Torso Murders: Identifying the Victims

The Cleveland Police efforts to identify each of the thirteen victims of the Torso Murderer of Kingsbury Run were extensive. At the crime scene, police collected evidence and photographed the area. Using the physical attributes of the victim, police combed through missing persons records attempting to find a match. If usable fingerprints could be obtained, the police search through local and national records, including those of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Police canvassed the neighborhoods, searching for witnesses and seeking information on missing persons. They followed hundreds of leads that grew out of these initial investigations and interviewed over five thousand witnesses and potential suspects. Police used the newspapers to ask the public for clues and shared images of the victims, all in the hopes for an identification.

These efforts were successful for two of the victims, Edward Andrassy and Florence Pollilo. A third victim was tentatively identified using dental records as Rose Wallace. The rest of the victims, ten people, remain unidentified.

Informational police report for Victim #9, discovered on July 6, 1937

One of the first steps in the investigation was creating a Police Department report, which detailed the date and location of the crime scene, the responding officers, a description of the victim, and other pertinent information. This report served as the start for the case file, where the investigating officers collected the clues and information that might lead to an identification of the victims (and the killer).

As the investigation progressed, the case file grew to include photographs, copies of the autopsy report, witness statements, fingerprints, drawings of evidence, and more.

Paperwork for the case file for Victim #9 remains in the Cleveland Police Museum collection. That paperwork includes the initial police report, a fingerprint card, correspondence, and photographs.

Original documentation from the case file for Victim #9. The photographs included in the file are below and were taken by Officer James A. Benasek #604, Officer Alva Diedrich #110, and Officer Blaha.

Police successfully retrieved usable fingerprints from Victim #9. Unfortunately, they did not find a match in the Cleveland Police records or those of other police departments. Bureau of Criminal Identification Superintendent David Cowles sent a copy of the prints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, hoping the victim was in that database. Unfortunately, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover notified the Cleveland Police that no match was found.

Letter from the Cleveland Bureau of Criminal Identification to the FBI requesting help identifying the fingerprints of Victim #9

Fingerprint card for Victim #9
FBI response regarding the fingerprints of Victim #9

Cleveland Police successfully used fingerprints to identify Victims #1 – Edward Andrassy, and #3 – Florence Polillo. Both victims had been arrested by the police in the past, so a full set of matching prints was on file.

Fingerprint Card for Florence Polillo

The police collected evidence on and around the victims’ remains at each crime scene. This evidence included newspapers, quilts, burlap sacks, clothing, and more. If the police at the scene believed the evidence warranted forensic investigation, the items were sent to the Bureau of Criminal Identification. There, officers received the evidence, noting its arrival in a large ledger that included the date, the name of the officer who brought in the object, the location it was found, and other information. Under the watchful eye of Bureau of Criminal Identification Superintendent David Cowles, investigators performed various forensic tests to gather as many clues from the evidence as possible.

On September 11, 1936, Detective Wallace brought a white shirt found near the remains of Victim #9 into the lab for analysis. Superintendent Cowles performed numerous tests on the shirt in an effort to help identify the victim and find clues that might lead to the murderer.

Cowles with “one white shirt” found around Victim #6 remains
Evidence Ledger for Victim #6, September 1936, including the notation for “one white shirt”

Some of the victims were found wrapped in burlap sacks, newspaper, quilts or other items. Cleveland Police tracked each of these, attempting to find the origin of each item and a possible link to the victim (which might lead to identification). Remains of both Victim #9 and Victim #10 were found in burlap sacks, which were analyzed by the Bureau of Criminal Identification. A drawing of the printing on the sack associated with Victim #10 was released to the public, hoping that any connection to the victim could be made.

Items found at the scene of Victim #9 outlines in the Bureau of Criminal Identification Evidence Ledger for early July 1937
Drawing of the printing on the burlap sack associated with Victim #10

The Cleveland Police attempted to identify victims by creating plaster casts of their heads. The police made masks for four of the torso victims: #1 – Edward Andrassy, #3 – Florence Polillo, #4, and #8. The casts were shown to the general public and the police force in hopes that the victim would be recognized.

The mask for Victim #4 was created by Detective Lloyd Trunk using a mold from the victim’s head, which was found in Kingsbury Run. It was displayed at the Great Lakes Exposition, where it was seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors. Commonly called “The Tattooed Man”, Victim #4 had numerous tattoos on his body. Police released a map of the largest tattoos, again hoping for an identification. Unfortunately, Victim #4 was never identified.

Detective Trunk with masks in the Bureau of Criminal Identification lab

Bureau of Criminal Identification evidence ledger showing “One Cast” made from the head of Victim #4, June, 1936

A photograph of the head of Victim #4
The plaster cast of the head of Victim #4

Chart of tattoos on Victim #4
Poster for the Great Lakes Exposition

Cleveland Police created a number of documents to share among the officers in its own department and with other local, state, and national law enforcement agencies. These documents included information on the victims, photographs, and fingerprints.

List of Torso Murder victims, created by the Cleveland Police Department, page 1
List of Torso Murder victims, created by the Cleveland Police Department, page 2

Information card on Victims 1-5, created by the Cleveland Police Department

The Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office also helped with the identification process. The remains were photographed in the morgue, and a detailed description of each victim was provided in the autopsy report. Over the course of the murders, there were two elected coroners in Cuyahoga County: Arthur J. Pearse and Samuel Gerber.

Typed autopsy report cover page for Victim #4, dated June 8, 1936 (courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Archives)
Handwritten autopsy report for Victim #4, dated June 5, 1936 (courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Archives)
Autopsy report for Victim #6, dated September 10, 1936 (courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Archives)
Coroner’s View Slip for Victim #6 (courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Archives)

Both Coroner Pearse and Coroner Gerber enlisted the help of outside experts to help identify both the victims and the killer. Pearse gathered together Safety Director Eliot Ness, Police Chief Matowitz, SIU head Cowles, County Prosecutor Frank Cullitan, Head of Homicide Hogan, police detectives, several psychiatrists, doctors, and pathologists at a “Torso Clinic” where they analyzed and discussed the evidence collected to date. Gerber hosted the annual conference of the National Association of Coroners in late August 1937, also with a goal to use this collected wisdom to help identify the victims and the murderer. Gerber also created and shared a “Survey of Anatomical Findings and Related Facts of the So-Called Torso Murder Victims.”

August 31, 1937 Plain Dealer
Coroner Samuel Gerber at National Association of Coroners annual conference in Cleveland, August 30, 1937

Survey of Anatomical Findings and Related Facts of the So Called Torso Murder Victims created by Samuel Gerber

Both the Cleveland Police Department and the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office used the latest scientific analysis to investigate the crimes. Despite their best efforts, ten of the thirteen victims of the Torso Murderer remain unidentified to this day.

Plain Dealer, September 10, 1934

Written by Mazie Adams, Executive Director of the Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum.

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