Criminal Identification: Plaster Masks

The Bureau of Criminal Identification of the Cleveland Police Department, under Supervisor David L. Cowles, used many tools and techniques to help identify victims and track down criminals. Detective Lloyd Trunk made many of the masks used by the police in identifications and prosecutions.

Detective Lloyd Trunk in the Bureau of Criminal Identification. The mask in the top row is Torso Murder Victim #8. The other masks are, from left to right, are: Edward Andrassy; Fannie Young; Unknown: Joseph Filkowski

Superintendent Cowles and Detective Trunk traveled to Columbus to create a plaster mask of a suspected bank robber who had been killed in a shootout with the police. Cleveland Police hoped witnesses could identify the robber as the same criminal wanted in other hold ups.

February 7 1938 Plain Dealer

Bureau of Criminal Identification Superintendent David Cowles

The most famous of all the plaster masks made by the Cleveland Police Department are the four masks created to help identify the victims of the infamous Torso Murderer of Kingsbury Run. Detective Lloyd Trunk of the Bureau of Criminal Identification created at least four masks, one each for Victim #1 (identified by fingerprints as Edward Andrassy), Victim #3 (identified by fingerprints as Florence Polillo), Victim #4 (unidentified) and Victim #8 (tentatively identified by dental work as Rose Wallace). The masks were displayed in at Central Station and in other public spaces in an effort to gather more clues to the activities of the victims and the identity of the murderer.

The mask of Victim #4, the Tattooed Man, was also displayed at the Great Lakes Exposition and seen by hundreds of thousands of people, but he was never identified. These masks are the only three-dimensional artifacts remaining from the Torso Murders investigation and are on display at the Cleveland Police Museum.

August 17, 1938 Plain Dealer
Poster for the Great Lakes Exposition

Plaster mask taken after death of Edward Andrassy, Victim #1 of the Torso Murderer. Mask was made using the victim’s head and photograph.
Plaster mask taken after death of Florence Polillo, Victim #3 of the Torso Murderer. Mask was made using the victim’s photograph.

Plaster mask of the Tattooed Man, Victim #4 of the Torso Murderer. Mask was made using the decapitated head of the victim.
Plaster mask of Victim #8 of the Torso Murderer, tentatively identified as Rose Wallace. Mask was using the victim’s skull and a photograph of Rose Wallace.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation evidence ledger showing the notation for the plaster cast made for Victim #4.

January 25, 1935 Plain Dealer

In 1935, prosecutors used a plaster cast made by the Cleveland Police of Fannie Young in a failed attempt to convict her husband Mr. Richard Young with beating her to death. “The plaster cast of Mrs. Young, taken after death and depicting, according to police testimony, locations of bruises and discolorations.”

Joseph Filkowski, a notorious Cleveland gangster and leader of the “Flats Mob”, was responsible for string of bank robberies and jewelry thefts in Cleveland and New York in the 1920s and 1930s. He evaded capture by Cleveland Police many times, until he was finally arrested and convicted in for stealing $100,000 in jewels and guns from a New York City apartment.

Shortly after his release from jail for the theft, Filkowski shot and killed man. The Plain Dealer later explained that he killed “Tony Veryck, a lathing contractor. Veryck was about to hand out pay to his men at a job at 10017 Lake Avenue N.W. Filkowski shot him and fled in a shower of bricks thrown at him by the workers.”

Fingerprint card and mug shot of Joseph Filkowski

Cleveland Police circulated the following description in December of 1930, “Joseph Filkowski-alias Philkowski, age comp.-lt. chest. eyes-lt.chest hair- is an ex-convict. Wanted in Cleveland, Ohio for several payroll robberies. Is a dangerous man and no doubt will be armed, every precaution should be taken in making arrest, as he will shoot.”

In a fruitless effort to escape capture for this murder, Filkowski had surgery to alter his nose. During his trial for the murder of Mr. Veryck, the surgeon who performed the nose job testified, using a plaster cast of Filkowski’s face to explain the changes. Filkowski was sentenced to life in prison in 1932. He served more than 30-years and was released in 1963.

Plaster mask of Joseph Filkowski
April 14, 1932 Plain Dealer

Visit the Cleveland Police Museum at 1300 Ontario (first floor of the Cleveland Police Headquarters in the Justice Center) to view the Torso Murders plaster masks. The museum is currently open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am – 2pm.

Article written by Mazie M. Adams, Executive Director of the Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum

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