Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Eliot's Mess 

Author Steven Nickel is still working the torso-murder case.

Ness: Haunted by a killer.
  • Ness: Haunted by a killer.
Author Steven Nickel still recalls his parents' stern warnings not to play near the railroad tracks by Kingsbury Run. That's where Cleveland's most notorious murderer -- the "Butcher of Kingsbury Run" -- dumped the mutilated torsos of his victims.

"A lot of times, it was the kids who found the bodies," says Nickel, who grew up in East Cleveland in the 1950s and now lives in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Actually, they found body parts. From 1935 to 1938, neatly severed heads and meticulously decapitated torsos littered the area just south of Cleveland's Flats. The killer's handiwork terrorized the city and baffled Safety Director Eliot Ness, who was famous as leader of the "Untouchables," the band of law-enforcement agents who brought down Chicago gangster Al Capone.

It's been more than 60 years since the last victim -- "torso number 12" -- was discovered, but interest remains high. Ongoing speculation about the case prompted Nickel to rerelease his 1989 book, Torso: The Story of Eliot Ness and the Search for a Psychopathic Killer.

"The Butcher was probably one of the first serial killers in America," Nickel says. Often compared to London's Jack the Ripper, Cleveland's Butcher preyed on hobos and transients who camped alongside the Cuyahoga River during the Depression.

Nickel became interested in the case while researching Ness for American History magazine. "Ness became popular in Cleveland, a symbol of law and order, and then you had this faceless phantom operating in the city and leaving body parts all over the place. It was almost like a competition between the two of them, like the killer was taunting him: 'Catch me if you can.'"

The Butcher's identity remains unknown, though Nickel speculates that he was a sexual deviant with ties to the railroads. "I think it will remain an unsolved mystery," he says, "and maybe it should. For me, it remains more interesting that way."

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Speaking of Highlights

More by Ginger Burnett

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 5, 2022

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


© 2022 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation