Eliot Ness: The Man Behind the Myth
Cat and Mouse
While Ness was riding high on the coattails of his victory against the labor racketeers, Detectives Peter Merylo and Martin Zalewski continued their tireless and frustrating search for The Mad Butcher. Many months had passed since the body of the ninth victim had been found and the trail was clearly cold. Nonetheless, the two men continued to interrogate hundreds of suspects.
Once they exhausted the leads generated by the ninth victim, the two detectives decided to concentrate more closely on the only two victims who had been identified -Edward Andrassy and Florence Polillo. Both of these homicides had not been investigated as thoroughly as Merylo would have liked, but then in 1935 and early 1936, nobody had understood that there was a serial killer at work.
The two detectives retraced all of the leads and suspects from the earlier murders, but ended up with nothing but a few photos of Edward Andrassy and an ocean of sordid stories about the lives of Andrassy and Polillo.
In mid-March of 1938, something happened that would have a quiet, but lasting impact on the case. In Sandusky, a couple hours' drive west of Cleveland, a dog found the severed leg of a man. Police began an immediate search of the swampy area where the leg was found. Lieutenant David Cowles of the Cleveland Police Department went personally to Sandusky to see if there was any connection between this leg and The Mad Butcher.
Cowles, the brilliant self-educated forensic expert, remembered that one of the Cleveland surgeons who closely fit the profile of The Mad Butcher was eliminated as a suspect because he was always at a veteran's hospital in Sandusky when the Cleveland murders occurred. On a hunch, Cowles visited the Sandusky Soldiers and Sailors Home and started talking to people there.
Cowles ascertained that Dr. Frank Sweeney had voluntarily admitted himself several times to the veteran's hospital to treat his alcoholism. Some of these visits overlapped the times when The Mad Butcher was at work in Cleveland. At first sight, it seemed as though his hospitalizations provided a perfect alibi for Dr. Sweeney.
Cowles, however, was a persistent man. He wanted to know how closely patients were watched. The answer was that a surgeon, who voluntarily sought help for his drinking problem was not really "watched" at all. It was, after all, a hospital, not a prison and security was almost nonexistent for patients. Also, at various times, particularly holidays and weekends, the hospital was crowded with visitors. Ambulatory patients like Dr. Sweeney could pretty well come and go as they pleased. It was not unusual for an individual suffering from alcoholism to succumb to his needs, get his hands on some liquor and disappear for a day or two binge. So, Cowles concluded, it was very possible for Dr. Sweeney to leave the veteran's hospital and travel by car or train into Cleveland, commit the murders and return to the hospital without his short absence being noticed.
Cowles also found that the Ohio Penitentiary Honor Farm shared some of the facilities with the veteran's hospital. Eventually, Cowles found his way to Alex Archaki, a convicted burglar who was serving out the rest of his sentence on the prison honor farm. Archaki had developed a symbiotic relationship with Dr. Sweeney. Archaki, through his various connections, kept Dr. Sweeney supplied with liquor throughout his visits to Sandusky, while Dr. Sweeney reciprocated by writing prescriptions for barbiturates and other sought after drugs. Archaki had something even more interesting for Cowles: the former burglar was convinced that Sweeney was The Mad Butcher.
Archaki had first met Sweeney a couple of years earlier at a bar in downtown Cleveland. Archaki was alone was he was approached by Sweeney, who he described as a well-dressed, good-looking extrovert. Sweeney bought him drinks and asked a lot of personal questions. Where was Archaki from? Did he have any family in the city? Was he married? At the time, Archaki thought the questions were unusual. Later on, in retrospect, Archaki wondered if Sweeney was qualifying him as a potential victim. After all, it seemed a deliberate act on the part of The Mad Butcher to make sure that most of his later victims were unidentified, probably men and women from out of town and with no close friends or relatives in the area.
As Cowles probed, Archaki told him that he noticed that Sweeney's unexplained absences from the hospital coincided with the estimated times of death for several victims. Archaki was positive. Whenever Sweeney was missing for a day or so, a fresh body in Cleveland would turn up shortly after his return to the hospital in Sandusky.
