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Cleveland Torso Murderer

Map of Cleveland, Ohio
Background information
Also known as: Cleveland Torso Murderer, Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run
Number of victims: 12-15
Country: USA
State(s): Cleveland, Ohio
Date apprehended: never caught

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 1930s.



Although the latest research has shown there may have been more, the official number of murders that the Cleveland Torso Murderer is credited with is 12. The official number of victims were killed between 1935 and 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 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 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 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 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 was the Public Safety Director of Cleveland - a position known in other cities as police commissioner. Ness was unsuccessful in the investigation, and despite his history of the capture of Al Capone, Ness's future as a detective ended shortly after the murders stopped. Because of what was seen as Ness' failure to capture the killer, it has been said that Eliot Ness was the Torso Murderer's 13th "victim".


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 10 were divided by six John Does and four Jane Does.

John Doe, was an unidentified male found in the Jackass Hill area of Kingsbury Run (near East 49th and Praha Avenue) on September 23, 1935. Early estimates were that the first victims had been dead seven to ten days when found. Later estimates were that the man had been dead from three to four weeks when found.

Edward W. Andrassy, was found in the Jackass Hill area of Kingsbury Run on September 23, 1935, about 30 feet from victim number one. It was estimated that Andrassy had been dead two to three days when found.

Florence Genevieve Polillo, also known by numerous aliases, was found behind a business at 2315 E. 20th Street in downtown Cleveland on January 26, 1936. It was estimated that she had been dead two to four days when found.

John Doe II, was an unidentified male, also known as the "tattooed man", and found in Kingsbury Run on June 5, 1936. It was estimated that he had been dead two days when found. The victim possessed six unusual tattoos, one including the names "Helen and Paul" and another displaying 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.

John Doe III, was an unidentified male, found in the sparsely populated Big Creek area of Brooklyn, west of Cleveland on July 22, 1936. It was estimated that he had been dead two months when found. This was the only known West Side victim.

John Doe IV, was an unidentified male, found in Kingsbury Run on September 10, 1936. It was estimated that he had been dead two days when found.

Jane Doe I, was an unidentified female, found near Euclid Beach on the Lake Erie shore on February 23, 1937. It was estimated that she had been dead three to four days when found. Her body was found at the same spot as the 1934 non-canonical victim, nicknamed "The Lady of the Lake" (see below).

Jane Doe II, possibly Rose Wallace, was found beneath the Lorain-Carnegie bridge on June 6, 1937. Because it was estimated that she had been dead one year when found, there remained some doubt that the victim was Wallace, who was known to have disappeared only 10 months earlier. Dental work was considered a close match both by police experts and by her son, who felt certain that the victim was his mother. A positive identification was not possible, since the dentist who performed the work had died years before.

John Doe V, was an unidentified male, found in the Cuyahoga River in the Cleveland Flats area on July 6, 1937. It was estimated that he had been dead two to three days when found.

Jane Doe III, was an unidentified female, found in Cuyahoga River in the Cleveland Flats area on April 8, 1938. It was estimated that she had been dead three to five days when found.

Jane Doe IV, was an unidentified female, found at the East 9th Street Lakeshore Dump on August 16, 1938. It was estimated that she had been dead four to six months when found.

John Doe VI, was an unidentified male, found at the East 9th Street Lakeshore Dump on August 16, 1938. It was estimated that he had been dead seven to nine months when found.

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 Murderers' 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. Others note that headless bodies were occasionally found in the swamps in this area of Pennsylvania as early as the 1920s.

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.


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, [1] 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. 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, titled Murder Hath No Tongue and Broken Rosary, are slated for 2010 releases.[2]

Most investigators consider the last canonical murder to have been in 1938. One very strongly suspected individual was Dr. Francis E. Sweeney, who voluntarily entered institutionalized care shortly after the last official murders were discovered in 1938. Sweeney remained in various hospitals until his death in 1964.[3] 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. Congressman Sweeney (d.1960), a political ally of and related by marriage to Sheriff O'Donnell {d.1941}, and an opponent of Republican Cleveland mayor Harold Burton, had hounded Ness publicly about his failure to catch the killer. 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 committed himself, and he died in a Dayton veteran's hospital in 1964. From his hospital confinement, Sweeney would mock and harass Ness and his family with threatening postcards into the 1950s.

In popular culture

Butcher's Dozen, the second of Max Allan Collins's series of novels fictionalizing Ness's activities as Cleveland's Safety Director, is a carefully researched fictionalization of the Torso investigation.

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.[4]

The Cleveland Torso Murders were the impetus for John Peyton Cooke's 1993 novel Torso.

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


  • Max Allan Collins; Butcher's Dozen; Bantam Books; ISBN 9780553261516 (paperback, 1988)
  • James Jessen Badal; In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland's Torso Murders; The Kent State University Press; ISBN 0-87338-689-2 (paperback, 2001)
  • Mark Wade Stone; The Fourteenth Victim — Eliot Ness and the Torso Murders; Storytellers Media Group, LTD; ISBN 0-9749575-3-4 (DVD video, 2006)
  • John Stark Bellamy II; The Maniac in the Bushes and More Tales of Cleveland Woe; Gray and Company, Publishers; ISBN 1-886228-19-1 (paperback, 1997)
  • Steven Nickel; Torso: Eliot Ness and the Search for a Psychopathic Killer; John F Blair Publishers; ISBN 0-89587-246-3 (paperback, 2001)
  • Rasmussen, William T.; CORROBORATING EVIDENCE II, published by Sunstone Press (2006, softcover) Connects the Cleveland Torso Murders to the murder of the Black Dahlia,ISBN 0-86534-536-8
  • Bendis, Brian Michael & Andreyko, Marc; Torso: a true crime graphic novel; Image Comics, publishers; ISBN 1-58240-174-8 (Graphic novel format, 2003)
  • John Peyton Cook; Torsos; Mysterious Press; IBSN 0-89296-522-3 (hardback, 1993)


External links

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