Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Eliot Ness: The Man Behind the Myth

Another Murder

While Eliot Ness put the gamblers on notice, another more frightening menace was going unchecked. The day after the raid on McGinty's, Ness shared front-page headlines with the discovery of another decapitation murder.

Sergeant Hogan raced to the Big Creek area on the southwest side of the city where a teenage girl stumbled upon the headless, decomposed corpse of a man near a hobo camp. The police conducted a thorough search of the area and found the man's head, which was little more than a skull at that point. Close by was a pile of cheaply made bloodstained clothes that the man had been wearing. The pathologist discovered a large quantity of dried blood that had seeped into the ground beneath the man's body, indicating he was killed right there.

Coroner Pearse was fascinated by the removal of the head, which was separated from the spine where two vertebrae met. There was no sign of the cut, which meant that the killer had the skill and knowledge of anatomy of a surgeon.

The expert decapitation had become almost a signature of this particular killer, but this murder was somewhat different. For the first time, the murderer, if it was the same person, had gone way across town from Kingsbury Run, and instead of transporting the victim, had killed him in the place he was discovered. The dead man, a small fellow about forty years old, had been laying on the ground between two and three months, indicating he died before the "Tattooed Man."

Advanced decomposition made fingerprinting impossible, so the police had only his clothes to trace him. Hogan was not optimistic. The victim's long hair, his poor clothing, and the location of the body near a hobo camp suggested he was one of the many hobos who rode in and out of the city on the nearby railroad tracks.

Hogan did his best to conduct his investigation without attracting too much attention from the newspapers, but his success was limited. The story had already captured the imagination of aspiring fiction writers on the newspaper staffs. "Is there somewhere in the county a madman whose strange god is the guillotine? Or has some fantastic chemistry of the civilized mind converted him into a human butcher? Does he imagine himself a legal executioner of the French Revolution or a religious zealot saving the human race with an ax?" was representative of the rhetoric that had started to appear very prominently in all of the city's three newspapers.

These early seeds of hysteria didn't take root because there were many more exciting things going on in the city at that time than the death of a few nobodies. In quick succession, Ness and his men conducted ten more high-profile gambling raids. The newspapers couldn't get enough of it. Almost every day the major news story was another blow to the mob vice operations. Police protection of gangsters was crumbling and the mobs were considering moving out of Cleveland as long as Ness was there.

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