Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Kingsbury Run Murders or Cleveland Torso Murders

The Fifth Victim

The police department was still fruitlessly working on the murder of the Tattooed Man when on July 22, 1936, a call came in to the homicide detectives about another murder. Detective Orley May reported that Sergeant Hogan went over to the Big Creek area on the southwest side of the city where a teenage girl stumbled upon the headless corpse of a white man near a hobo camp.

"(The dead man) was lying on his stomach in the nude, and the head was partly wrapped up in his clothing about fifteen feet north of the body. It appeared that the body had been lying at this point for at least two months and was very badly decomposed."

The police conducted a thorough search of the area and found the man's head, which was little more than a skull at that point. Close by was a pile of cheaply made, bloodstained clothes, which the man had been wearing. The pathologist discovered a large quantity of dried blood that had seeped into the ground beneath the man's body, indicating he was killed right there.

Coroner Pearse noted that "the body was in an advanced state of decomposition with skin and flesh denuded in large areas. Rodents, maggots, and the process of decomposition had removed portions of the internal viscera. The head had been separated from the body at the junction of the second and third cervical vertebrae, the ends of which bones showed no evidence of fracture."

The expert decapitation had become almost a signature of this particular killer, but this murder was somewhat different. For the first time, the murderer had gone way across town from Kingsbury Run, and instead of transporting the victim had killed him in the place he was discovered. The dead man, a small fellow about forty years old, had been laying on the ground between two and three months, indicating he died before the "Tattooed Man."

Hogan then had no choice but to agree that these decapitation murders were the work of one man, but he had no intention of sharing this belated insight with the journalistic community. Advanced decomposition made fingerprinting impossible, so the police had only his clothes to trace him. Hogan was not optimistic. The victim's long hair, his poor clothing, and the location of the body near a hobo camp suggested he was one of the many hobos who rode in and out of the city on the nearby railroad tracks.

Hogan did his best to conduct his investigation without attracting too much attention from the newspapers, but his success was limited. The story had already captured the imagination of aspiring fiction writers on the newspaper staffs. "Is there somewhere in the county a madman whose strange god is the guillotine? Or has some fantastic chemistry of the civilized mind converted him into a human butcher? Does he imagine himself a legal executioner of the French Revolution or a religious zealot saving the human race with an ax?" was representative of the rhetoric that had started to appear very prominently in all of the city's three newspapers.

These early seeds of hysteria didn't take root because there were many more exciting things going on in the city at that time than the death of a few losers and minor criminals. In quick succession, Ness and his men conducted ten more high-profile gambling raids. The newspapers couldn't get enough of it. Almost every story carried more bad news for mob vice operations. Police protection of gangsters was crumbling and the mobs were considering moving out of Cleveland as long as Ness was there.

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