During the 1930s Cleveland was a city on the rise. The population continued to grow and became a melting pot of laborers needed to support our economically powerful steel and manufacturing base. Millionaire’s Row was in its heyday. The Great Lakes Exposition and the Republican National Convention were slated for 1936 as were many other conferences and conventions. Despite the effects of the Great Depression, many people were again doing well.
Against this backdrop one
of the most prolific and gruesome serial killers of all time carried out
his acts of horror, distracting the citizens of our city from the pride and prosperity of the times. Thirteen people were brutally
murdered over the course of four years beginning in 1934-all of them decapitated-most
of them while they were still alive. Although then Safety Director Eliot
Ness claimed to have solved the crimes, no suspect was identified, and
no one was brought to trial. The murders ended as abruptly as they had
begun. To this day the Kingsbury Run Murders remain one of the most sensational
and intriguing unsolved crimes in our nation's history.
Kingsbury Run is a prehistoric riverbed
running from the flats to about E 90 Street. The train and rapid transit
tracks still run through it. Bordered on the north by Woodland
Avenue, and on the south by Broadway Avenue, Kingsbury Run was a dark, dreary
and dangerous place in the 1930's. The dispossessed of the Great Depression
lived in appalling conditions; trash and filth dominating the makeshift
“hobo jungle” that occupied much of the Run. These people, most of them
transients, often rode the rails to escape the brutal Cleveland winters
or simply to keep moving. The area just to the east of the Run was known
as “The Roaring Third”, home to bars, brothels, flophouses and gambling
dens. In this grim setting, the most notorious murder case in Cleveland’s
history would begin to unfold.
Edward Andrassy, victim #1
September 1934: A young man finds the lower half of a women’s torso,
thighs still attached, but amputated at the knees, washed up on the
shores of Lake Erie just east of Bratenahl. Cuyahoga County Coroner A.J.
Pierce noted some sort of chemical preservative on the skin which had
turned it red, tough and leathery. The subsequent search yielded only a
few other body parts. The body was that of a female in her mid thirties.
The head was never found. The woman was never identified. She is only referred
to as “The Lady of the Lake”. It wasn’t until two years
later that this find was included in the official killing total and thus
became known as victim #0. It would be another year before the case
began officially, and then it would be in another part of the city-the
now infamous Kingsbury Run.
1935: Two teenage boys discover the decapitated, emasculated corpse of a
white male at the base of Jackass Hill where E.49th Street
dead ends into Kingsbury Run. The body, naked save for a pair of socks,
was clean and drained of blood. There were rope burns around both
wrists. Coroner Pierce determined the cause of death had been
decapitation. Fingerprints identified this victim as Edward Andrassy, a twenty-eight-year old white male. Andrassy had an arrest
record, was rumored to be a homosexual, and frequented the Roaring
discovered a second body nearby, also decapitated and emasculated.It
appeared to be covered with the same chemical preservative as the Lady
of the Lake. This body apparently had been dead for at least a couple of weeks. The forty-year old white male was never identified.
January 1936: A woman discovers about half the body of a female neatly
wrapped in newspaper and packed in two half bushel baskets. The baskets
were left alongside the Hart Manufacturing building on Central Avenue
near E.20 Street. Everything except the head was recovered
about ten days later in a vacant lot on nearby Orange Avenue. As in the
case of Edward Andrassy, the cause of death had been decapitation. For
some reason, however, the killer had waited for rigor mortis to set in
before disarticulating the rest of the body. Fingerprints again would
allow the identification of one Florence Polillo, waitress, bar maid,
prostitute. At the time of her death she resided at E. 32 Street and Carnegie, right on the edge of the Roaring Third.
June 1936: Early one morning in Kingsbury Run, two young boys discovered
the head of a white male wrapped in a pair of trousers close to the E.
55 Street bridge.
Police found the body of the
twenty-some-year-old man the next day dumped in front of the Nickel
Plate Railroad police building. Clean and drained of blood, the corpse
was intact except for the head. Pierce again determined the death had
been caused by decapitation. In spite of a fresh set of fingerprints and
the presence of six distinctive tattoos on various parts of the body,
police were never able to identify the victim. A plaster reproduction of
the man’s head, along with a diagram of the kind and location of the
tattoos, were made to display at the Great Lakes Exposition of 1936.
More than one hundred thousand people saw the “Death Mask” and
tattoo chart. The “Tattooed Man” was never identified. (The original
Death Mask, along with three others from the case are on display at the
Cleveland Police Museum.)
The search for more of victim #6
July 1936: A teenage girl came across the decapitated remains of a
forty-year-old white male while walking through the woods near Clinton
Road and Big Creek on the near west side. The victim had been dead about
two months and his head, as well as a pile of bloody clothing, was found
nearby. Judging by the enormous quantity of blood that had seeped into
the ground, this man apparently had been killed where his body was
1936: A transient trips over the upper half of a man's torso while
trying to hop a train at E. 37 Street in Kingsbury Run.
Police searched a nearby pool, which was nothing more than a big open
sewer, and found the lower half of the torso and parts of both legs.
Police sent a diver in to make the recovery. The number of onlookers
that turned out to watch the grim spectacle was estimated at over six
hundred. Ironically, the killer may well have been among them. Victim
number six was in his late twenties, and the cause of death, yet again,
was decapitation. Coroner
Pierce noted that the lack of hesitation marks in the disarticulation of
the body indicated a strong, confident killer, very familiar with the
human anatomy. The head had been cut off with
one bold, clean stroke. The victim died instantly. Identification was
never made. Six brutal killings in one year and the police had neither
clues nor suspects. The Cleveland
Press, The Cleveland News and The Cleveland Plain Dealer all reported almost daily on the killings and the lack of a suspect.
