Between 1935 and 1938, a sadistic killer was on the loose in Cleveland, Ohio. The madman butchered his victims, preying on vulnerable, poverty-stricken men and women during the Great Depression. Although nearly 80 years have passed since the man known as the Cleveland Torso Murderer (and also as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run) claimed his final victim, the killer’s identity still remains a mystery.
Like every American city during the Great Depression, Cleveland suffered. Shantytowns sprang up throughout the town as homeless men and women traveled from place to place, hopping trains and looking for work and food.
Kingsbury Run was one such shantytown, on a creek bed in Cleveland. The homeless enclave stretched from the east side of the city to the Cuyahoga River. Railyards and train tracks crisscrossed the area, making the area a popular destination for transients.
The first two bodies in Kingsbury Run were discovered on September 23, 1935. Edward Andrassy had been decapitated and castrated. Thirty feet away was another dead man, killed in the same manner. Like many of the dead, this second man was never identified. In fact, out of the 12 eventual murders attributed to the Cleveland Torso Murderer, only two were ever positively identified.
Early 1936 saw the discovery of another murder victim, the second and final identifiable body. Florence Polillo, also the first female victim, was also found decapitated in Kingsbury Run. Three more dead bodies turned up in 1936, all men. As the body count increased, police noticed a disturbing pattern. The bodies were mutilated in the same fashion by someone who had most likely had some medical training or was familiar with anatomy.
The same cycle continued in 1937 and all the way until August 1938, until the death toll finally stood at 12 men and women. At that point, one of the most famous names in law enforcement was dragged into the investigation, which brought the Cleveland Torso Murders significant press coverage.
Eliot Ness, who had made his name as an organized crime fighter in Chicago, became Cleveland’s Safety Director in December 1935. Ness zeroed in a suspect he thought fit the bill, a doctor named Francis Sweeney. Ness interrogated Sweeney extensively, and the doctor failed several polygraph tests. In the end, however, there was not enough evidence to charge Sweeney with any of the Torso Murders.
As the investigation dragged on and the horrific murders continued, another suspect emerged. In July 1939, 52-year-old Frank Dolezal was brought in for questioning. Dolezal was a regular at a Cleveland bar that some of the victims frequented, and police believed they may have found a lead. Dolezal was interrogated for two days before he confessed to the crimes, but he later recanted, saying the confession was beaten out of him by police.
Authorities continued to look into the suspect’s background while he remained behind bars. On August 24, 1939, Dolezal was found hanging dead in his cell. Dolezal was later cleared of any wrongdoing. During the course of the investigation, police questioned an incredible 5,000 suspects in the murders, but no one was ever charged with a single crime (though they arrested over 1,000 of those suspects for other crimes).
Over eight decades have passed since the killer went on his murder spree, but the identity of the Cleveland Torso Murderer remains a baffling mystery.
Want more? Check out the articles below: