American Demon by Daniel Stashower: Excerpt and Trailer
By Crime HQ
Thank you for entering the American Demon Signed ARC Sweepstakes! Watch the book trailer and read an exclusive excerpt of American Demon (September 6, 2022), a historical true crime starring legendary lawman Eliot Ness on the hunt for Cleveland's Mad Butcher, from New York Times bestselling author and Edgar Award-winner Daniel Stashower.
3: Jackass Hill
Outside a red fuse flickers fitfully by the rails where an engine is switching, and in the distance the sky glows dully with the lights around Public Square. A Rapid Transit train rattles and rolls, leaning on the curve, its windows a streak against the black cliffs; and for an instant its headlight sweeps the foot of Jackass Hill. But only for an instant: the blackness closes in, the night on Jackass Hill is impenetrable as ever.
John Bartlow Martin, Butcher’s Dozen
In years to come, as the words “Kingsbury Run” became infused with darkness, the name would be spoken in hushed tones, as if the slightest whisper might call the demons forth. This was especially true for children, who saw that the subject made their elders uneasy. Conversations broke off in mid-sentence at their approach, leaving sinister outlines hanging in the air. At campfires along the Ohio Valley, and at slumber parties in the safe, tidy suburbs of Cleveland, Kingsbury Run was a tale told by flashlight, a place where monsters walked and innocents lost their lives.
It was not always so. The ancient riverbed had always presented a forbidding terrain, cutting through the city’s southeast side like the track of an angry serpent, but its plunging valleys and craggy cliffs were spelled off by pockets of uncommon beauty. Generations of Clevelanders, many of them Central European immigrants, came to enjoy picnics on lush, winding glades and to wade in ice-clear brooks.
Soon enough, the garden spots gave way to industry. Railroad tracks threaded across the dry bed of the ravine by the end of the nineteenth century, running alongside John D. Rockefeller’s oil refinery, William Halsey Doan’s naphtha works, and many others. Columns of gray smoke and tall jets of burning gas veiled the skyline, above the clanking and thudding of heavy machinery behind tall wire fences. Kingsbury Run became a valley of ashes, but it seemed a small price for the thunderclap of prosperity that followed.
A pair of ambitious homegrown railroad tycoons, the Van Sweringen brothers, parlayed a modest real estate speculation into a $3 billion empire during these boom years, much of it resting on the right-of-way grants along a six-mile stretch of Kingsbury Run. At one end, on a lush, sparsely populated plateau at the eastern edge of the city, the Van Sweringens developed a showplace suburb known as Shaker Village, later Shaker Heights, that became the envy of the nation. At the other end, at the center of Public Square, the brothers broke ground for an ambitious downtown rail terminal, a “city within a city” that would anchor their holdings and reshape the skyline, capped off by a majestic skyscraper called the Terminal Tower. Each day, the city’s businessmen would be ferried back and forth between Shaker Heights and the Terminal Tower, passing along the natural ravine formed by Kingsbury Run, on a commuter railroad called the Shaker Rapid Transit, also owned by the Van Sweringens. This was financial swagger on a global scale, as one editorial noted, sparking the city’s transition “from an overgrown country town to a real metropolis.” At the time of completion, on June 28, 1930, the Terminal Tower would be the world’s tallest building outside of New York.
The timing had seemed fortuitous when the Van Sweringens launched the project in their glory years, but the doors of their gilded terminal complex now opened onto the vacuum of the Great Depression. In the words of journalist George Condon, the effects of the stock market crash “swept in with a silent roar like the sound that fills the ears of a drowning man.” One factory after another went dark and upended the lives of thousands of workers, many of whom had lived in “rookeries and dives” pulled down to make way for the terminal complex. Makeshift shantytowns with names like Cinder Park and Whiskey Island bracketed the lakefront’s Tin Can Plaza and extended into the depths of Kingsbury Run. Workingmen and their families found shelter in shacks of scavenged cardboard and corrugated metal, and slept beneath “Hoover blankets” of discarded newspaper. Each night, as the city’s disheartened businessmen made their way home to Shaker Heights, many of them wondering how much longer they would have jobs, the headlamps of the Rapid Transit would send a brief flicker of light across the cooking fires and tar paper shacks of Kingsbury Run. Most of the commuters preferred to look away, as if whistling past a graveyard.
