Thommy Ford Reads

A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library

“Butcher’s Dozen” by John Bartlow Martin


Looking up is like looking into the bottom of a well—up sixty feet to the street level of Cleveland… Down here in a ditch alongside a crumbling wall of masonry is a hobo campground—blackened embers, chicken feathers, dirty wet excelsior, empty tin cans labelled ‘Do Not Take Internally Will Cause Blindness’… Streets here are short passageways between factory walls and boxcars.


You’ll find “Butcher’s Dozen” in The Library of America’s excellent selection True Crime: An American Anthology

Over the course of three years, from September 1935 to August 1938, a dozen mutilated bodies were found in the rough and tumble Kingsbury Run area of Cleveland. The murderer—occasionally known as “The Cleveland Torso Killer” and sometimes as “The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run”—was never found and is often thought to have carried out similar killings elsewhere in Ohio and in Pennsylvania. The most shocking fact of all, though, is that the mystery of the killer is matched by his or her anonymous victims: depression-era transients and hobos. Only two of the twelve bodies were ever identified, despite a wealth of physical evidence.

John Bartlow Martin’s short, novelistic account of the murders is probably so memorable largely because the killer shares much of the focus with those nameless victims. Sure, we get the matter of fact (but still bloody) details of the killer’s methods. We’re also privy to the Cleveland detectives’ discussion of what type of person might do these things. But the story’s central question is really about the victims. How did ten people go missing without actually being missed? How come no family, friends or acquaintances recognized them from their highly publicized descriptions?

No, “Butcher’s Dozen” is not a piece for the squeamish, but it’s more than just gory. It’s a bleak, scary look at the darker side of society at a particularly dark time in our history. Definitely one of the more eye-opening pieces of true crime I’ve read in awhile.

Review by Matthew

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This entry was posted on January 3, 2015 by in Book Review, Non-Fiction, Saturday Shorts.
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