Soul-searching in Cleveland after 3 slayings
Michael Madison is brought into court for his arraignment in East Cleveland, Ohio on Monday, July 22, 2013. Madison is charged with aggravated murder in the deaths of three women found in garbage bags in the city. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Michael Madison is brought into court for his arraignment in East Cleveland, Ohio on Monday, July 22, 2013. Madison is charged with aggravated murder in the deaths of three women found in garbage bags in the city over the weekend. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
This undated photo provided by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff Department show Michael Madison. Authorities responding to a report of a foul odor from a home discovered a body and arrested a registered sex offender, Madison, who sent police and volunteers through a poor Ohio neighborhood in a search for more victims, officials said Sunday, July 21, 2013. Madison is expected to be formally charged Monday. (AP Photo/Cuyahoga County Sheriff Department)
The soul-searching has begun in and around Cleveland – again – as the chilling details emerge from the latest missing-women case to send a shiver through the metropolitan area.
A registered sex offender was charged yesterday with murder and kidnapping in the slayings of three women whose bodies were found in plastic trash bags in a run-down East Cleveland neighborhood. It is the third major case in four years of multiple killings or abductions to haunt the Rust Belt metropolis.
“I do think we have to ask ourselves as a community the larger question: Why here, and what can we do to better understand the conditions that fostered this savage behavior?” said Dennis Eckert, a political and urban-policy consultant and former Cleveland-area congressman.
Some civic leaders say the explanation lies in the disintegration of neighborhoods and people’s connections to one another, plus a general mistrust of the police – conditions that make it easier for a predator to kill without others noticing anything or reporting their suspicions.
Cleveland was a robust steel town for generations but has struggled for decades, ever since manufacturing went into a decline in the 1970s. Today it regularly ranks among the poorest big cities in America.
Per-capita income is just $17,000 in Cleveland and even lower, at $16,000, in next-door East Cleveland, where the bodies were found Friday and Saturday.
Greater Cleveland lost more jobs than any other big city in the country between May 2012 and this past May, at a time when hiring was finally picking up again in many parts of the country.
Last year, Cuyahoga County, home to both Cleveland and East Cleveland, topped the list of foreclosures in Ohio with 11,427, according to Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland think tank.
A walk down almost any street in East Cleveland brings the crisis home. Boarded-up houses and ramshackle apartment buildings are a common sight.
On Sunday, volunteers scoured 40 of those homes, looking for any additional victims of Michael Madison, the man charged in the latest slayings.
A foul odor reported by a neighbor led to the discovery of the bodies and the arrest of Madison, 35, who served four years in prison for attempted rape and a drug offense.
The medical examiner has yet to establish the cause of death; two of the victims were too badly decomposed to identify. The police said they believe the women had been dead six to 10 days.
At a court hearing yesterday, Madison was ordered held on $6 million bail. He did not enter a plea.
In May, Cleveland was electrified by the discovery of three women who authorities say had been held captive for a decade in a house in a rough neighborhood dotted with boarded-up homes on Cleveland’s west side.
Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver, has been charged with nearly 1,000 counts of kidnapping, rape and other crimes and has pleaded not guilty. Many questioned how he could have held the women for so long without someone noticing something was wrong.
Four years ago, Cleveland was shocked by the arrest of Anthony Sowell, who stalked and killed 11 women on Cleveland’s east side and hid the bodies around his house and yard. He was found guilty in 2011 and sentenced to death.
Many of Sowell’s victims were drug addicts who were never reported missing. Law enforcement authorities were accused of fostering an environment that made residents, many of them black, reluctant to call the police.
That mistrust led to the creation of insular islands in poor neighborhoods that make it easy for predators like Sowell to operate, said James Renner, a Cleveland investigative reporter, film producer and author of The Serial Killer’s Apprentice, about 13 unsolved crimes in Cleveland.
“Human predators work very similarly to predators in nature,” Renner said. “They will go to the place that they have the highest rate of success, where they can stalk without being caught or seen or reported.”
This week’s news comes at a time when Cleveland is in many ways reinventing itself.
The city just opened a $465 million convention center and exhibit hall. The Horseshoe Casino has opened in a former department store, bringing scores of visitors. And parts of downtown are bustling with a vibrant restaurant scene and the first new apartments in decades.
Across the street from the new convention center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is hosting an exhibit on the Rolling Stones. The Cleveland Indians are in second place in the American League’s Central Division.
And next year, the city hosts the Gay Games, expected to attract 30,000 visitors.