Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cleveland Torso Murderer
The Cleveland Torso Murderer (also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run) was an unidentified serial killer active in the Cleveland, Ohio, area in the early 20th century. The official toll of the murderer was 12 (latest researchers include the "Lady of the Lake," listed below, for a total of 13 victims), killed between 1935 to 1938, but some (including lead Cleveland Detective Peter Merylo) believe that there may have been as many as 40+ victims in the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown, Ohio, area between the 1920s and the 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. Serial killers were virtually unknown in 1935, and the "Mad Butcher" is considered to be one of America's first (after others such as Albert Fish and Dr. H. H. Holmes).
The victims were usually drifters whose identities were never determined, although there are several exceptions to this (victims number 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 classes of society—easy prey in Depression-era Cleveland. Many were known as "working poor" that had nowhere else to live but the ramshackle shanty towns in 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 act of decapitation itself. Most of the male victims were castrated, and some victims showed evidence of chemical treatment of their bodies. Many of the victims were found a considerable period after their deaths, sometimes a year or more, which made identification nearly impossible, especially since the heads were often not found.
Eliot Ness was the Public Safety Director of Cleveland during the period of "official" murders. Failure to apprehend the murderer was perhaps the major failure of his tenure and is accepted by many to be a contributor to his declining status in later years. Some have called Ness the unlucky "14th victim" of the Torso Murderer; new evidence suggests that Ness was actually successful - though not publicly so - in chasing the killer from Cleveland.

Possible victims
Three suspects are most commonly associated with the Torso murders, although there are numerous others occasionally mentioned.
On August 24, 1939, Frank Dolezal, arrested as a suspect in only one of the murders - that of Florence Polillo - died under suspicious circumstances in the Cuyahoga County Jail. He was discovered to have six broken ribs, injuries his friends say he did not have when arrested by County Sheriff Martin L. O'Donnell some six weeks prior. Most researchers believe that there exists no evidence 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 that confession, and recanted two others as well, saying he had been beaten until he confessed. Lead Cleveland Police detective Peter Merylo, who along with Cleveland officials did not appreciate Sheriff O'Donnell barging into the city's long-running case, is now seen, via his memoirs, as having quietly and behind the scenes tipped the Cleveland press to discrepancies in Dolezal's coerced confessions. Recently unearthed evidence points away from suicide and toward complicity by the sheriff and his deputies in Dolezal's death; a book and documentary about the case are slated for 2008 releases.
Most investigators consider the last canonical murder to have been in 1938. One very strongly suspected individual was alcoholic and drug addict Dr. Francis E. Sweeney, who permanently entered institutionalized care shortly after the last official murders were discovered in 1938. Significantly, Sweeney worked during the first world war in a "M.A.S.H.," or medical, unit that conducted amputations on the field of battle. Dr. Sweeney was later personally interviewed by famed "Untouchable" Eliot Ness who oversaw the official investigation into the killings in his capacity as Cleveland's Safety Director. During this discreet interrogation, Sweeney, whom Ness code-named "Gaylord Sundheim," is said to have "failed to pass" a very early polygraph machine test administered by polygraph expert Leonard Keeler, who told Ness he had his man. Nevertheless, Ness apparently felt that there was very 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 ironically hounded Ness publicly about his failure to catch the Butcher, and who in turn was later related by marriage to political ally Sheriff O'Donnell. Ness' frustration with this may have led to his raiding and burning six shantytowns in the low-lying riverbank "Flats" area of Cleveland in order, he said, to rid the Butcher of his prey. In any case, with Sweeney perhaps thinking Ness was onto him, and subsequently voluntarily committing himself to a hospital just days after the raids, there were no more leads or connections that police could make to him as a possible suspect. The killings apparently stopped after Sweeney committed himself, but the draconian nature of Ness' raids, which he did with little or no political cover, served to unalterably diminish Ness in the eyes of Cleveland's power structure. Sweeney died in a Dayton veteran's hospital in 1965, though he did continue to mock and harass Eliot Ness and his family with bizarre threatening postcards well into the 1950s. Ness never recovered his public stature.
The 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, often called the Black Dahlia, by an unknown perpetrator in Los Angeles bears distinct similarities, as well as some significant differences, when compared to the Torso Murderer's work. Most researchers familiar with both crimes do not feel that the same person was at work, but Elizabeth Short's murderer might have copied aspects of the Cleveland crimes. Those who see a link between the Black Dahlia and Torso Murders have pointed out that a petty criminal named Jack Wilson, who was not a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder at the time but was put forth as suspect in John Gilmore's 1994 book Severed, is known to have lived in Cleveland during the murders and reportedly talked of viewing the death mask of victim number 4, the unknown "tattooed man". At least one reference also discusses a mysterious Torso suspect named Jack Wilson who was never found for questioning, but this may not have been the same person. Sources give the date of birth of the Jack Wilson in Severed as 1920 or 1924, either of which would make him improbably young to have committed many of the Torso Murders.
One other opinion is that there were many murderers involved—that there was no true Torso Murderer. Murders were common in the Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh area during this time, and some, especially those associated with organized crime, were savage. In other cases, long exposure to the elements and animal scavenging might have made some of these murders seem more violent than they actually were.