Cleveland Torso Murderer
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|The Cleveland Torso Murderer|
An exposition dedicated to the Cleveland Torso Murders in the Cleveland Police Museum (from left to right: Death masks of the victims #2, #3, #4, #8)
|Other names||Cleveland Torso Murderer, Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run|
|Victims||12 to 15|
The official number of murders credited to the Cleveland Torso Murderer is twelve, although recent research has shown there may have been more. The twelve victims were killed between 1935 and 1938, but some, including lead Cleveland Detective Peter Merylo, believe that there may have been 40 or more victims in the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown, Ohio, areas between the 1920s and 1950s. Two strong candidates for addition to the list of those killed are the unknown victim nicknamed the “Lady of the Lake”, found on September 5, 1934, and Robert Robertson, found on July 22, 1950.
The victims were usually drifters whose identities were never determined, although there were a few exceptions (victims numbers 2, 3, and 8 were identified as Edward Andrassy, Flo Polillo, and possibly Rose Wallace, respectively). Invariably, all the victims, male and female, appeared to be from the lower class of society—easy prey in Depression-era Cleveland. Many were known as “working poor”, who had nowhere else to live but the ramshackle shanty towns in the area known as the Cleveland Flats.
The Torso Murderer always beheaded and often dismembered his victims, sometimes also cutting the torso in half; in many cases the cause of death was the decapitation itself. Most of the male victims were castrated, and some victims showed evidence of chemical treatment being applied to their bodies. Many of the victims were found after a considerable period of time following their deaths, sometimes a year or more. This made identification nearly impossible, especially since the heads were often not found.
During the time of the “official” murders, Eliot Ness held the position of Public Safety Director of Cleveland, a position with authority over the police department and ancillary services, including the fire department. While Ness had little to do with the investigation, his posthumous reputation as leader of The Untouchables has made him an irresistible character in modern “torso murder” lore.
Most researchers consider there to be twelve definite victims, although new evidence militates for including a woman dubbed “The Lady of the Lake”. Only two victims were positively identified; the other ten were six John Does and four Jane Does.
|Order of discovery||Victim||Date found||Location||Autopsy report||Estimated time of death||Date of murder||Probable order of murder|
|1||John Doe I||September 23, 1935||Jackass Hill area of Kingsbury Run (near East 49th and Praha Avenue)||Male body was never identified. Decapitated but head recovered.||Initial estimates were seven to ten days. It was later revised to three to four weeks.||August/September 1935||1|
|2||Edward W. Andrassy||September 23, 1935||Jackass Hill area of Kingsbury Run||Andrassy was found lying about 30 feet (9.1 m) from John Doe I. He had been decapitated and emasculated. His head was recovered.||Two to three days||September 1935||2|
|3||Florence Genevieve Polillo
|January 26, 1936||Between 2315 and 2325 East 20th Street in downtown Cleveland.||Her body had been chopped up. Her head was never found.||Two to four days||January 1936||3|
|4||John Doe II||June 5, 1936||Kingsbury Run||The victim was decapitated while alive. His head was recovered. †||Two days||June 1936||5|
|5||John Doe III||July 22, 1936||Big Creek area of Brooklyn, west of Cleveland||The victim was dismembered while still alive. His head was recovered. This unidentified male body was the only known West Side victim.||Two months||May 1936||4|
|6||John Doe IV||September 10, 1936||Kingsbury Run||Only half the torso was found. Nothing remained below the hips. The head was never found or the body identified.||Two days||September 1936||7|
|7||Jane Doe V||February 23, 1937||Euclid Beach on the Lake Erie shore||The unidentified female body was found at the same spot as the 1934 noncanonical victim nicknamed "The Lady of the Lake" (see below). The head was never found.||Three to four days||February 1937||8|
|8||Jane Doe VI||June 6, 1937||Beneath the Lorain-Carnegie bridge||Only black victim. The body was decapitated and missing a rib. The head was recovered. ‡||One year||June 1936||6|
|9||John Doe VII||July 6, 1937||Pulled out of Cuyahoga River in the Cleveland Flats||Body of this male was recovered but the head was never found.||Two to three days||July 1937||9|
|10||Jane Doe VIII||April 8, 1938||Cuyahoga River in the Cleveland Flats||That day, only the lower leg of the victim was recovered. Almost a month later, on May 2, a human thigh was discovered floating in the river to the east of the West 3rd Street bridge. Police officers searched the bridge and found a burlap sack containing a headless torso cut in halves, another thigh and a left foot all belonging to the victim. The head and the rest of the body were never found. Only victim to have drugs in her system.||Three to five days||April 1938||12|
|11||Jane Doe IX||August 16, 1938||East 9th Street Lakeshore Dump||Decapitated female body. Head recovered.||Four to six months||February–April 1938||11|
|12||John Doe X||August 16, 1938||East 9th Street Lakeshore Dump||Discovered at the same time as Jane Doe IX. Male decapitated body. Head was found in a can. Victim never identified.||Seven to nine months||November 1937 – January 1938||10|
^ †: The victim had six unusual tattoos on his body. One included the names “Helen and Paul” and another had the initials “W.C.G.” His undershorts bore a laundry mark indicating the owner's initials were J.D. Despite morgue and death mask inspections by thousands of Cleveland citizens in the summer of 1936 at the Great Lakes Exposition, the “tattooed man” was never identified.