Tension was high. Who was the "Mad Butcher" of Kingsbury Run?
in to mounting pressure from Mayor Harold Burton, recently appointed
Safety Director Eliot Ness gets more involved in the case. Coroner Pierce
calls for what the newspapers dub a “Torso Clinic”: a meeting of police,
the Coroner and other experts to discuss information and to “profile”
someone who could be responsible for these gruesome killings.
police department put detectives Peter Merylo and Martin Zelewski on the
case full time. They move deftly through the seedy underworld that
constitutes the Run and the Roaring Third, often dressing the part,
often on their own time. By the time the case had run its course, the
two had interviewed more than fifteen hundred people, the department as
a whole more than five thousand. This would be the biggest police
investigation in Cleveland history.
The November elections return Harold Burton as
Mayor, but Coroner Pierce is replaced by the young democrat, and now
legendary, Sam Gerber. Gerber’s fierce dedication to medicine, along
with his degree in law, put him at the forefront of the investigation.
|Det. Peter Merylo undercover
February 1937: A man finds the upper half of a
woman's torso washed up on shore east of Brahtenahl. Unlike all previous
victims, the cause of death had not been decapitation; this had happened
after she was already dead. The lower half of the torso washed ashore
three months later at about E. 30 Street. The woman was in
her mid-twenties. She was never identified.
1937: A teenage boy discovered a human skull under the Lorain-Carnegie
bridge. Next to it was a burlap bag containing the skeletal remains of
what turned out to be a petite black women about forty years old. Dental
work allowed for the unofficial identification of one Rose Wallace of
Scovill Avenue. Police followed every lead they had on her-they led
Workers find victims 11 & 12
July 1937: There were labor problems in the Flats that summer and the
National Guard had been called in to maintain order. A young guardsman
standing watch by the W. 3rd Street bridge saw the first
piece of victim #9 in the wake of a passing tugboat. Over the next few
days, police recovered the entire body, except for the head, from the
waters of the Cuyahoga River. The abdomen had been gutted and the heart
ripped out, clearly indicating a new element of viciousness in the
killer’s approach. The victim was in his mid to late thirties; he was
April 1938: A young laborer on his way to work in the Flats saw, what he
at first thought was a dead fish, along the banks of the Cuyahoga River.
Closer inspection revealed it to be the lower half of a women’s leg,
the first piece of victim #10. A month later police pulled two burlap
bags out of the river containing both parts of the torso and most of the
rest of both legs. For the first time Coroner Gerber detected drugs in
the system. Were the drugs used to immobilize the victim or was she an
addict? The answer might come when they found the arms; they never did.
She was never identified.
16, 1938: Three scrap collectors
foraging in a dump site at E 9 and Lakeside found the torso
of a woman wrapped in a man’s double breasted blue blazer and then
wrapped again in an old quilt. The legs and arms were discovered in a
recently constructed makeshift box, wrapped in brown butcher paper and
held together with rubber bands. The head had been similarly wrapped.
Gerber noted that some of the parts looked as if they had been
searching for more pieces, the police discover the remains of a second
body only yards away. Ironically, these two bodies had been placed in a
location that was in plain view from Eliot Ness’s office window,
almost as if taunting him. Both victims, #11 and #12, were never identified.
18, 1938: At 12:40 A.M., Eliot Ness and a group of
thirty-five police officers and detectives, raid the hobo jungles of the
Run. Eleven squad cars, two police vans and three fire trucks descend on
the largest cluster of makeshift shacks where the Cuyahoga River twists
behind Public Square. Ness’s raiders worked their way south through
the Run eventually gathering up sixty-three men. At dawn, police and
fireman searched the deserted shanties for clues. Then, on orders from
Safety Director Ness, the shacks were set on fire and burned to the
press severely criticized Ness for his actions. The public was afraid
said the raid would do nothing to solve the murders. They were right,
but for whatever reason, they did stop.
July 1939: County Sheriff Martin O’Donnell arrested fifty-two-year-old Bohemian brick layer Frank Dolezal for the
murder of Flo Polillo. Dolezal had lived with her for awhile, and
subsequent investigation revealed he had been aquainted with Edward
Andrassy and Rose Wallace.
“confession” turned out to be a bewildering blend of incoherent
ramblings and neat, precise details, almost as if he had been coached.
Before he could go to trial, Dolezal was found dead in his cell. The
five foot eight Dolezal had hanged himself from a hook only five feet
seven inches off the floor. Gerber’s autopsy revealed six broken ribs,
all of which had been obtained while in the Sheriff’s custody. To this
day no one thinks Frank Dolezal was the torso killer. The question is:
why did Sheriff O’Donnell?
Frank Dolezal, Dep. Kilbane, Sheriff O'Donnell
The Kingsbury Run Murders remain one of the most perplexing cases in our
nation’s criminal history. Rumors abound as to who may have been the
killer. One thing is very clear: Eliot Ness had a suspect who he
believed was undoubtedly the killer. This suspect continuedto taunt
Ness for years after the killings had stopped. All official police
records on this case have been lost, destroyed, or removed.
findings: Only within this past year, the daughter of the late Peter
Merylo contacted the Cleveland Police Museum with the information that
she had copies of her father’s files on this case. Other recently discovered
documents, including autopsies, hospital records, lunacy hearings and
interviews, have shed new light on what really happened. To read more
on this fascinating story order In the Wake of the Butcher, Though Murder Has No Tongue, and a documentary called The Fourteenth Victim - Eliot Ness and the Torso Murders from the on-line Cop Shop.