Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Eliot Ness: The Man Behind the Myth

Introduction

Eliot Ness
Eliot Ness

Ever since Eliot Ness first published The Untouchables in 1957, the public has fallen in love with the adventures of this authentic American hero. His book was a runaway best seller because it was the exciting true story of a brave and honest lawman pitted against the country's most successful gangster, Al Capone. The television series that followed in the 1950's and the Kevin Costner movie in 1987 built fancifully on the same theme. Then again in 1993, the television series has been remade for yet another generation to watch Eliot Ness battle it out again with the Capone Mob.

Every school child knows what Eliot Ness did for two years in Chicago, but what happened to him afterwards when Al Capone went to jail? Almost nobody knows. Does that mean the young hero retired to a quiet life?

Not by a long shot! With a new group of "Untouchables," Eliot Ness went right on fighting the mob for another decade: staging daring raids on bootleggers and illegal gambling joints, catching criminals with his bare hands, and generally putting organized crime on the run. After Capone, he broadened his crusade to include labor racketeers, crooked cops and the country's most vicious serial killer, the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.

So why didn't Eliot Ness write about his adventures after Chicago? Actually, he had planned to do just that, but he died of a heart attack just before the publishing of The Untouchables.

This story is the result of hundreds of interviews and thousands of hours of research to capture events never before published. All the events contained in this story are substantively correct, although the exact dialogue, remembered from interviews taken decades after the event, may only be approximate.

Ness's career in law enforcement continued for a decade beyond the Capone years, a decade in which his very considerable talents flowered. At the age of 33 in Cleveland, he faced the challenge of his career when he took over the corrupt and incompetent police force in a city that had become a haven for gangsters.

Never one to sit behind a desk and administrate, Eliot took to the street with a new group of trusted confidants, mostly undercover investigators and reporters, until he cleaned up the police force and put the mob chieftains behind bars.

Drawing on his master's degree in criminology, he turned the miserable Cleveland police force into one of the most modern, efficient and respected departments in the world. Crime in the city dropped 38 percent after he was on the job just a couple of years!

Eliot Ness was so much more than just the courageous guy who battered down the door of Capone's biggest brewery. It's time the American public knew about the rest of his accomplishments, which are at once exciting, inspiring and long lasting.

 

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