Notable People

Eliot Ness - American Crimefighter

10229 Lake Shore Boulevard
Elisabeth & Eliot Ness 1946
Elisabeth & Eliot Ness 1946

Al Capone's nemesis created quite a stir in Bratenahl when Eliot Ness moved to 10229 Lake Shore Boulevard in 1945.

After World War II ended in 1945, Eliot became chairman of the board for the Diebold Safe and Lock Company in Canton. He also became a partner with Dan Tyler Moore Jr. in an import-export business. His travels almost paralleled those of his wife because Evaline was equally busy traveling to Washington and New York to meet with her book publishers. The distance between them grew too much, and they were quietly divorced on November 17, 1945.

Ness wasn’t alone for long. A friend of Evaline’s from the Cleveland Institute of Art captured his heart. On January 31, 1946, Ness married Elisabeth “Betty” Anderson Seaver. They went to New York for their honeymoon, and Eliot returned to Bratenahl with his new bride. Ness, now 44 years old, still hoped for a family. He and Elisabeth decided to adopt. They welcomed a three-year-old toddler, Robert, born on July 10, 1946, from an orphanage near Ashtabula, Ohio.

Elizabeth & Robert Ness
Elizabeth & Robert Ness

Elizabeth graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1927 and, in the following years, won several prizes in sculpture at the May Shows of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her first marriage to Hugh D. Seaver, a Cleveland architect, and watercolor artist, ended in December 1945. During the previous two years, she had been living in New York, working on several commissions.

In 1947, Ness was talked into running a campaign for mayor against the incumbent, Thomas Burke. Apparently, his days of crime-fighting glory had faded, and the Ness boosters underestimated the power of organized labor. Ness depleted his savings on the campaign and was soundly defeated, two-to-one.

In 1956, Ness, his wife, and son left Bratenahl to Coudersport, Pennsylvania, to manage the Guarantee Paper and Fidelity Company in Coudersport, Pennsylvania. Ness worked hard and invested all he had into the company, but the company’s founder's free-spending habits led to the company’s quick demise.

Eliot Ness is remembered for the impact he had on Cleveland. Ness restored a sense of hope and pride to a city that had been beaten down for a long time.

Eliot Ness was born on April 19, 1903, in Chicago. He was the youngest of five children born to Peter and Emma Ness, both Norwegian immigrants. There was a ten-year gap in age between the fourth child and Eliot, so it was said that Eliot was given lots of family attention.

As Eliot grew up, he enjoyed going to school. It was said that he took school so seriously that he dressed nicer than most children, earning him the nickname “elegant mess.”. He was an avid reader and was fond of the stories of Sherlock Holmes. When he graduated from Fenger High School, he spent a year working in the Pullman plant before college at the University of Chicago. In 1925, he was placed in the top ten percent of his class with a degree in political science and business administration.

Following graduation, he worked in the Chicago field office as an investigator for the Retail Credit Company of Atlanta.

He longed for a job that was a bit more exciting. His oldest brother-in-law worked for the Prohibition Bureau and brought Ness in as an agent with the U.S. Treasury Department. In 1928 he was transferred to the Justice Department to work for the Prohibition Bureau.

Ness returned to the University of Chicago for postgraduate courses in criminology, eventually earning a Masters Degree in 1929. Also, in 1929, Ness married Edna Staley of Chicago.

The Justice Department assigned Ness his task force to close down the bootlegging operations of Al Capone. The ten men he handpicked from around the country were nicknamed the “Untouchables” because they wouldn’t take a bribe. Ness was naïve when he started, but he learned and got a little tougher because the job got a little more dangerous.

After the repeal of prohibition in 1933, Ness was transferred to the Treasury Department’s Alcohol Tax Unit in Cincinnati, responsible for locating and destroying illegal moonshine operations.

He arrived in Cleveland in 1935 as head of the alcohol tax unit of the FBI. His reputation as an honest and capable law enforcement officer caught Cleveland mayor Harold Burton's attention.

