A Shadow Around Kingsbury Run– The Cleveland Torso Killer

By the summer of 1936 the “Butcher of Kingsbury Run” had Cleveland embarrassed and nervous. His gruesome crime spree was a national issue now and looming over the city’s reputation as the Republican National Convention was nearing its arrival in July. Now with the Republican National Convention coming back to Cleveland in July 2016 this seems the best time to catch the mood again and take up the diabolical and unsolved case of the “Horrible Headhunter of Kingsbury Run.”

. . . And this is what he was . . .  and even more. Unfortunately, he has been given the handle The Cleveland Torso Killer, but this is far from accurate and the evidence that inspired it may be from an entirely different killer. The calculating madman desired beheading, for some reason. He did not behead to satisfy some demented trophy collection. Well, let’s go back and start over.

Kingsbury Run was already an eyesore for Cleveland, or, more accurately, it was an earsore. Clevelanders heard about the hobo villages built in little cracker box styles or “house of card” style throughout it. But if one wasn’t going to south Cleveland it wasn’t something they need see. The hobos didn’t come downtown to bum a job. They remained around the Run or came into the seedier part of town– the infamous Roaring 40s.

Kingsbury-angle

1 The Flats, the industrial mouth of the Cuyahoga River. The arrows outline the greater part of Kingsbury Run. It too was an old river bed at one time and then it became a dry gorge. The railroads were built through it while the Cuyahoga River basin was crammed full of industry. Hillocks surround it like 2, Jackass Hill.

From what I can tell, Cleveland and the surrounding areas have always been a rough place. In the 2016 GOP primaries the current Governor, John Kasich, reminded people that where he comes from if you beat them fairly in a  ball game they go break your windows. This seems to apply to Cleveland’s attitudes throughout time.

As bad as things could be in the Roaring 40s it was nevertheless a shock when something as macabre as two headless bodies appeared at the bottom of the slope of Jackass Hill. It was September 23, 1935. Two boys were playing ball on East 49th which dead ends on top of the hill. The hill slopes below to the industrial scar of Kingsbury Run. The floor of the Run is more or less railroad tracks, thick with them. Parallel lines 6 or 7 deep. A lone track set aside for the speed commuter train. They look like stitches on the gruesome face of a voodoo doll.

The top of Jackass Hill was a residential community– old narrow streets with narrow old wood frame homes set under old trees. When the ball got out of hand and went bouncing down the hill into the bushes, the boys raced down. Swatting about the bushes, eager to find their ball and continue their game, the lead boy found a headless torso. It was lying on its side, nude except for socks. He gasped. A holler sent them both scampering back up the hill.

Jackass Hill

East 49th and Praha today, the last cross street heading north into the Run. The highway wiped out the street. But it was along here where the boys were playing. The single railroad track is for a cross line heading out of the Run.

praha4

At East 49th, looking back down Praha. It is an industrial slum today. One of the old houses is still there, next to it some storage area built in the ’50s by the look of it. All appears dilapidated. Old wooden homes checkerboard with empty spaces and modern warehouses.

After the police arrived and scoured the area, another headless body was found close by. It was completely nude and something had been done to it to either burn it or preserve it. A bucket of motor oil was found near it. The reproductive organs of both men were found lumped together near the body. Both men had been emasculated. The heads were finally found nearby. Strangely, they had been partially buried.

Kingsbury Run--No 1- slope-close

This Google from the highway gives the reader an impression of what the slope of Jackass Hill looks like from within Kingsbury Run. This is looking up toward E 49th today, but since the highway cut through the street, the actual part of the hill where the bodies were found is probably behind the camera, where the hill slopes down into modern Kingsbury Run today.

 

WARNING GRAPHIC IMAGE

Andrassy torso2

Edward Andrassy’s body, Cleveland police photo. He is the only victim positively identified.

“John Doe” was never identified and it seems he had been dead longer than the other body, but both bodies were dumped at the same time. The other body was the only real lead they had– it could be identified as a local Clevelander, Edward Andrassy. He had disappeared a few nights before, on the weekend. He had been an orderly at the local hospital and part time ne’er-do-well in the Roaring 40s. He had had run-ins with the police and from all accounts he was the kind to give the police lip.

