Ness stood in the midst of the assembled officers and volunteers at the top of the Eagle Street ramp, just on the edge of Shantytown. It was a pitch-black night, but from their vantage point they could still see the sprawling hobo village stretching out in the distance. Ness had managed to assemble twenty-five detectives and uniformed police officers. Several firemen and a fire truck. They were armed with clubs, guns, flashlights, hammers. Ness was carrying an axe handle, the same implement he had used to break down the doors of speakeasies and hooch warehouses. They were all hanging on his every word, ready to implement his instructions on his command.
“McDonald. I want you to take your men to the hill at the junction of Commercial and Canal. Stop anyone trying to slip out the back way.”
“Go.” They did. “Marshall Granger?”
“I want you to park your truck at the crest of the ramp. Shine an arc lamp down on Shantytown. I want to be able to see what we’re doing. I want to see everything.”
“Good. Do it.”
He split the remaining men into groups, then divided Shantytown, giving each of them a piece. “I want everyone taken out for questioning, then removed. No one takes anything with them. I don’t want any evidence disappearing.”
“Consider this a military operation. An attack behind enemy lines. We miss nothing.”
“Yes, sir!” the men responded.
“And then,” Ness said quietly, “we make sure they never come back.”
Ness led his team down the ramp and into Shantytown. Almost no one was up and about this late at night. Ness was instantly assaulted by the pungent smell of cheap liquor, human waste, boiled chicken. It was like stomping through the sewer. He hated it, but he kept marching forward, scattering stray cats with almost every step, plunging deep into the twisted heap of cardboard boxes and canvas and corrugated metal.
Ness pounded the door of the first hovel he reached with his axe handle. “Police! Open up!”
There was no response, but Ness could hear movement inside.
“Open up! This is your last chance!”
Chamberlin laid a hand on his shoulder. “Boss, even if it’s made out of metal, it’s still a home. They have rights.”
Ness shrugged him away. “He’s a squatter, Bob. He’s not supposed to be here.”
“We’re coming in!”
Ness battered away at the flimsy metal door. It didn’t take much to knock it down.
The men shone their flashlights inside. The squalor was shocking. Chicken bones on the ground, several days old. Almost a dozen empty booze bottles. It stank worse in here than it did outside.
In the rear, a grizzled old man cowered, trying to hide himself in blankets. “D-d-didn’t… do anything!”
“You’ll have to vacate immediately,” Ness said.
“I’m… not goin’ anywhere! I d-d-didn’t do anything!”
“You’re drunk. Drunk and disorderly. Haul him away, men!”
“No! This is my home!” Two of Ness’s officers stepped forward and grabbed the man’s arms. “I ain’t done nothin’ wrong!”
“We just want to talk to you.”
“Let me get my things!”
“This is all I got! All I got in the world!”
“Don’t make me arrest you. You’re a vagrant, and pursuant to Municipal Code section-”
“I got a job! Down at the factory. But I’ll lose it if they find out I’ve been arrested!”
“You’re just being taken in for questioning. Now go!”
“I-I don’t unnerstand. My stuff-”
“Believe me, this is for your own good.”
“But I don’t want to go!”
Ness nodded to his men. “Take him to the way station at the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. There are trucks waiting to transport the vagrants to the Central Police Station for further questioning. Now!”
Ness stepped outside. All around, he could see his men in action. They were raiding each and every makeshift home, hauling the occupants out. Most of the men looked drunk or hungover, but there were also women and a few children. They were confused, disoriented. They didn’t understand why they were being awakened in the middle of the night and herded together. Children cried for their toys and dolls, but they were allowed to take nothing. The land was alive with the thunderous tumult of swearing, pleading, crying, dogs barking, doors being battered down.
Shantytown had become hell on earth.
By three in the morning, every living occupant of Shantytown had been rousted out and herded like human cattle to the nearest way station. Everyone was questioned and fingerprinted. Officers from the Animal Protective League patrolled the now vacant grounds, rounding up stray animals, saving them from what was soon to come. Ness and his men made a final sweep, searching the hovels for stragglers and evidence. They found nothing of value, nothing that related to the torso murders.
When he was sure the area was completely vacated, Ness enlisted the aid of two complete companies of firemen led by Battalion Chief Charles Rees.
“Are you ready, Chief?” Ness asked.
Rees nodded. “At your order, sir.”
“The word is given, Chief.” Ness turned his eyes toward Shantytown. “Burn it. Burn it to the ground.”
The firemen swept through what was left of Shantytown pouring coal oil on the cardboard boxes, trash, personal property, everything. And when it had been thoroughly soaked, they set it on fire.
The blaze raced through Shantytown with a speed that amazed even Ness. What had only a few hours before been a teeming hobo village was now an inferno. Flames stretched to the sky; from a mile away people could feel the heat. The fire raged like an incinerator grown to the size of a city block, so intense that onlookers had to shield their eyes.
Now Shantytown really was hell on earth.