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Torso: The Story of Eliot Ness and the Search for a Psychopathic Killer

Steven Nickel

John F. Blair, Publisher
$14.95 paperback
6 x 9    
231 pages
Published in 1989

In the 1920s, Eliot Ness gained fame as the leader of the Untouchables, a small band of law-enforcement agents who disrupted the activities of Al Capone and his organization. By 1934, Ness had moved to Cleveland to become director of public safety. But it was there that he met his nemesis in the form of a serial killer.

When Ness arrived in Cleveland, he quickly made his presence felt with a major overhaul of the police force and zealous raids to stop illegal gambling. Despite these early successes and some 2,400 officers at his disposal, Ness failed in his efforts to find the lone psychopathic killer whose trademark decapitations terrorized the entire city. Many of the 12 known victims were residents of hobo jungles and were so anonymous that only three of them were even positively identified.

In 1942, the killings stopped as mysteriously as they had begun in 1935. But the damage to Ness’s reputation as a guardian of the law and order was already done, and the stage was set for the downhill slide in his life. Set against the vividly drawn background of Cleveland during the Depression, the missing chapter in Ness’s career and the story of the grisly serial killer make compelling reading.


“Nickel has written a genuinely interesting book about an overlooked chapter in Ness’s life and the history of crime. . . . The author, a Cleveland native, knows his city, tells a good story in an unobtrusive way, and has really done his homework.” —Booklist
“Thinking I'd purchased simply a true crime book, I was astonished to find that this book weaves the later career of Eliot Ness with politics in Cleveland in the l930s and 1940s with the unknown identity of a gruesome serial killer at that time. The author's sense of time and place is terrific. I was swept back to that time in history, almost against my will. And I found this to be far more horrifying a book than it appears. When I was two-thirds of the way done, I found that I absolutely had to close and lock my bedroom window. These crimes may have been committed before I was born, but they're still shocking and terrifying. See if you agree with me that Eliot Ness's take on who committed these crimes is the right one! Horrifying, historical, accurate, mesmerizing, all at once. I recommend it to anyone interested in terrific reading.” —Amazon.com reviewer