The other day Betty and I decided to go on a little excursion to the cemetery. Not to purchase or plan anything mind you, but just to look at some of the notable's monuments and headstones.
And Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery has a whole slew of them. From humungous mausoleums and monuments down to the smallest of tombstones and grave markers. From huge names like Garfield (I’m talking about the President here not the cat) and Rockefeller to the unknown (to me anyway) names like Raymond Chapman.
Chapman was a Cleveland Indians shortstop from 1912-1920. While playing the New York Yankees in New York on August 16, 1920, Chapman was hit in the head with a ball thrown by pitcher, Carl Mays, and died 12 hours later. Chapman is the only major league baseball player to die due to an injury during a game. Dedicating the season in memory of "Chappie", the Indians won the league and world championship for the first time. I know that players have had to quit the game because of injuries but I never knew of one that was fatal. See what you can learn?
So anyway, after walking around a bit, taking a few photos, and marveling at the fact that some people will spend huge amounts of money for something they’re just going to lie around and decay in over the next hundred years, or less if an asteroid does indeed plop down on us and we’re all obliterated, I decided to post about a man that is known by everyone. Well, maybe not everyone, but a whole lot of people.
Anyone out there who doesn’t know of Eliot Ness? For those of you who don’t, he was the law enforcement officer who brought down Al Capone. Anyone out there who doesn’t know who Al Capone was? Watch some old movies.
Anyhow after being responsible for sending the biggest mob boss in the country to jail on income tax evasion, (thought to have been responsible for a few dozen murders, but could only get him on tax evasion) Ness came to Cleveland and became their safety director in 1935, cleaning up a very corrupt police department, (most big cities had that problem in the thirties), modernizing the police department by developing two-way communications between police cars and their police stations, and developing the Emergency Medical System. Ness also took Cleveland's worst traffic fatality record in the nation and turned it around to twice win the National Safety Council's award for reduction of traffic deaths. But problems were looming on the horizon. Along came the infamous Kingsbury Run Murders, “The Torso Murders” is what one newspaper called them, because… well… the torsos were cut up and there were…um… no heads.
This was the American equivalent of the gruesome crime spree of Jack the Ripper. Like the Ripper case, the murders left a number of mutilated victims behind and they remain unsolved to this day. It was a series of killings that started in 1935 and lasted until 1938 and had a total of about 12 victims, (they weren’t sure of the exact count because….well you know). Obviously it terrified the city and the ensuing newspaper coverage eventually destroyed the career of the once untouchable Ness. (Get it? Thinking Robert Stack? Kevin Costner? No? geeze, what’s it gonna take?)
Later, Ness said he believed that he knew who the killer was and this suspect continued to taunt Ness for years after the killings had stopped, but sadly, the Kingsbury Run murders really began the downturn of his earlier illustrious career.
He never really got over the taint that the murders left on his reputation and the fact they were never solved. The last decade of his life was full of poverty and frequent disappointment and he passed away in 1957 at the age of only 54. Ironically, considering his destruction of the Prohibition bootlegging gangs, Ness became a heavy drinker and suffered from poor health. He resigned from the position of Cleveland’s public safety director in 1941, after a scandal involving a hit-and-run accident, and in 1947 was badly defeated in a run for the Cleveland mayor’s office.
In 1953, after five years of poverty and obscurity, he became involved with a papermaking company and through a friend at the company, he had a chance meeting with a journalist named Oscar Fraley. The two men would later collaborate on a book entitled The Untouchables. It came out in 1957 and was an immense success, becoming a bestseller and inspiring two television series and a popular film. Tragically, Ness would never learn of this success as he died of a heart attack on May 16, 1957, six months before The Untouchables was published. His ashes were scattered in one of the many small ponds in the cemetery, and that reminds me of one of the old mob sayings “he sleeps with the fishes”. A bit ironic wouldn’t you say?
A little more than you really wanted to know about Eliot Ness? Just wait until the next history lesson.