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Mad Butcher of Cleveland
The “Mad Butcher” of Cleveland, AKA the Cleveland Torso Murderer and Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, was an unidentified male serial killer believed to have killed at least 12 victims between the depression era years of 1935 and 1938. Some believe the killer may have been operating in the area as early as the 1920s and as late as the early 1950s amassing over 40 victims.
Kingsbury Run was a rundown, ugly section of Cleveland inhabited by derelicts, the homeless and society’s lower class. It was there the “Mad Butcher” most often targeted his quarry and dumped their mutilated corpses, which often remained undiscovered for months to a year or more. But, what set him apart from other serial killers was he decapitated his victims…something most others rarely did.
He was also referred to as the Torso Murderer because sometimes he cut them in half. His male victims had also usually been castrated and others had been burned with chemicals or acid.
Most were never identified for several reasons. One was because many of the heads were never found and secondly, he preyed upon drifters and society outcasts who no one knew or cared about. One clue was the fact he seemed to know who didn’t have any family which would come looking for them.
The first of the killings came to light one afternoon when two young boys on a fishing jaunt stumbled across a naked, headless corpse on top of a steep embankment called Jackass Hill.
The first detectives on the scene found not only one naked headless man, but two. One had been horribly burned either by acid or a chemical. It was evident both bodies had been there a while as they had started to decompose. Rope burns around their wrists and ankles suggested they had been bound before meeting their fate.
Only one of the two was able to be identified by fingerprints. His name was Edward A. Andrassy, approximately 28 years old. Andrassy was who at the time of his death jobless, had once been an orderly in the psychiatric ward at Cleveland City Hospital. Police records revealed he had once been arrested on a concealed weapons charge and several times for intoxication.
Nobody at the time tied the two murders to an incident a year earlier when the lower half of a woman's burned torso was found on the shore of Lake Erie near Euclid Beach amusement park. The newspapers had dubbed her "The Lady of the Lake." She was never identified.
The timing of these incidents coincided with the 1935 mayoral election. Harold Burton won the election hands down on his platform to clean up crime in the city which was being run by mobsters and corrupt officials. Burton’s first step as mayor was to appoint a promising young crime fighter as safety director to head up the city's police and fire departments. That man was Eliot Ness, best known for taking down famed gangster Al Capone.
Sunday, January 26, butcher Charles Paige, called the police to report a murder. A person wishing to remain unidentified had told Paige there was a body of a murdered person lying against a building. Paige investigated and found severed human body parts. The coroner’s office later identified the remains as belonging to Florence Saudy Polillo, age 42. She had been arrested several times for prostitution.
A coroner determined she had been dead from 2 to 4 days and dismemberment had been done with a sharp instrument just like the other two. The coroner also believed it was the work of someone who knew surgical techniques. Still nobody tied the murders together as being the work of one individual. That is until the press started a media circus with stories of a psychopathic maniac on the loose.
Ness told his men there was to be no further information about the case released to the press to avoid a mass panic. Meanwhile, another body had turned up. Police were optimistic they would be able to identify this male corpse since it was still in relatively good condition and had six unique tattoos. Missing person reports and fingerprint files were checked to no avail. His photo was taken to tattoo parlors in hopes someone would recognize the artist’s work…again, nothing.
Thousands viewed the body on display at the morgue over the next few days but no one recognized him. Even a laundry mark on his clothing produced no results. Over the next two years seven million visitors to the Great Lakes Expo saw photographs of his face and tattoos, but the "Tattooed Man" remained nameless.
On July 22, 1936, a call came in about another murder. A teenage girl had discovered the headless corpse in the Big Creek area near a hobo camp. It appeared that the body had been there for at least two months and like others was nude and had been decapitated. It was determined however, this man had died before the "Tattooed Man" and unlike others who had been killed in Kingsbury Run, had been killed elsewhere and transported there. The victim's general unkempt appearance and location of the body near a hobo camp and railroad tracks suggested he was one of many who frequently hopped freight trains in and out of the city.
It had now become apparent these decapitation murders were the work of one man. Investigators tried to keep a lid on that auspicious piece of information, but had little success. Communities and cities as far away as Washington DC became gripped in fear as authorities suspected the Mad Butcher may have been responsible for similar slayings in their jurisdictions.
In mid-September of 1936, with the American Legion Convention just a few days away, Kingsbury Run once again became the focus of national attention when a hobo waiting for an eastbound freight saw two halves of a human torso floating in Big Creek. Police responding to the report later discovered other various dismembered body parts in the creek. One detective inadvertently let slip a comment he thought the killer was living locally. The next morning, the macabre find made banner headlines and the media now had a name for this sadistic fiend: the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.”
