THE UNSOLVED MYSTERY OF THE CLEVELAND TORSO MURDERS
March 3, 2021
WARNING: dismemberment and graphic content
Lady of the Lake… sounds majestic, doesn’t it? Well, this name was actually given to the first victim of the Mad Butcher, a serial who ran rampant in Depression Era Cleveland.
The body was first found by a passerby along Lake Erie, which would shock anyone. What made this even more horrifying was what was done with the body: the murderer sawed off her upper body and legs from the knees down, leaving the man to find her lower torso and thighs burned by some sort of acid. It’s still unknown who the woman was or if she was even a victim of the Mad Butcher, being that she wasn’t considered a victim until the killer was stopped.
As gruesome as the discovery was, the town wasn’t too concerned until two boys decided to skip school a year later. On their travels, they found something lying at Kingsbury Run. It was a pair of pants with something rolled up inside them. Upon further inspection, the boys saw a decapitated head wrapped in the pants and eventually discovered the rest of the victim’s body. He was identified as Edward Andrassy, one of the debated 13 victims (some say 11 or 12 is the correct number) who were able to be named. Next to Andrassy was another victim who also was decapitated and anonymous to this day.
One reason for the limited information on the victims is because the Torso Killer–given for the state most of the victims were found–tended to attack the homeless and prostitutes, many of which weren’t noticed missing until their body was discovered. Kingsbury Run was a famous “hobo camp” with lines of tents and dirt paths filled with debris, making it a good spot for the Butcher to find someone and make his crimes known.
The two other named victims were waitress Flo Pillio (found in January of 1936 and identified through fingerprints) and Rose Wallace (found June of 1937 and identified through dental records, though it’s not certain proof). Pillio was the third official victim in this odd series of slaughters with her lower torso, thighs, and right arm found wrapped in newspapers in wastebaskets in an alley. Her upper torso, lower legs, and left arm was found a month later on a different street. Wallace was actually dead for some time when she was found. Her skeleton was found under a bridge.
Despite the eerie similarities, it took investigators some convincing that these were all done by the same person, and the Tattooed Man was the one to do that. He was the fourth official victim and was given his name due to the various tattoos on his arms and legs. There was an attempt to identify him through the tattoos, but no luck. Like Andrassy, his head was found in pants while his body was found nearby.
Many others occurred, and the killer became seemingly amused by investigators. The Butcher began hiding the dismembered bodies in various places in Cleveland, sometimes having it be days until a complete body was placed together. One of the victims’s abdomen was gutted while another was found with drugs in her system, unlike the others found.
Eventually, Eliot Ness, who was known for leading the team responsible for capturing mobster Al Capone, took on the task of solving who was doing this. Ness was praised for his work with capturing Capone, but he wasn’t during the Torso Killer case. Under public pressure and that of his own, Ness was hellbent on solving this. The killer seemed to know that and placed a dismembered woman and the bones of a man at a street corner that was clearly visible from Ness’s office window.
Fed up, Ness ordered a raid turned violent at Kingsbury Run, convinced the killer had to live there in order to pick the victims he picked. Sixty-three men were picked up, and the public, once again, became vocal on Ness’s methods.
Through this, Ness found Dr. Francis Sweeny, who specialized in amputations. Sweeny failed both his polygraph tests, but he was also the cousin of Congressman Martin Sweeny, making Ness realize there’s no possible way for him to fairly and properly arrest him. Another suspect Sheriff Martin O’Donnell arrested was Frank Dolezal, though it’s believed the police forced him to confess through some means. Dolezal hanged himself in his cell before his trial, and it was later discovered O’Donnell was the only one to suspect him and possibly abused him while under his watch.
After the two bodies placed in front of Ness’s office window, the murders stopped. A typed letter was sent to Cleveland’s police chief in December of 1938, assuring investigators they can “rest easy now.” He admitted he felt remorse for “operating on those people but science but advance.” The Butcher also reasoned that his victims were “[J]ust laboratory guinea pigs found on any public street” and that the theory they helped prove will soon prove that he was right and his name will live in glory. The killer also planned on moving to California due to cold Cleveland winters, leading many to believe he was responsible for the similarly executed Black Dahlia murder. Perhaps this was the “volunteer” the killer was referring to in his letter?
His parting words in the letter were: “I feel it is my duty to dispose of the bodies I do. It is God’s will not to let them suffer.”