Foul odor leads Ohio authorities to grisly find

By Thomas J. Sheeran

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 21 2013 6:39 p.m. MDT

East Cleveland police search Sunday, July 21, 2013, near where three bodies were recently found, in East Cleveland, Ohio. The bodies, believed to be female, were found about 100 to 200 yards (90 to 180 meters) apart, and a 35-year-old man was arrested and is a suspect in all three deaths, though he has not yet been charged, East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton said Saturday.

Tony Dejak, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

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 sent police and volunteers through a poor Ohio neighborhood in a search for more victims, officials said Sunday.

East Cleveland Police Chief Ralph Spotts said Sunday 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 three female bodies, 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 Sunday 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.

Police did not release the suspect's name. 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 Sunday 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 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 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."

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