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47

From the July 6, 1937, Cleveland News:

while the National Guard was called in to restore order to the increasingly violent disturbances erupting from the ongoing dispute between the steel industry and the unions, the Torso Murderer struck again. Private Edgar M. Steinbrecher strolled out onto the West 3rd Street Bridge, attracted by a tugboat passing beneath, when he noticed a white object on the surface of the water. Upon closer examination, it proved to be the bottom half of a male torso, wrapped in newspaper, bobbing along in the Cuyahoga. Investigators subsequently discovered two forearms and the upper right arm. No one has managed to locate the head.

According to the coroners office, this tenth victim was killed about forty-eight hours before the body was discovered. He was approximately forty years old, five foot nine, and weighed around 150 pounds. The only distinguishing features on the parts recovered were two old scars on the right thumb and a cross-shaped scar on the left leg. Although fingerprints were taken from the right hand, no matches were found. Perhaps the most intriguing detail is that the torso was found with a womans silk stocking, upon which forensic scientists discovered blond human hairs.

The coroners office also noticed that the killers level of viciousness and savagery has escalated. The killer cut out the lower portion of the torso and removed all organs from the abdominal cavity. The chest was split open and the heart had been severed. There were also lacerations on the hand and diaphragm and more hesitation marks, suggesting either that the killer was becoming less careful or perhaps, that his weapon was growing dull. The coroner noted that this corpse showed evidence of what previously have been considered impossible- increased butchery by this rampaging murderer.

Despite assurances from the sheriffs office that the killing spree had come to an end, it seems the Mad Butcher continues his filthy work unabated. Worse, his wanton violence and thirst for blood has increased. Who knows what horrific acts might follow if the police and the safety director do not finally heed the voice of the people and devote their full and unrestrained energies to finding this mass murderer before he has another chance to

-

David, youve got to give me something.

Ive got nothing to give.

You got all those men. All that dough.

And Ive been using both to the fullest possible extent. But we still havent found anything.

Ness slammed down the phone receiver. What a disappointment. He thought they had so much promise. But the Unknowns had become the Know-Nothings. Blast!

Chamberlin entered his office. Any news?

Ness folded the paper up and laid it neatly on the corner of his desk. At least this puts the Frank Dolezal business to rest. The Torso Killer is still very much alive.

Whats happening with Sheriff ODonnell? Chamberlin asked.

An inquest has been called.

Think theyll nail him?

I doubt if theyll have the courage to bring formal charges against the county sheriff. But they can give him a few days of misery and bad headlines. He wont get another term of office.

I dont think thats enough.

Agreed. Did you hear about the National Association of Coroners convention?

Guess that one escaped my social calendar.

Pearce made a big presentation about the torso killings. Hoped someone might think of something he hadnt, some new angle or something.

Did they?

No. But the case got even more publicity-nationwide. Have you seen this? He held up a slick magazine.

Chamberlin shook his head. Im more a Hemingway man, myself. Have you read To Have and Have Not?

Havent had the time. This rag is called Official Detective Stories. And theyre offering a five-thousand-dollar reward for information leading to the capture of the Torso Murderer-provided they get the exclusive story.

Chamberlin whistled. Five thousand? Thats a lot of cabbage.

No kidding. Almost as much as I make in a year.

Think itll help?

Were already getting fifty tips a day. And we chase down every single one of them, even the stupid ones. Weve checked out a voodoo cult, numerous wife beaters, any number of doctors and undertakers. But nothing pans out.

And your private investigations?

Theyre spending plenty of money. But so far-zip.

This killer must be the Invisible Man.

I dont think so. Ness rubbed his jaw. But I am beginning to think-

He was interrupted by his office door flinging open without warning. It was Detective Merylo, with Ness s secretary hovering anxiously in the background. Too busy to knock, Detective?

Ive got something for you, Ness. Something big.

A lead?

