The Mad Butcher Of Kingsbury Run

“She often spoke of marryin’ a butcher or a sausage maker, having a liking for those trades, as she said, for they knew you couldn’t never get all the stains from their aprons, and didn’t demand it.” —Gene Wolfe, “Our Neighbor by David Copperfield”

In A Nutshell

In Cleveland in the 1930s, a serial killer stalked the shantytown of Kingsbury Run, dismembering his victims with surgical precision. He was called “The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run,” or just “The Torso Killer.” The detective out to stop him was Elliot Ness, the same Elliot Ness who’d tangled with Al Capone a few years earlier. Even though a suspect was eventually arrested, the “Torso Killer” may have escaped to carry on killing—Elliot Ness received taunting letters for the rest of his life.

The Whole Bushel

In Cleveland, a few years after the Prohibition Era had ended, a serial killer stalked the streets, hunted by no less than Elliot Ness: the legendary detective who’d fought a long, drawn-out battle with Al Capone. This killer, also sometimes known as The Cleveland Torso Murderer, dissected bodies with surgical precision, removing the head while the victim was still alive in most cases, leaving behind chemically treated torsos. Starting in the year 1934, he claimed 13 victims, both male and female.

The victims were nearly all vagrants who came from the Kingsbury Run area—a dilapidated ghetto of shanty houses that had been erected by the poor during the Depression. A cat-and-mouse game erupted between Ness and the Butcher. Ness’s tactics were just as heavy-handed as the ones he’d used against Capone and the bootleggers. He raided Kingsbury Run, arresting all the vagrants. After the town was evacuated and all the vagrants fingerprinted, it was burned down. Ness believed this would deprive the butcher of victims, but it just resulted in public backlash.

Eventually, the police arrested a suspect who ended up confessing—but only after being interrogated continuously for more than 40 hours. Many who have since investigated the case doubt that the arrest suspect was the Butcher due to lack of evidence and the manner of his confession. In any case, the suspect killed himself before his broken testimony could go to court—and to end rampant press coverage and increasing public hysteria, the case was labeled “closed.” Although the killings stopped abruptly after that, Elliot Ness would receive taunting messages and postcards for the rest of his life that claimed to be from the Butcher himself.

Show Me The Proof

Cold Cases: Famous Unsolved Mysteries, Crimes, and Disappearances in America, Helena Katz
The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, Michael Newton
Cleveland’s Torso Murders continue to fascinate 75 years after first killing

  • Hadeskabir

    At least he was a nice guy and sent him letters. It’s nice to tell your old friends that you remember them.

  • Joseph Oncines

    The mad butcher of League of Legends -Mundo

  • VoiD

    Suddenly the killing stopped after the suspect commit suicide sure sounds Elliot got the right suspect. Then after the killing stopped letters came I bet Elliot really got the murderer and those letters really came from Al Capone’s associate who are too afraid to do something and instead write love letters to Elliot.

  • inconspicuous detective

    it’s alot easier to catch a mob boss who flaunts what he does and has than it is to catch a serial killer, which is why they have (usually) different detectives/agents come in to detail the crime. also, as far as i know (this is from looking this case over for a while) their best suspect was a doctor who was in and out of employment and was a heavy drinker. he got away from them, and never did any confessing, but was obviously fairly intelligent and had the surgical skills necessary to decapitate and dissect the victims. they goofed with that one.

    • Hillyard

      The doc had a alibi, being in a psych ward (voluntarily) for one or more murders, but he was allowed to come and go as he pleased. His cousin was also a powerful Congressman, which may have had some influence on his not being arrested. Ness believed that Dr. Sweeney was in fact the killer, but had no real proof.

      • inconspicuous detective

        and i agree with mr. ness…

  • Efamore

    Hmpf. Sometimes (most times) these knowledgenut stories are utterly pointless. Why can’t you write about something interesting for once? Guess that’s asking too much…

  • thegoodlookin1

    Grandpa wasn’t taunting or harassing him, Mr. Ness owed him money, and serial killer or not Grandpa wanted his money. Those were collection letters.

  • Check

    Anybody else find it ironic that a butcher just so happens to be from a place called Cleveland?

  • pronto

    I remember watching this story on Unsolved Mysteries. This case haunted Ness for the rest of his life.