Boston had its Strangler. California had the Zodiac Killer. And in the depths of the Great Depression, Cleveland had the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run. Daniel Stashower shines a fresh light on one of the most notorious puzzles in the annals of crime, and uncovers the story of Ness's hunt for a sadistic killer who was as brilliant as he was cool and composed, a mastermind who was able to hide in plain sight.
The premise is a grind house fever dream ... The reality of this case is far more mundane and messy, and far more fascinating ... Both Ness and the Torso Killer are operating in Cleveland at the same time, but Stashower is admirably forthcoming about how these two threads barely intersect ... Stashower demonstrates an ear for the vivid poetry of the era’s tabloid journalism as he resurfaces the outlandish writing that came out of the press’s attempt to cover the Torso Killer ... American Demon is a winding, and sometimes confusing, jaunt.
There's no definitive solution to the murders in American Demon, but Stashower's portrait of Ness is layered and he vividly re-creates a broken system where a well greased cop often called ahead so gambling houses could tidy up before an imminent bust.
... grisly ... Stashower showcases several such scenes in gripping detail, when innocent folks turned a corner and suddenly saw something they could never unsee ... It sounds strange to say in a book with so many gruesome bits, but in some ways the killings are a MacGuffin — the mere catalyst for the unraveling and downfall of the protagonist Ness ... I walked away from American Demon somewhat frustrated. That’s no knock on Stashower, who provides shrewd analysis and paints each scene with vivid, macabre details. You’ll sweat reading it. But don’t expect the tidy ending of a mystery novel. As in a classic noir detective story, we watch Ness fall apart, but there’s no redemption here. Sad to say, Ness peaked in his 20s, and Prohibition’s star G-man never recovered from the intoxicating effects of fame. He wasn’t untouchable after all.