Twenty detectives were permanently assigned to the case. After interviewing all the transients in the area the detectives were swamped with thousands of tips because everybody seemed to have an idea of who the killer was. Anybody who acted strangely, kept unusual hours, had a knife or seen carrying large packages became an instant suspect. Every butcher, physician, male nurse, mortician and others of like professions were added to the list of suspects. Records of state mental institutions were scoured for any recently discharged patients.
Detectives went undercover as hobos in Kingsbury Run, looking for suspicious characters. Others kept gay bars and steam baths under surveillance. They knew the assailant was intelligent as there was never a scrap of evidence left at any crime scenes. In fact, it seemed the killer was playing cat and mouse games with the police by leaving so many bodies in the same location and Kingsbury Run residents on the lookout. While investigators agreed the killer had some anatomical knowledge, the medical community felt the killer wasn’t necessarily a physician. Any butcher or hunter could just as easily have done the cutting.
Detectives believed, as time went on the killer was becoming smarter. Out of six victims, only two of the earlier victims had been identified…Andrassy and Polillo. Their bodies still had hands and feet. Those with hands still intact could possibly be identified by fingerprints. And it was becoming obvious more recent victims were being selected for anonymity.
In February 1937, victim seven, a female, was found washed up on a beach in almost the same place where the remains of the “Lady of the Lake” had been found. Like the others, she was headless and her arms had been amputated and the torso bisected. She too, would remain unidentified
The next body discovered was in June. It was the partial skeleton of a woman dead approximately one year found by a teenager on his way home under the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. The upper portion of a man's torso and his two thighs were found a month later floating in the Cuyahoga River just below Kingsbury Run.
By now the special task force had narrowed down a list of likely suspects to one man. He was a physician by the name of Frank E. Sweeney. Sweeney had grown up in the Kingsbury Run area and at one time had been a surgical resident at St. Alexis Hospital located very close to Kingsbury Run. He was rumored to be bisexual and an alcoholic, which cost him his residency. However, since he was often out of town at a veteran's hospital in Sandusky undergoing treatment for alcoholism when fresh victims were discovered, he was eventually dismissed as a suspect.
But in March of 1938, a dog found the severed leg of a man in Sandusky. A forensic expert remembered Sweeney had been a suspect, conveniently out of town there. He went to the Sandusky Soldiers and Sailors Home where Sweeney had been and started asking questions. Some of Sweeney’s visits there matched times the Mad Butcher was busily hacking up bodies in Cleveland.
However, Sweeney had several unexplained absences from the hospital which coincided with the times of death for several victims. Sweeney’s name went back to the top of the list and he was kept under constant surveillance and monitored his mail. Apparently Sweeney knew he was being watched and frequently was able to lose his tail.
The next month a woman's leg was fished out of the Cuyahoga River which for a while caused another public outcry. But, no sooner had it subsided, another dismembered female body between 30 and 40 years old was accidentally found at a dump. As police combed the area for more evidence the skeletal remains of a man were also found.
The city was now in an uproar. Ness hauled his chief suspect, the alcoholic Frank Sweeney, in for questioning. After drying out for three days in a hotel Sweeney was interrogated and given several polygraph tests. He failed them all. Unfortunately, this information had to be kept under wraps because Dr. Sweeney's first cousin was Congressman Martin L. Sweeney, who could’ve thrown a monkey wrench into the whole affair had he known.
The detectives were convinced Sweeney was their man, but they only had circumstantial evidence. Although the murders officially ended in 1938, the hunt for the killer continued. A few months after Dr. Sweeney had readmitted himself into the veteran's hospital, a private detective was hired to investigate the Kingsbury Run murders.
After several months, a middle-aged alcoholic named Frank Dolezal became a prime suspect. A room, he had previously rented was thoroughly searched and blood stains were found on the floor and a knife. Dolezal was arrested in July of 1939 and shortly thereafter confessed to the murder of Flo Polillo.
Dolezal said he and Flo had a fight during which she attacked him with a butcher knife and in self defense hit her causing her to fall against a bathtub. Thinking she was dead, he cut her up and carried parts of her to the alley in which she was found and it’s assumed the rest of her was dumped into Lake Erie. Dolezal diedunder suspicious circumstances in the Cuyahoga County jail. After his death it wasdiscovered that he had suffered six broken rib. And prior to his death he had recanted his confessions. Sweeney died in 1964 and is buried in anunmarked grave in Calvary Cemetery.
Ness, who died in 1957, received several postcards and letters signed by an "F.E. Sweeney, M.D." They are now a part of collections at the Western Reserve Historical Society. It’s thought they were written by the Mad Butcher as a way of mocking him for his failure to solve the case. In recent years there was some talk about testing the post cards for DNA, but as of now the case remains unsolved.