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Cleveland Torso Murders

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Death Mask of

Death Mask of "Torso" Victim at the Cleveland Police Museum

(© Dan Coulter/cc license) Eliot Ness

Eliot Ness

(US Government Photo) Cleveland Torso Murders

Cleveland detectives look for clues in the Torso Murders along Kingsbury Run

(CSU/Cleveland Press Collection)

One of the most infamous crimes in Northeast Ohio were the so-called "Torso" murders of the mid-1930s, also known as the "Kingsbury Run" Murders. Still unsolved, the gruesome crimes were the talk of the decade and challenged safety director Eliot Ness and the Cleveland Police for years.

Beginnings:

The first murder attributed to the "Torso Murderer" by most sources was an unidentified woman, dubbed the "Lady of the Lake," found in pieces along the Lake Erie shore, not far from Euclid Beach Park on September 5, 1934. She was never identified.

Kingsbury Run:

Most of the subsequent "Torso Murder" victims were discovered in an area called Kingsbury Run, a ravine that runs diagonally from Warrensville Heights through Maple Heights and South Cleveland to the Cuyahoga River, just south of the Flats, by what is now Broadway and E 55th.

During the 1930s, the area was lined with cheap housing and taverns and was notorious as a "hang-out" for prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, and the less savory elements of society.

The Victims:

In addition to the "Lady of the Lady," the twelve "Torso Murder" victims were:

  • Unidentified male, found 9/23/1935
  • Edward W. Andrassy, found 9/23/1935
  • Florence Polillo, found 1/26/1936
  • Unidentified male, found 6/5/1935
  • Unidentified male, found 7/22/1936
  • Unidentified male, found 7/10/1936
  • Unidentified female, found 2/23/1937
  • Unidentified female, found 6/6/1937
  • Unidentified male, found 7/6/1937
  • Unidentified female, found 4/8/1938
  • Unidentified female, found 8/16/1938
  • Unidentified male, found 8/16/1938

 

Profile of a Murderer:

Multiple theories and conclusions were drawn as to the traits of the murderer. Most agree that he (or she) had some background in anatomy, either as a butcher, physician, nurse, or hospital orderly.

Suspects:

No one was ever tried for the "Torso Murder" crimes. Two men were arrested. Frank Dolezal, was arrested on 8/24/1939. Mr Dolezal confessed to killing Florence Polillo, but later recanted, saying that he was beaten during the interrogation. Dolezal died in custody, officially of suicide, although more recent theories claim that he was murdered by his jailers.

Dr. Francis Sweeney was arrested for the "Torso Murders" in 1939. He failed to pass an early polygraph test, but was released, due to lack of evidence. Days later, Sweeney, who was a member of a prominent Cleveland family, committed himself to a mental institution, where he remained until he died in 1965.

Theories:

Various theories exist as to the identity of the killer. Author, John Stark Bellamy II, whose father covered the crimes for various newspapers in the 1930s, maintains that there was more than one killer. The journals of Eliot Ness indicate that he knew who the killer was, but could never prove it.

One recent theory even connects the Cleveland "Torso Murders" with the Black Dahlia murder in Los Angeles in 1947.

(Updated 7-23-14)

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