Earlier this week I was watching YouTube videos instead of working as I’m sure many, if not most of us do from time to time. I came across a name; Michael Madison. According to the video I was watching, Madison is a serial killer from Cleveland that had recently been sentenced to death. As a true crime writer, this piqued my interest. As I read about Mr. Madison, I found that his death sentence came as a result of a conviction of murdering 18-year-old Shirrellda Terry, 28-year-old Shetisha Sheeley and 38-year-old Angela Deskins in a series of strangulations that occurred between October 2012 and July 2013.
Responding to reports of a foul odor, authorities investigated a garage leased by Madison. From the findings of the investigation, Madison was arrested on July 19, 2013. The body of Shirrellda Terry was found in the garage behind his apartment building on the corner of Hayden and Shaw avenues in East Cleveland. Authorities believe that 18-year-old Shirrellda Terry was his first victim. Madison originally lived with the corpse of Ms. Terry in the apartment with him until the smell overpowered him. At that point, Madison moved the body from the hall closet in his apartment to the garage. The bodies of Shetisha Sheeley and Angela Deskins. were also kept close to him. One corpse was kept in bushes outside and a third in the basement of a nearby vacant home. Wrapped in duct tape and garbage bags, all three bodies were visible from the second-floor balcony of his apartment.
I read on, taking in more and more information regarding this case and thought to myself, “serial killer in Cleveland, why does that seem familiar?” In amazement, (not like utter amazement, just a bit surprised) I realized that this was the second known serial killer in Cleveland in a matter of fewer than five years. I’d suddenly remembered Anthony Sowell.
Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Strangler was arrested in October 2009 after the bodies of eleven women were discovered by police. Sowell was raised in East Cleveland. After a seven-year stint in the Marines, Sowell was convicted for kidnapping and rape in 1989. On September 22, 2009, Latundra Billups reported to police that after a few drinks Sowell became angry, hit, choked and raped her. On October 29, police arrived at his home with a warrant for Sowell’s arrest. Authorities did not find Sowell at home; however, what they did find shocked Cleveland to its core.
Police found the bodies of two women buried in a shallow grave in the basement. The remains of four other women were found on the 3rd floor of the home, in crawl spaces in the house. After more digging in the backyard, the corpses of three women were found as well as the partial remains of a fourth. A bucket inside the house containing a skull brought the body count to eleven victims. Sowell, arrested two days later; was charged with eleven counts of aggravated murder and 74 counts of rape, kidnapping, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse. On July 22, 2011, Sowell was convicted on all but two counts against him, including the murders of the eleven women whose bodies were found in his house. On August 12th Anthony Sowell was sentenced to death.
Initially amazed to find that the city of Cleveland had been faced with back to back serial killers; further research brought me to the conclusion that serial murder was nothing new to Cleveland, Ohio. By my count, Cleveland had at least 10 serial killers who either got their start or finish there. The first known instance of serial murder in Cleveland started back in the 1930s. The suspect was known to have killed at least 12 victims with some accounts believing the number may be closer to 40 victims during his run. During his reign of terror, he was known to gruesomely decapitate his victims with his bare hands. Many times he would do so while the victim was still alive. Newspapers dubbed this individual the Cleveland Torso Murderer.
From 1935-1938, the Cleveland Torso Murderer also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run; dismembered at least 12 victims and dumped the remains in the area of Kingsbury Run, an area on the southeast side of Cleveland, Ohio. Despite being pursued by Cleveland’s Public Safety Director, famous lawman, Eliot Ness, as well as lead detective Peter Merylo, he was never apprehended.
The victims of the Torso Murderer were normally drifters, runaways and prostitutes. Of the 12 known victims, only 3 were identified; Edward Andrassy, Florence Polillo, and Rose Wallace. The sinister acts of depravity that earned the killer his title were the beheading and dismembering of his victims. At times he would cut the victim’s torso in half or remove their appendages. As stated earlier, many times the victim was still alive during mutilation making the decapitation or dismemberment the excruciatingly painful cause of death. Most of the victims’ remains were found long after they had been murdered, this contributed greatly to the inability to identify them. Especially since the heads were often missing.
The official body count of the Torso Murderer was 12, however area murders that fit the profile of other victims go as far back as 1921 when dismembered bodies were found in swamps and boxcars near New Castle, Pennsylvania. On July 22, 1950, the decapitated body of 41-year-old Robert Robertson was found in Cleveland. This means that crimes fitting the same modus operandi as those of the Torso Murderer were occurring years after they were thought to have ended.
I was totally taken back by the sheer number of serial killers that have called Cleveland Ohio home at some point. Most of society remember being sickened by the despicable exploits of Ariel Castro, however many are unaware that Cleveland has ties to the Milwaukee cannibal Jeffery Dahmer. As I concluded my studies of this otherwise booming metropolis I came to the conclusion that the Rock and Roll Capital of the World may also be the Serial Killer Capital of America.