Eliot Ness’s Second Act: Murder, Mayhem…and a Dancing Grandfather : The History Reader

Posted on September 19, 2022

by Daniel Stashower

You helped carry down Al Capone earlier than you turned thirty. What do you do for an encore?

After we consider Eliot Ness, we consider his storied profession as chief of the Untouchables—crashing by the doorways of Al Capone’s breweries in his well-known battering-ram truck. All of that ended, nonetheless, when the repeal of Prohibition despatched the Untouchables into early retirement. Ness landed on his ft, he believed, as director of public security in Cleveland, persevering with his battle towards organized crime and rooting out corruption in his personal police division. “Apparently,” one journalist wrote, “he won’t relaxation till each enemy of the individuals has been dropped at justice.”

One enemy of the individuals offered Ness with a problem in contrast to any he’d ever confronted. Starting in 1934, and persevering with on Ness’s watch, a string of brutal murders staggered the town, attributed to a killer who got here to be generally known as the Butcher of Kingsbury Run. Fifty years earlier the complete world had recoiled on the horrific murders in London’s Whitechapel district. Now, it appeared, a chillingly comparable be aware of terror had been struck in America. “Cleveland’s Torso Killer,” learn one nationwide headline, “Slays in Similar Method as Jack the Ripper.” For Ness, it could be a case that redefined his profession. “I need to see this psycho caught,” he declared, however this was an issue that couldn’t be solved with a battering-ram truck.

I grew up in Cleveland within the 1960s and 70s, at a time when individuals nonetheless spoke of Kingsbury Run in hushed tones, as if afraid of summoning a demon.  By that point the story had taken on the hazy outlines of an city legend—I bear in mind listening to tales of the butcher whereas roasting s’mores round a campfire with my cub scout troop. There’s a monster on the market, we have been informed, and he’s gonna get you in the event you wander into the woods.  You didn’t have to decorate a lot to show the story into the stuff of nightmares—I don’t assume I slept in any respect that night time.

The story has been rattling round in my head for greater than fifty years now. Once I started work on American Demon, I needed to dig for the reality in a tangle of rumors and contradictions, and inform the extraordinary story of an unprecedented manhunt that gripped the nation through the depths of the Nice Melancholy. On the identical time, I needed to throw mild on an obscure chapter within the profession of Eliot Ness, whose camera-ready exploits in Chicago have been celebrated again and again in motion pictures and on tv—maybe to extra—whereas the miracle he wrought in Cleveland stays largely unknown. 

The story is filled with surprises.  The most important one—no less than for me—was the cameo from my grandfather, of all individuals. To my nice shock and delight, his face might be seen peering up from the pages of Ness’s private scrapbooks at Cleveland’s Western Reserve Historic Society. Ness and my grandfather, it appears, crossed paths no less than annually at a political roast referred to as the “Anvil Revue,” modeled alongside the strains of the White Home Correspondents’ Dinner or the Gridiron Membership. My grandfather, I got here to be taught, was a perennial forged member, singing and dancing together with different newbie performers from the Metropolis Membership, an in any other case sober-minded group of native businessmen. Ness was a frequent goal of their japes and jibes—one of many “goats,” as they have been identified. One 12 months, an Anvil Revue performer took the stage sporting a toddler’s Buster Brown uniform, with brief pants and a Peter Pan collar, to parody Ness’s youth and gee-whiz enthusiasm. “I’m the youngest security director in america!” he exclaimed. “The G-Man who received Al Capone single-handed!  I’d prefer to inform you in a number of phrases easy methods to rid the county of crime and corruption, jaundice, pyorrhea, toothache and physique odor!” On one other event, an actor portrayed Ness with a pair of fluttering angel wings clipped to the again of his jacket, whereas a refrain of police captains joined in a dance quantity celebrating the protection director’s allure and virtuosity:

Good Ness, graciousBoy, however I’m couraciousHandsome and audaciousGreetings, conferences,Take a number of time;I intrigueThe Junior LeagueYou’ll agree, man,I’m an everyday he-manA-B-C-D-GEE, man!

“Some can take it,” one forged member declared. “Others can’t.” Eliot Ness might take it.  He pasted a caricature of the performers into his scrapbook, together with my grandfather, together with an viewers picture of himself urgent a hand to his brow, all however doubled over with laughter. 

He might have been “untouchable,” however annually, no less than, he fortunately took it on the chin.

Daniel Stashower is an acclaimed biographer and narrative historian and winner of the Edgar, Agatha, and Anthony awards, in addition to the Raymond Chandler Fulbright Fellowship in Detective Fiction. His work has appeared in The New York Occasions, The Washington Submit, Smithsonian Journal, AARP: The Journal, Nationwide Geographic Traveler, and American Historical past in addition to different publications. His books embrace American Demon, The Hour of Peril, Teller of Tales, and The Stunning Cigar Woman.

Tags: American Demon, Cleveland Torso Assassin, Daniel Stashower, Eliot Ness, The Hour of Peril, The Untouchables

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