The Lesson of Kingsbury Run

Everybody who is truly desirous of seeing cold cases solved should dread the diluted image given to us by such cold cases as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.  Not Jack the Ripper. The Ripper is so documented that it is still possible to solve the old murder spree. But there are a few cold cases where this is difficult if not impossible via the use of the gray cells. The Phantom of Texarkana comes to mind because it had the sensationalized (but folkloric) publicity later in its cold case life, but the Horrible Headhunter of Kingsbury Run is lost to time, and few realize that this case is truly the case of the American Jack the Ripper.

During the Depression some arrogant but very sophisticated killer set out to prey upon the downtrodden in the hobo villages of Kingsbury Run. And like Jack the Ripper he caused a sensation during the time (1930s) and even influenced local politics. And also like Jack the Ripper the perpetrator was thought to be a doctor. The reason: skill in dismembering some of the bodies.

With such little knowledge coming down to us today there aren’t too many details to reexamine. There are a few, however, that should challenge the regurgitation that a mentally disturbed and alcoholic doctor named Joseph Sweeney was responsible and because he was congressman Charles Sweeney’s cousin he was protected.

Conspiracy theories are always excuses. I think we can go beyond them here.

I also think we can go beyond toxic fandom’s clichés. Elliot Ness, immortalized because of his work against the mob in Chicago, was in charge of public safety in Cleveland at the time of the graphic murder spree. He came to feel that Sweeney was the man responsible. But Ness’ personal theory shouldn’t sway us. Toxic fandom likes brand name and Commissioner Gordon-like comic strip characters.  But in reality Ness wasn’t in a position to really investigate the series of crimes and as a former FBI revenuer he really wasn’t of detective caliber. He had fame and legend. And fandom likes reality to imitate art.

Sweeney’s alcoholic problems destroyed his practice and it seems he wasn’t sober enough to lift a dog’s tail let alone a scalpel at times.

Thus we must introduce one of the key victims around which the case revolves: Edward Andrassy. He was an early victim– the first or second. His body and head were found in proximity to another, both dumped along the side of Jackass Hill at the end of E 49th.


The mode of murder was unique in the annals of crime. He had been murdered by beheading. There were no hesitation marks. This is crucial. There was no starting point and stopping point. The neck bones were not scored.  Only a guillotine can cut that cleanly, but the national razor will crush the bones.

Dr. Sweeney did not have this skill, and there is no doctor or mortician who frankly can duplicate how it was done. It was done somewhere, in some facility, while Andrassy was apparently unconscious.  It was done with tremendous skill in excellent light.

Victim No 5, the “Tattoo Man,”  a young, handsome man who has never been identified, was later killed in Kingsbury Run at night near the railroad tracks. He too was killed by beheading, and in the darkness and struggling, several hesitation marks were obvious.

The same killer seems to have been afoot, but the circumstances were different and not as controlled as in the Andrassy murder.

Sweeney and conspiracy theories are a poor fit, but Sweeney got into the narrative and he is simply regurgitated with the general outline handed down to us today. If we only had more details and the police reports we could begin to open up the investigation into one of the most bizarre serial murder sprees in history. But, alas, too much has been lost to time and the filter of a limited narrative.

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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 or Q Man. “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.diluted


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