On The Trail With Eliot Ness

We recently went on another awesome Lolly the Trolley tour in Cleveland, Ohio. Leaving the Powerhouse in the West Flats, our tour guide took us first to many Clevelander’s favorite kinds of photo op location. A 2-week old Scripts CLEVELAND sign is now very close to downtown and we stopped to take some shots of it.

Following this fun stop, our Eliot Ness tour began. In 1927, Eliot Ness was longing for a more challenging job than the one he had. His oldest brother-in-law, Alexander Jamie, brought Ness in as an agent with the U.S.Treasury Department. Jamie worked for the Prohibition Bureau. In 1928, Ness was transferred to the Justice Department to work for the Prohibition Bureau with a stint in Chicago.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and Ness was next assigned to the Cincinnati enforcement division of the Treasury Department’s Alcohol Tax Unit. Ness was transferred in 1934 to Cleveland where he became the lead agent with the Cleveland Regional Office for the same department. Cleveland’s premier newspaper, the Plain Dealer, published a feature story about Ness in September of that same year. It was titled “Gangs Here Face Capone Waterloo” and was written by Charles Lawrence.

One of our stops on the tour was at a place where every photographer stops to take photos of downtown Cleveland. You can see why:

In 1935, Cleveland was the fifth largest city in the nation and was named the most dangerous city in the United States. In December of that same year, Cleveland Mayor, Harold Burton, recruited Eliot Ness to become the city’s youngest Safety Director at age 33.

Ness nearly eliminated corruption and major crimes on the Cleveland streets, instituted the most modern traffic technologies, started many Boy Scout Troops to combat youth crime and boosted the fire department up to current national standards. The processes he instituted turned Cleveland around.

Ness’s next task was to close down the bootlegging operations of Al Capone. According to our trolley guide, he was looking for men who wouldn’t take a bribe. 100 men were chosen and then whittled down to 50 and again to just 11. Ness had handpicked these men from all over the country. They were nicknamed the “Untouchables” due to the fact that no one could corrupt them with a bribe.

Along the tour route, we passed a favorite restaurant of Ness that is still very much the same as it was during Ness’s tenure in Cleveland:

One of the buildings we passed along the way was a hang-out for Babe Ruth. He once wrote a check here for $18.00 and change and the owner put it on the wall, never cashing it. Jim thought that the Babe might have written more checks after that since they might not get cashed either.

Eliot Ness seldom carried a weapon. He didn’t need one. He was everywhere rounding up the bad guys and he was very successful at it. Until the Torso Murders.

Kingsbury Run was also known as Shantytown. The homeless camped up and down the long, wide natural area of Kingsbury Run. This is where, they believe, the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run both lured his victims and dumped the headless and limbless torsos. This is the path of Kingsbury Run as it looks today.

Between 1935 and 1938, 13 torsos were found in various places. Some on the beach/shore of Lake Erie, some on Jackass Hill and some in Kingsbury Run. Eliot Ness lead the investigation into these murders but never officially discovered “whodunit.” Some boys found two of the bodies at this remote location:


There were three theories as to who the Butcher was. One was a man named Frank Doelzal. He was arrested and interrogated in the murder of Florence Polillo. He later died in jail under suspicious circumstances.

Another theory was that there was more than one killer. Autopsies were inconclusive as to whether the cuts were expert or haphazard.

Dr. Francis E. Sweeney was Ness’s star suspect. He failed two polygraph tests. He had medical amputation and patching experience in the field during World War II. But Ness must have thought there was little chance of prosecution especially since his political opponent, Congressman Martin L. Sweeney, was the doctor’s first cousin.

Dr. Sweeney committed himself and the police could find no more evidence linking him to the murders. Threatening postcards with Sweeney’s name on them harassed and mocked Ness and his family into the 1950’s. Sweeney died in a Vet’s hospital in 1964. The murders were never solved.

Ness eventually retired from police work and moved on to other endeavors in Pennsylvania. He died of a massive heart attack in 1957, at the age of 54, in the home he shared with his third wife and 6-year-old adopted son, Robert. Robert kept his ashes which passed on to Robert’s widow when Robert died. She kept them until 1998 when they were united with Robert’s and his mother’s ashes in a formal funeral ceremony. Their combined ashes were spread over Wade Lake in Lake View Cemetery on Cleveland’s east side. There is a stone marker near the lake for Ness and his family.

Photo credit:  Bruce McKelvey

Lake View Cemetery is a very large, well-kept cemetery where many famous people are buried including:

President Garfield and his family:

Photo credit:  Bruce McKelvey

And Alan Freed who coined the phrase “Rock and Roll”:

Photo credit:  Bruce McKelvey

Photo credit:  Bruce McKelvey

This was a fascinating tour that also included bits of Cleveland history along the way. Some of it is interspersed within this blog. But there is much more on this tour that isn’t in this blog. One of the more interesting things about Lake View Cemetery is a huge dam that was completed in 1978 on land donated by the cemetery. The dam was built to stop the flooding of Dugway Brook and University Circle.

Leaving the cemetery, we traveled through Little Italy with all of its wonderful restaurants and the savory smells of pizza strong in the air.

Our tour ended at Shooters On The Water where we enjoyed dinner, watching the bridge move up to allow a 1,000 foot Lake Erie Freighter to be towed out by the Tugboat, and reflections of the sunset on Cleveland’s downtown buildings, including the Terminal Tower. There was a blimp circling over the Cleveland Indian’s game that you can see in this photo.

Jim, our tour guide, was very knowledgeable having grown up in Cleveland. He was very inventive and entertaining also and we would go again with him.

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