Prosecutors charged a registered sex offender with murder and other felony charges after the discovery over the weekend of three female bodies wrapped in garbage bags in an impoverished Cleveland suburb.
Michael Madison, 35, was charged with three counts each of aggravated murder and kidnapping in connection with the deaths of three women whose bodies were discovered Friday and Saturday in the city of East Cleveland, Mayor Gary Norton said at a Monday press conference.
Judge William L. Dawson told Madison at his arraignment Monday that the murder charges are punishable by a possible death penalty or life in prison. Madison, a registered sex offender, appeared stoic and unblinking. He did not enter a plea during the hearing, where bail was set at $6 million, and waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
Norton earlier identified one of three victims as Angela Deskins, a resident of Cleveland believed to be 38, whose body was found in a backyard Saturday – the second grisly discovery during a macabre police search through the city. She was identified through fingerprints.
The two other victims – one found in a garage after police responded to a report of a foul odor Friday, the other found in the basement of a vacant house Saturday – have not yet been identified, Norton said. A medical examiner Monday said that it may be difficult to identify those victims because their bodies are so badly decomposed.
Officials said one of the two “Jane Doe” victims has several tattoos that they hope will provide clues to her identity, including two tattoos that say “Gene” and one, on the left breast, featuring the name of hip-hop artist Lil Wayne.
Authorities initially believed the women were killed six to 10 days before their bodies were discovered, but charges read in court on Monday indicated the killings may have happened months earlier.
Norton told The Plain Dealer newspaper that Madison indicated in police interviews that he might have been influenced by Anthony Sowell, who is on death row for killing 11 women ages 24 to 52 at his home in the city.
Sowell, who is also a convicted sex offender, was captured in 2009. In court papers, prosecutors described him as "the worst offender in the history of Cuyahoga County and arguably the State of Ohio."
Two months ago, Cleveland was shocked by the escapes of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. Ariel Castro was charged with 977 counts in connection with the abduction and rape of the women, who were held captive in his Seymour Avenue home for more than a decade.
Police arrested Madison on Friday, hours after investigators found the first victim's body in a garage.
Authorities continued looking for more possible victims into Sunday night before calling off the search, East Cleveland Police Chief Ralph Spotts told reporters.
"We officially found nothing," he said. "We will not pick up the search again."
During the search, a cadaver dog led investigators to a lot near the area where the three others bodies were found, according WKYC. Other cadaver dogs also hinted at the same area. The bodies were found about 100 to 200 yards apart.
Nathenia Crosby, 48, said Madison was a neighbor who concerned her because of his interest in her daughter.
"It's very scary, especially when he used to be talking to my daughter," she told the Associated Press. "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.'"
Teenager Daniqwa Martin told the Associated Press she smelled an odor near the house Tuesday but ignored it, thinking it was a dead animal. Martin, 16, said Madison had offered her a ride in the past but she always declined.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiners Office told reporters it may take up to several days as they work to identify the dead women because the bodies are in an advanced state of decomposition, WKYC said.
M. Alex Johnson and Daniel Arkin of NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.