21-year-old carpenter, Frank La Gossie, decided to take a stroll along the shores of Euclid Beach on the morning of September 5, 1934. Watching as tides of Lake Erie gently kissed the sand and staring off into the distance where the water fades into a vast and infinite sky, the practically deserted beach seemed like the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the Cleveland streets.
Gradually directing his gaze to a peculiar object protruding from the sand, La Gossie decided to go over for a closer look. Brushing aside the sand and lake debris that floated ashore along with the object, La Gossie’s curiosity quickly turned to sheer horror upon his realization that he was staring down at the partial remains of a human body.
The remains were quickly transported to the coroner’s office and a full autopsy was performed. The remains consisted of little more than a female’s torso. The top portion had been cut with surgical precision at the waist, while the bottom portion had been cut just above the knees. Another striking detail that set this case apart from a typical homicide, was that an unknown chemical had been used to treat the body, forcing the skin to take on a reddish tone and to become tough and leathery to the touch. The medical examiner ruled that the woman had been dead for approximately six months prior to La Gossie stumbling upon her remains.
The next day another man, Joseph Hejduk, contacted Cleveland police in order to report that, what he believed to be, human remains had washed ashore near his home in North Perry, located approximately 30 miles east of Euclid Beach. The deputy who answered his call presumed the remains to belong to an animal and encouraged Hejduk to just rebury them.
Neither Hejduk, nor the officer who spoke with him on the phone that day thought much about the incident until the story of the woman’s torso found on Euclid Beach hit the local newspapers. Hejduk immediately contacted investigators and insisted on taking them to the location of the remains he found. After several hours of digging, detectives on the scene unearthed the top portion of a female torso. The head and arms had been severed off, but it was determined to be a match for the lower portion of the torso found by La Gossie days earlier. In spite of exhaustive efforts to find the remainder of the woman’s body, her head, arms, and portions of her legs were never recovered. The woman would later be known as “The Lady of the Lake”, the first of thirteen mutilated corpses that would be found scattered about the Greater-Cleveland area.
An Untouchable Comes to Cleveland
While Cleveland’s version of Jack the Ripper was just getting his start, by contrast an ambitious young lawman, who had already become an unsung legend, decided to plant his roots within the same city.
Before Eliot Ness faded into the background of Cleveland history and became reduced to just the name of a craft beer, distilled at local microbrewery, he was sent to town in order to “clean up”, so to speak. Most famous for banding his group of “Untouchables” in Chicago and taking down the mob, Ness was appointed as Cleveland’s safety director shortly thereafter. Cleveland was (and still is) one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. Not only did the city have a high rate of violent crimes, but it also had the highest rate of traffic fatalities.
Ness’ tenure as safety director was met with mixed criticism. He had managed to pass several pieces of legislation which resulted in a significant drop in fatal car accidents and injuries, however, the rest of his career wasn’t quite as successful. In addition to the public backlash Ness faced for assembling officers to beat and attack union strikers, a serial killer was on the loose and Ness was met with constant criticism for his failure to apprehend a suspect in the case.