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.
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 city in the U.S. 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.