Last week’s concerned Arnold Rothstein, the gambler who supposedly “fixed” the 1919 World Series. This week, we tackle the story of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.
The Mad Butcher
During the 1930s, America reeled from the effects of the Great Depression. Industrial cities like Cleveland, Ohio, suffered the worst. Adding to the economic misery, a serial killer terrorized the city during this time. The newspapers dubbed him “The Torso Slayer,” “The Headhunter,” “The Phantom Killer,” or “The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.” Between 1934 and 1938, police believe he murdered, mutilated, and dismembered at least twelve people, possibly as many as twenty.
The first body appeared on September 5, 1934. A beachcomber walking along Lake Erie’s Euclid Beach found a rotting piece of human flesh. It was the lower half of a female torso. After this grisly find, people reported seeing other body parts floating in the water. The woman was never identified.
A year later, two boys playing catch found the headless bodies of two men. The older, never identified, had been killed at least five days before the other. Police were able to identify the younger man through his fingerprints. His name was Edward Andrassy, 29, a bisexual ex-convict. Retraction of the neck muscles on both victims indicated the decapitation occurred while they were still alive.
Over the next four years, ten more mutilated bodies turned up around Cleveland. Most of the victims were poor and homeless men who lived on the streets or in shantytowns along Kingsbury Run—an area of downtown Cleveland. Not all of them were male; the victims included two women. Investigators identified two victims through fingerprints and made a tentative identification of a third through dental records. The rest remained unidentified.
Most of the victims had been decapitated or dismembered. This led to speculation that the murderer had some medical knowledge or experience in butchering animals. A few victims showed signs they’d been tortured before they died. This suggests that their killer may have had mental illness or sociopathic tendencies.
Who Was the Mad Butcher?
On July 5, 1939, police arrested Frank Dolezal, a Slovak immigrant, for the murder of the third victim, Florence Polillo. Dolezal, born in 1895, lived with Polillo at one time and had connections to the other two identified victims. He confessed to killing Polillo and Andrassy after a marathon interrogation. He soon recanted, however, accusing detectives of using third-degree tactics.
On August 24, Dolezal supposedly hanged himself in his cell. He had four broken ribs and numerous bruises on his body. Modern students of the Mad Butcher case do not regard Dolezal as a viable suspect.
Francis E. Sweeney came under suspicion. Sweeney was a World War I veteran, a doctor, and a severe alcoholic. In 1938, Eliot Ness, of “Untouchables” fame and by then Cleveland’s Safety Director, bundled him off to a downtown hotel. After Sweeney dried out, Ness subjected him to a week-long interrogation that left Ness convinced he had his man. Ness’s questioning was extra-legal, and if anyone kept records, they don’t survive today.
After his ordeal, Sweeney committed himself to a mental institution. He died in a Dayton, Ohio, veteran’s hospital on July 9, 1964.
Most of the Mad Butcher’s victims were of the lower classes, homeless, or down on their luck. Eliot Ness believed that he could solve the Mad Butcher problem, if not the case, by removing the pool of potential victims. Ness decided the way to do this was to eradicate the Hoovervilles along Kingsbury Run. On August 18, 1938, Eliot Ness took the drastic and bizarre step of burning the shacks in the Kingsbury Run vicinity. Newspapers blasted Ness for this, and it hurt when he ran for mayor of Cleveland in 1947.
The Mad Butcher case is one of Cleveland’s most enduring mysteries. The last body turned up in August 1938, coinciding with Sweeney’s self-commitment. Does that mean he was the Mad Butcher? Maybe, but not necessarily. There is no evidence pointing to him as the killer. The true identity of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run remains unknown.
There are several books on the Cleveland torso murders. They include The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, Torso, In the Wake of the Butcher, and American Demon.
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