Torso: The Story of Eliot Ness and the Search for a Psychopathic Killer by Steven Nickel

Marion Bardsley, writing on Cleveland during the time of the Torso murders (also known as the Kingsbury Run murders) in an article at…

“Kingsbury Run cuts across the east side of Cleveland like a jagged wound, ripped into the rugged terrain as if God himself had tried to disembowel the city. At some points it is nearly sixty feet deep, a barren wasteland covered with patches of wild grass, yellowed newspapers, weeds, empty tin cans and the occasional battered hull of an old car left to rust beneath the sun. Perched upon the brink of the ravine, narrow frame houses huddle close together and keep a silent watch on the area.

“Angling toward downtown, the Run empties out into the cold, oily waters of the Cuyahoga River. There, dingy banks sprout a concrete and metal forest of drawbridges, storage tanks, and blackened factory buildings that flourish in the yellow sulphurous fumes and the fiery glow of the blast furnaces.”

(This article can be found at through this link. I recommend reading it if you’re not familiar with the Torso killings.)

It is against this background that one of the most mysterious chapters in the history of Cleveland, Ohio would take shape.

Torso, however, is almost misleadingly not as much about the murders as the roller coaster career of Elliot Ness.

Ness, who is best known for his work with The Untouchables-a small band of FBI agents who helped take down Al Capone. Following this success, Ness took a job as the Director of Public Safety of Cleveland, where he immediately made an impact by making a HUGE overhaul of the extremely corrupt police department.

However, despite his very public successes in the pursuit of corruption, Ness was unable to solve the series of dismemberments that held the city captive in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This would ultimately lead to a slide of massive proportions – to the point that Ness was living it almost utter poverty.

Unfortunately, he would die shortly before an author he was working with made Ness-and the Untouchables-a household name.

Even so, the Torso murders would remain a dark mark on an otherwise stellar career. What was it about the discovery of the remains of the Torso killer’s 12 known victims that would make it so difficult to figure out how those crimes actually happened?

Part of the issue was that the idea of a “stranger killing” was nearly unheard of. Police spun their wheels trying to find links between any of the victims that were identified, with no success.

This book is a great read. However, the title is misleading, as I have mentioned. While the details of the Torso murders are given well and are well tied to where Ness was in his career, there’s very little discussion of possible suspects.

To be fair, though, it IS a great read on the life of Elliot Ness, and is therefore a book I would recommend. In that respect, it is a more important book on American History than it would seem at first glance.

Published in: on August 7, 2006 at 3:50 am  Leave a Comment  

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