Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Eliot Ness

Eliot Ness (April 19, 1903 – May 16, 1957) was an American Prohibition agent, famous for his efforts to enforce Prohibition in Chicago, Illinois, as the leader of a legendary team of law enforcement agents nicknamed The Untouchables. - Wikipedia
"Famous for his efforts." It would be churlish to say he failed. Capone did, after all, go to prison - for tax evasion. The two individuals met once, Ness was head of the police detail which escorted Capone to the train that would take him away. There is no record of their exchanging any words.
Ness: "Did you ever think you wanted something more than anything else in the world and then, after you got it, it wasn't half as good as you expected? Has that ever happened to you?" - Eliot Ness: The Real Story
Ness is famous for another great failure. Departing him hometown of Chicago, he spent some time busting up stills and almost getting killed by hillbillies before becoming Cleveland's Safety Director in late 1935, responsible for overseeing the Police and Fire Departments. He was not a detective or a man on the street policeman, he was a political appointee with the responsibility of managing the safety of the sixth largest city in America.

Shortly before his tenure began, mutilated bodies were left, on occasion, around the city. They were eventually attributed one killer, the so-called Torso Murderer. Ness never caught this supposed serial killer, and there are those who claim this fact plagued him with doubt the rest of his life. Married three times and most likely infertile, Ness died a penniless alcoholic in Coudersport, PA. Like Ulysses Grant before him, he managed through a co-writer to squeeze out a biography before his death and it is that book that made it possible for him to be so popular, to this day, especially, it would seem, among hip-hop artists.

Of course, it is easy to simplify a man's life, someone else's life, just as it is to simplify a murder case - when you are looking for a particular narrative, you can bend the facts however you like. Ness was a successful Safety Director, bringing Cleveland up to the 1930s with modern police techniques that brought down crime and arguably improved the quality of life in the city.

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