Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kingsbury Run Murders or Cleveland Torso Murders

The Mad Butcher Strikes Again

Determined to force his way back into the spotlight, the Mad Butcher struck again a month after the woman's skeleton was found. So there could be no doubt about his identity, the killer chose Kingsbury Run once again. On July 6, 1937, the upper portion of a man's torso, plus his two thighs, floated in the Cuyahoga River just below Kingsbury Run. For the next week, pieces of the victim floated downstream. Just about everything was retrieved except for the head.

This man, who was never identified, was approximately five foot eight and approximately 150 pounds. He had well groomed fingernails and was about forty years of age. He had been dead a couple of days when the first parts of his body were found.

Decapitation was the cause of death and the bore the signature of the Mad Butcher, but there was something new this time. Some of the surgery was very sloppy and some was very skillful. For the first time, the killer had removed all of the abdominal organs and heart, none of which were ever found.

Ever since Dr. Gerber had suggested that the Kingsbury Run murderer could be a medic, the police began to focus on doctors. In fact, all the area physicians, medical students and male nurses were checked out. Special surveillance was warranted for doctors that had a history of eccentricity or a weakness for illicit sex, drugs or booze or any suspicion of homosexual activity.

One of these physicians was a Dr. Frank E. Sweeney, who seemed to fit the profile of the murderer they were seeking. He was physically very tall, large and strong. Sweeney had grown up in the Kingsbury Run area and at various times had his office there. He had a serious problem with alcohol that caused his separation from his wife and sons and the loss of his surgical residency at St. Alexis, a hospital very close to Kingsbury Run. Furthermore, he was rumored to be bisexual and had a very violent temper when he drank. Eventually in 1937, the police abandoned Dr. Sweeney as a suspect because he was frequently out of town at a veteran's hospital in Sandusky when a fresh victim was discovered. While Dr. Sweeney was no relation to the highly respected police officer Joseph Sweeney, he was a first cousin to a flamboyant U.S. Congressman Martin L. Sweeney.

Martin L. Sweeney and Sheriff Martin O'Donnell were the leaders of a powerful political machine within the city and county. In March of 1937, Sweeney unleashed his oratorical fury at Mayor Burton and "his alter ego, Eliot Ness," who, they claimed, spent all their efforts persecuting cops that took $25 bribes from bootleggers years ago, when major crimes like the Kingsbury Run murders went unstopped. Late that summer with the mayor election a few months away, Congressman Sweeney continued to exhort Democrats to work together to "send back to Washington the prohibition agent who is now safety director."

The year 1937 brought with it 3 more decapitated bodies, which, after extensive investigation were known only as Victims Seven, Eight and Nine. Police morale was at a low point and citizen unrest was running high. After consulting with experts, Ness persuaded the city's newspapers to give the crimes minimal publicity. He reasoned that publicity was encouraging the murderer to continue his killing.

With the muted publicity following the three 1937 victims, the police were free to follow legitimate leads rather than waste their time following up thousands of worthless tips. Based upon Dr. Gerber's new analysis, they investigated much more thoroughly physicians, medical students, and male nurses. Gerber saw evidence of the killer's medical training that his predecessor had not.

1937 was exciting enough without the media-induced hysteria of the Kingsbury Run murders. There were huge labor strikes and riots in the summer, which swelled quickly beyond the resources of Eliot Ness and the police department. The Ohio National Guard was called, ready with tear gas, guns and clubs. Hundreds were injured in the fights. For most of the year, Ness devoted his efforts on labor racketeers and did not personally spend much time on the serial murder case.

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