"Untouchable" Eliot Ness

History, Hauntings & The Mad Butcher of
Kingsbury Run

The American equivalent of the terrifying crime spree of Jack the Ripper was undoubtedly the "Cleveland Torso Murders" that took place in an area called Kingsbury Run in the middle 1930’s. Like the Ripper case, the murders left a number of mutilated victims behind and they remain unsolved to this day. It was a series of killings that had tragic results, terrifying the city of Cleveland, ending human lives and destroying the career of an law enforcement icon, "Untouchable" Eliot Ness.

Kingsbury Run was a barren wasteland on the east side of Cleveland in 1935. It tore through the rugged area, sometimes plunging to depths of 60 feet, and was scattered with overgrown weeds, patches of wild grass, tumbling pieces of old paper, piles of garbage and even the occasional skeletal remains of an abandoned car. Along the edges of the ravine were ramshackle frame houses, built close together and of such shabby construction that they seemed to almost be teetering on the brink of collapse. As the ravine angled toward downtown, it emptied out into the muddy waters of the Cuyahoga River, where concrete and steel bridges, tanks and old factory buildings dotted the banks.

Kingsbury Run was a forbidding and shunned place in those days and yet among the refuse and decay were small cities of homeless men, forced into the ravine by the blight of the Great Depression. They squatted there in cardboard boxes and in shacks made from scavenged wood, huddling near small campfires and trying to ignore the lonesome cries of the freight trains that passed nearby.

It was through this desolate region that two young boys walked home from school on a warm afternoon in September 1935. As they ambled along a weed-covered slope known as Jackass Hill, one challenged the other to a race and they plunged down the steep incline to the bottom. The older of the two, James Wagner, reached the bottom first and as he stopped running, he noticed something white in the bushes a short distance away. He peered a little closer and was stunned to see that the "something" was a pale, naked body from which the head had been severed!

The police arrived soon after and started their investigation. The body was that of a young, white male, clad only in a pair of black socks. The man’s head and his genitals had been removed. The body had been positioned on its back with the legs stretched out and the arms placed directly at its sides. And as they began searching the area, they discovered another shocking surprise! Just 30 feet away from the first body was another corpse, this time of an older man. This body was placed in the same position and the head and genitals had also been removed.

The area was cordoned off and soon a clump of hair was seen protruding from the ground. Officers carefully dug around it and discovered one of the missing heads. The other was also found a short distance away, as were the severed genitals. It looked as though the killer had merely tossed them away like garbage. One thing the search did not reveal however was the murder site. It appeared as though the men had been killed somewhere else, as no blood was found on the ground or on the bodies. The corpses had obviously been cleaned after bleeding from the fatal wounds had ceased.

The autopsy examination that followed revealed even more puzzling evidence. The body of the older man turned out to be badly decomposed and the skin discolored from some sort of solution that the pathologists believed had been used to try and preserve it. The man had been dead for about two weeks and yet someone had kept the body, only dumping it when it had become too decayed to keep any longer. The younger man had been dead for about three days and his fingerprints enabled the police to identify him as Edward Andrassy, 28, who had a minor police record for carrying a concealed weapon. He lived near Kingsbury Run and had a reputation for being a drunk and for frequently getting into fights.

Edward Andrassy

The most chilling discovery came when pathologists realized that Andrassy had actually died from the decapitation. He had been alive at the time and bound hand and foot by ropes, against which he had struggled violently. The operation was done very skillfully and the investigators suspected that the killer might be a butcher, a surgeon, or at least someone familiar with killing animals.

The older man turned out to be impossible to identify but the police hoped that it would be easy to find Andrassy’s killer by following the dead man’s trail through the sleazy bars and gambling parlors that Andrassy had frequented. He was known to be a procurer of young girls for prostitution and also admitted to having male lovers. Detectives followed lead after lead from dangerous characters who bore Andrassy a grudge, including a husband who had vowed to kill the man for sleeping with his wife. The investigations and interrogations led nowhere though and lead after lead came to a dead end. Every clue just seemed to fall apart in both murders - just as it would with the murders that would follow.

