Unsolved: The Cleveland Torso Murders (1935-1938)

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The next case that we have on Crime blogs is the a case that took place in Cleveland Ohio back in 1935-1938. This is the case on the Cleveland Torso Murders.

 

The Cleveland Torso Murders took place in the 1930’s. The killings were characterized by the dismemberment of 12 identified victims and the disposal of the remains in a lower class neighborhood of Kingsbury Run in Cleveland Ohio. A number of the victims came from an area just east of the Kingsbury Run that was called The Roaring Third, it was well known for its bars, illegal gambling dens and brothels. There was also another name for the area and it was called “Hobo Jungle” it was home to many hitchhikers.

Despite the investigation of the killings, it was one time led by Eliot Ness, the Cleveland’s Public Safety Director and the murderer was never caught.

The number of killings that occurred during the Cleveland Torso Murder era was 12, but there was recent research that has shown that there could have been as many as 20 victims. The 12 known victims were killed between 1935-1938. Some Investigators, including the lead detective Peter Merylo, believed that there may have been thirteen or more victims in the Cleveland, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh areas between in the 1920’s and 1950’s. There was 2 strong candidates to the suspect list of those killed that the unknown victim nicknamed the “Lady of the Lake,” found on September5, 1934 and victim Robert Robertson, found on July 22, 1950.

The victims were usually drifters whose identities were never determined, although there were a few exceptions. Victims 2,3, and 8 were identified as Edward Andrassy, Florence Polillo, and possibly Rose Wallace, respectively. The victims appeared to be low-income class individuals, which during this depression-era was easy prey in Cleveland. Many people in the area were known as the working poor who had nowhere else to live but in the Cleveland Flats area.

The Torso Murderer always decapitated and often dismembered their victims, occasionally severing the victim’s torso in half or severing their limbs. In many cases the cause of death was also the decapitation or dismemberment itself, and most of the male victims of the Torso murders were castrated. Some victims also showed that there was evidence of chemical treatment being applied to their bodies. Many of the victims were found after occasionally in an excess of a year after their deaths. This was occurring during the ear when forensic science was in its early time which further complicated identification of the heads that were often undiscovered.

During the time of murders, Eliot Ness held the position of Public Safety Director of Cleveland, this position had the authority over the police department and other services, including the fire department. While Eliot Ness had very little to do with the actual investigation, his reputation made him an irresistible character in the modern torso murder lore. He did contribute to the arrest and interrogation of the one of the prime suspects, Dr. Francis E Sweeney. He personally conducted raids of the hobo jungles and eventually burned down the Kingsbury Run area, from where the killer was taking his or her victims from. There was at one point in the killer taunted with Eliot Ness and placed the remains of 2 victims in full view of his office in city hall across the street.

 

Here are the list of victims that were caught and killed by the Torso Murderer.

  1. Edward Andrassy, September 23, 1935, Found in Jackass Hill area of Kingsbury Run, he was found lying 30 feet from John Doe 1, he had been decapitated and emasculated. He was found 2-3 days after his death.
  2. John Doe 1, September 23, 1935, Found in Jackass Hill area of Kingsbury Run, Male body was never identified. Emasculated and decapitated, head recovered, the skin of the victim was treated with a chemical agent that caused it to become reddish and leathery. John Doe 1 was found 7-10 days but later revised to 3-4 weeks after his murder.
  3. Florence Genevieve Polillo, January 26/February 7, 1936, found in Downtown Cleveland, her body had been dismembered and the head was recovered. She was found 2-4 days after her death.
  4. John Doe 2 (The Tattooed Man), June 5, 1936, was found in Kingsburg Run, he had been decapitated while still alive and his head was recovered, he was found 2 days after his death.
  5. John Doe 3, July 22, 1936, he was found in Big Creek Area, he was dismembered while still alive and his head was recovered. He was found 2 months after his death.
  6. John Doe 4, September 10, 1936, he was found in Kingsbury Run, only half of the torso was found and nothing was remaining below the hips. The head was never found and the body was never identified. He was found 2 days after his death.
  7. Jane Doe 1, February 23, 1937, she was found on Euclid Beach on Lake Erie shore, she was found at the same spot of the victim named “The Lady of the lake” Her head was never found. She was found 3-4 days after her death.
  8. Jane Doe 2, June 6, 1937, she was found beneath the Loraine-Carnegie Bridge, she was the only African American victim, her body was decapitated and was missing a rib the head was recovered. She was found 1 year after her death.
  9. John Doe 5, July 6, 1937, he was found in the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland Flats, his body was recovered but his head was never found. He was found 2-3 days after his death.
  10. Jane Doe 3, April 8, 1938, found in the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland Flats. The lower leg was recovered on April 8th, On may 2nd a human thigh was discovered in the river. The head and the rest of the body was never found. She was found 3-5 days after her death.
  11. Jane Doe 4, August 16, 1938, found in Lakeshore Dump. She had been decapitated and the head was recovered. She was found 4-6 months after her death.
  12. John Doe 6, August 16, 1938, found in Lakeshore Dump. Discovered with Jane Doe 4. He was decapitated and the head was found in a can. He was never identified. He was found 7-9 months after his death.

 

On August 24, 1939, a Cleveland native named Frank Dolezal, 52 at the time was arrested as a suspect in Florence Polillo’s murder; he later died in the Cuyahoga County Jail of suspicious circumstances.

Investigators believed the last killings took place in 1938.

In 1997 there was a theory that was published that there has been no single Butcher of Kingsbury Run because of the murders could have been committed by different people. This was based on an theory that the autopsy results were inconclusive.

Still to these days, the 10 victims have not been identified and the killer was never caught, investigators believe he may have died since this took place in the 1930’s. Hopefully with the advances in DNA technology they will be able to identify the remaining victims to reach out to family and finally give them closure.

 

Sources:

Cleveland Torso Murderer – Wikipedia

‘Torso Killer’ pleads guilty in two 1974 cold-case murders in New Jersey (nbcnews.com)

The Cleveland Torso Murderer: The Scariest Serial Killer You’ve Never Heard Of | Mental Floss

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