In late March, shortly after Cowles' visit to the hospital, the police in Sandusky determined that the severed leg found by the dog was the result of legitimate surgery and not the work of The Mad Butcher. Cowles was energized by the trip. For the first time, he felt he had a really strong suspect.
When he got back to Cleveland, he arranged for a very discreet investigation of Dr. Sweeney. While the doctor came from a very poor family, he was first cousin to Congressman Martin L. Sweeney, a very colorful and controversial political powerhouse in the local Democratic Party. Always an outspoken critic of the Mayor Burton's Republican administration, Congressman Martin L. Sweeney frequently took aim in the press at Eliot Ness, a man he characterized as being obsessed with terrorizing cops who took small bribes during Prohibition while ignoring the insane killer who walked the streets of Cleveland.
Dr. Francis Edward Sweeney, a veteran with a head injury from World War I, had bootstrapped his way into pharmacy school in Cleveland and medical school in St. Louis. In the early 1930's, Sweeney had been a surgical resident at St. Alexis hospital in the Kingsbury Run area. Sweeney's budding expertise as a surgeon allowed him to become a protégé of the highly respected teaching physician, Dr. Carl Hamann. Sweeney seemed to have a very promising career ahead of him. He had a beautiful dark-haired Slavic beauty for a wife and two young sons. The many years of hardship and deprivation were becoming distant memories him and his young family.
Overwork and a hereditary tendency towards alcoholism and psychosis began taking an obvious toll on his health. He was admitted to City Hospital for alcoholism, but the treatment was unsuccessful. The drinking worsened and his marriage and career began to disintegrate. He was violent and abusive at home and the hospital severed its relationship with him. Eventually, his wife filed for divorce in 1936, seeking custody of the children and a restraining order against him.
According to his wife, Dr. Sweeney had begun to drink continuously two years after their marriage in July of 1927 and remained in a state of habitual drunkenness until their separation in September of 1934. Cowles took particular note of timing of Sweeney's deterioration which seemed to reach a climax just about the time that the Lady of the Lake, the probable first victim in the murder series, washed up on the shores of Lake Erie on September 5, 1934.
Other facts made Sweeney a compelling suspect as far as Cowles was concerned. Dr. Sweeney was born, raised and spent most of his life in the Kingsbury Run area. He knew that savage ravine intimately from his boyhood explorations. Dr. Sweeney was a large and strong man, certainly powerful enough to carry Edward Andrassy and his unidentified companion down the steep, rugged embankment of Jackass Hill in Kingsbury Run. Clearly Dr. Sweeney had the medical knowledge to perform so many expert decapitations and dismemberments. Finally, Dr. Sweeney's alleged bisexuality could possibly explain why The Mad Butcher chose men and women victims, whereas most sex crimes were directed at one sex or the other.
Just as Cowles was completing his investigation of Dr. Sweeney, the news broke that a woman's leg had been fished out of the Cuyahoga River on April 8, 1938. Cowles, Ness and the entire police department wished that this small fragment of bone and tissue did not represent a new victim. Perhaps it was the result of a boating accident, hospital refuse like in Sandusky, or even the remnants of an earlier victim.
Their hopes were dashed when Coroner Gerber announced that the woman's shin was just a few days old. A nasty dispute erupted between Ness and the coroner. Ness was annoyed that Gerber seemed to be building himself a national reputation on the publicity he was generating over these decapitation murders. Gerber had inspired even more publicity than Ness on this subject and the public hung on every word as gospel.
Ness insisted on an independent evaluation of the time of death. Infuriated, Gerber refused. Gerber answered only to the taxpayers who elected him and not to the Cleveland Police Department which had failed to find the killer.
A month later, Gerber was proven right. Two burlap bags containing a woman's nude bisected torso; thighs and foot were hauled out of the Cuyahoga River. Her head and arms were never found.