The press soon began calling the killer the "Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run".

Four months after the first bodies were found, on a cold Sunday afternoon in January, the howling of a dog led a woman who lived on East Twentieth Street (not far from Kingsbury Run) to make another gruesome discovery. She found the chained animal trying to tear open a basket that was standing near the wall of a factory. Minutes later, after a brief glance inside, she told a passing neighbor that the basket contained hams. The neighbor recognized the "hams" as being a human arm! A burlap bag was pulled from the basket and they discovered a female torso, from which the head, the left arm and lower legs were missing. The police were able to trace the fingerprints to a 41 year-old prostitute named Florence "Flo" Polillo, an overweight and unattractive woman who was well known in the local dives and gin joints.

Once again, there were plenty of leads to follow in the investigation but once again, they all led nowhere. Two weeks later, Polillo’s left arm and the remainder of her legs were found discarded in an empty lot but her head was never recovered.

The discovery of the woman’s body had dire repercussions for detectives assigned to the earlier murders. They had been convinced that they were dealing with a homosexual killer and the investigation had been slanted in that direction. Now, with the latest victim being a woman, it appeared that the killer had no real motives in mind. To make matters worse, a "cold" case from 1934 was recalled when the torso of an unknown woman was found along the shore of Lake Erie. The newspapers began calling her "victim zero". It began to look as though the so-called "Mad Butcher" was really mad after all!

The biggest advantage in the case, as seen by the citizens of Cleveland, was that since the double murder in September, a new director of public safety had been appointed to oversee the police department. His name was Eliot Ness and he had achieved fame just a few years before for cleaning up the city of Chicago with the assistance of his "Untouchables". He had come to Cleveland to fight the gangsters, gambling and corruption in the city and soon found himself embroiled in the hunt for the sadistic killer. The newspapers and the people on the street were confident that Ness would make the city safe again. Ness was not so confident. It soon became clear to him that hunting down a lone killer was not like battling organized crime. The Butcher struck at random, leaving no clues behind, and despite well-organized searches and investigations, the killer managed to stay several steps ahead of the police department and Cleveland’s famous public safety director.

The police work to recover the remains of the "tattooed man" under a bridge in Kingsbury Run.

The killing began again that summer with the head of a young man being found wrapped in a pair of trousers beneath a bridge in Kingsbury Run. Two boys discovered the head on June 22 and summoned the police. The body was found a quarter mile away and this time, it was obvious from the blood at the scene that the man had been killed at the site. He had also been killed by being beheaded but it was unclear to investigators how he had been restrained by the murderer while the deed was being committed. No identification could be found for the man, although it was estimated that he was about 25 and was described as "heavily tattooed".

Three weeks later, a hiker discovered another decapitated male body in the ravine. The head was found nearby and but again, the man could not be identified. The body was so decomposed that examiners realized that he had been killed before the previously discovered victim.

The Butcher struck again in 1936. The body of a man who was about 30 was found in Kingsbury Run. His genitals had been severed and his body was sliced completely in two. A hat that was lying nearby did manage to give detectives one lead. It was identified by a housewife who lived nearby as being one that she had given to a homeless man. Not far from the site where the body was found was a "hobo camp", where those who rode the rails and drifted would sometimes sleep or look for something to east. Apparently, this was where the Butcher had found this latest victim.

Months passed and while the Butcher was silent, the newspapers were anything but quiet. Attention was being paid to the murders by press all over the country. Just recently, Cleveland had been the scene of a Republican convention and a Great Exposition and this led to even more police activity and harsh criticism from the press. The weight of this fell on the shoulders of the police department and most specifically, Eliot Ness. As no leads in the case panned out, the investigators could do little more than wait for the Butcher to strike again - and hope that he made a mistake.

They only had to wait until February 1937. Unfortunately, the Butcher was just as efficient as he had been before, leaving the body of a butchered young woman along the frozen shore of Lake Erie. She was never identified, but the same cannot be said for the eighth victim. She was identified by her teeth as Mrs. Rose Wallace. Like the body discovered by the hiker, it appeared that Wallace had been killed in 1936 and had never been discovered.

