A Halloween discussion of Cleveland’s most gruesome, unsolved crime

The Torso Murderer was the nation’s first ever serial killer

A Halloween discussion of Cleveland’s most gruesome, unsolved crime
This is just one of several death masks used to try and identify victims of the Torso Murderer.

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The 1930s were a dark time in this country, and an even darker decade for Cleveland.

A Halloween discussion of Cleveland’s most gruesome, unsolved crime

It was the middle of the Great Depression when decapitated -- and sometimes dismembered -- bodies started turning up in Cleveland.

According to Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter Laura DeMarco, who has researched and written about the Cleveland Torso Murders, no one knows exactly how many victims but its somewhere in the area of 12.

A Halloween discussion of Cleveland’s most gruesome, unsolved crime

The first head found, separated from its body, was discovered by a couple of children playing on a grassy hillside in an area known as Kingsbury Run in 1932.

Kingsbury Run was a waterway and stretch of railroad tracks that cut through what is today the area of East 55 Street, Broadway Avenue, Kinsman Road and Cleveland’s main Post Office.

Because many of the bodies were hacked up, the murderer was given the nickname the Kingsbury Butcher.

Kingsbury Run was filled with tents and shacks inhabited by hundreds of homeless.

It’s where many of the victims would be found when it was all said and done.

The murders were gruesome, vile and calculated.

Heads and limbs were cut off, some were placed in baskets and some were thrown in weeds.

(WARNING GRAPHIC: Click here if you want to see crime photos from the Cleveland Police Museum)

Only two of the 12 were ever identified because many were transient, homeless, prostitutes or even hobos that would ride into Cleveland on trains.

Investigators at the time made plaster molds of the heads, or death masks, that were found and put them on display hoping someone could identify them. Most never were.

This is a death mask of the second victim in the Cleveland Torso Murders. The mask was shown to people to try and help identify the victims.
This is a death mask of the second victim in the Cleveland Torso Murders. The mask was shown to people to try and help identify the victims. (Source: Cleveland Police Museum)

Several of the masks are still on display at the Cleveland Police Museum.

Sometimes the head would be found but not the body, and vice versa.

The cuts were clean and exacting, almost as if the crimes were committed by a surgeon or a butcher.

The murders worried residents of Cleveland and the nation as headlines hit the newspapers, and it became the country’s first serial killer case.

Adding to the oddity is the fact the famed crime fighter, Eliot Ness, was Cleveland’s Safety Director at the time.

The crimes would go unsolved on his watch.

Eliot Ness was the Safety Director from 1935-1941.
Eliot Ness was the Safety Director from 1935-1941. (Source: Cleveland Police Museum)

Numerous theories have been evaluated over the 80-plus years since the murders, but the case remains a mystery.

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