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Hell’s Wasteland

The Pennsylvania Torso Murders

James Jessen Badal

Publication Year: 2013

From 1934 to 1938, Cleveland, Ohio, was racked by a classic battle between good and evil. On one side was the city’s safety director, Eliot Ness. On the other was a nameless phantom dubbed the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run,” who littered the inner city with the remains of decapitated and dismembered corpses. Never caught or even officially identified, the Butcher simply faded into history, leaving behind a frightening legend that both haunts and fascinates Cleveland to this day. In 2001 the Kent State University Press published James Jessen Badal’s In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland’s Torso Murders, the first serious, book-length treatment of this dark chapter in true crime history. Though Murder Has No Tongue: The Lost Victim of Cleveland’s Mad Butcher—a detailed study of the arrest and mysterious death of Frank Dolezal, the only man ever charged in the killings—followed in 2010.

Now Badal concludes his examination of the horrific cycle of murder-dismemberments with Hell’s Wasteland: The Pennsylvania Torso Murders. During the mid-1920s, a vast, swampy area just across the Ohio border near New Castle, Pennsylvania, revealed a series of decapitated and otherwise mutilated bodies. In 1940 railroad workers found the rotting remains of three naked and decapitated bodies in a string of derelict boxcars awaiting destruction in Pennsylvania’s Stowe Township. Were all of these terrible murders the work of Cleveland’s Mad Butcher? Many in Ohio and Pennsylvania law enforcement thought they were, and that assumption led to a massive, well-coordinated two-state investigation. In Hell’s Wasteland, Badal explores that nagging question in depth for the first time.

Relying on police reports, unpublished memoirs, and the surviving autopsy protocols—as well as contemporary newspaper coverage— Badal provides a detailed examination of the murder-dismemberments and weighs the evidence that potentially links them to the Cleveland carnage. Hell’s Wasteland is the last piece in the gigantic torso murder puzzle that spanned three decades, covered two states, and involved law enforcement from as many as five different cities.

Published by: The Kent State University Press


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pp. C-i

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. ii-vii


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pp. viii-viii

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Introduction and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xx

It's a story I have told many times. During the last two days of the semester in my eighth-grade American history class, our teacher, John Gillett, decided to regale us with the tale of Cleveland'€™s infamous, unsolved torso murders from the mid-1930s, as told in John Bartlow Martin'€™s article from the November 1949 issue of Harper'€™s Magazine—a ...

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1. Murders Most Foul

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pp. xxi-17

The morning of Wednesday, March 16, 1921, began like any other day on the Jackson family farm. Everything was utterly normal; all seemed as it should be. Achsa Jackson (whose admittedly odd first name was consistently misprinted by the New Castle press as “Ascha”) had given her seventy-three-year-old mother Emma a parting kiss on the cheek as ...

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2. The Triple Mystery of 1925

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pp. 18-32

New Castle, Pennsylvania, is a relatively small industrial city in the western part of the state, close to the Ohio border. Founded in 1798 by John Carlysle Stewart, the city became a part of the newly created Lawrence County in 1849. The construction of a canal system and the laying of railroad lines in the nineteenth century facilitated the easy...

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3. Enter Cleveland

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pp. 33-44

Just when the so-called torso murders began in Cleveland is a matter of debate. Some commentators fix the starting date at September 1934, when the rotting lower half of a woman’s torso, thighs still attached, washed up on the shore of Lake Erie east of the city. Others opt for the more traditionally accepted date of September 23, 1935, when a ...

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4. The Darkest Circles of Hell

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pp. 45-67

Ben Grinder, a switchman for the P&LE Railroad, reported for work along the rail lines near West Pittsburg at 3:35 p.m. on September 29, 1939. Sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., he noticed something glimmering in the coal-black darkness, and he glanced toward the edge of the notorious Murder Swamp less than two hundred yards away. He...

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5. Odyssey into the Abyss

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pp. 68-84

The stark realities of the Great Depression may have largely faded from American public memory, but the graphic images from that era of transients riding the railroad lines through the lonely desolation and decay of large industrial cities remain vivid. The gloomy menace of boxcars and gondolas on lonely sidings silhouetted against the night sky; the ...

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6. “My Name is Legion, For We Are Many”

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pp. 85-121

It is not my intention in this book to offer a positive identification of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run or to even speculate on who he may have been. I dealt with that question in considerable depth in two earlier books, In the Wake of the Butcher: Cleveland’s Torso Murders and Though Murder Has No Tongue: The Lost Victim of Cleveland’s Mad...

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Epilogue: Apocrypha

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pp. 122-132

In the years since Cleveland’s most notorious murders rocked the city, a cottage industry has sprung up devoted to giving the Mad Butcher ever more victims in an ever-expanding geographic area of activity. Regrettably, Peter Merylo must take responsibility for getting the whole process started in the late 1930s. He never wavered in his belief that a...


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pp. 133-154


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pp. 155-156


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pp. 157-164

Back Cover

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pp. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781612776736
E-ISBN-10: 1612776736
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351536

Page Count: 104
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 849943655
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Hell’s Wasteland

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Serial murders -- Pennsylvania -- New Castle.
  • Homicide investigation -- Pennsylvania -- New Castle.
  • Serial murders -- Ohio -- Cleveland.
  • Homicide investigation -- Ohio -- Cleveland.
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