Some folks called me the Mad Butcher, but they would be wrong. I was a professional. That’s what my degree certificate said: Doctor of Dental Surgery, Cleveland, August 1932, exactly three years ago. Now, I was a bankrupt surviving on a small stipend since Wells Fargo foreclosed my practice.
Fuck them; fuck the world for dealing me a bum hand.
I roomed with my mother - and her entourage of cats - in a three-storey colonial house, with a leaking roof, close to the hobos’ shanty town in Kingsbury Run. At night, I could see their campfires and smell the dying embers of driftwood crackling in the wind. This site was a refuge for homeless men, seeking temporary solace caused by the blight of the Great Depression as it was called by President Hoover; a never ceasing legion of lost souls, the dregs of humanity.
My reconstructed surgery was in the basement. My anesthetic was a chloroform pad. My clients were drifters, drug addicts and drunks.
Old man Jackson from Chicago - told me he had an abcess and a feverish temperature - was my first live experiment...
‘...Where does it hurt?’ He didn’t answer. I was looking into his open mouth: a cavern of rotting molars; halitosis breath. I prodded gently with my pick at an upper tooth. Like him, it was past redemption. I closed his jaw and concentrated on his body. I unbuttoned his trousers and removed a testicle. Put it in a bowl.
When he came to, his voice was slurring. ‘What’s happening?’
His eyes focused on my smile, he started to relax, and then frowned when he noticed his trousers stained with blood. His body tensed and he tried to move his arms. Sweat glistened like pearls on his forehead as he strained at the ropes that bound him to the dentist’s chair, a solid piece of furniture that I had liberated from the bailiffs. His voice was hoarse.
‘Shit, I can’t move ... what the fuck you doing?’
He could also see blood pumping from the cut on his neck into a metal bucket. As it pooled, sourly sweet; copper and metal smells filled my nostrils with a hint of rust and salt intertwined. Then another putrid smell as his bowels defecated.
The clock on the wall struck nine. A locomotive’s whistle in the distance heralded more vagrants arriving. More experiments.
‘I’m killing you,’ I replied, showing him the scalpel. ‘Carotid artery.’
His eyes widened, pupils bulged. He started to screech; it was more a squeal, but noisy. I picked up my hunting knife. He was still yelping while I severed his head.
There was a gurgle and the noise stopped. I felt wetness between my legs. Shame; it was over too quickly. But I still had his testicle and a bucket of blood to examine.
Now I knew how it felt to kill a human. It felt good. I had spent the following three weeks fantasizing about it. Jackson’s enlarged pupils staring at me as I sliced through his neck. They were still staring at me when I lifted his head out of the burlap bag to conduct another experiment. There’s no emotion in them now; no fear, just blankness. And his body was beginning to stink...
…Edward was buying dope in the Roaring Third - a sordid landscape of brothels, pool halls, and crowded tenements - when I met him on Friday night in a bar. ‘For a friend,’ he said, laughing.
We talked awhile, had a few drinks. Later, he had a glint in his eye when I offered him some bootleg whiskey. ‘It’s stashed in a safe place,’ I said.
He was a tall guy like me, similar age, with a debonair look. A ladies man, I’m sure. And he wasn’t fazed about staggering half-drunk past Kingsbury run, sloughing through garbage, skirting camps and down the steps to my basement.
Into my surgery; into my chloroform pad.
I roped him to the chair, and then I carried out another blood-letting experiment. You see, I had a craving for knowledge. More than that, I was a scientific genius devoted to my vocation. Why do teeth decay? The answer lay in the human body. All I had to do was find it.
Then I would be famous – it would be payback time for my father and me.
After it was over, I was spent and disappointed that my experiment had not yielded clues. Now, the basement felt untidy; the burlap sacks were invading my space. Disposal of both bodies was late Sunday night, deep in the heart of Kingsbury Run, well away from the camps and scavenger dogs. The weather had held up also; usually the wintry fall would drift in from Lake Erie, up the Cuyahoga River, and blanket the city in a damp odor.
I buried both heads separately, Old man Jackson’s eyes were mocking me, and I didn’t want Edward’s to do the same. I tried to burn Jackson with oil but he didn’t ignite. A dog barked in the distance, I sensed movement approaching. It was time to move out back to my rooming house.
I could remember that day – Monday September 23rd - the day when the bodies were found on Jackass Hill, and I became involved. According to the police statement, two young brothers were playing at the bottom of steep embankment in the ravine. The elder boy saw something sticking out from the undergrowth and went to investigate; it was a headless body.
The Erie Railroad police were first on the scene. When they discovered a second body and a severed head they called the Sixth Precinct police. Detectives Emil Musil and Orly May were the first to respond. I took the call from Emil.
‘Carl, go find the Chief and tell him we’ve got two dead bodies here on Jackass Hill; there could be more. I’m roping off the site right now.’
I listened some more while Emil finished the report; it sounded bad. And Assistant Chief Emmet Potts agreed.
‘Okay, Carl, round up a posse. Let’s get on down there, and see for ourselves.’
Soon, we had a large contingent of police and detectives combing the area. It was gruesome work in the late afternoon with the light fading into dusk.
There was a shout at the edge of the site. ‘Over here. I’ve found a head.’ One of the detectives went over to take a look.
Then Emil’s voice. ‘Carl?’
He had spotted something; he was waving me over. I got up off my knees. ‘Okay, coming.’
‘Goddamn’, he said - he had found the two dicks. We were like pigs in a trough - buried heads, severed jewels, body parts scattered.
It was weird.
I could almost sense the killer’s presence, as if he was watching us - watching me. None of us had ever seen anything like it before...
Emil broke into my thoughts. ‘Bag it up.’ I looked up, he was looking at me.
He was a tall, no-nonsense cop with a moustache. A senior officer and bossy, but he was straight as a die.
I can be stubborn when the mood takes me – I was no-one’s patsy – and Emil knew it. ‘Fuck that,’ I said.
He stared at me. I showed him my hands – empty. A silent understanding passed between us – I sensed he respected me taking a stand. He grimaced and called over Orly, his partner. ‘Get Carl a trowel, will you. There are bits everywhere.’
Orly May, a veteran with eighteen years service, the last four on homicide, said what was on our minds. ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this one.’
I tidied up the body bits and left it to the coroner’s team to cart them to the mortuary. I was there when Coroner Arthur J. Pearce later addressed his elite audience.
‘Both men were bound hand and foot by ropes against which they had struggled violently; there were burn marks on the wrists.’ Pearce paused, waited for that to sink in while the clock on the meeting hall wall chimed twice. ‘Most chillingly, both were decapitated, ‘while alive,’ - there were gasps from the hard-nosed attendees -‘with a sharp instrument, possibly a butcher’s knife.’
I felt nauseous, and then a hot fury. I could remember what my father told me before he retired from the force with a shattered leg. Big Joe Lyons had brought him down in a hail of gunfire, but that didn’t stop my father from eventually bringing the mobster to justice.
You’re a cop, son. Wear your badge with honor.
The killer had to be hunted down, just like my father’s officers hunted down Big Joe.
This killer would be my quest.