By this time, Kingsbury Run had become a place of violence and sudden death. “If you enjoy feeling your flesh creep,” one journalist wrote, “just take a midnight tour through Kingsbury Run.” People came there to settle grudges and, occasionally, to dump corpses. As far back as January of 1874, the body of a day laborer named Charles Hartman was found floating in a shallow pool of water following “some trouble in a saloon.” Other reports would surface in the years to come—an infant found dead beside railroad tracks, a boy’s skull fractured by a passing stranger, and finally, in November of 1905, the discovery of a “headless and limbless form” on a garbage dump. The gruesome nature of this last horror left reporters straining for acceptable language. One writer fastened on a phrase that would recur again and again in the days to come: “torso murder.”
Immigrant workers, some of whom had quite literally pulled themselves up from the depths of Kingsbury Run, occasionally chose to build homes along the jagged cliffs overlooking the valley. Often their houses were perched along streets that sheared off like broken twigs as the terrain plunged downward. One of these neighborhoods stood at the southern edge of the Run near East 49th and Praha Avenue, at the top of a steep, sixty-foot slope known as Jackass Hill.
Toward the end of the afternoon of September 23, 1935, two boys were seen walking near the top of Jackass Hill. Sixteen-year-old James Wagner and twelve-year-old Peter Kostura were tossing a ball back and forth as they headed home. When the ball sailed wide and rolled down the sharp incline, Wagner challenged his friend to a race to the bottom. The footing was treacherous, and both boys were off balance as their momentum carried them downward. At the bottom, a clump of brush stood beside the path. Wagner got there first, and as he waited for Kostura to catch up, he caught sight of something white and strange among the branches. He took a step closer and then shrank back, eyes wide. Turning away, he scrambled back up the hill, shouting at the younger boy. Turn around, he called, there’s “a dead man with no head down there.”
First on the scene were Sergeant Arthur Marsh and Patrolman Arthur Stitt, a pair of railway “bulls” hired by the Erie Railroad to police their yard. In the brush at the foot of Jackass Hill, they found what James Wagner had glimpsed: the body of a headless man. The man was pale white and lying on his side, nude but for a pair of black cotton socks. One early report would insist that the corpse had been “neatly positioned as though by an undertaker” with the heels together and the hands stiff at the sides, but a photo taken at the scene shows the remains in an oddly restful pose, with the arms gently crossed as if clutching a pillow.
The railroad men could see no blood on the body or on the ground nearby, a fact that struck them as highly irregular. The jugular vein, as one investigator would point out, “is a snaky thing, it splatters blood everywhere when you cut it.” Marsh and Stitt surmised that the victim had been killed elsewhere, drained of blood, and cleaned up. Only then had the body been dumped at Kingsbury Run. As they examined the body more closely, they noticed a horrifying slash mark between the legs—along with the beheading, the victim had been castrated.
Marsh put in a call to the Cleveland police while Stitt backed away and made a search of the surrounding area. According to one account, only a few moments passed before Stitt began shouting for his partner.
“You find the head?” Marsh called back.
“No,” Stitt replied. “It’s another body.”
Stitt had uncovered a second male corpse some thirty feet away, also missing its head and genitals. This victim appeared older than the first, and the body was in a more advanced state of decomposition, with a peculiar, darkened tinge to the skin. Close by, Stitt noticed a thatch of dark hairs poking out of the ground.
Kneeling down, he began brushing away a mound of loose sand. He drew back at once, startled. As the sand broke up, he found himself staring down at a severed human head.
By now, detectives and patrolmen from the Cleveland Police Department had arrived to begin a systematic search. Orley May and Emil Musil of the detective bureau arrived in the first wave, having responded to a radio call. Within moments, a second severed head was uncovered a short distance from the first. One account holds that it rolled out like a wilted cabbage as detectives tunneled into the bank of a sandy ravine, coming to a stop at their feet.
