Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kingsbury Run Murders or Cleveland Torso Murders

The Pressure Rises

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.

Victim in burlap bags pulled from river
Victim in burlap bags pulled from river

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, 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 from decapitation.

Once again, a squad of detectives went into action. Not unexpectedly, this woman, like almost all of the victims, was never 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 in 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. Scotland Yard and numerous police experts from around the world had volunteered their views on the crimes, but nothing seemed to be working.

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