The Cleveland Torso Murders

The Cleveland torso murders may have been the work of the first serial killer in United States history.

One day in September of 1935, in the Kingsbury Run area of Cleveland, Ohio, two bodies were found in the bushes. Police were called immediately and, after looking over the crime scene, were able to confidently state that there were two male bodies that had been emasculated and beheaded. There was no blood at the scene, leading detectives to conclude they had been killed elsewhere and transported to the crime site. One of the bodies would remain unidentified, but the other was identified as an Edward Andrassy, who was known to the police as a petty criminal. Curiously, it was determined that the anonymous man had been killed several weeks before Andrassy.

cleveland torso murders

The scene at the foot of Jackass Hill, September 23, 1935: Edward Andrassy’s headless, emasculated corpse. Photo courtesy of Marjorie Merylo Dentz.

Police work began in earnest and the workload increased when the body of a female showed up in January of 1936. She had been killed in a similar manner to the two men. Detectives were puzzled that the killer had changed the gender of his victims, which was unusual. The body was soon identified as Flo Polillo, a frequent patron of bars in the area.

At this point the famous Eliot Ness became involved, as he was Cleveland’s chief of Public Safety. He added himself to the growing number of law enforcement working on the case.

The murders continued. In June of 1936 a male body was found that featured several notable tattoos. Despite those distinctive markings, the body was never identified.

A partial body found in September had a hat nearby that was later identified as one given to a homeless man by a local woman. This reinforced the theory that the Cleveland torso murders were being committed solely on people from the lowest rungs of society.

There was a slight lull in the murders and, although the investigation continued at a frantic pace, Ness and the police were not any closer to finding the killer.

The killer apparently killed six more times before the last canonical victim was found in August of 1938 (like Jack the Ripper, there was some disagreement among law enforcement as to the number of murders committed by the killer).

cleveland torso murders

Eliot Ness, Cleveland Chief of Public Safety (AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, File).

The hunt for murderer hit one dead end after another. Investigators were hopeful when a man was identified who often went to a bar patronized by several of the victims. This man was known to become angry and threatening when drunk. The man was taken into custody and, after some time, confessed to one murder. Unfortunately, he killed himself before he was fully questioned about the other murders. Suspiciously, after his death, he was found to have several broken ribs, which acquaintances of the man said he didn’t have when he went into police custody. This led the press and general populace to believe his confession was worthless and had been obtained under physical force.

Later, Ness himself oversaw the pursuit of another man, a doctor with a history of mental illness. He was brought in and failed a primitive lie detector test. Ness felt he was finally on the path to the killer and continued to press the medical man. The doctor eluded Ness by voluntarily committing himself to a mental institution, which placed him out of reach of Ness and his team. Had Ness pursued the doctor further, the doctor had an insanity defense virtually locked in place.

Coincidentally, the Cleveland torso murders appeared to stop after the doctor went into that mental hospital. Cleveland police continued to investigate the crimes, but no convictions were ever made and the murders remain a cold case that may be solved in the future — or it may remain an unsolved puzzle from the realm of 20th century true crime.

Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved
Cleveland Torso Murderer” Wikipedia, pulled 1-10-13

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published three books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.

  • imafunker2

    Highly unlikely that the Cleveland Torso Murderer also killed the Black Dahlia. George Hodel is generally accepted by many officials as Dahlia’s killer.

    • megan

      He was said to be the Black Dahlia murder too because Ness got a post card saying something to the effect ‘I’m moving to L.A. so you don’t have to worry about me anymore’ something to that effect and it had no name on the postcard. Not much longer she was found dead the same way these poor people were found. They think he traveled on trains a lot and could even be linked to deaths in Pennsylvania. They could be copycat killers but i guess we’ll never know…

    • Amye Souhrada Sabin

      George Hodel DID NOT kill Elizabeth Short. Only ONE policeman (former), believes that – his son, who had a bias against his father & hated him. Most of that nook is junk science, except for the linking of Georgiana’s death, which wasn’t seriously considered in the 40s & 50s.

      Interestingly enough, tho, Jack Andersen who WAS on their list of suspects, knew Flo Polillo, and once lived in Cleveland.

  • Steve Widdicombe

    There are many other older serial murders in US history, what about the Bloody Benders for a start, and i could find A LOT more.

    • Amye Souhrada Sabin

      There were these sadistic brothers – the Harte’s, in the late 1700s-1810s as well.

      I’m a student of the Cleveland Torso murders, and I knew that statement was incorrect. However, I do believe he was the first MODERN serial killer – and most likely Francis Sweeney.