Officers also found an assortment of clothing nearby, some of it bloodstained. The items included a white shirt and pants, a blue suit coat, some underwear, and a checked cap. In addition, police found scattered lengths of rope and a rusty metal pail filled with oily liquid, later identified as motor oil. Detectives speculated that the oil, subsequently found to contain traces of blood and hair, might have been brought to the scene as a means of burning the bodies. No sooner had this theory been raised than a final, horrific discovery drew the attention of the investigators. A clump of tangled flesh found near one of the bodies proved to be the severed genitals of both men.
This last detail presented an awkward problem for the horde of reporters now converging on the scene. Already, they knew, the discovery of headless corpses would push the limits of propriety in a family newspaper. Any discussion of this brutal emasculation risked a total breach, especially for the somewhat staid and businesslike Plain Dealer, a fixture of breakfast tables throughout the city. In the days to come, journalists would strain for acceptable euphemisms. Some made oblique reference to a “murder of passion” or “love vengeance,” but most adhered to the example of the following morning’s Plain Dealer. There, in a model of economy and restraint, the victims were described as “headless and otherwise mutilated.”
Coroner Pearse reached Jackass Hill at about six, roughly one hour after the initial discovery. Glancing down at the headless corpses, he briskly fulfilled the first of his official obligations and pronounced that the two men were, in fact, dead. This done, he set to work. Studying the remains more closely, Pearse estimated that the first victim had been killed four days prior to discovery and the second perhaps three weeks earlier. The condition of the second body, he told reporters, would make identification a challenge, but he was hopeful where the first victim was concerned. Missing persons reports would be carefully checked. As Pearse continued his examination, a police photographer pressed forward with his camera to document the scene.
As evening fell, curious residents of the surrounding neighborhoods began to gather along the rim of Jackass Hill, peering down at the unfolding drama. They watched silently as investigators combed through the brush and peered into tangles of branches and debris. They stayed long after the remains had been loaded onto stretchers for transport to the morgue. The children of the neighborhood would speak of it for decades afterward. “I saw the head,” one would recall. “That was a terrible thing for a child to see.”
By 7:30, the remains had arrived at the Lakeside morgue, where it was quickly confirmed that the two decapitated heads were a match to the bodies found at the scene. Deputy Coroner Wilson Chamberlain began the autopsies early the following morning, recording that the first body was that of a “handsome” man, five feet eleven inches tall and weighing about 150 pounds, with a light complexion and brown hair. Rope burns on the wrists indicated that the victim had been tied up and struggling at some point before death occurred. A heavy, sharp knife had been used to sever the head, leaving clean edges to the skin, indicating a strong, practiced hand. A telltale retraction of the neck muscles, together with an almost total absence of blood in the heart, brought Chamberlain to a chilling verdict: “This man’s death resulted from decapitation with a sharp instrument.”
Coroner Pearse’s official report echoed this uncompromising conclusion: “Murder and mutilation,” he recorded. “Death due to decapitation and shock—Homicide.” In a statement to a Cleveland News reporter, the coroner would go even further, expressing his belief that “either a butcher knife or an axe was used to hack off the heads of the two men after their hands had been tied behind their backs.”
It could not be said for certain whether either man had been conscious at the time of death, but, as one homicide detective remarked during the autopsy, decapitation seemed an extremely odd method of murder. “Usually,” the detective observed, “a murderer kills by other means—stabbing, shooting, strangulation, poison. Sometimes, not often, the heads are removed to prevent identification, but almost never to kill.” He added: “It’s a hell of a job to remove a human head, anyway.”
The second body, despite its more advanced state of decomposition, offered intriguing contrasts to the first. This victim appeared older and stockier, roughly forty-five years of age and perhaps 165 pounds. He measured five feet six inches tall, with “brown eyes, very dark hair and perfect teeth.” Again, the decapitation had been clean and precise. Stranger still, as a lab technician noted, the body appeared to have been doused in “some unknown chemical,” turning the skin a dark oak color.
