In an effort to clean house and revive the city from its bad reputation, Mayor Harold Burton brought in law enforcement untouchable Eliot Ness to serve as Cleveland’s new public safety director. Almost immediately, Ness became the figurehead for crime stopping as he faced one of the biggest threats in the town—a madman with a penchant for dismembering his victims, coined “The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run,” or more commonly, the Cleveland Torso Murderer.
The mad butcher was such a menace that authorities went to extreme lengths to garner any leads; perhaps the oddest, and seemingly most grotesque, of which involved a series of plaster masks cast from the faces of unidentified victims, occasionally featuring real hair, which were strewn about the city. Despite his overwhelming success spanning the entire length of his career, Ness never was able to nab his man, and for generations to come, the torso murderer would remain one of Cleveland’s most iconic unsolved mysteries.
For over 75 years these gruesome tales have remained in the forefront of popular culture, dazzling audiences with a predilection for the macabre. For 24-year-old graphic novelist Robbie Puzzitiello, his fascination with the hardboiled, crime-ridden streets of prohibition-era Cleveland was in his blood, he just didn’t know it yet. It was on a high school field trip to the Cleveland Police Museum, he remembers, that he first became acquainted with the torso murderer, as he sat face-to-face with the plaster-cast death masks.
[divider type=”thick”] [Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”2″ gal_title=”Cooney”] [pullquote align=”left” background=”on”]”I had never heard of the Torso Murderer before, but I was immediately enthralled. I quickly learned about a graphic novel, a film in the works, and many books and essays on the topic,” Puzzitiello explained.[/pullquote]
It was earlier in 2014, while working on a psychological thriller called Player’s Pawn, that Puzzitiello stumbled upon his own familial bond. Having credited Torso, the gritty graphic novel by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko, as his greatest inspiration, his grandmother was taken aback—how could his own crime-stopping, case-breaking great-grandfather not have served as a greater influence? She promptly handed over decades worth of material, including the personal scrapbook of her father, Cleveland police detective Martin P. Cooney. A fresh story fell straight into his lap.
Puzzitiello had a goldmine in his hands—a chummy, no nonsense partner, 25th-hour interrogation scenes, a high-speed car chase ending in a shootout on the steps of Cleveland Police Headquarters—you name it, Puzzitiello had it, and he had it on record, (strictly the facts, ma’am.) From his impressive record alone, solving 340 out of the 363 murder cases brought in front of him while he was acting head of homicide between 1940 and 1947, it was clear to Puzzitiello that he would be writing a new story, but one which would be entirely more special.
Over the years, Cooney was offered several opportunities for advancement, even being nominated by Ness himself, but he turned the offers down; he didn’t want to offend anyone by jumping rank. And that’s what Cooney is all about—it’s a character driven piece about a humble, straight-shooting cop at a time when crime and corruption ran rampant.
“I don’t think I could have asked for a better, truer tale,” he said. “There’s nothing not to like about Marty Cooney. He is the essence of pulp mag and noir storytelling.”
Puzzitiello intends to shape the eras of Cooney’s career into three books, comprised of six to twelve issues each. The series will document his early life as a first generation Irish immigrant and years as a gangbuster patrolman, his time as head of homicide, involvement in the subversive squad taking down gangsters and policy rackets, and his retirement in ’68.
Halfway through the Kickstarter campaign, issue one of Cooney was fully funded, and now issue two is hoping to do the same. For a sneak peek of what’s in store, check out the motion comic for The Ace of Spades Murder, one of the most sensational cases in Cooney’s career, written by Puzzitiello, with illustrations from artist Gemma Moody.
If you’re in the mood for a true crime story based in Cleveland, set in the glory days of low-tech gumshoe crime-solving, head over to Puzzitiello’s Kickstarter page, take the pledge, and back one of Cleveland’s unsung heroes. When issue one comes hot off the presses, turn off your phone, sign offline, and take a crack at the case with some good old-fashioned detective work.