If you don’t know, I watch/read/listen to a lot of serial killer stories. It’s just one of those things I like to try and figure out. So last year for Christmas, I told my cousin to get me books about serial killers and she delivered with one of the best books I ever read. The book has 32 stories of serial killers from across countries, time periods, and intensity – really, it was a thrilling book that I finished in 3 days.
One story that has stuck with me is the question of the Mad Butcher of Kingsberry Run AKA the Cleveland Torso Murderer. This murderer is one of the most gruesome and elusive killers of all time. I won’t take all the time to give you every detail about the killer- we’d be here for days- so here is a great video about the Butcher and his victims.
Of course, this murderer ran rampant nearly 100 years ago in the late 1930s and back then, they didn’t keep details about shit so some things are skewed and there are possible victims up the wazoo. BUT since I first looked deep into this story, I had a theory about this killer and it’s centralized around the Number 1 Suspect in this case – Dr. Francis Edward Sweeney.
Some background on Sweeney: Dr. Francis E. Sweeney was an alcoholic doctor who fit the serial killer profile quite well. Sweeney was a part of a medical unit during WWI where he conducted amputations on the battlefield. He was described as “large and physically strong” – something you’d need when carrying body parts to dumping sights. He grew up near Kingberry Run and worked at St Alexis Hospital (near Kingberry) before he was consumed by his alcoholism and subsequently fired. During that time, Sweeney’s marriage fell apart and his wife left him in 1934 and she filed for divorce in 1936 – right around when the killings began. According to some records – namely “Serial Killers” by Al Cimino – it was believed that Sweeney was bisexual which not only explains the victims being both male and female BUT it would add to my theory that Sweeney had a younger male lover that was his accomplice.
I’m thinking that because the accomplice if there was one, would have had to be able to carry the bodies so male. On top of that, there would have needed to be a strong bond between the two along with the mutually assured destruction that ties into it therefore a male lover in the times where being gay was still illegal. If someone joined Sweeney in gruesomely killing people then they’d need to be impressionable so a younger male lover. Thus I was sent me down a rabbit hole and come up with this conclusion:
Everything I’m about to say is an “Maybe If” but let me just lay it out how I think it went down.
Sweeney sustained a head injury during WWI – that could have caused brain damage and been the starting point of these violent outlashes he was known to have. To quill that, Sweeney began murdering vagrants from the Roaring Third. He had access to a funeral home where he’s “practice surgery on unclaimed bodies” but on the side, he worked on and dealt with (drugged, drained, and decapitated) his victims. A young man, maybe living in Kingberry Run or around said funeral home, took interest in Sweeney and that man – whom I’m gonna call Alec for the sake of a name – figured out what Sweeney was doing. Instead of turning him in, Alec began helping Sweeney kill people likely because he had an infatuation with this sick power and Sweeney as well. I think that would have caused the murder of specifically the John Doe who was the only victim killed on sight. That victim was killed in May 1936 at Big Creek but he wasn’t found for 2 months. This was deemed a “crime of passion” because it was the only time the body wasn’t dropped there. It could make sense that Sweeny was testing if his lover, this Alec, had the chops to actually carry out the killing. After that, the two could have continued on killing together until Sweeney became Elliot Ness’ prime suspect.
Although Ness had Sweeney under surveillance, the Mad Butcher’s murders continued – that’s where I think Alec came in. Perhaps he was pissed that Ness was making a mockery of his lover Sweeney or he wanted to pull light of Sweeney, but two bodies were dumped within view of Elliot Ness’ office window. The thing that leads me to believe it wasn’t Sweeney himself, is that the MO was off. Usually, hands were cut off the victim but both of these had their hands – something the Butcher hadn’t done since 1936 (when I think Sweeney and Alec began killing together). It was messy and risky as hell – something that reaks of spite- but it would make sense if Alec, this younger, more emotional lover, had carried them out.
I think after Ness took Sweeney into the hotel and interrogated him for 10 to 14 days, that’s where their lover/murdership soured – maybe because of the spitefully and reckless dropping of the two bodies outside Ness’ window and Sweeney caught all the heat. Maybe Sweeney thought that Alec was too reckless and breaking this weird killer fantasy they dreamed up. A number of things could have happened to their relationship but regardless Sweeney apparently checked into rehab until he died in 1965 and there was no more Mad Butcher deemed murders in Cleveland after that. However, I don’t think Alec just stopped after his lover gave up. Perhaps Alec, now intuned with this killer drive, skipped town, ended in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and continued his work like Sweeney once had. Perhaps that’s where Alec began killing before coming to Cleveland and finding Sweeney.
Or perhaps none of this could have happened and I’ve got a baller idea for a TV show (I’ve already started a google doc). Regardless, since I read the chapter about the Mad Butcher, I’ve had this idea floating around in my brain and I had to put it in words so what better way to do that then my blog where I just yell into the void most days. If you think this was interesting, trust me I’ve for some more so let me know what you think on Twitter.
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Featured Image: Laura DeMarco, The Plain Dealer