This last detail—the apparent application of a preservative of some type—would eventually suggest a link to the Lady of the Lake, whose remains had been discovered on the shore of Lake Erie one year earlier. For the moment, Chamberlain and Pearse drew no connection, perhaps owing to the large number of corpses that had passed through the morgue in the intervening months, nor does the parallel seem to have occurred to any of the investigators at the scene. As in the earlier case, however, samples of skin were submitted for lab analysis, in the hope of identifying the chemical used. The results only served to raise more questions. While Chamberlain had estimated that the second victim had been dead anywhere from seven to ten days, revising Pearse’s findings at the scene, the lab report indicated that it might have been as long as four weeks. And where Chamberlain had suggested that an acid might have been used, the lab report drew attention to the bucket of oil and hair found at the scene, suggesting the possibility that the body had been “saturated with oil and fire applied,” accounting for “the peculiar condition of the skin.”
By this time, a far more promising lead had surfaced to draw the focus away from the many contradictions. The decomposition of the second victim had been too advanced to allow for fingerprints, but investigators were able to lift a clear set from the corpse of the younger man. These provided an immediate match to a well-thumbed file in the police records room. The younger victim was now positively identified as twenty-nine-year-old Edward Andrassy, a familiar figure to neighborhood police. Andrassy had a reputation as a “snotty punk,” according to one officer, and had often been found boozing and brawling along an east-side cluster of saloons and gambling parlors known as Rowdy Row. Police had picked him up more than once for public drunkenness, and occasionally he could be found sleeping off his latest bender in a graveyard near some train tracks. “Andrassy was the type of fellow gives a cop a lot of lip when he’s questioned,” a railroad bull would say of him. “Once I had to knock him down.”
Andrassy’s livelihood was a mystery, even to his family. His police file included reports of marijuana trafficking and panhandling, and he had once served thirty days in a workhouse on a concealed weapons charge. More recently, he had boasted to a friend about “a very risky business” involving some form of mail fraud. There were even rumors concerning a voodoo cult.
“Young Andrassy was a worry to his hard-working parents,” the Press would report. “He had long been idle, and refused to look for work.” This was not entirely true. Andrassy had worked various jobs over the years, pulling stints as a hotel bellhop, a magazine salesman, and a laborer on a government relief project. His only steady employment, relatively so, had been as an orderly in the psychiatric ward of Cleveland City Hospital, a job he found in his late teens. Apparently his work habits left something to be desired; over an eight-year stretch, he would be fired and rehired eleven times.
During one stretch of employment at the hospital, Andrassy stepped in to intervene when an agitated patient lashed out at a nurse named Lillian Kardotska. The nurse’s gratitude soon led to romance, and she and Andrassy would be married a short time later. Within three weeks, it became clear that Andrassy wasn’t cut out for domesticity. His bride, who was now pregnant, grew so enraged with his bad behavior that she bashed him across the forehead with a high-heeled shoe. The blow left a pockmark that could be plainly seen on Andrassy’s severed head six years later.
Cleveland police interviewed dozens of people who had worked with Andrassy at City Hospital, as well as the staff at the Warrensville workhouse where he’d been incarcerated four years earlier. Officers also carried out an extensive canvass of the neighborhoods surrounding Jackass Hill. No potential lead went unchecked, no matter how slim. Upon learning that Andrassy’s older brother had been killed in a brawl some thirteen years earlier, police tracked down the man responsible and questioned him closely, to no avail. When officers discovered a pile of old newspapers among the dead man’s effects, with a handful of names and addresses jotted in the margins, they doggedly followed up each notation. Again, their efforts went nowhere.
Many of the people interviewed gave bizarre and contradictory statements. One man reported finding a bloody typewritten note at the base of Jackass Hill, containing instructions for cremating a body. Another pair claimed to have spotted an elderly man crouching over the spot that had concealed Andrassy’s remains; he hurried away, they said, when approached. At one stage, a watchman with the New York Central Railroad came forward with an especially tantalizing lead. In the weeks prior to the discovery of the bodies, he said, there had been sightings of a green coupe at the top of Jackass Hill. Inside was a man with a pair of binoculars who could be seen scanning the horizon through his windshield. In time, Detectives May and Musil traced the owner of the car, but the seemingly hot lead ended in disappointment. The man with the binoculars had selected the spot because it commanded a view of a particular window on the other side of the Run, belonging to a married woman with whom he was having an affair. Whenever the woman’s husband was safely out of the house, she would signal the all-clear by hanging out a white tablecloth.
