The Horrible Headhunter of Kingsbury Run– The Tattoo Man

It was a hot, muggy June in Cleveland. The city proper was agog over the coming of the Republican National Convention, much like this year 2016 . . . except this was  June 1936 some 80 years ago. It was June 5 to be precise. Two boys were playing hooky. They moved along through the dry grass of the inside slope of Kingsbury Run. None of the excitement of cosmopolitan Cleveland trickled to this rustic area. Smokestacks belched smoke in the distance. Trains roared by below. Shanties were the skyline. Thin smoke curled up from hobo fires. Cars putted along over the East 55th bridge spanning Kingsbury Run to Jackass Hill.

The boys continued along in the dry grass and seedy brambles. They were about a 1,000 feet southwest of Kinsman Road when they spied brown tweed pants rolled up. They lay between a spread of tracks, the line of the Silver and the rapid transit tracks. They rushed over and picked at it with their fishing poles, thinking there may be money in the pockets. They lifted a pant leg, and there they saw it. It was a man’s head. They darted off.

Victim 5-June 5 1936

Eventually the police found it, based on the boys’ account. Sure enough, it looked like the city was going to have a real problem on its hands at a very political time of the year. The connection seemed obvious to the first beheaded bodies found in September 1935. The Andrassy body dump site, along the opposite side of the Run on the slopes of Jackass Hill, was less than a half a mile across the Run. In this case, however, there was no body. Just a head. He had been a handsome young man, about 20 to 25. They picked up the ghoulish parcel and took it to the coroner. He cleaned it up and examined it before taking pictures. Then it was put on display so people could come by and identify the person it belonged to.

Seeing a dismembered head, eyes peacefully closed, facing you is quite disconcerting. I personally don’t care for any part of it. But it is something that has to be done, and the coroner tried to make it easier by wrapping a towel around the base of the severed neck, so it was just a peaceful head propped there. I won’t show the picture here. I only use the death mask taken from it. It is still on display in Cleveland at the crime museum. You can Google the real thing if you like.

We won’t get into the newspaper sensation here. But it was obvious that there was a madman on the loose, and the case was immediately connected to Edward Andrassy and John Doe’s case of the September before. In this case, however, the head could not have been tossed into the Run. The killer had to walk with it parceled under his arm in the pants, and then set it down.

Vict4 location

Just east of East 55th Street, the general area where Victim 4– the “Tattoo Man”– was found. 

The only other theory was that the killer road the rails and tossed or just dropped the head from a boxcar.

The theory sounded good, but it was soon dashed to pieces. The police combed Kingsbury Run looking for the rest of the poor fellow. Eventually they found him. The body was naked and lay about 800 feet from where Andrassy had been dumped. He was nude but not emasculated. His clothes were found scattered about. His shirt bore a clue. It was bloody. A large stain of blood violated the dirt. He had been beheaded here, while dressed, and then the body striped. The killer then took the head, wrapped in the victim’s pants and walked it to the point where he dropped it under a willow tree between the tracks. This was a real maniac.

The evidence here fit what the coroner had discovered. The head had not been neatly severed by a sharp instrument like the first two victims.  There were hesitation marks. Was it because of the darkness? Yet like Andrassy and John Doe this victim was murdered by beheading. Where were the signs of struggle? None. How does one peacefully submit to this? There was no injury or contusion showing he had been knocked out first or strapped down, unlike in Andrassy’s case.

1 2 4

Andrassy, 1, John Doe, 2, body drops compared to Victim 4– Tattoo Man” in Kingsbury Run. East 55th spans the Run in the center of the photo. East 49th has largely been obliterated by the highway heading to East 55, so that the slope where the first two victims were dumped is no longer at the end of East 49.

Despite being able to get fingerprints off the victim, there was no match up with them in the files. He bore distinctive tattoos, however, and he became known as the “Tattoo Man.” There were the initials W.C.G. with crossed flags on the left forearm; Paul and Helen on the right forearm; an anchor and cupid on the outer right calf; an anchor with a heart on the left forearm; a butterfly on the left shoulder; the comic character Jiggs of the outer left calf. None of them could be traced. But since there were anchors, it was thought he could have been in the Navy, though Merchant Marine was far more likely. For a man about 25, there were quite a few, with 3 of them implying romance. He was tall, lean and handsome.


More investigation, over the whole nation, was put into finding the Tattoo Man than in any other manhunt. But his identity was never uncovered. He was thought to be Slavic in origin, but this didn’t help in the long run.

His death had to be the work of the same killer. Yet it was a crude advance over the skill shown in his first two victims. Why here in the Run this time? The first two victims showed the sophistication of the killer. Now, the fiend got a willing man to come into the Run at night, in the very dim fringes of the hobo fires where quietly, if not so surely, he beheaded him, without  sound or sign of a struggle. He stripped him but left the clothes about and then carried the head over the tracks down along Kingsbury Run and gently set it down. Everything was to be found. That is obvious. Was this a clever killer playing a game or some kind of compulsive madman?

The “Horrible Headhunter” wasn’t like Jack the Ripper at all in this regard. The Ripper wanted things. He took parts from his victims. The Headhunter was taking nothing. He was killing, sometimes torturing, and now playing games with the body parts. At the time of Jack the Ripper a similar MO had been used in London by another killer. He had been dubbed The Torso Killer. He played a taunting game with the government by parceling out pieces of victims’ bodies and leaving them where they’d be found but in circumstances that would cause a scratch of the head. He had liked mystery.

Before we go there, we have to go back and look in details at the first two victims– Edward Andrassy and John Doe. A serial killer always makes his mistakes in the beginning. Cleveland police believed that too. They realized they had a serial on their hands now. They constantly went back to Andrassy to see what clues could be found. He had been the only man thy could identify. We too must go back to the beginning in our next post.

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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.


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