Gerber estimated the dead woman was between 25 and 30 years old, approximately 5 feet 3 inches tall, and about 120 pounds. Her hair was light brown. Very little could be told about this unknown woman except that she was flat chested, she had once had a cesarean birth, had sustained a bilateral laceration of the cervix from an additional birth or an abortion and had her appendix removed. The autopsy showed no presence of hypnotic or narcotic drugs in the tissues. The cause of death was probably by decapitation.
Once again, a squad of detectives went into action. Not unexpectedly, this woman, like almost all of the victims, was ever identified. Preventing identification was obviously important to the killer. Usually the heads and hands, the most obvious means of identification, were missing from the rest of the bodies. Police theorized that heads and hands were either buried somewhere or had been dumped into Lake Erie and weighted down with rocks.
The burlap bags that held the body yielded no worthwhile results. After awhile, as in the previous murders, the detectives were all eventually reassigned to other cases, leaving Detective Merylo to continue the search.
Unfortunately in the 1930's the phenomenon of serial killers was very poorly understood. Not realizing that serial killers usually chose strangers as their victims, the police used a traditional approach to solving homicides. Looking for motives and opportunity among the victim's acquaintances solved many homicides, but rarely worked with serial killers. Neither Ness nor Gerber realized that the organized and highly intelligent serial killer was almost impossible to catch with the forensic knowledge and technology available in those times.
Cowles held out a glimmer of hope with his new suspect, Dr. Sweeney. Cowles was by nature a cautious man and he fully understood that any investigation of a congressman's physician cousin must to be exceptionally discreet. The last thing his boss needed was the flamboyant orator Martin L. Sweeney finding out that the police suspected his relative of being The Mad Butcher. It would look to everybody as though Ness was exacting political vengeance for Congressman Sweeney's attacks on the Burton administration. Ness already felt plenty of heat from the mayor for not solving these serious crimes. No additional political liabilities would be tolerated.
Surveillance of Dr. Sweeney required someone smart and trustworthy, who could be counted on to keep his mouth shut about who he was following and why. Thomas Whelan, a promising young rookie copy, was one of the men chosen to follow the doctor wherever he went.
The young rookie was no match for the brilliant Dr. Sweeney. One day, the doctor was shopping in a large department store while Whelan watched from a distance. He followed Sweeney down the length of the store until he made an abrupt right turn near the elevators and disappeared from Whelan's sight. When Whelan turned right, Dr. Sweeney was waiting for him.
Shocked and embarrassed, Whelan said nothing and started to walk away. But Dr. Sweeney smiled, introduced himself and asked Whelan his name. "If we're going to be together so often, we might as well be acquainted."
Whelan, completely nonplussed, told him his name and continued to follow Sweeney at a suitable distance. It really did not matter whether Sweeney knew he was being followed as long as he could be kept under surveillance. Unfortunately, Sweeney was able to slip away from Whelan and one of the other policemen assigned to follow him.
Whelan came to appreciate Sweeney's perverse sense of humor when he followed to doctor to an all black bar. Whelan took a seat at the far end of the bar from Sweeney. The crowd, unused to two white strangers, stared suspiciously at Whelan and Sweeney. All evening long, Sweeney sent down bottles of beer to Whelan at the other end of the bar.
While Whelan and his colleagues did their best to keep Dr. Sweeney under surveillance, the police searched every inch of his office and rooms. The police even monitored his mail.
Despite the growing public pressure to capture The Mad Butcher, Ness refused to personally engage himself in the case. Instead, he continued with the programs that he had initiated years before: modernizing the police and fire departments, cleaning up crime and generally making Cleveland a much safer place to live.
With his characteristic energy and enthusiasm, Ness took a multipronged approach to reducing the growing problem of juvenile crime. He was instrumental in raising public and private funds for recreational facilities to encourage boys to spend their energies in creative pursuits. "Keep them off the streets and keep them busy," was his fund raising theme. It was sound advice when one considers the loss and cost to society of a boy who turns to criminal behavior.
In keeping with his efforts to cut juvenile crime, Ness was a major supporter of the Boy Scout movement and strongly encouraged his officers to take an active part in promoting Boy Scout troops around the city. He sent his police and fire department officers out into the community to speak to children and teenagers in their schools about the importance of safety and law biding behavior.
