a gruesome hunt through a poor Ohio neighborhood in a search for potentially more victims, officials said today.

East Cleveland Police Chief Ralph Spotts said today that searchers should be prepared to find one or two more victims, but he declined to elaborate. Mayor Gary Norton said the suspect has indicated he might have been influenced by Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell, who was convicted in 2011 of murdering 11 women and sentenced to death.

It’s the latest in a series of high-profile cases involving the disappearance of women from the Cleveland area.

One body was found Friday in a garage. Two others were found Saturday — one in a backyard and the other in the basement of a vacant house. The bodies, believed to be female and all wrapped in plastic bags, were found about 100 to 200 yards apart, and authorities believed the victims were killed in the last six to 10 days.

Searchers rummaging through vacant houses in the same neighborhood today 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. He declined to elaborate on his comments about the possible additional victims.

Norton said authorities have “lots of reasons” to suspect there are more victims, but he refused to say why.

A 35-year-old registered sex offender in custody is a suspect in the deaths, Norton said. The suspect, who was arrested Friday after a police standoff, has indicated to authorities he might have been influenced by Sowell.

“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.

The man hasn’t been charged.

A report of a foul odor 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 found nearby Saturday.

The bodies were each in the fetal position, wrapped in several layers of trash bags, Norton said. He said detectives continue to interview the suspect, who used his mother’s address in Cleveland in registering as a sex offender, the mayor said.

“The person in custody, some of the things he said to investigators made us go back today, “ the mayor said Saturday.

Cuyahoga County medical examiner Dr. Thomas P. Gilson said today 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, including community anti-crime activists, fanned out this 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 to search.

“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,” Spotts told searchers before they began. “It didn’t look like a person could actually fit in the bag.”

Pam Butcher, 55, said she came out to help search her neighborhood because she was disturbed by the death 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 was familiar with the suspect 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.’ “

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 Saturday and used dogs trained to find cadavers.

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.

Prosecutors described him 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.



There are 14 comments on this story »



Blogs

Complete interview with Gabe Marks

Our most recent story about prolific Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks tells the story of a particularly insightful interview we had last spring. That story, "Gabe Marks is a ...


Weekend Wild Card — 7.23-24. 16

I'm facing another weekend of fence-building with my neighbor. Once we get the back fence built, I have one last honey-do item on the agenda and then it's kick back ...



You have 50 choices

S-R intern Tyson Bird brought cookies to work on his last day with us. It has been a pleasure to have him here. I first printed a column submission from ...



Saving for the future

sponsored According to two 2015 surveys, 62 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to handle an unexpected emergency, much less any long-term plans.



Sections


Profile

Contact the Spokesman

Main switchboard:
(509) 459-5000
Customer service:
(800) 338-8801
Newsroom:
(509) 459-5400
(800) 789-0029
Back to Spokesman Mobile