Had he been found alone, the police naturally would have suspected some form of revenge from the nightlife of the Roaring 40s. The other man presented a problem. Andrassy was last seen with a driver who apparently was in someone else’s employ. But this other body wasn’t the driver. The other body had been dead for quite sometime, and something bizarre had been done with it. It clearly must have been stored somewhere. Police speculated that the villain had soaked it in the motor oil and tried to light it on fire.

Andrassy

 

Andrassy in life, police mug shot.

Aside from the fact both were killed the same way, the bodies were connected via another clue– both had been killed elsewhere and their blood drained and then the bodies cleaned. Someone had quite an establishment at their disposal to do this. But why move the bodies elsewhere, risk detection and then dump them down the slope of a hill in the shadow of a middleclass neighborhood? It didn’t make sense.

Detectives combed the Roaring 40s, sure that Andrassy was the key. He was handsome, young, and being emasculated it sounded like revenge, though “John Doe” really didn’t fit in with that theory. No clue was found.

But further study by the coroner revealed something quite bizarre. It was a first in the annals of crime. Andrassy had been killed by beheading. This is not to say his throat had been cut. He was alive and the killer merely took his head off. There were two clean sweeps with the knife. One in front going around to the side of the neck; the other starting there and going around the back of the neck. There were no hesitation marks. Andrassy must have been unconscious at the time or there would have been hesitation marks as he struggled under the pain. Unless, of course, his forehead was strapped to a table, but even this seemed doubtful. There were no bruises or marks.

The beheading wasn’t done after-the-fact to dispose of the body’s identity. It was the means of death. But we have no report that an injection point was found indicating Andrassy had been put out.  The coroner also ruled Andrassy’s mutilations (emasculations) to come after his decapitation. What for?

Andrassyhead2
Andrassy’s plaster replica head in the Cleveland crime museum today.

 

Andrassy certainly knew something bad was coming. His wrists showed he had been bound and struggled against the ligatures. So the image we have is of a nude man wearing his socks sitting in a chair in some dingy room struggling to get free. He must have had a gag in his mouth, but no bruises indicated one around the lips. The handsome and likable rogue met a terrible fate. If it was revenge, it was certainly coolly done.

To kill by beheading alarmed the Coroner.

Despite the handle “Butcher of Kingsbury Run” eventually being given to the shadowy killer, the police suspected some demented doctor. Andrassy had been an orderly, and the neatness of the two slices in the neck, the anatomical knowledge of how to cleanly remove a head, and the possibility Andrassy had been drugged, spoke not of a butcher but of a medical man.

Time would tell us that Andrassy was a mistake on the shadowy killer’s part. He was a local and not a hobo in the Run. It was doubtful those migrants could be identified, and this would become the pattern of the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run” thereafter.  “John Doe,” the first victim, must have been one of those, some vagabond who went missing and no one knew of it. Did the killer come to the Run to select his victims, or did he bring his bodies there to cast suspicion away from himself? Andrassy was indeed a mistake. He would not have been hanging out in the Run. What was he up to that night he vanished that made the killer think he was an out-of-towner riding the rails?

The killer would never make the mistake of being so neat again, but he continued to reveal his anatomical knowledge in the succeeding victims. What was this shadow up to? Throughout the crime spree for the next 4 years the pattern remained the same. The body was usually found around the Run or in it. It was beheaded. The head sometimes was never found.  The killer revealed good anatomical knowledge and always beheaded the victim at the same spot at the neck. No victims were found as neatly killed, however, as Andrassy, with so many clues to suggest a hidden and dank lair somewhere.

There were many old brick warehouses and industrial buildings around the long, winding Run, even old railroad storage sheds. But all were checked and none showed any signs of a bloody murder having taken place there.

It didn’t matter after this. It seemed the killer went out of his way with the next victims to kill in the Run and not reveal he once had an establishment. He, too, seems to have realized that he made a mistake with Andrassy. Yet he wouldn’t stop.

The police would never again have a clue like Andrassy. They were never able to identify another male victim of the “Horrible Headhunter.” A female victim, Flo Polillo, was identified later, but there were reasons to doubt she was really a victim of the mad doctor prowling the Run. Her head was never found.

Flo Polillo would add a kink to the whole equation. But the next male victim, the Tattoo Man, would give us an interesting clue.

 

*         *          *

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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