Just when the public uproar around the April, 1938, victim had subsided, a dismembered body was accidentally found at a dump at the end of East Ninth Street. Men combing the dump for bits of scrap metal came across the body of a woman wrapped in rags, brown paper and cardboard. Uncharacteristically, the head and hands were found with the rest of the body.
As police were combing the area for more forensic evidence, a bystander found more bones nearby and called over the police. Detective Sergeant James Hogan picked up a large tin can nearby to carry the bones. As he looked down into the large can, a skull gaped back at him from inside!
Immediately the police started to search the area in the remaining daylight. The skeletal remains of a man were scattered around; some of which had been wrapped in brown paper.
Gerber estimated that the woman had been a Caucasian between 30 and 40 years old, about 5 feet 4 inches tall, and weighing approximately 120-125 pounds. While much of her viscera had decomposed, the skin on her back seemed well preserved. She was dismembered by large, sharp knife. Gerber guessed that she had died sometime between mid-February and mid-April, possibly before Victim Ten in early April. Gerber thought that her remains had only been at the dump for a few weeks. The cause of death was undetermined, but was considered a probable homicide.
Police were initially excited when they were able to lift a fingerprint of her left thumb, but the hope faded when they were unable to find a match in their files.
The skull and the bones found a couple of hundred feet away from the woman's remains were those of a white man between 30 and 40 years of age. He was estimated to have been between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing approximately 135 to 150 pounds. His hair was long, coarse and dark brown in color. He also was dismembered with a long, sharp knife. Again, the cause of death was undetermined, but considered a probable homicide.
If these two individuals were in fact Victims Eleven and Twelve of the Mad Butcher, then he had changed his operating style. Leaving heads and hands was uncharacteristic of the victims found since 1936. Also, the dump was a place that the serial killer had not used before. When Kingsbury Run became overrun with police and railroad detectives, The Mad Butcher used the Cuyahoga River as his next favorite cemetery. Also, these two bodies were really found by accident. The Butcher, for the most part, made sure that his victims were found either out in the open in Kingsbury Run or floating in the Cuyahoga River. Ness and Cowles had doubts about whether these two bodies were even homicides, let alone the victims of The Mad Butcher.
Mutilation of a corpse, whether as a prank or by a necrophiliac, is not a particularly unusual occurrence. It is not even considered a particularly serious crime in Ohio. These bodies presented enough deviations from the Butcher's standard operating mode to bring into question whether they were really homicides at all. On an anonymous tip, the police department investigated a man who operated an embalming college, but charges were never brought and the man quickly moved his business out of town.
Regardless of whether the two new bodies were the work of The Mad Butcher or not, the people of Cleveland believed they were. The public and political pressure of these unsolved murders erupted in a torrent of criticism of Ness and the police department. The newspapers demanded an end to ghoulish crimes that had tarnished the city's reputation just as it was slowly recovering from the Depression.
Ness was desperate. He needed to show results quickly and visibly. He conferred with his boss Mayor Burton and key members of his police department. He then made a mistake in judgement that would haunt him for almost a decade.
The night of August 18, 1938, two days after the bodies were found at the dump, Ness led a huge midnight raid on the city's shantytowns, the villages of dilapidated shacks that had grown up since the Depression. Ness and his men started behind Public Square and then moved deeper into the Flats area near the Cuyahoga River and finally over to Kingsbury Run.
With sirens screaming, Ness and his men stormed the hobo jungles, chasing down and capturing the terrified vagrants. Most were taken down to the police station, fingerprinted and sent off to the workhouse, while police combed the rubble for any signs of The Mad Butcher. Finally, the police torched the shanties so that the men could not go back to their hovels.
A couple of days later, Ness was reading the newspaper at his desk when Lt. Cowles came into the office. Cowles could see that Ness was visibly upset by what he was reading.
