From the Cleveland News, June 7, 1937:
“… and still the numbers of the headless dead multiply. The latest was discovered by a young Negro boy named Russell Lauer. Lauer was taking a shortcut home from the movies through Stone’s Levee, a deserted field often used by area residents as a makeshift city dump. Beneath the second abutment of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, Lauer noticed a glittering object partly buried amidst the garbage. Upon closer inspection, the shiny attraction proved to be gold teeth protruding from a human skull. Subsequent investigation revealed a human skeleton, absent the arms and legs, in a burlap bag, as well as a wool cap, the sleeve of a woman’s dress, and a severed piece of human scalp.
“Police at first expressed skepticism regarding whether this corpse, at least a year old, was connected to the previous mutilation murders that have constituted the Mad Butcher’s reign of terror over the city of Cleveland. Police Detective Peter Merylo argued that since there was no sign of trauma to the skull, it might be an unrelated death. Perhaps Merylo was anxious to prevent the Mad Butcher’s victim count from growing larger, but all doubts were put to rest when the remainder of the skeleton was discovered and examined. Evidence of ‘knife marks’ and extensive ‘hacking and cutting’ were reported by the coroner’s office.
“According to coroner, Dr. Arthur Pearce, this latest victim was a small Negro woman of approximately thirty years of age, perhaps five feet tall and weighing only a hundred pounds. Anyone who knows of a woman fitting this description who disappeared about a year ago should contact the offices of the Cleveland News immediately.
“It is the decided opinion of this newspaper that not only must this latest victim be considered part of the Butcher’s death toll, but we must also count the first victim, the so-called Lady of the Lake, making the casualties of this murderous beast number nine, at least, with no end in sight. We once again call upon the Cleveland Police Department and the Office of the Safety Director to make all conceivable efforts to bring this killing spree to an end. We call upon the citizens of Cleveland to make their opinions known, both by contacting their elected officials now and voting accordingly when the new elections are held. The voice of the people is the only means we have…”
Chamberlin opened the inner door to the safety director’s office and stepped inside.
“Sir, Detective Merylo has arrived… finally.”
Ness pushed away the papers on his desk and rose to his feet. “Show him inside, please.”
Merylo didn’t wait to be asked. He appeared behind Chamberlin, sweating and breathing heavily. Chamberlin took a seat in the rear.
Ness narrowed his eyes. “You’ve grown a beard.”
Merylo touched his chin. “Not against the rules.”
“Not exactly the best image for the police department, either.”
“My wife says it makes me look taller.”
“You’re late,” Ness said, checking his watch.
“Sorry. I came as soon as I got your message.”
“That was hours ago.”
“I’ve been out in the field. Working.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Does that mean you’ve finally caught this killer?”
Merylo’s eyes narrowed. Ness always lorded it over him, always had a superior attitude. But he wasn’t normally such an ass.
“No, but it means I’ve been sweating blood looking for him.”
“I’m not interested in your sweat, Detective. I’m interested in an arrest. What have you been doing?”
“I found a man who believes the third victim might be his mother-a woman named Rose Wallace. Worked in a laundry, disappeared more than a year ago. Talked to her family and coworkers. Turns out, on the last day her whereabouts were known, she was seen in a car with a skinny, dark-haired white man. Other witnesses said she was in a car with three men. So I started looking for someone who might have some idea who these men were.”
“And have you had any success?”
Merylo frowned. “Not so far.”
“Sounds like you’re hunting for a needle in a haystack to me. You have only the vaguest description to work with. You’re not even sure the victim was Rose Wallace.”
“I have to take the clues as I find them. And try to make them into something more.”
“Which so far hasn’t worked.”
“It has in other cases.”
“I don’t care about your other cases. I want to know when you’re going to bring me the killer!”
“My men and I are doing everything we possibly can.”
“That’s not good enough!” Ness pounded on his desk, then withdrew suddenly, as if startled by his own show of anger.
He collapsed into his desk chair. “Do you have any idea the kind of pressure I’m under? All anyone wants to know is when the Mad Butcher will be caught.”
“For whatever it’s worth,” Merylo said quietly, “I don’t think it is a butcher.”
“And how would you know?”
Merylo’s lips pressed tightly together. “Because I spent a week investigating every working slaughterhouse in the city. I’ve seen what they do and how they do it. I don’t believe a butcher would have the degree of skill, or the knowledge of human anatomy, that this killer has.”
“Then who do you think it is?”
Merylo titled his head to one side. “You remember Pearce’s crime clinic?”
“Distinctly. They came up with nothing that wasn’t already obvious.”
Merylo disagreed. “They said the killer must have some anatomical and medical knowledge.”
“Right, just like the papers. Possibly a medical student. Or a male nurse.”
“That’s what they said-because everyone in the clinic was a doctor, and they were too snobby to imagine that another doctor could be the killer. Pearce has the same attitude. But I’ve known some doctors that weren’t so special in my time, particularly near the Run. Put a few of them behind bars.”
“You think a physician is committing these atrocities?”
“I think there’s a very good chance. And if you recall, Pearce’s alienist thinks the killer lives in the Kingsbury Run area-otherwise he would attract too much attention when he visits.”
“What’s the point of all this?”
