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About the Author

  • Brian Michael Bendis born August 18, 1967 is an United States comic book writer and former artist. He has won critical acclaim (including five Eisner Awards) for his self-published, Image comics and Marvel comics work.
  • He discovered crime comics by Jim Steranko and José Munoz. These in turn led him to discover the documentary Visions of Light, which taught him the explicit visual rules of film noir, an important influence on him creatively.
  • Film Noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. It uses black and white to set a dramatic tone/mood. This style was created and used during the Great Depression, which is the time period for the Torso graphic novel.
  • He created the new Ultimate Spiderman Novels in 2000 and New Avengers in 2004.
  • Teaches a course on writing graphic novels at Portland State University
  • Bendis was the co-executive producer and series-pilot writer for Mainframe Entertainment's 2003 CGI animated Spider-Man show, Spider-Man: The New Animated Series that aired on MTV and YTV, which features a college-aged Peter Parker, and was written to tie-into the then-unreleased 2002 film Spider-Man.
  • Marc Andreyko co-wrote Torso with bendis
  • Marc Andreyko born 20 June 1970 is a comic book and screenplay writer, known for writing the 2000s ongoing series Manhunter for DC Comics.
  • Andreyko and Bendis had a deal with Paramount Pictures to make a film adaptation of this novel

Historical Context

  • Torso - definition:
  1. a sculptured representation of the trunk of a human body
  2. something (as a piece of writing) that is mutilated or left unfinished the human trunk
  • Cleveland, Ohio, during the great depression
  • Torso murders also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run 1935-1938
  • The official number of murders is 12 but recent research has shown more possible victims lead Cleveland Detective Peter Merylo, believe that there may have been 40 or more victims in the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown, Ohio, areas between the 1920s and 1950s
  • Victims were usually drifters or poor people because they were easy targets and most could not be identified
  • Victims #2 Edward Andrassy, #3 Flo Polillo, and possibly #8 Rose Wallace, were identified
  • The murderer always beheaded the victims and sometimes dismembered them only leaving the torso for people to find, sometimes cut the torso in half, the head often not being found, male victims were castrated
  • Eliot Ness was the Public safety director in Cleveland during this time
  • #2 Edward W. Andrassy, date found September 23, 1935, in Jackass Hill area of Kingsbury Run, found lying about 30 feet from the first victim, had been decapitated and emasculated, head was recovered for identification, time of death: 2-3 days
  • #3 Florence Genevieve Polillo, date found January 26, 1936, Between 2315 and 2325 East 20th Street in downtown Cleveland. Her body had been chopped up. Her head was never found. Time of death, Two to four days
  • Several murders were thought to be connected to the Torso murders but were never confirmed. The first was nicknamed the "Lady of the Lake" and was found near the Lake Erie shore on September 5, 1934, at virtually the same spot as victim number 7. Some researchers of the Torso Murderer's victims count the "Lady of the Lake" as victim number 1, or "Victim Zero".
  • Two suspects: On August 24, 1939, Cleveland resident Frank Dolezal, who was arrested as a suspect in Florence Polillo's murder, died under suspicious circumstances (hanging) in the Cuyahoga County jail,
  • Suspect #2 Dr. Francis E. Sweeney worked during World War I in a medical unit that conducted amputations in the field.
  • Something to think about: During this time frame FDR was President, there were maybe 123 million people in 48 states, milk was 14 cents a quart and bread was about 9 cents a loaf. It was common then to slaughter livestock and cure the meat in ones home. Everyone was a "butcher" then, it was a basic skill.
  • The murders were never solved.
  • At least 8 heads were never found.
  • Only one victim was killed where the body was found.
  • There were at least 13 victims and by some estimates 24.
  • Some of the bodies were treated chemically.
  • In January 1939 a letter allegedly from the killer (living in Los Angeles)  was printed in the Cleveland Press.

Letter to the press:

"Chief of Police Matowitz:

You can rest easy now, as I have come to sunny California for the winter. I felt bad operating on those people, but science must advance. I shall astound the medical profession, a man with only a D.C.

What did their lives mean in comparison to hundreds of sick and disease-twisted bodies? Just laboratory guinea pigs found on any public street. No one missed them when I failed. My last case was successful. I know now the feeling of Pasteur, Thoreau and other pioneers.