Better than that. Merylo leaned across his desk. I think Ive found your killer.

Merylo spent the next half hour telling Ness and Chamberlin everything he had learned, both undercover in Shantytown and at the Sandusky Soldiers and Sailors Home. I tried to figure out where the dog came from. Turns out hes a stray, but a lot of folks in Shantytown have seen him, particularly around those repair shops.

Ness nodded. Interesting.

Its more than interesting. Its perfect. Sweeney lives at the Home, very near where most of the bodies were found. Its also near the repair shop he could have used as a way station for transporting the corpses. He has medical knowledge. He looks strong. He disappears for long stretches of time.

Long enough to capture someone and take them apart?

Exactly. He once worked at the same place as Andrassy. Hes a drunk, so its likely he goes to that sleazy bar that Flo Polillo and Rose Wallace frequented-also very near the Home. And I hate to admit it but- He paused. Do you remember what that alienist told us?

Ness shrugged. Sure.

Well, Dr. Sweeney fits the description perfectly. Hes smart, educated. Has access to money. Lived near the Run all his life, still does. White male, right age. Alcohol problem. Violent tendencies. Twisted sex preferences. Merylo leaned in closer. He even has a physical deformity. A limp. One leg longer than the other.

Thats not so much.

Its enough to make his childhood a misery, Im betting.

Lots of kids get teased when theyre young, Ness said, his eyes wandering. Doesnt make them criminals.

Then factor in losing both parents at an early age. And three brothers. And then a divorce, and losing his license to practice. Small wonder hes messed up.

Still, this doesnt prove anything.

Merylo reached inside his jacket pocket. I checked him out with the VA. He was a soldier during The Great War and after. Eventually declared, and I quote, twenty-five percent disabled.

Because of his leg?

No, they knew about that before he enlisted. They had him mostly doing hospital and desk work. Medical Corps. There mustve been something else.

Like what?

Merylo gripped the edges of the desk. Like hes a crazy killer, thats what!

Ness leaned back in his chair. Ill admit, theres some good circumstantial evidence in there. But hardly enough for an arrest. Im not sure youve even got enough to bring him in for questioning.

Have you been listening to me? The dog dropped a human leg! Practically in the mans front yard!

So what? We know the killer has been depositing bodies in the Run. The dog found a body part there. Doesnt prove anything.

Merylo clenched his teeth. Take a look at this. He pulled more paper out of his coat pocket. I got these at the county clerks office. Sweeneys wife filed for divorce in 1934. According to her petition, her life had become a horror picture.

Women always say stuff like that. Its the only way they can get the divorce.

She says he started drinking much more heavily. Says he would become, and I quote, erratic and violent. Ill just bet. Abusive to his wife and children. Says he hallucinated. Had weird delusions.

Does it say what the delusions were about?

No, but I can guess. Its just like the alienist said. First he fantasizes about killing someone. And then, eventually, he starts doing it!

Theres still no proof.

Merylo continued reading. Says he showed up for work drunk, sometimes didnt show up at all. Says he would disappear for days without telling anyone where he was going.

Probably on a bender. Sleeping it off in a ditch somewhere.

Or trolling through Shantytown, looking for losers and hacking them to bits!

Merylo, get a grip

He continued reading. The wife also filed a petition in probate stating that her husband was insane.

She wasnt content with half the money. She wanted it all.

As a result, he was committed to City Hospital-at the same time that Andrassy worked there. In the psychiatric ward.

Coincidence.

He got out a month later. But by that time hes lost his job and his license. The wife moves in with her sister, takes the kids with her. All in the same month.

Tough month for the poor boozehound.

Do you remember what the alienist said about how a combination of difficult events could cause the killer to break? To make the jump from fantasizing about murder to doing it? In the same month, this guy loses his wife, his family, and his job. His head was probably messed up from the start and he makes it worse with hooch. And get this-the next month, the very next month, according to the coroner, the Lady in the Lake, the first of the Torso Killers victims, was murdered.

