Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kingsbury Run Murders or Cleveland Torso Murders

A Desperate Move

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 judgment that would haunt him for almost a decade.

Eliot Ness interrogates vagrants
Eliot Ness interrogates vagrants

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.

Ness orders burning of shantytown
Ness orders burning of shantytown

A couple of days later the Cleveland Press criticizing him sharply for rousting the bums out of their hovels and burning down their shanties: "That such Shantytowns exist is a sorrowful reflection upon the state of society. The throwing into jail of men broken by experience and the burning of their wretched places of habitation will not solve the economic problem. Nor is it likely to lead to the solution of the most macabre mystery in Cleveland's history."

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