Right now I have a volunteer who will absolutely prove my theory. They call me mad and a butcher, but the truth will out.

I have failed but once here. The body has not been found and never will be, but the head, minus the features, is buried on Century Boulevard, between Western and Crenshaw. I feel it my duty to dispose of the bodies as I do. It is God's will not to let them suffer.

(Signed) "X"

  • #8 Name: Rose Wallace -The only black woman (or victim) involved. Known prostitute. Some accounts dispute the identity of this victim.
   Found: In a burlap bag, in a pile of rocks under the Lorain - Carnegie Bridge in "Hoboville". Missing a rib, head was found.
  • Stories involved with the Torso murders
  • "My girlfriend and I were walking home from the movies. It was later at night and we were going under a bridge. We felt safe because my dog, Jack was with us. Jack was a good dog. After a while we noticed Jack was gone, he'd run off. We heard him whimpering and called him to us . He came to me and I could see he had something in his mouth. I said, "drop it, boy" and he did. He was a good dog. What he dropped was a human hand, from "the butcher".
  • "The area has changed, but only by so much. The bridges are still the same.  In the 60's we'd go to dinner at Superior and 39th. Chung Wah's Chinese restaurant was located there. Coming from the west, you pass under the railroad tracks on Superior. Its old, almost prehistoric.  And right there, if you look, there's holes in the bridge, in the infrastructure. My Mom would say that "the butcher stuffed the body parts in there, right in the holes". I've eaten there since, it's now called "The Town Fryer" (since closed). When we would get out of the car, to this day, I can't help but look up at the bridge and remember."
  • The above stories, in some variation were told to me by my Mother, usually late at night, in the fall, usually you know, around Halloween. Of course,  my siblings and I believed every word and wanted more. This was the way I first became familiar with the story, legend and facts of the Cleveland Torso Murders. So, thank you, Mom, for scaring the Hell out of me.

Reaction from the Blogs

  • Seth: liked the illustrations "because it was entertaining and also supplemented the text."
  • Paul: The story of Eliot Ness and starting the shantytown fire to drive the occupants away because that is where people thought most of the victims came from. Was the shantytown fire made up for a more dramatic read?
  • Gloriana: Ness reminded her of Harvey dent in the Batman movie.
  • Chelsea: wanted to know how much of the story is fictionalized.

Torso: The Text

  • Characters: Eliot Ness, head investigator. Detective Walter Myrlo and Detective Sam Simon, were partners working the case. Dr. Albert Pearce, the county coroner. Edna Ness, Eliot Ness's wife. Frank Dolezal, suspect. Gaylord Sondheim suspect, interview for postcards.
  • Begins with two boys playing tag, and they stumble upon a body. The detectives arrive and discover a second body
  • Coroner can't ID the victims without head or hands, but discovers there is one killer because the cuts are identical and precise.
  • Detectives go out to find the heads of the victims. Find one head floating in the water.
  • Failed raid of suspected production of Moonshine.
  • More victims discovered. Find a head with a body, but they do not match. Goes from 3 victims to 5
  • Ness stumbles onto the case and decides he wants to take part. Ness beings to receive postcards from the killer
  • Question more suspects. Dolezal is the prime suspect, he is arrested and then hangs himself.
  • Next main suspect is Gaylord because they can read one of the postmarks, but is let go because of lack of evidence. Question him for 12 pages. Send a team of detectives to watch him.
  • Follow Gaylord to an abandoned house, detective Simon is killed, Ness fights with the suspect, but Gaylord gets away.
  • Ness declares case closed. receives another postcard from the killer

Pop Culture References

  • The Untouchables. It was a book co-written by the real Eliot Ness, describing his experience with the case, highly fictionalized. turned into a TV show and then a movie.

"Criminal Minds, Dexter, and CSI TV shows had episodes that had similarities to the Torso murders.

  • Movie based off of the graphic novel is in the works


  • Who read the novel?
  • What is the significance of the 8th victim having one rib removed?
  • Can anyone think of any other pop culture references?
  • What did you like/dislike about the novel?
  • Did the author stick to the real story or did he fictionalize most of it?
  • What did you think about the author using real pictures in the story? His drawings of the real pictures?
  • What did you think about the obsession with Moonshine even though prohibition had just ended before this time?
  • What did you think about the word Nazi carved into the body?
  • Why were the bodies mostly found in water?