Merylo took a breath and waited patiently for a response. He got nothing. Ness stared straight ahead, apparently lost in thought.

Do you not see how perfect it is? It all fits!

From the back of the office, Chamberlin cleared his throat. I think youre the one who doesnt see, Detective.

I dont see what? He was practically screaming. I just gave you the killer. Whats your problem?

Chamberlin kept his voice on a calm, level plane. Our problem, Detective, is that your suspects last name is Sweeney.

Who cares?

We have to, Ness said. We have no choice. Congressman Sweeney has been criticizing me about not catching the killer. Whats he going to do when I bring in his cousin as a suspect? Hell claim Im retaliating against him.

I dont care. Im telling you-Frank Sweeney is the killer.

But you cant prove it. And neither can I.

Let me bring him in. Work on him for a few days.

Hell ask for a lawyer.

Tell him to take a flying-

Well have to allow it. Hell be instructed to say nothing. We wont get anything. Well have to release him. The press will have a field day.

Maybe we can keep it quiet. Maybe-

Ness shook his head. If Congressman Sweeney werent a Democrat, I might take the risk. But he is. Anything I do to his cousin, hell say it was political.

Hes the one whos been trying to make it political. I told you, thats why he sent Lyons to the sheriff-

You and I know that. But the press doesnt and we cant prove it. If we bring in the cousin of a political opponent, everyone will think were trying to get even. To do the same kind of shady political back-stabbing theyve been doing.

The important thing is that we get this monster off the street and let the people of Cleveland stop being terrified.

Yes, that was the county sheriffs argument. And it was good-till the next corpse turned up. Then he looked like a fool. Nesss eyes seemed to recede and darken. I dont want to look like a fool. Like some kind of big mess.

Just let me bring him in!

Ness and Chamberlin looked at each other. They were clearly in agreement. No. Too risky. Burton wouldnt like it. Could impact his reelection. You can watch the man if you want. Look for more evidence. But you may not make contact. And under no circumstances will you interrogate him or bring him into custody. Do you understand?

Merylo felt as if his head were smoldering. He leaned across Nesss desk, close enough to slap him. You told me I could do whatever it took to catch this killer. You said you would support me. Right down the line.

Well, the line stops at political suicide.

You dont care about catching the killer. Youre afraid youll lose your job. Your driver. Your invitation to society parties.

Youre way out of line, Detective.

I dont care. Youre putting yourself before the people.

Am I? Nesss neck stiffened. He spoke in short, clipped words, increasing in volume with each sentence. Where will the people be if Im not in this office? What will happen to the traffic situation, huh? The Boys Clubs. Mobsters and labor racketeers. Ive done a lot of good for this town and Im not going to see it undone because I make a stupid mistake on this stupid case!

Merylo grabbed his rumpled hat and headed toward the door. Im going over your head.

There is no one over my head.

Then Im going to the press.

And tip off Sweeney? You do that and youll never catch him. Ness looked at him levelly. Dont make me take you off this case, Detective.

You wouldnt dare.

I would. The press might see it as a positive development.

Matowitz knows Im the best detective hes got.

Matowitz will go along with anything I want.

Merylo could feel the bile rising in his throat. Nesss words wouldnt sting so much-if he didnt know they were true.

Look, Detective, youve been under a lot of stress. Go home. Spend some time with your wife. Have a drink or two. Youll see things differently in the morning.

I dont think so.

And then, if you want to continue tailing your suspect, you do that. From a discreet distance. Maybe eventually youll get some real evidence, something that might justify the gigantic risk of bringing in the congressmans cousin. Something so telling that the press couldnt possibly criticize us for bringing him in. He paused. But you dont have it yet. And were not touching this man until you do.

Merylo opened the office door. I will be back.

Ness nodded. Im counting on it.


| Nemesis: The Final Case of Eliot Ness | c



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