"The MO of each body we've found so far was wrapped up in a lot of garbage bags, so if you see anything .... and it might not look like it's a body, but it could be — because each bag, the way he had each person was in a fetal position," Spotts told searchers before they began. "It didn't look like a person could actually fit in the bag."
Pam Butcher, 55, said she came out to help search her neighborhood because she was disturbed by the death and said she knew other volunteers were, too.
"They are concerned because it could have been one of their family members," she said. "It could have been one of their kids. It could have been one of their nieces. It could have been one of their aunts."
One neighbor, Nathenia Crosby, said she was familiar with Madison and had seen him walking through the neighborhood. She said she had told him to stop chatting with her daughter and warned him after seeing him talk to her cousin.
"It's very scary, especially when he used to be talking to my daughter," said Crosby, 48. "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.' "
A day earlier, police, FBI, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department went through yards and abandoned houses over about three blocks and used dogs trained to find cadavers.
The neighborhood in East Cleveland, which has some 17,000 residents, has many abandoned houses and authorities want to be thorough, the mayor said.
"Hopefully, we pray to God, this is it," he said.
The case brings to mind recent notorious Cleveland searches that involved missing women.
In May, three women who separately vanished a decade ago were found captive in a run-down house. Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver, has pleaded not guilty to nearly 1,000 counts of kidnap, rape and other crimes.
In 2009, Sowell was arrested after a woman escaped from his house and said she had been raped there. Police found the mostly nude bodies of 11 women in garbage bags and plastic sheets throughout the home.
Prosecutors described him in court papers as "the worst offender in the history of Cuyahoga County and arguably the State of Ohio."
He was found guilty in 2011 and sentenced to death.
Associated Press writers Kantele Franko in Columbus, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati, and Peggy Harris in Philadelphia contributed to this report.