Another Killer, More Dead Women: Why?

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The first womans body was discovered at the intersection of Shaw and Hayden last Friday.
  • The first woman's body was discovered at the intersection of Shaw and Hayden last Friday.
News reports began rolling in last Friday following the discovery of a woman’s body wrapped in plastic bags inside a garage at the corner of Hayden and Shaw in East Cleveland. Her name was Shetisha Sheeley. She had been missing since last September.

On Saturday, another woman was found in a nearby vacant lot, obscured by tall grass and weeds. Her name was Angela Deskins. She had been missing since June 7.

Later that same day, another woman was found in an abandoned home on Saturday before the search was officially called off by investigators. On Wednesday, investigators confirmed that her name was Shirellda Terry. She had been missing since July 10. (The version of this story appearing in the July 24 issue of Scene went to print before officials identified Terry.)

Those police searches - long hours spent in nearly 50 abandoned homes and long-forgotten lots in East Cleveland - call to mind the May 6 rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight on Seymour Avenue. The bleak headlines from around the country remind us of a growing connotation buried in the name “Cleveland.”

The questions are still piling up and casting a long shadow over any semblance of answers.

Registered sex offender Michael Madison, 35, was charged with the killings (three counts of aggravated murder and three counts of kidnapping). His criminal record displays a major comparison to the present: In 2002, Madison pleaded guilty to attempted rape, gross sexual imposition and kidnapping. Judge Mary Boyle tossed him a four-year sentence.

With talk of the weekend’s events comes reflection on a recurring nightmare for the region’s most impoverished and neglected neighborhoods. Serial killer Anthony Sowell’s crimes have entered the local conversation again. Ariel Castro’s downcast mug appears on TV each week, it seems. Brutal crimes against local women are becoming a troubling trend, and it’s unconscionable to imagine a city letting that pass by yet again.

Oh, there will be outrage. And there will be vigils. And there will be the unwavering eye of the national public, peering into Northeast Ohio and wondering just what in the hell is going on over there.

Like the three women discovered this past weekend, though, the similar stories of Jazmine Trotter and Christine Malone (whose East Cleveland murders remain unsolved) paint a horrifying picture for young black women in this region. Safety is distinctly not a guarantee for all residents of Cleveland, a painfully obvious and unbelievable fact in 2013 that should stir hearts and minds across the city. In neighborhoods that drift far from greater Cleveland’s consciousness, hope and faith complement observation and communication as recourse for safety. Law enforcement, it seems all too often, shows up on the heels of citizens’ actions just a little too late.

The Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope, for instance, organized an awareness campaign on Tuesday for Terry, a 19-year-old woman first reported missing on July 10. Her identity as one of the murder victims was not known at the time. She had been last seen on East 146th Street, not too far from the site of last weekend’s searches.

The group’s executive director, Travelle Harp, says that a Monday night community meeting galvanized neighbors. Much like the aftershocks of Seymour Avenue’s tragedy, residents of East Cleveland gathered to discuss how best to move forward.

“We began to acknowledge the human capital we have in this community,” Harp says. “This is a reason for us to get involved and have a stronger community in the city. We can leverage better relationships with our neighbors.”

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