Eliot Ness: Wikis


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Eliot Ness
Eliot Ness
Bureau of Prohibition
Cleveland Division of Police
April 19, 1903(1903-04-19)–May 16, 1957 (aged 54)
Place of birth Chicago, Illinois, USA
Rank Chief Investigator of the Prohibition Bureau for Chicago in 1934
Director for Public Safety for Cleveland, Ohio

Eliot Ness (April 19, 1903 – May 16, 1957) was an American Prohibition agent, famous for his efforts to enforce Prohibition in Chicago, Illinois, as the leader of a legendary team of law enforcement agents nicknamed The Untouchables.


Early life

Eliot Ness was born April 19, 1903 in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of five sibilings, to Norwegian bakers Peter and Emma Ness. Because his four older siblings were almost grown by the time he was born, Eliot received a large amount of attention from his parents while growing up.[citation needed] As a young boy, Ness was interested in reading, especially Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. He was educated at the University of Chicago, where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, graduating in 1925 with a degree in business and law. He began his career as an investigator for the Retail Credit Company of Atlanta. He was assigned to the Chicago territory, where he conducted background investigations for the purpose of credit information. He returned to the University to take a course in criminology, eventually earning a Master's Degree in the field.

Career and Capone

In 1926, Ness' brother-in-law, Alexander Jamie, a Bureau of Investigation agent (this became the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935), influenced Ness to enter law enforcement. He joined the U.S. Treasury Department in 1927, working with the 300-strong Bureau of Prohibition, in Chicago.

Following the election of President Herbert Hoover, U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon was specifically charged with bringing down gangster Al Capone. The federal government approached the problem from two directions: income tax evasion and the Volstead Act. Ness was chosen to head the operations under the Volstead Act, targeting the illegal breweries and supply routes of Capone.

With Chicago's corrupted law-enforcement agents endemic, Ness went through the records of all Prohibition agents to create a reliable team, initially of 50, later reduced to 15 and finally to just eleven men called, "The Untouchables." Raids against illegal stills and breweries began immediately; within six months Ness claimed to have seized breweries worth over one million dollars. The main source of information for the raids was an extensive wire-tapping operation.

An attempt by Capone to bribe Ness' agents was seized on by Ness for publicity, leading to the media nickname, "The Untouchables." There were a number of assassination attempts on Ness, and one close friend of his was killed.

The efforts of Ness and his team had a serious impact on Capone's operations, but it was the income tax evasion which was the key weapon. In a number of federal grand jury cases in 1931, Capone was charged with 22 counts of tax evasion and also 5,000 violations of the Volstead Act. On October 17, 1931, Capone was sentenced to 11 years in prison, and following a failed appeal, he began his sentence in 1932.

After Capone's conviction

Ness was promoted to Chief Investigator of the Prohibition Bureau for Chicago and in 1934 for Ohio. Following the end of Prohibition in 1933, he was assigned as an alcohol tax agent in the "Moonshine Mountains" of southern Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee; and, in 1934, he was transferred to Cleveland, Ohio. In December 1935, Cleveland mayor Harold Burton hired him as the city's Safety Director, which put him in charge of both the police and fire departments. He headed a campaign to clean out police corruption and to modernize the fire department.

By 1938, Ness' personal life was completely transformed, while his career began to have some ups and downs. Ness concentrated heavily on his work, which may have been a contributing factor in his divorce from his first wife, Edna. He declared war on the mob, and his primary targets included, "Big" Angelo Lonardo, "Little" Angelo Scirrca, Moe Dalitz, John Angerola and George Angersola and Charles Pollizi. Ness was also Safety Director at the time of several grisly murders that occurred in the Cleveland area from 1935 to 1938. Unfortunately, what was otherwise a remarkably successful career in Cleveland, withered gradually. Ness' critics at the time pointed to his divorces, his high-profile social drinking and his conduct in a 1942 car accident.[1]

Ness moved to Washington, D.C., in 1942, and worked for the federal government in directing the battle against prostitution in communities surrounding military bases, where venereal disease was a serious problem. In 1944, he left to become chairman of the Diebold Corporation, a security safe company based in Ohio. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Cleveland, in 1947, and was forced from his job at Diebold in April 1951.[2] He eventually came to work for North Ridge Industrial corporation, in Coudersport, Pennsylvania. With Oscar Fraley he co-authored the book, The Untouchables, which was published in 1957, a month after his death, at age 54, following a heart attack.

Ness was married to Edna Staley from 1932 to 1938, illustrator Evaline Ness from 1939 to 1945, and artist Elizabeth Anderson Seaver from 1946 until his death. He had one son, Robert, adopted in 1947.[1] Ness' ashes were scattered in one of the small ponds on the grounds of Lake View Cemetery, in Cleveland.[3]



  1. ^ a b Eliot Ness Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
  2. ^ NY Times April 14, 1951 "Executive Changes"
  3. ^ Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007). Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio: Stones, Symbols & Stories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company, Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59851-025-6

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