Victim number nine was a male and was likely another of the legion of homeless people who had been set adrift by bad economic times. His body was discovered in the river and his head was never found. The corpse had also been badly mutilated. The detectives were sent into action by what seemed to be a promising lead when a witness spoke of seeing two men in a boat the night before, just near where the body was found. The sighting never panned out though and the investigation continued to go nowhere.

The Butcher was not heard from again until later that year. Several months later, a leg was pulled out of the river and three weeks after that, two burlap bags were found that contained more body parts. The coroner was able to determine that the body had belonged to a woman, about 25 years of age. This would mark another period of inactivity for the killer, lasting more than a year.

But he would return to strike two more times, at least in Cleveland. In August 1938, the dismembered torso of a woman was found in a dump along the lakefront and a search of the area revealed the body of a man. The remains of the twelfth victim were found wrapped in quilt that had been given to a junkman, but neither body was ever identified.

(Center) Ness personally questioned groups of vagrants during the raids into Kingsbury Run.

(Right) One of the orders from Ness was to burn down the shacks & shanties of the homeless.

Finally certain that the Butcher was selecting his victims from the homeless and down and out’s of Kingsbury Run, Ness took a drastic step. Two days after the police found the last two bodies, officers raided the shantytown that was located in the ravine. They arrested hundreds of vagrants and burned down the shelters, shacks and shanties. Whether it was a coincidence or a brilliant move on the part of Eliot Ness, the murders stopped.

The Cleveland Torso Murders were officially never solved, but that has not stopped scores of crime historians and curious readers and investigators from speculating as to who the "Mad Butcher" actually was. Detectives in the case believed that they were close to catching the killer several times. They spent many hours searching for the killer’s "laboratory", believing that the Butcher was slaughtering his victims in a convenient location and then dumping the bodies somewhere else. At one point, they believed they had found it. They found a photographic negative that had been left behind by one of the early victims, Edward Andrassy, and when it was developed, it showed Andrassy reclining on a bed in an unknown room. The photo was published in newspapers and was identified as being the bedroom of a middle-aged homosexual who lived with his two sisters. Detectives searched the house and blood on the floor of the room and a large butcher’s knife hidden in a trunk. Unfortunately though, the blood turned out to be the suspect’s (he was prone to nosebleeds) and the knife showed no traces of blood on it. To further prove the man’s innocence, another Butcher victim turned up while the man was in jail for sodomy and it became obvious he was not the killer.

In January 1939, the Cleveland Press newspaper reprinted a letter that had been sent from Los Angeles, allegedly from the Butcher himself. It read:

Chief of Police Matowitz -

You can rest easy now, as I have come to sunny California for the winter. I felt bad operating on those people, but science must advance. I shall astound the medical profession, a man with only a D.C.

What did their lives mean in comparison to hundreds of sick and disease-twisted bodies? Just laboratory guinea pigs found on any public street. No one missed them when I failed. My last case was successful. I now know the feeling of Pasteur, Thoreau and other pioneers.

Right now I have a volunteer who will absolutely prove my theory. They call me mad and a butcher, but the truth will out.

I have failed but once here. The body has not been found and never will be, but the head, minus the features, is buried on Century Boulevard, between Western and Crenshaw. I feel it is my duty to dispose of the bodies as I do. It is God’s will not to let them suffer.


No buried heads were found in Los Angeles and the manhunt shifted back to Cleveland. Investigators found another suspect while backtracking through the last days of Flo Polillo and Rose Wallace.

Frank Dolezal

They discovered that the two of them frequented the same saloon and that Andrassy had also been a regular there. Another connection was a man named Frank Dolezal, who carried knives and often threatened people with them when drunk. He was not only a regular at the same saloon, but he also had lived with Flo Polillo for a time. He was quickly arrested and a search of his home found a brown substance that resembled dried blood in the cracks of his bathroom floor. They also discovered several knives with old bloodstains on them that further incriminated the man. Finally, after hours of intense questioning, Dolezal confessed to killing Flo Polillo and the newspapers hurriedly announced the capture of the Butcher. Then, the case against Dolezal began to fall apart.