Police also made the rounds of a vast number of cheap hotels, rooming houses, pool halls, and bars, hoping to construct a timeline of Andrassy’s final days. Here again the specifics proved difficult to pin down, even in the accounts given by members of Andrassy’s immediate family. The victim’s father, Joseph, was an industrious Hungarian immigrant who had been in Cleveland for more than thirty years, variously working as a painter, shoemaker, and metalworker. He told a detective that he had last seen his son four days earlier, adding that Edward often “associated with persons of questionable character” in the city’s notorious third police precinct, known as the “Roaring Third,” in a seedy neighborhood near the town center at Public Square. In those days, one journalist would write, the Roaring Third was “a region of Italian and Greek vendettas, of speakeasies and secret distilleries, of narcotics dens and houses of prostitution; and more than one man went to the electric chair.”
Andrassy’s mother, meanwhile, reported that her son had been afraid to leave home for several days, but she recalled seeing him earlier with an unknown companion riding around in a fancy dark car—the type of car, she said, that a gangster might own. One night he had come home bleeding from a gash to the head, but claimed that he could not remember how he came to be injured. On another occasion, Andrassy told his sister Edna that he had “stabbed an Italian” during a fight, and now feared reprisals from “the gang.” He refused to supply any further details, saying only that he would have to lie low for a while. “Edward lived in continual fear of his life,” his parents told the police. “He always told us to mind our own business when we told him to straighten out.” It would not have been easy for them to mind their own business since the evidence of their son’s shady behavior always seemed to wash up on their doorstep. Mrs. Andrassy would recall that a middle-aged man had turned up a couple of months earlier, claiming that “he was going to kill Edward for paying attention to his wife.”
Threats like this one led some investigators to speculate that the murderer might have been a cuckolded husband. The days leading up to Andrassy’s death seemed to feature a parade of young women, at least some of whom were married. He frequently had been spotted at a particular downtown nightclub, always with someone new on his arm, and there were whispers that he traded in “Spanish fly,” an illicit aphrodisiac. Many other vaporous, unsubstantiated rumors would surface in the days to come, and each new claim brought another round of prurient speculation. “His associates were questionable characters, suspected perverts,” the Press insisted. “Andrassy’s known background included incidents of strange behavior.” At times, it was claimed, he had dabbled in pornography and prostitution.
Among Andrassy’s effects, police discovered a pair of medical books, one of which involved the treatment of female disorders. The find appeared to support a particularly distasteful story told to police by a man named Peter Feltes, who had known the victim since childhood. Andrassy, Feltes said, occasionally attempted to pass himself off as some sort of “female doctor.” On one occasion, Andrassy told his friend that his wife was looking unwell and proposed to examine her. He offered to go home and get his instruments in order to do a thorough job, claiming that he “could fix her within a month, so that she could have children.” Some accounts suggest that Feltes offered no objection, while others claim that Andrassy threatened him with an ice pick. In any case, police were told, Andrassy proceeded to force his attentions on his friend’s wife and, according to one account, “committed sodomy” under the pretense of carrying out an examination. It is difficult to know what to make of this ugly tale, as Andrassy’s saga is filled with lurid accusations made by unreliable witnesses. The ill-treated woman does not appear to have brought charges of any kind, but perhaps it would have been more remarkable if she had, given the unwelcome notoriety that it would have brought and the largely unsympathetic attitudes of the time.