"I just don't get it," Ness said, folding up the paper and throwing it into the trash. "Everybody wants some action. We give them plenty of action and all they do is complain." "'Misguided Zeal,' huh," he referred to the Cleveland Press editorial that barbecued him for rousting the bums out of their hovels and burning down their shanties.
"I don't think they understood what you were really trying to accomplish," Cowles suggested softly.
"And how many reporters did we have tagging along behind us? Eight? Ten? I talked to most of them personally and explained what I was doing. Don't they ever talk to their editors?"
Cowles shrugged. He had been around long enough to see how two-faced the press could be.
Ness walked over to the window. "Well at least we cleaned up the city's major eyesores, whether they appreciate it or not. Plus we eliminated a whole pool of future victims. That has to be worth something."
Cowles nodded, still wondering why the boss had sent for him.
Ness got right to the point. "Where do we stand with Dr. Sweeney? Have we got enough to book him yet?"
Cowles sighed almost inaudibly. "Sweeney's a clever one, pickled or not. We've searched his office, kept him under the best surveillance we could and we still don't have one damn piece of evidence."
Ness looked puzzled. "Explain something to me. Gerber says the bodies were at the dump only a few weeks at the most. If that's true, then how could Sweeney get the bodies to the dump when you had him under surveillance? And where the hell was he keeping those bodies anyway?"
Cowles looked sheepish. "I said we had him under surveillance as best we could. He's given our guys the slip a couple of times. We dealing with a real creative guy here. As to where he might have kept the bodies, I don't know. We searched his room, his office and even his sisters' homes, but didn't find anything." Cowles was glad that Ness was at least finally paying some attention to the case. If he didn't, it would be his downfall. The word was already out on how angry the mayor was that this case wasn't solved. Ness seemed to have been focused on everything else -traffic safety, juvenile crime, everything but the most horrible crimes the city had ever witnessed. Cowles couldn't understand why Ness didn't get more personally involved. Maybe now that the newspapers turned on him things would change.
Ness sat back in his chair and put his feet on the desk. "Sit down, please," he told Cowles. "Does this Sweeney guy still come in to see you every few weeks?"
"Yes. Since he can't get to you, he comes to me. I always listen, hoping he'll say something I can use."
"What do you talk about with this nut?"
Cowles smiled slightly as he thought about his bizarre conversations he'd had with Sweeney. "Well, he always drunk. He usually asks me how the investigation is coming. Sometimes he has something cut out of the newspapers and wants me to put it in his "dossier" as he calls it. One time he even drew me a picture of the morgue with a sign on the door saying "No More Bodies."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ness asked.
"Who knows with that guy. Maybe he's through killing now that we're on to him. Keep in mind that those two on the dump may both have died before Number Ten in April of this year."
"What do you think, Cowles, is he the guy or not?"
Cowles was silent for more than a minute. "I don't honestly know, but I think he is. That ruse with the hospital in Sandusky. His need to engage us in the sick little game he's playing. Sweeney is frighteningly clever just like the killer."
"Let's bring him in. He's the only decent suspect we have. Time to put some pressure on him. But don't pick him up until you hear from me first. I have some arrangements to make first. I'll call you later today."
Finally, Cowles thought. We should have done this months ago. "Don't forget about Martin L.," he reminded. "We don't want to trip that wire."
Late morning on Friday, August 20, Eliot Ness took the elevator up to the suite he had quietly secured through his many connections at the Hotel Cleveland. He was met at the door by a rookie cop. He looked over the luxurious parlor that was empty except for the rookie. Quite a place, he thought to himself as he stripped off his suit coat and folded it on the arm of the expensive sofa.
"Where is every body?" he asked the rookie.
"Over here, sir, the young man replied, showing him over to a closed door. Ness opened the door to a large bedroom as Dr. Royal Grossman, the court psychiatrist, was giving an injection to a large, disheveled man lying on the bed. The room smelled awful, a sickening mixture of booze and body odor, intensified by the August heat. Grossman looked up at Ness, put his finger to his lips, and motioned to Ness to leave quietly.
A few minutes later, Dr. Grossman walked into the parlor, carefully closing the bedroom door behind him. He pulled one of the plush armchairs close to where Ness was seated on the couch.