^ ‡: Victim was possibly “Rose Wallace”. Dental work was considered a close match by police and her son (who said he was certain that the victim was his mother). Exact identification could not be achieved because the dentist who carried out the work had died years before. Doubts remained, because the body was estimated to have been dead for a year whereas Wallace had only been missing for 10 months.
Several noncanonical victims are commonly discussed in connection with the Torso Murderer. The first was nicknamed the “Lady of the Lake” and was found near Euclid Beach on the Lake Erie shore on September 5, 1934, at virtually the same spot as canonical victim number 7. Some researchers of the Torso Murderer's victims count the "Lady of the Lake" as victim number 1, or "Victim Zero".
A headless, unidentified male was found in a boxcar in New Castle, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1936. Three headless victims were found in boxcars near McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, on May 3, 1940. All bore similar injuries to those inflicted by the Cleveland killer. Dismembered bodies were also found in the swamps near New Castle between the years 1921 and 1934 and between 1939 and 1942. In September 1940 an article in the New Castle News refers to the killer as “The Murder Swamp Killer” and credits him with 17 murders in New Castle. The almost identical similarities between the victims in New Castle to those in Cleveland, Ohio, coupled with the similarities between New Castle's Murder Swamp and Cleveland's Kingsbury Run, both of which were directly connected by a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line, were enough to convince Cleveland Detective Peter Merylo that the New Castle murders were the work of the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run”. Merylo was convinced the connection was the railroad that ran twice a day between the two cities; he often rode the rails undercover looking for clues to the killer's identity.
On July 22, 1950, the body of 41-year-old Robert Robertson was found at a business at 2138 Davenport Avenue in Cleveland. Police believed he had been dead six to eight weeks and appeared to have been intentionally decapitated. His death appeared to fit the profile of other victims: He was estranged from his family, had an arrest record and a drinking problem, and was on the fringes of society. Despite widespread newspaper coverage linking the murder to the crimes in the 1930s, detectives investigating Robertson's death treated it as an isolated crime.
Two suspects are most commonly associated with the Torso murders, although there are numerous others occasionally mentioned.
On August 24, 1939, a 52 years old Cleveland resident Frank Dolezal, who was arrested as a suspect in Florence Polillo's murder, died under suspicious circumstances in the Cuyahoga County jail. After his death it was discovered that he had suffered six broken ribs—injuries his friends say he did not have when arrested by Sheriff Martin L. O'Donnell some six weeks prior. Most researchers believe that no evidence exists that Dolezal was involved in the murders, although at one time he did admit killing Flo Polillo in self-defense. Before his death, he recanted his confession and recanted two others as well, saying he had been beaten until he confessed.
