The Mad Butcher Of Kingsbury Run

By Aaron Short on Sunday, November 24, 2013
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“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