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Michigan man charged in probe of dead women tied to escort services

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 4:18 PM EDT, Sun May 6, 2012
James Brown, 24, appeared via video during his arraignment Saturday at Michigan's 36th District Court in Detroit.
James Brown, 24, appeared via video during his arraignment Saturday at Michigan's 36th District Court in Detroit.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • James Brown, 24, is charged and held on $1 million bond in Michigan, police say
  • The counts are tied to an investigation into the deaths of four women
  • They posted online ads for escort services before their deaths, police say
  • Their bodies were found in Detroit; the police chief says they likely died elsewhere

(CNN) -- A Michigan man was arraigned Saturday as part of an investigation into the deaths of women linked to a website that hosts ads for escort services.

James Brown, 24, mumbled his name with his head down while appearing via video during Saturday's session at Michigan's 36th District Court in Detroit. He is charged with disinterring dead bodies and arson in relation to the deaths of Demesha Hunt, Renisha Landers, Natasha Curtis and Vernithea McCrary.

He is a suspect in the killings of each of the four women, who were found dead on Detroit's east side last December, a prosecutor said in court. But he has not yet been charged with murder.

Detroit police Chief Ralph Godbee later explained that one reason murder charges haven't been filed is that, while all the bodies were found in his city, the women weren't necessarily killed there. Legally, a charge is filed in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred.

"We have reason to believe that the deaths did not occur within the city of Detroit proper," Godbee told reporters Saturday. "Anybody (who) thinks Detroit is their dumping ground, they're sadly mistaken."

Hunt, 25, and Landers, 24, were found December 19 in the trunk of Landers' Chrysler 300. Days later on Christmas Day, the bodies of Curtis and McCrary were located in the trunk of a car that had been set ablaze.

At least three of the women placed advertisements dealing with "prearranged adult dating services" on Backpage.com, Godbee told reporters last December. The police chief called the ads -- where postings on the escort section cost $1 -- as "borderline prostitution."

A lawyer for Backpage.com, Steve Suskin, said then that the company's website didn't necessarily have anything to do with the women or their deaths. He insisted that investigators had seen "at least 30 different (pertinent) ads or other postings on at least 15 different websites, separate and distinct from ours."

Around 6 a.m. Tuesday, authorities arrested Brown and "another black male, age 32" about 20 miles north of Detroit in Sterling Heights, Michigan, Detroit police said in a statement Saturday.

The other man was later released, police said, but the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office decided to press charges against Brown.

He is being held on $1 million bond, according to police.

Even without murder charges being filed, some of the victims' family members expressed satisfaction Saturday that the case appears to be moving forward.

"We've been waiting for four months, and we're just grateful," Chikita Madison told CNN Detroit affiliate WXYZ, describing her daughter Landers and niece Hunt as "good girls." "We want justice, we want closure."

Landers' uncle, Leon Mims, said that he and other relatives hope that Brown's arrest will spur the investigation, including determining key details and whether others might have been involved.

"Hopefully, the house of cards will start falling now," Mims told WXYZ. "Hopefully, we'll get to the bottom of it, we'll get to the murder part of this."

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