By the same token, the discovery of a stack of “physical culture” and “muscle” magazines in Andrassy’s room sparked a great deal of hazy speculation. “Our journey will take us into the lower depths of American life, indeed, into the very lowest depths,” wrote John Bartlow Martin, an early chronicler of the case, “inhabited by prostitutes, pimps, hobos, dwellers of caves and shanties, homosexuals, and the kind of twisted persons that interested Krafft-Ebing.” Views of this type, though typical of the era, would throw a long shadow over the investigation in the coming months. The terms “pervert” and “deviant” would be used with unsettling frequency, often with the suggestion that such unsavory characters deserved whatever life handed them. Given that both of the bodies at Jackass Hill had been brutally castrated, it was natural that investigators should focus on the role that sex had played in the crime. “Because of the nature of the mutilation practiced on the bodies,” reported a Chicago paper, “police are inclined to characterize the crime as one of passion.” For some investigators, however, the violence done to the corpses only served to narrow their focus. “The police believed this indicated that the murderer was a sexual pervert,” wrote Martin, “and they wondered if Andrassy was one himself.” It was a question that would occupy a great many hours, perhaps at the expense of other lines of inquiry. It bears mentioning that Andrassy’s former wife, Lillian, airily dismissed the notion of homosexuality. “He was anything but,” she said.
Other investigators, taking note of the victim’s Hungarian descent, believed the crime might have had its roots in a blood feud among immigrant factions, at a time when Cleveland boasted one of the largest Hungarian populations outside of Budapest. “At first we thought it was a ‘nationality case,’” one detective would say, “it’s not unusual for a Hungarian or Bohemian to cut up people, they learn to butcher in the old country. So we figured what the hell, we’ll send a couple of detectives up on Jackass Hill that can speak the language, ask a few questions, and that’s it.”
Meanwhile, authorities continued their efforts to uncover the identity of the second victim. Detectives grew hopeful when reports surfaced that Andrassy had been seen in the company of a friend he introduced as “Eddie,” a chauffeur for a wealthy woman said to be receiving Andrassy’s dubious services as a “female doctor.” The two men had been spotted in an expensive sedan, perhaps a Lincoln or a Buick, which might well have been the same “gangster” car Andrassy’s mother had mentioned. “Eddie seemed very nervous,” one witness would say, adding an unexpectedly detailed description of him as “good looking, very good set of teeth, appeared to have a broken nose and wore dark trousers, blue shirt, checkered gray cap, and dark brown hair.” At least some of these details, notably the “very good set of teeth,” tallied with the description of the older man found at Jackass Hill. Frustratingly, when witnesses were taken to the morgue to view the remains, the results were inconclusive.
Even so, as the investigation gathered steam, the Press offered its readers a tidy recap of the “gruesome double-murder mystery.” A now-familiar image of Andrassy ran at the top of the account, flanked by photos of James Wagner and Peter Kostura, the two boys who had discovered his body. Police were said to be pursuing “several clews” and working from a detailed list of theories:
THAT the bodies of the two victims were taken to the foot of the hill, known as ‘Jackass Hill,’ after the murders had been committed elsewhere.
THAT the victims knew each other and were killed by the same person.
THAT the unidentified victim was killed first, and his body immersed in some sort of fluid until the murderer could trap Andrassy, who, according to Coroner A. J. Pearse, was killed a week later.
THAT both men first were beheaded, then stripped of their clothing, after which they were further mutilated.
THAT each victim, after his hands were tied, was ‘executed’ with some sharp instrument, probably an ax or a butcher knife.
Many readers would have found themselves bewildered by this list, and most especially by the head-scratching notion that the killer had preserved the body of the older victim in a bid to “trap” Andrassy. The summary exposed a mass of gaps and contradictions, and one crucial point, in particular, appeared to have slipped through the cracks. The Press noted that the two victims had been killed elsewhere and taken to the foot of Jackass Hill, but this deceptively straightforward statement brushed past the problem of how the bodies had been transported to this remote and inaccessible spot. One assumes the killer fastened on Jackass Hill as an isolated dumping ground where the remains could be easily hidden, and where they might lie undisturbed at least for a few days. He might well have driven a car to the top of the hill, but he then would have faced the daunting problem of getting the bodies down the steep, sixty-foot incline. A car could not have handled the sharp angle, and there is no record of drag marks or tracks from a cart or wheelbarrow. This suggests that the killer might have carried the remains from the top to the bottom, perhaps in darkness, making at least two trips, and somehow completing the grim task without being seen. If so, the killer was likely a figure of considerable size and strength, possessing either a steely nerve or a reckless disregard for the possibility of being caught in the act.
