Cleveland Torso Murderer
Also known as: Cleveland Torso Murderer, Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run
Number of victims: 12 to 15
Country: USA
State(s): Cleveland, Ohio


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Cleveland Torso Murderer

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Map of Cleveland, Ohio

The Cleveland Torso Murderer (also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run) was an unidentified serial killer who killed and dismembered at least 12 victims in the Cleveland, Ohio area in the 1930s.


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The official number of murders credited to the Cleveland Torso Murderer is 12, although recent research has shown there may have been more. The 12 victims were killed between 1935 and 1938, but some, including lead Cleveland Detective Peter Merylo, believe that there may have been as many or more than 40 victims in the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown, Ohio area 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 several exceptions. 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 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 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. Ness was unsuccessful in the investigation, and despite his reputation for the conviction of Al Capone, Ness's career as a detective was over four years after the murders ended.


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Most researchers consider there to be 12 definite victims, although new evidence includes a woman dubbed "The Lady of the Lake". Only two victims were positively identified; the other ten were divided by six John Does and four Jane Does.

Order of discoveryVictimDate foundLocationAutopsy reportEstimated time of deathDate of murderProbable order of murder
1John Doe ISeptember 23, 1935Jackass 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 19351
2Edward W. AndrassySeptember 23, 1935Jackass Hill area of Kingsbury RunAndrassy was found lying about 30 feet (9.1 m) from John Doe I. He had been decapitated, his head was recovered.Two to three daysSeptember 19352
3Florence Genevieve Polillo
(alias Martin)
January 26, 1936Between 2315 and 2325 East 20th Street in downtown Cleveland.Her body had been chopped up. Her head was never found.Two to four daysJanuary 19363
4John Doe IIJune 5, 1936Kingsbury RunThe victim was decapitated while alive. His head was recovered. †Two daysJune 19365
5John Doe IIIJuly 22, 1936Big Creek area of Brooklyn, west of ClevelandThe victim was dismembered while still alive. His head was recovered. This unidentified male body was the only known West Side victim.Two monthsMay 19364
6John Doe IVSeptember 10, 1936Kingsbury RunOnly half the torso was found, nothing remained below the hips. The head was never found or the body identified.Two daysSeptember 19367
7Jane Doe VFebruary 23, 1937Euclid Beach on the Lake Erie shoreThe unidentified female body was found at the same spot as the 1934 non-canonical victim, nicknamed "The Lady of the Lake" (see below). The head was never found.Three to four daysFebruary 19378
8Jane Doe VIJune 6, 1937Beneath the Lorain-Carnegie bridgeOnly black victim. The body was decapitated and missing a rib. The head was recovered. ‡One yearJune 19366
9John Doe VIIJuly 6, 1937Pulled out of Cuyahoga River in the Cleveland FlatsBody of this male was recovered but the head was never found.Two to three daysJuly 19379
10Jane Doe VIIIApril 8, 1938Cuyahoga River in the Cleveland FlatsOnly the lower leg was recovered. Both the head and the rest of the body were never found. Only victim to have drugs in her system.Three to five daysApril, 193812
11Jane Doe IXAugust 16, 1938East 9th Street Lakeshore DumpDecapitated female body. Head recovered.Four to six monthsFebruary to April 193811
12John Doe XAugust 16, 1938East 9th Street Lakeshore DumpDiscovered at the same time as Jane Doe IX. Male decapitated body. Head was found in a can. Victim never identified.Seven to nine monthsNovember 1937 – January 193810

^ †: 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 felt 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.

Possible victims
Several non-canonical 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, as well as "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, Pennsylvania during the years 1921 to 1934 and 1939 to 1942.

Robert Robertson was found at a business at 2138 Davenport Avenue in Cleveland on July 22, 1950. He had been dead six to eight weeks when found and appeared to have been intentionally decapitated.


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Two suspects are most commonly associated with the Torso murders, although there are numerous others occasionally mentioned.

On August 24, 1939, 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 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 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 very strongly suspected individual was Dr. Francis E. Sweeney. Significantly, 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, whom Ness code-named "Gaylord Sundheim," 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 very little chance of obtaining a successful prosecution of the doctor, especially as he was the first cousin of one of Ness' political opponents, Congressman Martin L. Sweeney (d.1960) who had hounded Ness publicly about his failure to catch the killer. (in fact Congressman Sweeney was a political ally of and was related by marriage to Sheriff O'Donnell (d.1940), 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.[citation needed] He died in a veterans' hospital at Dayton in 1964.

In 1997, another theory speculated 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. Firstly 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. Secondly 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 things known for certain was that all the murder victims were dismembered.

In popular culture

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Butcher's Dozen, the second of Max Allan Collins's series of novels fictionalizing Ness's activities as Cleveland's Safety Director, is inspired by the torso murder legend.

The "Butcher of Kingsbury Run" was featured in the episode "Zoe's Reprise" of the CBS TV series Criminal Minds, featuring a copy-cat serial killer in the Cleveland area. The episode originally aired Wednesday, February 18, 2009.

Unsolved Mysteries once featured a segment about the Torso Killer, linking the slayings to that of the Black Dahlia. The show's original host, Robert Stack, had portrayed Eliot Ness on The Untouchables.

The Cleveland Torso Murders were the impetus for John Peyton Cooke's 1993 novel Torsos (aka Torso in the United Kingdom).

The graphic novel, also called Torso, created by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko also focuses on the case.

William Bernhardt's 2009 novel 'Nemesis - The Final Case Of Eliot Ness' is a fictional account of the Torso murders investigation. It features Ness recounting details of the case to his biographer, shortly before his death.

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