January 26

This Day in History

Crime

Jan 26, 1936:

So-called Mad Butcher terrorizes Cleveland

The dismembered body of Florence Polillo is found in a basket and several burlap sacks in Cleveland. The 42-year-old woman was the third victim in 18 months to be found dismembered with precision. It sparked a panic in Cleveland, where the unknown murderer was dubbed the "Mad Butcher."

In June 1936, another head, and later a headless body, turned up and police were unable to identify the victim. Even when a replica mask of the victim's face was displayed at the Great Lakes Exposition, the victim remained a mystery, while the Mad Butcher continued killing.

By the summer of 1938, with the body count into double digits, the Cleveland police were desperate to find the Mad Butcher. One suspect, an actual butcher named Frank Dolezal, was interrogated for 40 straight hours until he confessed to killing Florence Polillo. However, he subsequently changed his story many times and killed himself in his cell before his guilt could be determined.

In reality, though, few authorities believed Dolezal was actually the killer—it is believed that the real suspect was relatively prominent and politically connected, and as a result the police department trumped up the case against Dolezal. All official police records of the matter have been destroyed.

The Mad Butcher's attack stopped in Cleveland after the Dolezal's suicide. The true identity of the Mad Butcher remains a mystery to this day.

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