Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kingsbury Run Murders or Cleveland Torso Murders

Imagination Runs Wild

There is something in the mystery of an unsolved series of murders that stimulates the imagination. One of the best examples of this is Jack the Ripper, who after killing a mere five London prostitutes, a novice by today's standards of serial killers, inspired numerous books, movies and theories about his identity. Had the Ripper been captured, he may have been a great deal less interesting that his fearful legend.

On a smaller scale, the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run inspired the same type of imaginative speculation. The newspapers in the Midwest became obsessed with the cleverness of the killer. The lack of clues left by the killer was not accidental. There was never a coin, a key, or a scrap of paper to incriminate him. Nor were there any bloody fingerprints on the bodies.

It seemed to the detectives that the killer was playing a game with them. Leaving so many of the bodies in the same area, especially when the railroad police, hobos and Kingsbury Run inhabitants had been on the lookout for strange happenings since the first double murder a year earlier. When the body of the "Tattooed Man" was placed so close to the office of the Nickel Plate Railroad police, was the killer was thumbing his nose at them? It was clear that the murderer was very smart, possibly smarter than the detectives working on the case were.

The newspapers let their imaginations run wild when they speculated about the motives of this unusual killer. One imaginative theory was the murderer was a wealthy doctor who killed people from the lower classes for sport. Then there was the religious zealot notion, which had the murderer ridding the world of prostitutes and homosexuals because "God told him to." One popular theory proposed that the killer was an otherwise normal person who killed only during occasional lapses into madness.

Typical of the language that saturated the newspapers at the time was this editorial in The Cleveland News: " Of all the horrible nightmares come to life, the most shuddering is the fiend who decapitates his victims in the dark, dank recesses of Kingsbury Run. That a man of this nature should be permitted to work his crazed vengeance upon six people in a city the size of Cleveland should be the city's shame. No Edgar Allan Poe in his deepest, opium-maddened dream could conceive horror so painstakingly worked out..." If nothing else, the Mad Butcher gave quite a number of reporters an unprecedented opportunity to wax eloquent.

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