Ness saw how tired the court psychiatrist looked. "How long have you been here?"
Grossman sighed. "Since about five this morning when Cowles finally convinced Sweeney to come in.
Ness smiled. "Yeah, Cowles was up with the guy most of the night, watching him down almost a full fifth of whiskey."
"I'm sure he did because Sweeney was out cold by the time I got here." Grossman pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped the sweat off his face. "I've been watching him very carefully and giving him some medications so he doesn't get the DTs too badly."
"When can we start interrogating him?" Ness wanted to know.
"Three full days at least, considering the shape he's in now."
"Three days!" Ness didn't hide his disappointment. "Why so long?"
"It's going to take that long before you get all of the booze out of him. Believe me, he's going to be going through a living hell, climbing the walls for a drink. If you hope to have him stay here voluntarily then you can't make it any harder on him than it's going to be."
"Damn. I'll have to call Keeler and see if he can come in a few days. I just hope he can do it then."
"Keeler?" Grossman didn't recognize the name right away.
"Leonard Keeler from Chicago," Ness reminded him. "The polygraph expert. He's coming here with one of his machines to tell us what's what with the good Dr. Sweeney."
Grossman looked puzzled. "What about the city of East Cleveland. Won't they let you use theirs?' The doctor referred to the only lie detector equipment in the Cleveland area.
Ness shifted the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. "Never asked them. They couldn't keep the secret. Not only that, I want Keeler himself operating the machine. "Ness stood up and reached for his suit coat.
"Before you go, Eliot, what do I tell this joker when he wants to get out of here and get some booze? Cowles tells me that he's technically not under arrest. What's to keep him from walking out the door when his body starts screaming for whiskey? That's going to happen sometime today, I guarantee you."
Ness did not look the least bit concerned. "Cowles told him that he had two choices. He could come in here and cooperate with us in a discreet interrogation or we could haul him down to the station with all the reporters hanging around. We asked him how his sisters and kids would feel about that." Ness smiled. "He made the right decision."
I've pretty well cleared my calendar for the next few days except for one or two things I' can't get out of. I'll be here as much as I can to keep an eye on him. Remind Cowles that I need that information about Sweeney's father mental history and the details of his Sweeney's head injury during the war. Fortunately, I didn't have any big plans for the weekend.
Monday morning, August 23, everyone was assembled in the hotel suite: Eliot Ness, Dr. Royal Grossman, Lt. David Cowles, and Dr. Leonard Keeler who had come in from Chicago over the weekend. The rookie cop who had spent his entire weekend with Dr. Sweeney was given the rest of the week off.
Dr. Francis E. Sweeney was dressed smartly in a freshly pressed suit, a crisp white shirt and a tasteful tie, complements of the hotel cleaning service. The tall, powerfully built man in his mid forties seemed rested and calm. The dark frames of his glasses gave a scholarly look to his attractive Irish features. Frank Sweeney looked very much the part of the confidant, successful surgeon he might have one day become.
He introduced himself cordially to the serious looking men who had come to interrogate him. While Keeler excused himself to the second bedroom to set up the polygraph equipment, Ness, Grossman and Cowles sat with Dr. Sweeney in the comfortable parlor.
For the next two hours, Cowles and Grossman did most of the questioning. Ness listened closely. Sweeney was clearly playing with them, cracking jokes, and answering their questions vaguely. Ness could see that they were getting nowhere and went into the bedroom to check on Keeler.
Keeler was ready for Sweeney, so the doctor was escorted into the bedroom where he was fitted with the polygraph sensors. Only Ness stayed with Dr. Keeler as the polygraph was administered.
Cowles had prepared Keeler with a list of questions to which Keeler added his own. Ness had already been briefed on the workings of the polygraph and knew what to look for as the test was being given.
Keeler's questions began innocuously." Was his name Dr. Francis Edward Sweeney? Was he born in Ohio? Did he have two sons, Francis and James?" The machine registered the truthfulness of Sweeney's answers.