“How many doctors can there be living in the Kingsbury Run area? Not a whole lot, I’m thinking.”
“So go find the few there are and talk to them.”
“Why? You think anyone is going to admit they killed eight or nine people just because I show up? No, talking will never do the job. I need to catch someone in the act. Someone capturing a victim, kidnapping. Or I need to follow them home and discover evidence of mass slayings.”
“All right. Do that.”
“As a cop? Not possible.”
The light slowly dawned in Ness’s eyes. “That’s why you’ve grown the beard. You want to go undercover.”
“Why not? Those people are much more likely to talk to a fellow bum than a cop. Plus, made out like a vagrant, I might attract the killer’s attention.”
“Don’t undercover operations have to be approved by Chief Matowitz?”
Merylo nodded. “He told me to ask you.”
“It’ll be dangerous.”
“What isn’t, on this job?”
“I couldn’t bear the publicity if you were-”
“I’ll take my gun. I can hide a thirty-eight under my tramp costume. No one will ever know.”
“I don’t want you to get killed.”
“I know how to take care of myself.”
“I don’t know…”
“Do you want this creep caught or not?”
“You know I do.”
“You said you wanted me to do anything that might help. I’m a lot more likely to figure out who this guy is if I can blend in with the vagrants and bums and everyone else living out near Kingsbury.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
“Ness, let me do this. I’ll find this guy.”
“Sure. And while you’re at it, why don’t you locate Judge Crater and Amelia Earhart?”
“Come on. You chewed me out because I haven’t caught the killer. Let me go find him.”
Ness thought for a long time. Merylo wondered if he was really considering turning down the request, or just wanted to make a show of deliberation.
“All right, I’ll authorize it. But only for a few days. Then you report in and tell me what you’ve got.”
Merylo stretched out his hand. “Thank you. You won’t regret this.”
Ness took the hand but gave him a stern look. “Take care of yourself. I don’t need any more bad publicity.”
“Aw, the press hates me.”
“Doesn’t matter. If you get killed you’ll become a martyr. I can see the headlines now: COP KILLED ON NESS’S UNTOUCHABLE GOOSE CHASE.”
Merylo grinned. “That won’t happen.”
“Good. Bring me home that killer.”
Merylo gave him a tiny salute. “Yes, sir.”
After Merylo left, Chamberlin took the chair in the center of the office. He and Ness spoke in hushed tones.
“Think I did the right thing?” Ness asked.
Chamberlin shrugged. “Who knows? At least now you’ll have something to tell Burton when he makes his daily ranting phone call to check on the progress of the case.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“And when it’s over, you can tell the press about it. It’s got just enough dash and romance to turn a favorable article or two. COP WALKS
AMONG THE DOWNTRODDEN.”
“That thought occurred to me also.”
“And you need to be doing something you can… discuss with other people.”
Ness raised an eyebrow. How much did Chamberlin know about the Unknowns? They worked closely together, but Ness had always kept that operation from him, or tried, anyway. Just in case there was trouble, he wanted Chamberlin to be clean. Not that the Unknowns had produced any more leads than anyone else so far. Despite the thousands of dollars Cleveland ’s businessmen had poured into the operation, so far they had produced no killer. Not even a promising lead.
“Think Merylo will find the Butcher?”
Chamberlin thought a moment before answering. “Honestly? At this point, I’m not sure I believe he’ll ever be caught. If there’s a way to do it, we don’t seem to know what it is. It won’t be by conventional police means, that much is certain. The important thing, from a political standpoint, is that you appear to be doing something, pushing forward. It’s the politics of motion. Not results.”
“I want this blemish off my record, Bob.”
“I know you do, but-”
“Once this is out of the way, I can get back to what I was brought here to do. There’s still a lot more work to be done with those labor racketeers. And I hear there’s a new bunch of rumrunners gathering around the Cuyahoga, looking for a way into the city.”
“I know that, but-”
“You think the Great Lakes Exposition was big news? I think there’s a chance I can get the national Boy Scout Jamboree here next year. Wouldn’t that be something to see? The best boys from all across the nation, right here in Cleveland.”
“That would be swell, sir, but respectfully-”
He was interrupted by the pounding on the door. Without even waiting for a response, Ness ’s receptionist rushed in. Chamberlin couldn’t think of a time when she hadn’t waited-sometimes a good long while-for Ness to tell her to enter.
“Mr. Ness, there’s a message for you.” Her face was stricken, pale.
Ness and Chamberlin exchanged a glance. It was obvious what they were both thinking. “Not another one,” Ness groaned.
She blinked. “Another-? Oh, another victim? No.”
“Thank goodness. Then what is it?”
She walked the message she was holding over to his desk. “It’s from the county sheriff. The one who replaced Potts.”
“O’Donnell? What does he want?”
“He says-” She swallowed hard, then started again. “He says he’s caught the Torso Killer.”
Both Ness and Chamberlin rose to their feet. “What?”
“That’s what he says.”
A thousand conflicting emotions raced through Ness’s brain- hope, relief… and something else, as well. “How can he know? How can he be sure? He’s probably just picked up some bum, hoping to get a little publicity and-”
“According to the sheriff,” she said, handing Ness the message, “the man they’ve captured has confessed.”