Forensic tests showed that the "dried blood" on the bathroom floor was not blood at all and Dolezal’s so-called "confession" was riddled with holes and full of errors as to where and how the body was found. In August 1939, Dolezal hanged himself in jail and an autopsy revealed that he had four cracked ribs, which suggested that perhaps his voluntary "confession" had been obtained the old-fashioned way -- by force.

The two August 1938 victims turned out to be the last Butcher killings in Cleveland. In December 1939, three decapitated bodies were found in railroad boxcars near Pittsburgh and although Ness sent three investigators to look into it, there was no solid evidence to connect these murders to the Butcher’s earlier handiwork. It should be noted however that no real clues were ever found in these murders and they remain unsolved to this day. Incidentally, the Butcher was also blamed (by some theorists) for the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, in California. Her body was also cut in two parts, just like the Butcher’s seventh victim.

But who was this depraved killer? Eliot Ness believed that he knew, but sadly, the Kingsbury Run murders really began the downturn of Ness’ earlier illustrious career. He never really got over the taint that the murders left on his reputation and the fact they were never solved. The last decade of his life was full of poverty and frequent disappointment and he passed away in 1957 at the age of only 54. Ironically, considering his destruction of the Prohibition bootlegging gangs, Ness became a heavy drinker and suffered from poor health. He resigned from the position of Cleveland’s public safety director in 1941, after a scandal involving a hit-and-run accident, and in 1947 was badly defeated in a run for the Cleveland mayor’s office. A year later, he was even turned down for a $60 a week job. In 1953, after five years of poverty and obscurity, he became involved with a papermaking company and through a friend at the company, he had a chance meeting with a journalist named Oscar Fraley. The two men would later collaborate on a book entitled The Untouchables. It came out in 1957 and was an immense success, becoming a bestseller and inspiring two television series and a popular film. Tragically, Ness would never learn of this success as he died of a heart attack on May 16, 1957, six months before The Untouchables was published.

Ness would tell Oscar Fraley of more than just his glory days in Chicago and he told the writer that he was reasonably certain that he knew the identity of the Mad Butcher and that he had managed to bring him to at least some semblance of justice.

Ness explained that he had deduced that the killer must have a house of his own in which he could dismember the bodies and a car that he could then transport them to the dump sites in. The Butcher could not have been a homeless person, like the ones that he claimed as his victims. He also reasoned that the skill of the mutilations would have required some amount of medical knowledge and that the killer had to have been a big and strong man. This was evidenced by his easy movement of bodies and by a size-12 footprint found at one crime scene.

Using this information, Ness had three of his best agents, Virginia Allen, Barney Davis and Jim Manski, make discreet inquiries among members of Cleveland high society. Virginia Allen, using a number of socialite contacts, was able to discover a man who seemed to fit the profile of Ness’ ideal suspect. The man, who Ness called "Gaylord Sundheim", was a large man, who had studied medicine and who came from a wealthy family with a history of psychiatric problems. When Ness’ agents called at his home, he shut the door in their faces, so Ness pressured him into having lunch with him. Sundheim reluctantly met with Ness and refused to either admit or deny having committed the murders. Finally, Ness forced him to take a polygraph test and Sundheim badly failed it. When Ness told him that he believed he was the Butcher, perhaps hoping to trigger a confession, Sundheim merely laughed and told him to "prove it".

Soon after he was confronted by Ness, Sundheim (or whatever his real name was) had himself committed to a mental hospital. After that, Ness knew that he could never get the man prosecuted for the crimes for even if charged, he could plead that he was insane at the time of the murders. Sundheim died in the mental institution around 1940 or 1941 but during the last months of his life, he continually plagued Ness with a barrage of obscene and menacing notes. Ness preserved the cards and letters and they have been saved in the Cleveland archives.

