Situated along the banks of a riverbed running from East 90th Street and Woodland Avenue to the Flats and Broadway Avenue in Cleveland, this urban wasteland is the site of one the country's most infamous crimes.  From 1934 until 1938, Kingsbury Run became a grisly playground for the "Torso Killer."  At least 13 documented murders are formally associated with the Torso Killer.  Some say that he may have been responsible for more than 30 killings here and in other states. 

Most of the victims were never identified. Officially, these crimes were never solved. 

 

Above: Investigators dredge a sewage pool near E. 37th Street for pieces of victim #7

In 1934, Eliot Ness came to the city of Cleveland to become its Safety Director.  He was charged with heading the investigation of the Torso Murders.  During this time, Kingsbury Run was a large shanty town that supplied the killer with most of his victims--hobos, prostitutes and nameless drifters. 

This dark period in Cleveland's history began in September 1934, when the well-preserved torso of a woman was found washed up on the shores of Lake Erie near Bratenahl.  She was never identified, and instead became known as "The Lady of the Lake."

The next year, in September 1935, at the area of Kingsbury Run known as Jackass Hill, two more bodies were discovered.  Both victims were male.  They had been decapitated and mutilated in a similar manner.  One of the victims was later identified as 28 year-old Edward Andrassy.  The other man, approximately 40 years-old, was never identified.

With each new victim, the Torso Killer became more bold.  In January 1936, several baskets were left in front of the old Hart Manufacturing building near E. 20th Street.  Inside were the body parts of Florence Polillo.  The cause of death was decapitation.  Her head was never found.

 

A few months later, in June 1936, the head of a young white male was found near the E. 55th Street Bridge.  The killer laid the rest of his tattooed body in front of a nearby police building.  Frustrated with their inability to identify the victim, police made a plaster "death mask" of Victim #5 and displayed it at the Great Lakes Exposition, hoping that the morbidly curious public (and curious they were) would generate some leads.  Despite these efforts, the victim was never identified. 

 

His death mask is still on display today, at the Cleveland Police Museum. 

 

From July 1936 until August 1938, seven more people would fall prey to the Torso Killer.  Most were killed in a similar fashion--decapitation--with their torsos and other body parts found in such areas as a train yard near E. 37th Street in Kingsbury Run, the W. 3rd Street Bridge, the Flats, and underneath the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.  Only one of these additional victims--Rose Wallace--was ever identified.

The Torso Killer did, however, seem to push the limits of Eliot Ness' temperament when, on August 16, 1938, the killer brazenly dumped the torso of an unidentified woman at E. 9th and Lakeside, in clear view of Eliot Ness' office window.

Two days later, on August 18th 1938, Ness led his group of officers on a raid of Kingsbury Run.  In the process, Ness and his team destroyed the shanty towns of Kingsbury Run, burning them to the ground.

 

Eliot Ness was blasted for this destructive action.  Yet, the killings did seem to stop.  In 1939, police arrested Frank Dolezal for two of the murders.  However, he died in jail just before going to trial--from injuries he sustained while in police custody.

Despite these issues, Eliot Ness publicly claimed that he solved the Kingsbury Run murders.  But he did not name the killer. 

Privately, it is said, Ness believed that the killer (who was from an influential family) voluntarily committed himself to a psychiatric hospital in 1938-1939 to avoid arrest and prosecution.   From the hospital, he continued to taunt Ness, and even sent him postcards. 

Below are pictures of some of those postcards allegedly sent from the killer.

 

 

Politically, Ness never recovered from the perceived mishandling of the Kingsbury Run investigation.  He later ran for Mayor of the City of Cleveland.  During the campaign, many voters hung parts of mannequins from their trees in protest of Ness' bid for mayor.

 Needless to say, he lost the election.

 

And what of the "Mad Butcher" of Kingsbury Run?  Many agree with Ness, and believe that the serial killer later died in the psychiatric hospital. 

Others theorize that the Mad Butcher simply moved on, and continued to kill in other states.  Some even believe that he was responsible for the infamous Black Dahlia murder in California. 

 

Today, Kingsbury Run bears little resemblance to its former self.  The Hart Manufacturing building is gone.  Some of Kingsbury Run has been filled in and is now part of a park.  There does remain some sections along the train tracks and riverbed near downtown. In addition, the part of the river running through the Flats bar district is the site where one of the victims was discovered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Torso Murder Exhibit (including one of three death masks) is currently on display at the Cleveland Police Museum located at the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland.  For more gory details about the Kingsbury Run murders, check out the Cleveland Police Museum's Torso Murders website.

 

UPDATE:  The Kingsbury Run murderer may have also killed several people around Pittsburgh.  The "Mad Butcher" has been linked to the slayings of seven people, whose mutilated skeletal remains were discovered buried in the infamous "Murder Swamp" located in New Castle, PA in the 1920's.  

As George Swetnam writes in his book, Devils, Ghosts, and Witches:  Occult Folklore of the Upper Ohio Valley (1988), the "Murder Swamp" is located around a small, unnamed island on the Beaver River, and is the dumping ground for many grisly murders.  Most recently, in 1952, the decapitated body of a woman was found in a shallow grave on the island.  As with prior murders discovered here, neither the victims nor the killer(s) were ever identified.