The questions quickly became more specific. "Had he ever met Edward Andrassy? Did he kill Edward Andrassy? Had he ever met Florence Polillo? Did he kill Florence Polillo?" Ness watched closely as the polygraph recorded its response to Sweeney's denials.
When he was finished, Dr. Keeler thanked Sweeney and asked him to stay where he was for a few minutes. Keeler and Ness left the room, closing the door behind them and went into the parlor where Grossman and Cowles were waiting.
"Looks like he's your guy," Keeler said confidently.
Ness agreed. "What do you think?" he asked Grossman.
"I believe we have a classic psychopath here with the likelihood of some schizophrenia. His father spent the last three years of his life locked up, a violent schizoid personality aggravated by chronic alcoholism.
Ness had difficulty reconciling the smooth-talking, highly intelligent surgeon with the homicidal maniac that he had come to know as the "Mad Butcher." "It seems incredible to me that someone with his brains and education could be the monster we're looking for. Let me go in and talk to him for a half-hour or so. Afterwards, I'd like Leonard to retest him just to make sure.
Ness went into the bedroom, closed the door and sat on the bed opposite the doctor.
"Well?" Sweeney asked. "Are you satisfied now?" A huge grin spread across his face. He stood up and looked out of the window.
"Yes," Ness said thoughtfully. "I think you're the killer."
Sitting on the bed, Ness became even more aware of the man's hulking size. Sweeney's bulk covered most of the window. He whirled around toward Ness. The smile had become a menacing sneer. "You think?" He advanced towards Ness, who steeled himself for an attack. He leaned down and put his face a few inches from Ness. "Then prove it!" he hissed.
Shaken, Ness got up from the bed and opened the door. "Cowles," he called. No one answered. "Grossman?" he called louder. Still no one answered. His words seemed to echo in the empty parlor. He was alone with this madman.
Sweeney smiled knowingly. "Looks like they all went to lunch."
Ness went to the phone quickly, tracked down his colleagues in the coffee shop, and suggested that Cowles get back to the suite immediately. Years later, Ness would confess to his wife that never in all of his dangerous career had he ever felt as threatened as he did when he was alone with Frank Sweeney.
That afternoon, Dr. Keeler retested Sweeney several times, always with the same result. The men were left with the conclusion that Sweeney was the killer, but they only had circumstantial evidence. Ness was certain that he could never get a conviction with what they had on Sweeney.
What exactly happened next is shrouded in mystery to this day. The only thing that is clear is that Dr. Sweeney admitted himself to the Sandusky veteran's hospital two days after the interrogation. From August 25, 1938 until his death in 1965, Sweeney went from one hospital to another, both state mental hospitals and veterans hospitals, in various parts of the country. He was not a prisoner and could leave the hospital voluntarily for days and months at a time. However, at least in the Sandusky hospital, there was a note attached to his records insisting that if the doctor ever left the hospital grounds that the hospital was to immediately notify the police in Sandusky and Cleveland. In October of 1955, Dr. Sweeney was committed to the Dayton veteran's hospital for the remaining decade of his life. Still, he was free to wander around the neighborhood, writing prescriptions for himself and his friends, until the hospital campaigned with the local pharmacists to cut off his drug supply.
What is unknown is why Dr. Sweeney admitted himself to the hospital and why he voluntarily stayed institutionalized for the most of the rest of his life. Did Congressman Martin L. Sweeney get involved and work out some kind of deal with Ness? Did Sweeney's sisters urge him to get help and spare him and them the humiliation of an eventual arrest and trial? Did Sweeney feel that the police were too close and put an end to his killing spree? Or was this man, who Eliot Ness firmly believed to be the Mad Butcher, really an innocent nut who got his kicks from playing with the police?
The serial killings officially stopped in 1938. The last victim killed was in April even though victim's remains were found in mid-August of that year. Detective Merylo ran around the country every time a dismembered body was found somewhere. Despite his enthusiasm to tie in many later murders to the Mad Butcher, the forensic evidence of other murders never indicated that the Mad Butcher killed outside Cleveland.