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Eliot Ness


Eliot Ness

Eliot Ness

(US Government Photo) Eliot Ness' Monument at Lake View Cemetery

Eliot Ness' Grave at Lakeview Cemetery

(© S. Spivak)

Many people remember Eliot Ness as the Treasury Agent who, with his group of "Untouchables," brought down Chicagoan Al Capone, but did you know that he spent time in Cleveland -- as the city's Director of Public Safety, as the Chairman of a Northeast Ohio safe manufacturer, and even as an (unsuccessful) candidate for mayor?

Early Years:

Eliot Ness was born in 1903 in Chicago, the child of Peter and Emma Ness. Ness attended the University of Chicago, earning a Law Degree there and later a Masters in Criminology. He joined the Chicago Bureau of Investigation (the forerunner of the FBI) in 1927.

Chicago and Capone:

Ness rose quickly through the ranks at the Bureau and gained a reputation for uncorruptabilty. He formed a team of nine loyal agents, dubbed "The Untouchables." Ness' Chicago days are best remembered for his successful investigation of gangster and bootlegger, Al Capone. In 1931, Capone was convicted of 22 counts of tax evasion and 5000 violations of the Volstead Act (bootlegging).

The Cleveland Years:

After the repeal of Prohibition, Ness was transfered to the Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax Unit, arriving in Cleveland in 1934 as the head of the Northeast Ohio unit. His reputation for honesty impressed Cleveland Mayor, Harold Burton, who appointed him Director of Public Safety for the city in 1935.

Cleveland in the 1930s was full of police corruption. Ness formed a new "Untouchable" group of six to curb these activities. Needless to say, he made some powerful enemies. Ultimately, Ness was responsible for reducing corruption and gambling as well as forming the Cleveland Police Academy and significantly reducing Cleveland's number of auto fatalities. After a stint in Washington during WWII, Ness returned to Cleveland in 1947 to run (unsuccessfully) for mayor.

Torso Murders:

Ness is perhaps best known in Cleveland for his unsuccessful investigation of the "Kingsbury Run Murders," often called the "Torso Murders." This string of twelve gruesome murders, between 1935 and 1938, were never solved.

After Cleveland:

After his unsuccessful run for mayor and his stint at Diebold, Ness settled in Coudersport, PA. There he worked on his memoir, "The Untouchables," with collaborator Oscar Fraley. Ness died in 1957 of a heart attack at age 55, before his book was published. Ness' ashes were scattered in one of the ponds in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery. There is a monument there commemorating the former Safety Director.

Personal Life:

Eliot Ness was married three times, the last to Elizabeth Anderson Seaver (called Bess) in 1946. The couple adopted a son in 1947, Ness' only child.

Eliot Ness in Popular Culture:

After Ness' death in 1957, his book, The Untouchables, was made into a hit TV series, starring Robert Stack. Later, the same story was made into a movie with Kevin Costner playing Ness.

Local brewery, Great Lakes Brewing Company, makes a beer named after the investigator, called "Eliot Ness Amber Lager."

(last updated 10-2-12)

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