EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — 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 Monday 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 police — conditions that make it easier for a predator to kill without others noticing anything or reporting their suspicions.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he also believes the disintegration of neighborhoods contributed to the perpetrators being able to commit the crimes undetected.
"This is what happens when you have poverty," Kasich told reporters Monday. "It's what happens when you have individuals who are very dangerous inside the community and somehow lose track of them. It's about breakdown of neighborhoods, sometimes, where, you know, we don't always know our neighbors. There's so much to it."
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 other big cities in the U.S. between May 2012 and May 2013, 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.
At a court hearing Monday, Madison was ordered held on $6 million bail. He did not enter a plea.
The medical examiner has yet to establish the victims' cause of death; two were too badly decomposed to identify.
Authorities over the weekend said the victims were killed six to 10 days earlier. But the charges read in court specified a wider time frame for the alleged crimes — days or months before the bodies were found.
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 wrong.