Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kingsbury Run Murders or Cleveland Torso Murders

Building a Better Image

Favorable press, an overhaul of the police department, and the systematic raids on organized crime were right in line with Mayor Harold Burton's program to build a positive image for the city. All of these newsworthy events were dovetailing nicely as city was preparing for the Republican National Convention, which was to start the first week of June, 1936.

During the week before the Republican National Convention, Eliot Ness worked almost continuously as he personally supervised every tiny detail of the security plan for the candidates. Checking and rechecking each item in the plan, he was acutely aware that his reputation was on the line if there were any assassination attempts or violent demonstrations in the coming week.

By Friday, June 5, the delegates were starting to pour into the city to begin a weekend of caucusing and partying before the convention officially began on Monday. Those political visitors, most of whom had never seen Cleveland, would take back with them impressions of a dazzling, modern downtown with many new buildings, magnificently landscaped with trees and fountains. In the years just prior to the Depression, Cleveland had undertaken an enormous number of public construction projects in the downtown area. The focal point of this massive urban development program was a large mall with its new city hall and other splendid examples of classical-style architecture. The most memorable of them all was the Terminal Tower, a distinguished-looking forerunner of the modern skyscraper, and one of the tallest buildings in the world at that time. While the front of this splendid tower opened onto Public Square, whose hotels, restaurants, and department stores were a central attraction for the convention delegates, just behind the tower, the landscape suddenly dropped into a world far different that most conventioneers never saw.

Just a few blocks away from the elegant and sophisticated Public Square, the vast industrial belly of Cleveland stretched out for many miles around its lifeblood, the Cuyahoga River. This stinking, oily river was used to feed iron ore and other raw materials to the blast furnaces and mills, while a huge network of railroad tracks, fanning out like capillaries in every direction, took the finished metal products to every part of the country.

Hobos in Kingsbury Run
Hobos in Kingsbury Run

This was the ugliest part of the city; filthy from the black soot of the coal fires, overpowering in its sulfurous stench, and strewn with trash and industrial waste. Almost symbolically here, too, was the dumping place for the city's human refuse, the thousands of men who once lived in rural Ohio, West Virginia, and Indiana, made homeless by the Depression. This inexhaustible supply of unwanted labor, "hobos" as they were called, rode the freight trains into Cleveland, looking for nonexistent jobs in the mills. In back of the splendid Terminal Tower, the hobos camped in squalid, corrugated metal shacks, creating a city of their own.

It was there at the Cuyahoga River where the long, deep gully called Kingsbury Run began and cut through the city's East Side. Kingsbury Run had been a beauty spot long ago when the only the stone quarries were there and the area was dotted with lovely, sylvan lakes. But many years later on the bed of this ancient ravine, cut into the earth by some long-dead stream, were the tracks of the Erie and Nickel Plate railroads. At the far end of the ravine, some fifty blocks east of Public Square, sat the office of the Nickel Plate railroad police who patrolled the track area, trying to keep the hobos off the trains.

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