Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kingsbury Run Murders or Cleveland Torso Murders

Cat and Mouse

While Ness was riding high on the coattails of his victory against the labor racketeers, Detectives Peter Merylo and Martin Zalewski, Orley May and Emil Musil and many others continued their tireless and frustrating search for The Mad Butcher. Many months had passed since the body of the ninth victim had been found and the trail was clearly cold. Nonetheless, the men continued to interrogate hundreds of suspects.

Once they exhausted the leads generated by the ninth victim, the detectives decided to concentrate more closely on the only two victims who had been identified Edward Andrassy and Florence Polillo. Perhaps, both of these homicides had not been investigated as thoroughly as they should have been, but then in 1935 and early 1936, nobody had understood that there was a serial killer at work.

The detectives retraced all of the leads and suspects from the earlier murders, but ended up with nothing but a few photos of Edward Andrassy and an ocean of sordid stories about the lives of Andrassy and Polillo.

David Cowles later in his career
David Cowles later in his career

In mid-March of 1938, something happened that would have a quiet, but lasting impact on the case. In Sandusky, a couple hours' drive west of Cleveland, a dog found the severed leg of a man. Police began an immediate search of the swampy area where the leg was found. Lieutenant David Cowles of the Cleveland Police Department went personally to Sandusky to see if there was any connection between this leg and The Mad Butcher.

Cowles, the brilliant self-educated forensic expert, remembered that one of the Cleveland surgeons who closely fit the profile of The Mad Butcher was eliminated as a suspect because he was always at a veteran's hospital in Sandusky when the Cleveland murders occurred. On a hunch, Cowles visited the Sandusky Soldiers and Sailors Home and started talking to people there.

Cowles ascertained that Dr. Frank Sweeney had voluntarily admitted himself several times to the veteran's hospital to treat his alcoholism. Some of these visits overlapped the times when The Mad Butcher was at work in Cleveland. At first sight, it seemed as though his hospitalizations provided a perfect alibi for Dr. Sweeney.

Dr. Frank Sweeney
Dr. Frank Sweeney

Cowles, however, was a persistent man. He wanted to know how closely patients were watched. The answer was that a surgeon who voluntarily sought help for his drinking problem was not really "watched" at all. It was, after all, a hospital, not a prison and security was almost nonexistent for patients. Also, at various times, particularly holidays and weekends, the hospital was crowded with visitors. Ambulatory patients like Dr. Sweeney could pretty well come and go as they pleased. It was not unusual for an individual suffering from alcoholism to succumb to his needs, get his hands on some liquor and disappear for a day or two on a binge. So, Cowles concluded, it was very possible for Dr. Sweeney to leave the veterans hospital and travel by car or train into Cleveland, commit the murders and return to the hospital without his short absence being noticed.

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