If, as some investigators assumed, the process had been carried out in the dark, it might help to explain why the remains were not particularly well hidden. Though the heads were at least partially buried, the bodies had been poorly concealed in the underbrush. Stranger still, the genitalia and bloodied clothing appeared to have been tossed carelessly aside. Perhaps the killer had been interrupted in the midst of the concealment. Possibly he intended to burn the remains and clothing, using the pail of oil found at the scene, only to be forced to improvise when someone approached. If so, given all of the attention focused on the crime afterward, it seems remarkable that no one came forward and no supporting evidence was uncovered in the canvass of the surrounding neighborhoods. One theory of the case posited that Edward Andrassy might have interrupted the killer at his work. Perhaps, the reasoning went, Andrassy came upon the killer as he attempted to dispose of the earlier victim, and was subsequently killed himself. Or, as others have suggested, Andrassy might have been complicit in the earlier murder, even helping the killer carry the body down the steep incline, only to fall victim once the heavy lifting was done. This scenario has several points against it, not least being the absence of signs of struggle or traces of blood at the dumping ground.
Through the final days of September, the drama at Jackass Hill dominated the front pages of the city’s three major papers, but a number of other stories vied for the public’s attention that week. A dramatic photo sequence from Yankee Stadium captured the climax of the historic boxing match between Joe Louis and “lone white hope” Max Baer, in which the “Brown Bomber” pummeled his opponent in the fourth round. From Hollywood came rumors of the potential breakup of the dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, a calamity “akin to homicide on Santa Claus.” And from Chicago came a report that bank robber Alvin Karpis, who now supplanted Al Capone as Public Enemy No. 1, had been thwarted at the scene of his latest heist by a “flood of tear gas and bullets.”
In this parade of headlines, many readers would have skimmed past “U.S. Sentences Five Dover Men,” a wire service report detailing the “stiff and consequential” penalties handed down to a group of renegade bootleggers in Cleveland. “The gang was rounded up by Eliot Ness, official of the federal alcohol tax unit,” the article related, “who was one of the agents instrumental in wiping out the Chicago Capone gang.” No mention was made of how Ness happened to find himself in Cleveland, and few readers would have paused to wonder. The city’s attention remained focused on Jackass Hill, where the mysterious killer appeared to
have escaped capture, at least for the moment. One by one, each of the promising leads went cold and had to be tossed aside in frustration. As the hope of a quick arrest faded, many of the officers working the case realized that they were at the start of a long and difficult path.
Detective Orley May, who had been first on the scene with his partner, Emil Musil, spoke for many as he summed up the mood on Jackass Hill:
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this one.”
Copyright © 2022 by Daniel Stashower. All rights reserved.
About American Demon by Daniel Stashower:
On September 5th, 1934, a young beachcomber made a gruesome discovery on the shores of Cleveland’s Lake Erie: the lower half of a female torso, neatly severed at the waist. The victim, dubbed “The Lady of the Lake,” was only the first of a butcher’s dozen. Over the next four years, twelve more bodies would be scattered across the city. The bodies were dismembered with surgical precision and drained of blood. Some were beheaded while still alive.
Terror gripped the city. Amid the growing uproar, Cleveland’s besieged mayor turned to his newly-appointed director of public safety: Eliot Ness. Ness had come to Cleveland fresh from his headline-grabbing exploits in Chicago, where he and his band of “Untouchables” led the frontline assault on Al Capone’s bootlegging empire. Now he would confront a case that would redefine his storied career.
Award-winning author Daniel Stashower shines a fresh light on one of the most notorious puzzles in the annals of crime, and uncovers the gripping story of Ness’s hunt for a sadistic killer who was as brilliant as he was cool and composed, a mastermind who was able to hide in plain sight. American Demon reconstructs this ultimate battle of wits between a hero and a madman.