Frank Dolezal


A media photo of Fran Dolezal being taken into police custody.

Desperate to follow any potential lead in the case, an immigrant bricklayer known for patroning a bar frequented by some of the victims, was arrested and charged for the murders. Frank Dolezal was a patsy in the case from the beginning. Police beat a confession out of Frank, apparent from his broken ribs. He knew no details of the murders and none of the three confessions made by Dolezal prior his death were consistent. Before he could be further interrogated about the cases he mysteriously committed suicide, though it is believed that he was murdered, either by another inmate or the police themselves.

Gaylord Sundheim

Unknown to police investigators, Ness had one more trick up his sleeve. Ness had within his clutches a “super secret” suspect whom he believed, beyond a reasonable doubt, had been responsible the murders. The suspect was given the pseudonym “Gaylord Sundheim”, though it is believed that this name was referring to Dr. Francis E. Sweeney.

The doctor was picked up and held in what is now Cleveland’s Renaissance Hotel for over ten days for questioning. Legend has it that it Sweeney was picked up so drunk that it took several days for him to dry out enough to cooperate with Ness’ henchmen. Sweeney was given two lie detector tests and allegedly had failed both of them.


Dr. Francis E. Sweeney, believed to be the suspect nicknamed by Ness as Gaylord Sundheim.

James Badal, an instructor at Cuyahoga Community College and Torso Murder researcher, believes that there is a good possibility that Sweeney was the murderer, though he was never formally convicted due to his family ties to Congressman Martin Sweeney. Badal claims that Sweeney’s link to the murder rests upon the testimony of a vagrant by the name of Emil Fronek, a potential victim that somehow escaped The Butcher. The drifter alleged that while scavenging for food a kindly doctor approached him and offered him a meal. After eating his meal, Fronek felt drowsy, as if he had been drugged. The next thing he remembers is finding himself in a boxcar. He attempted to locate the doctor, but didn’t have much luck and decided to flee to Chicago after determining that Cleveland was far too dangerous.

Badal further claims that during one of his Torso Murders lectures a man, claiming to have been a direct descendant of another doctor who was once a partner in practice with Sweeney, said that the office the doctors worked from wasn’t an office at all, but a residential home. This could possibly explain why Fronek had difficulty locating the doctor’s office later. This home was also located fairly close to the bars some of the other victims went missing from. The man also eluded to Sweeney having unbridled access to a local funeral home where he would be able to practice surgical techniques on the cadavers there. It is believed that this is where Sweeney would take the victims and hack them up before dumping them in various locations around the city, primarily within the Kingston Run area.

While Badal claims that he is not 100 percent sure of Sweeney’s guilt, he says that he is comfortable in naming Sweeney a person of interest in this case. The only problem with Fronek’s story of being drugged by a doctor is that only one of the victims were found with any drugs in their system, and if Fronek really was close to becoming a victim of the Butcher, why was he simply placed into a boxcar and not hacked to bits like the others who came before him?

Another question raised by this theory is that although the doctor’s office, the funeral home, and a local hospital were all a short car drive away from where the original bodies were found in September of 1935, how was the doctor able to lure the victims to his office in a residential area of town, either walk with the victim or carry them in his car, take them to the funeral home in order to dismember them, place their mutilated corpse back into his car, then take the bodies to an area known for homeless camps, along with other people waiting to board the nearby train, with absolutely no one witnessing anything along the way?

Badal admits that this theory cannot explain all of the murders, except for the early few. As Sweeney’s mental state began to deteriorate and his drinking problem worsened, his partners began to keep an eye on the doctor, fearing that he was going insane. This would make it extremely difficult for Sweeney to invite drunks, drifters, and others whom one would consider to be dregs of society into his office without anyone taking notice.

Sweeney voluntarily institutionalized himself after the final murder occurred. Ness considered the case closed and that Sweeney was more than likely the Butcher. However, the story doesn’t end there. After Sweeney committed himself to the institution, the killer – be it Sweeney or someone else responsible for the crime – became more brazen about the murders he had gotten away with.

On April 10, 1938, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that an unknown caller telephoned Detective Peter Meyerlo, Ness’ right-hand man on the case. It is alleged that during this phone call the caller taunted Meyerlo and offered up information on the sexual torture he subjected one of the victims to, which had not been previously mentioned within any media reports at the time. Later during the 1950s Ness began receiving strange taunting postcards, allegedly signed by Sweeney. Further evidence to some that Sweeney was behind the murders. However, if Sweeney was indeed the murderer, then it doesn’t offer a full explanation for some of the other bizarre unsolved murders that seemed to be eerily similar to those committed by the Butcher.

The postcards sent to Eliot Ness during the 1950s prior to Sweeney's death.

The postcards sent to Eliot Ness during the 1950s prior to Sweeney’s death.