Everyone knows who Eliot Ness is… The famed lawman busted more organized crime figures than any other lawman of his day. Cleaning up the streets of Chicago and his tracking of Al Capone made him a hero. With his star on the rise, he took a job as the Safety Director of Ohio and oh, it did not go well.
The first victim was Edward Andrassy and his body was found in September 1935. His head and genitals had been removed, but his head was eventually recovered. However, as the police searched for clues, they found another body. John Doe had been killed earlier than Edward Andrassy (making him the first victim). His head and genitals had also been removed and like Andrassy, his head was eventually recovered.
And so it began: Eliot Ness versus The Madbutcher of Kingsbury Run. The Cleveland Torso murders would officially include 12 victims; 8 men and 4 women.
Only 3 victims were ever identified. It was the time of the Great Depression and Cleveland had a huge migrant population and shantytown. It was here that The Madbutcher appeared to hunt and dispose of his victims. Often, decapitation was indeed the cause of death (more on this later). Almost always, the victims were dismembered, some even cut in half (much like the Black Dahlia). One victim was alive when dismemberment began. In four cases, the heads of the victims were never found. Three victims had other body parts missing, including one whose head was found, but a rib was never recovered.
There are several suspected victims. One was nicknamed the Lady of the Lake. Her body washed ashore in September 1934. It is unclear if she was decapitated or not, but many researchers claim she is the first victim. Others claim that the Madbutcher may have been working as early as 1921. Between 1921 and 1934 then again between 1939 and 1942, several dismembered bodies were found in the swamps around Newcastle, Pennsylvania. There were lots of similarities between The Cleveland Torso murders and the Murder Swamp Killer. Also, in 1940 near McKee’s Rock, Pennsylvania, three headless corpses were found in a boxcar.
But back to Ness. Ness believed Dr. Francis Sweeney was responsible for the Cleveland Torso murders. However, Sweeney was a well respected doctor who was related to a congressman at the time. Sweeney voluntarily entered an asylum, but he did appear to mock and threaten Ness and Ness’s family until sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. The case soured Ness and tarnished his golden reputation. He returned to the FBI and went back to work on organized crime, where he had later successes.
My thoughts: Sweeney probably wasn’t the Madbutcher. Despite his surgical knowledge, he was a smallish man and described as weak. Ness believed that was part of the reason for the dismembered bodies, they were easier to move. Unfortunately, the Madbutcher liked to decapitate people. A smallish, frail man, regardless of medical knowledge, would have problems cutting through the spinal column. And I don’t believe John Doe I and Edward Andrassy were the first victims. There was too much control in grisly murders for them to be first time kills.