Most investigators consider the last canonical murder to have been in 1938. One suspected individual was Dr. Francis E. Sweeney. Sweeney worked during World War I in a medical unit that conducted amputations in the field. Sweeney was later personally interviewed by Eliot Ness, who oversaw the official investigation into the killings in his capacity as Cleveland's Safety Director. During this interrogation, Sweeney is said to have "failed to pass" two very early polygraph machine tests. Both tests were administered by polygraph expert Leonard Keeler, who told Ness he had his man. Nevertheless, Ness apparently felt there was little chance of obtaining a successful prosecution of the doctor, especially as he was the first cousin of one of Ness's political opponents, Congressman Martin L. Sweeney, who had hounded Ness publicly about his failure to catch the killer. (Congressman Sweeney was a political ally of and was related by marriage to Sheriff O'Donnell and an opponent of Republican Cleveland mayor Harold Burton, who had appointed Ness). After Dr. Sweeney committed himself, there were no more leads or connections that police could assign to him as a possible suspect. The killings apparently stopped after Sweeney voluntarily entered institutionalized care shortly after the last official murders were discovered in 1938. From his hospital confinement, Sweeney would mock and harass Ness and his family with threatening postcards into the 1950s. He died in a veterans' hospital at Dayton in 1964.
In 1997, another theory postulated that there may have been no single Butcher of Kingsbury Run because the murders could have been committed by different people. This was based on the assumption that the autopsy results were inconclusive. First, Cuyahoga County Coroner Arthur J. Pearce may have been inconsistent in his analysis as to whether the cuts on the bodies were expert or slapdash. Second, his successor, Samuel Gerber, who began to enjoy press attention from his involvement in such cases as the Sam Sheppard murder trial, garnered a reputation for sensational theories. Therefore, the only thing known for certain was that all the murder victims were dismembered.
In popular culture
- David Fincher planned to make a film about the murders after making a movie about another unidentified serial killer, known as Zodiac. A graphic novel entitled Torso and created by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko became the source for the film. The adaptation was greenlit by Paramount Pictures in 2006 but eventually cancelled. In 2013, the plan to make the film was revived, and it was reported that David Lowery would direct the film.
- Author William Bernhardt wrote a novel about the murders, and Elliot Ness' involvement titled Nemesis: the Final Case of Elliot Ness. Although generally non-fiction, it was written as a novel, and makes some assumptions. The only significant deviation from the true story is the ending. A climax is fictionalized where Ness confirms the killer was Sweeny, and captures him, but is prevented from arresting him due to political pressure. It does try to remain factual to the case otherwise, while still remaining entertaining. NBC is currently in the works to adapt this book into a mini-series. No release date or cast has been announced as of January 2014.
- In the 2012 film Seven Psychopaths, the Cleveland Torso Murderer (described as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run) is one of the serial killers murdered by Zachariah Rigby and his accomplice.
- The Black Dahlia, a Los Angeles murder case that some investigators have suggested may have been committed by the same killer.
- Heimel, Paul (1997). Eliot Ness: The Real Story. Coudersport, PA: Knox Books. ISBN 0-9655824-0-X.
- Badal 2001, Drugs and the Maiden.
- Badal 2001, pp. 160–165.
- Badal 2001, Frank Dolezal
- Badal 2001, Dr. Francis Edward Sweeney
- Bellamy, John (1997). The Maniac in the Bushes. Cleveland, Ohio: Gray & Co. ISBN 1-886228-19-1.
- Mark H. Harris. "10 of the Greatest Horror Movies Never Made". About.com Guide. About.com. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
- Fischer, Russ (2013-04-17). "David Lowery Takes Over ‘Torso’ Graphic Novel Adaptation". /Film. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
- Collins, Max Allan (paperback, 1988). Butcher's Dozen. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-26151-6.
- Brady, Ian (hardback, 2001). The gates of Janus. Feral House. ISBN 978-0-922915-73-6.
- Badal, James Jessen (2001). In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland's Torso Murders. Kent State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8733-8689-0.
- Stone, Mark Wade (DVD, 2004). The Fourteenth Victim - Eliot Ness and Torso Murders. Storytellers Media Group. ISBN 0-9749575-3-4.
- Bellamy, John Stark (paperback, 1997). The Maniac in the Bushes and More Tales of Cleveland Woe. Gray and Company. ISBN 1-886228-19-1.
- Nickel, Steven (paperback, 2001). Torso: Eliot Ness and the Search for a Psychopathic Killer. John F Blair Publishers. ISBN 0-89587-246-3.
- Cooke, John Peyton (hardback, 1993). Torsos. Mysterious Press. ISBN 0-89296-522-3.
- Black, Lisa (hardback, 2010). Trail of Blood. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-198933-9.
- Rasmussen, William T. (paperback, 2005). Corroborating Evidence II: The Cleveland Torso Murders. Sunstone Press. ISBN 0-86534-536-8.
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