It is common practice in American crime media to say that the ZODIAC was the American Jack the Ripper. The correlation is drawn only because there is equal popularity. Jack the Ripper is the most famous British serial killer. ZODIAC is the most famous American serial killer. There the correlation stops.
In substance, however, there is an American Jack the Ripper. Like London’s Jack the Ripper he took advantage of the wayward and down and out. He was active in a time of mass migration. In 1888 the poor were flooding into Whitechapel for work. In the 1930s Great Depression the destitute were fleeing the American heartland to the cities to try and find work. They started living in shanty towns or hobo villages.
Cleveland, Ohio, was situated so that it had a huge arroyo of sorts called Kingsbury Run. Here in the Run the hobo village was built. It was near the railroad tracks, which cut through the Run, and many migrants called hobos rode the rails. It was free if you didn’t get caught hitchhiking in the boxcars or flatbeds. Engineers often looked the other way because of the hardness of the times.
From the shanty town of the Run the poor would fan out and try and get work. It wasn’t only in the daytime. Night trade abounded, of one sort or another. The
Run, of course, was never in the best part of town. The railroad tracks never are. The Run coursed out from Cleveland along the outskirts of the metropolitan area. A bridge on E 55th spanned it and connected greater Cleveland with Jackass Hill. Poorer class neighborhoods crisscrossed Jackass Hill. Wood frame homes, picket fences, porches– hard working and hearty people. Around the hill were the veins and arteries of the railroad tracks, garbage dumps, old brick factories, oil refineries, anything that would sound appropriate around a place called Jackass Hill.
Jackass Hill today, right. The highway is now in the Run. You can barely see where E 49th was off Praha Avenue. It is just beyond the old bridge spanning just one railroad track that crosses over the Run.
This was the Whitechapel of Cleveland.
The first indication of a serious problem began on September 23, 1935, when two bodies were found on the edge of the Run in the grass and weeds of the slopes of Jackass Hill. They weren’t just two dead men. They were naked and beheaded. Their heads were nearby. One was still intact. The other had decayed for some time, but both bodies seem to have been dumped at the same time.
Whatever fiend had done this, he had taken them to the end of E49th Street on Jackass Hill and then trotted them down the slope. This was a hardworking residential neighborhood. It must have been done late at night and nobody heard a car drive past. Nor did anybody see someone park.
It was impossible to tell at first just who the victims were. Being naked there was also no way to tell their station. One of the bodies, however, was eventually identified as ne’er do well Edward Andrassy. Handsome, young, poor, he nevertheless was stylish. Not surprisingly, he got in trouble. He solicited in bars. There were the usual accompaniments– alcohol and other vices of the night. He knew the habitués of the seedier parts of town.
The other was never identified. But his head had not been decaying. Several things seem to have been done to it, possibly even an attempt to scorch it with acid or fire. It was thought that both men had first been brutally tortured by insensate evil.
The nearby Run, of course, may have contained gangs. The police looked here first. Andrassy was a local. He wasn’t a hobo. But he dealt with the dives in town, places where he could have come across the migrant workers. Since the other victim could not be identified, there was no reason to think that “hobos” were being targeted. On the contrary, police focused their attention on the Run. It was some downtrodden nutcase.
Elliot Ness, late of fame with the FBI as their famous Revenuer, was the man in charge of public safety in Cleveland. So far, he stayed at a distance. This was an isolated problem. He, too, felt it must have had something to do with the dives or the Run.
Yet. . . The victims had been taken somewhere and tortured. There was no place to do this, technically, in the shanties of Kingsbury Run. They were bound and gagged and bled and then beheaded. Perhaps it was organized crime? Yet . . . there was skill shown in the dissecting.
On in January 1936 the body parts of Florence Pollio were discovered parceled up behind a brick warehouse on E 20th Street. Some were in a basket. They were neatly parceled. Combing about the police never found her head. To this day, her head has never been found. They guessed it right. Someone wanted to hide her identity– but the police were too clever and discovered who it was from an earlier booking and fingerprints.
The cases didn’t seem connected except that she was of the poorer class and with a past police record.
. . . But it takes a lot to cut someone up. It takes an isolated place to do it. It takes a place where you can clean up again. Why then dispose of the parts in a public place then? Why take the chance? There is only one answer to the questions– the killer wanted them to be found. Cleveland had a late night stalker feeding on the poor. He lured them somewhere, with some invitation and then had his gruesome way with them. He returned them to their poor neighborhoods or, in the case of Andrassy and John Doe, tried to cast suspicion on the hobo village.
This was only the beginning. Cleveland soon would realize it had a clever serial killer afoot, one that preyed upon the downcast. In our next Cleveland Torso Killer post, we will see how the case evolved with more victims.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.