Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kingsbury Run Murders or Cleveland Torso Murders

The Interrogation of Sweeny

The city was in an uproar. The pressure on Eliot Ness to resolve the murders was so intense that he pulled his chief suspect, the alcoholic Dr. Frank Sweeney into a secret interrogation in a suite at the Cleveland Hotel at Public Square. Lt. Cowles made it quite clear to Sweeney that if he did not cooperate with this discreet interrogation that he would be hauled down to the station with all the reporters in tow. Dr. Sweeney, in deference to his immediate family, chose the route of discreet inquiry.

After drying out for three days in the luxurious hotel suite, a comparatively sober, amused and confident Dr. Sweeney was interrogated by four men: Eliot Ness, Dr. Royal Grossman, the court psychiatrist, Lieutenant David Cowles, and Dr. Leonard Keeler, one of the inventors of the polygraph who had come with his equipment from Chicago at Ness's request.

Secrecy was critical because Dr. Sweeney's first cousin, the powerful and outspoken Congressman Martin L. Sweeney, could not be tipped off about this investigation. Also, Ness had to treat this suspect very carefully because at any moment, Dr. Sweeney could call in the congressman and the interrogation would end."

On Tuesday morning August 23 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.

Dr. Royal Grossman
Dr. Royal Grossman

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.

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