But if Sundheim was the killer, who killed the three victims found in the Pittsburgh boxcar in December 1939? If the crimes had been committed by the real Butcher, then how did Sundheim accomplish them from the hospital? And if Ness already knew the identity of the Butcher, then why did he allow detectives to beat a confession out of Frank Dolezal in 1939? And why did one of the chief detectives in the case, Peter Merylo, pursue the Butcher into retirement, blaming the killer for more than 50 murders by 1947? Could Ness have been wrong about who the killer really was?

It seems possible that he was...

On July 23, 1950, the body of a man, with his head and genitals removed, was found in a Cleveland lumberyard, just a few miles from Kingsbury Run. This missing head turned up four days later and the victim was identified as Robert Robertson. Coroner Samuel Gerber, who did the autopsies of most of the Butcher’s victims, reported that the "work resembles exactly that of the torso murderer."  Thanks to this final killing, and the confusing run of dead ends and worthless clues that plagued the case, the identity of the killer - like the whereabouts of most of the victim’s missing heads - remains unknown.

Murder Swamp -- Hauntings of the Butcher’s Final Victims?

As mentioned already, one of Ness’ detectives, Peter Merlyo, doggedly pursued the case of the Mad Butcher until his death in 1947. He was convinced that the monster claimed more than 50 victims, including those found in the railroad boxcars -- and others. A number of victims that Merlyo believed were connected the Mad Butcher were discovered in a place that has been appropriately nicknamed “Murder Swamp”. It is located just outside of New Castle, Pennsylvania, near West Pittsburgh. Merlyo had become sure that the killer was riding the rails, explaining how he appeared and disappeared with such ease, he after hearing about bodies discovered in Murder Swamp, he become convinced of their connection to his case.

Detective Peter Merlyo

At least three bodies were reportedly discovered in the swamp in 1925 and all of the victims had been dead for varying lengths of time. Each of them, two males and a female, had all had their heads severed. The terrain around the site was also very similar to that around Kingsbury Run in Cleveland. Merlyo surmised that this may have attracted the killer to the location. He also came to believe, based upon the discovery dates of the earlier victims, that this may have been the place where the Butcher had found his first victims. Merlyo himself spent some time riding the rails, working undercover, between New Castle and Cleveland but never got any closer to finding the killer.

After the final murders in Cleveland in 1938, more bodies were discovered in and around Murder Swamp. The first was found in October 1939, a young man who had been slain and his body discovered near some month-old Youngstown, Ohio newspapers. Later on, the gruesome discovery took place in the railroad boxcars that had been sent to McKee’s Ro9cks, just outside of Pittsburgh, to be destroyed. There were three bodies found, all unidentified, and each one dismembered. They had been dead for several months and one of them had the word “nazi”, with an inverted “z” carved into his chest. Merlyo investigated and found that the cars had been sent to McKee’s Rocks from Youngstown, which connected it with the previous body found in Murder Swamp.

Later that same year, another headless body was found, this time dumped in the Monongahela River. In spring 1941, two human legs were discovered near Pittsburgh in the Ohio River and the following year, another headless corpse was found in the Monongahela. More bodies were discovered, in various locations that included New York and Michigan, until 1945. Although none of these victims were ever officially added to the killer’s total, many investigators, including Detective Merlyo, believed that they were the work of the same Cleveland killer. IN 1950, it is likely that the killer struck again in Cleveland and this was likely his final victim.

Who the “Mad Butcher” may have been, as well as who many of his still unidentified victims might have been, remains a mystery to this day. The killer simply slipped away and vanished into the mists of time. However, legends say that many of his victims have not been so lucky. There are those who believe that some of them still walk.

According to locals, the ghosts of the Butcher’s mystery victims still prowl through the region around Murder Swamp, haunting the place where there bodies were found -- and where the riddle of their deaths has never been answered. Some even go on to say that the specter of the Butcher himself may walk here as well. If this place is where he truly began his horrific killing spree, then perhaps he had never left…

Even in death.

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