Somehow, crime and murder are fascinating to many of us seemingly normal human beings. As is the case with traffic accidents, we sometimes can’t help but get drawn into tales of true crime. Whether we enjoy the rush of adrenaline these terrifying tales bring or just enjoy observing silently as the drama unfolds, they’re somehow even more tantalizing when these sorrowful stories take place in our own backyards. You won’t believe that these horrific happenings took place here in Northeast Ohio.
1. The Discovery of the Lady of the Lake, 1934
September 5, 1934, was an unusual day in history. It was on this day during the eighth Nuremberg Rally when Hitler's proclamation of a "Thousand Year Reich" was read in Nazi Germany, and things weren't any more peaceful in Cleveland. A young woman was discovered at Euclid Beach on the Lake Erie shore, completely mutilated. All that was left of the so-called Lady of the Lake was the lower half of a woman's torso with thighs still attached but amputated at the knees. Her skin was treated with some sort of chemical preservative that made it tough and leathery. She was said to be in her thirties, but without a head, she was never identified. Neither was her killer. Many would go on to describe her as "Victim 0" of the Cleveland Torso Murderer, claiming that she's his first true victim though she and her killer were never formally identified.
2. The Torso Murders, 1935 to 1938
Florence Polillo was a lot like the other twelve confirmed victims of the Cleveland Torso Murderer. She could frequently be found cavorting in the rougher regions of the Kingsbury Run neighborhood, and she was found in pieces. You see, the Torso Murderer dismembered his victims between the years of 1935 and 1938, yet he's never been identified. There were likely other victims of this killer's brutal fascination, perhaps even the aforementioned "Lady of the Lake." Famed law enforcement agent Eliot Ness was Cleveland's Public Safety Director at the time, and it is reported that the killer went so far as to place remains within view of his office. How could one killer wreak such havoc and leave no clues to his identity? One can't help but think of this serial killer as the U.S. Jack the Ripper.
3. The Murder of Robert Robertson, 1950
Davenport Avenue would never feel quite the same after July 22, 1950. It was here that the body of 41-year-old Robert Robertson was discovered decapitated. His body had been exposed to the elements for six to eight weeks, and thanks to an arrest record and drinking problem, nobody was quite surprised by his demise. Pictured here is his death mask. Could this be the face of the final victim of the Torso Murderer? The media of the time seemed to think so, unable to resist pointing out the similarities in his murder and those that occurred 15 years earlier.
4. The Presumed Homicide of Beverly Potts, 1951
Beverly Potts was adorable with blonde hair and bright blue eyes. She was responsible and shy, and she loved the arts. The ten-year-old was actually leaving a summer arts program, walking home solo, when she was last seen. She was on the corner of Linnet Avenue and West 117th Street, just minutes from home when she was spotted by a 13-year-old acquaintance at 9:30 p.m. Her parents set out looking for her at 10 p.m., and they notified police an hour later. Thousands searched for the young girl, sparking one of the largest search efforts in area history. The case remains unsolved, though anonymous clues were provided to
The Plain Dealer and police between 2000 and 2015 confessing to her murder and outlining the last moments of her life. Details offered in the letters turned out to be accurate, but the public is still left wondering about the whereabouts of Beverly Potts.
5. The Death of Marilyn Reese Sheppard, 1954
Athletic, respectable, and handsome, Samuel Holmes "Sam" Sheppard must have been something of a catch at Cleveland Heights High School. He and Marilyn Reese fell in love, and they wed in Hollywood. From the outside looking in, they were a happy couple. Sheppard studied osteopathic medicine, making enough to comfortably support his wife and son. So what, then, incited someone to kill young Marilyn? On July 4, 1954, her husband slept on the couch and their son snoozed in his own room when Marilyn was bludgeoned to death. Sam came to her aide but was knocked unconscious by her killer. Sheppard, subsequently, was arrested and tried for the murder of his wife. He was initially found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, though the charges were eventually dismissed after a retrial. DNA evidence eventually revealed that Richard Eberling, an occasional handyman for the family, was the likely murderer, and though he never admitted to Marilyn's death, he was convicted for another murder in 1984.
6. The Christmas Eve Shooting of Charles Clark, 1959
The holidays are always the hardest season to lose a loved one, particularly when they are lost due to violence. In his Mentor home on Christmas Eve, Charles Clark stood in his kitchen preparing dinner when he died at 6:40 p.m. This family man and Boy Scout leader seemed happy from the outside looking in, but investigators would soon discover that his wife had several extramarital affairs. One of her lovers, sharp-shooter Floyd Hargrove, was initially charged with the murder but was acquitted.
7. The Stabbing of Beverly Jarosz, 1964
1964 was a leap year full of surprises. It was in this year that the United States Surgeon General Luther Terry reported that that smoking may be something of a health hazard, and plans to build the New York City World Trade Center were first formally announced. It was in this year that Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and
Jeopardy! debuted for the first time. With so much taking place, it's no wonder nobody had any idea what happened to Beverly Jarosz. On December 28, as the year was winding to a close, she was strangled and stabbed to death in her own bedroom on Thornton Avenue in Garfield Heights. Only 16 years old, Beverly was cute and popular at her school. She talked of being a teacher herself one day, but that day never came. On December 28, she was changing for a day out with friends when she was caught by surprise, strangled, and stabbed 42 times. She had no enemies, but she was being stalked by a mysterious individual that would call her landline only to hang up immediately. He left her presents of jewelry and was even spotted on the front lawn staring up at Beverly and her sister's room before the murder. With no sign of forced entry, authorities determined that Beverly must have known her killer. However, her murder remains unsolved.
8. The Murder of Anita Pratt And Her Unborn Baby, 1981
At 22, Anita Pratt still had her whole life ahead of her. She had a 1-year-old child, and she was seven months pregnant. It was September 19 when a neighbor heard Anita's 13-month-old son crying. The door to the apartment was open, offering no signs of forced entry, and Anita was found stabbed to death beside her son's crib. It seems she reached in to check on her son before she finally passed. Her case was never solved, though a recent investigation revealed that the neighbor that discovered the scene was
rather cooperative during the investigation, to the point that he may have been desperate to sway their suspicion.
9. The Sad Case of Amy Mihaljevic, 1989
30 years ago, ten-year-old Amy Renee Mihaljevic captivated a nation with her still-unsolved kidnapping and murder. She was taken from the Bay Square Shopping Center in Bay Village in October of 1989 after the abductor purportedly contacted the child by phone to discuss purchasing a gift for her mother. She wasn't seen again until February 8, 1990, when she was found in a field in Ashland County. She had been there since her abduction, an official reported, and there was evidence of sexual assault. Mitochondrial DNA and yellow fibers were collected from the scene of the crime, hoping for a break. In 2006 the case, still unsolved, gained momentum once again. Investigators found that several young women had received calls from a strange man claiming to work with their mother in the weeks leading up to Amy's abduction. These young women had all recently visited the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, and they likely left their contact information in a log book at the site. Though the case has never been broken, family and friends of Amy continue to hope that her killer will be brought to justice.
These stories are all too recent, and it is truly unbelievable that they took place in our own backyard. Do you remember following any of these cases?