On December 11, 1935, Burton hired Ness as the city's Safety Director, which put him in charge of both the police and fire departments. Ness soon began a groundbreaking reform program that focused on professionalizing and modernizing the police, stopping juvenile delinquency, and improving traffic safety. He declared war on the mob, and his primary targets included "Big" Angelo Lonardo, "Little" Angelo Scirrca, Moe Dalitz, John Angerola, George Angersola, and Charles Pollizi.

His most spectacular moment came on January 10, 1937, when he closed down the Harvard ‘Club, a notorious gambling house located in Newburgh Heights.

Eliot and Edna settled into a cottage on the lake owned in Bay Village. Robert Chamberlain, a Cleveland lawyer, owned the cottage.

Eliot was dedicated to his job and would rarely come home before 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. This didn’t help their relationship. Eliot and Edna were divorced in January 1939. Edna returned to Chicago. She never remarried. Her greatest wish was not to be known. She lived the rest of her life incognito.

After being single for only ten months, Ness was ready to marry again. He married Evaline McAndrews in October 1939. A well-liked and a trendy socialite around Cleveland, Evaline had a successful career as a fashion artist.

After their marriage, they moved into a boathouse in the Clifton Lagoons in Lakewood owned by the Stouffer brothers.

The third floor had windows on all sides and afforded Evaline a comfortable place to work on her sketches for Cleveland's major department stores. She eventually began illustrating and authoring children’s books. Because Evaline had her own career, her husband’s long work hours didn’t bother her. She was proud that Ness was devoted to his job as Safety Director for the City of Cleveland.

Mr. and Mrs. Ness enjoyed dining and dancing at the popular hotel ballrooms of Cleveland. Here he met many of the artistic personalities of Cleveland, including artist and designer Viktor Schreckengost. Invariably, Eliot would receive a phone call pulling him away and back to the line of duty as Safety Director.

In 1940, Ness lost an important ally when Mayor Burton was elected to the U.S. Senate. Although Ness remained Cleveland’s Safety Director, with the initiation of a peace-time draft in 1940 and large-scale military mobilization, the government sought a high-profile spokesperson to warn recruits about the dangers of venereal disease. Ness agreed to accept the part-time position as a consultant to the Federal Social Protection Program. He traveled to government offices in New York and Washington, as well as military bases around the country, preaching abstinence and safe sex.”

Critics chided Ness for his long absences. His failure to find a serial killer, the press called the Torso Murderer, overshadowed his previous success.

April 30, 1942, Ness stepped down as Safety Director and moved to Washington D.C.  to become the National Director for the Federal Social Protection Program.

In 1955, when traveling to New York City, Ness became acquainted with Oscar Fraley, a sportswriter who took an interest in the stories of Ness’s days in Chicago. Fraley persuaded Ness to work with him on account of his experiences battling Chicago’s bootleggers.

Ness sent to Fraley a typed twenty-one page, double spaced memoir. When Ness saw the book's galley edition, his pride wouldn’t agree to the text Fraley submitted. Ness signed off on all rights to the book, thinking that it wouldn’t be a success. In a telephone conversation with the author in 1998, an aging Fraley said he knew the book would be a bestseller. When asked why he went ahead with the book knowing Eliot Ness disapproved, he said, “Tough! I knew it would be a success, and if he didn’t like it, he could sign off on it – and he did.”

On May 16, 1957, at 5:15 p.m. Eliot Ness died in his home in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, from a heart attack. His estate showed over $8,000 in debt. Ness never knew how popular his story would become and that Desilu Productions would buy the rights to air the TV series that starred Robert Stack in the lead role. His widow, Elisabeth, could only afford to have Eliot cremated and brought back to Cleveland. A memorial service was held for him at the Church of the Covenant on Euclid Avenue. His ashes were kept by his son, Robert, who was only ten years old when Eliot died.

Robert Ness died of leukemia on August 31, 1976. He was only twenty-nine years old and left a widow.

Elisabeth died in 1977 after suffering from cancer of the throat for several years. She had lived in San Juan Capistrano, California, with a cousin when she passed away.

Robert’s widow kept the ashes of Elion, Elisabeth, and Robert until 1998, when they were united in a formal funeral ceremony. The ashes of all three Ness family members were dispersed on Wade Lake in Lake View Cemetery. On September 10, 1997, a ceremony was held with many hundreds of people and international media in attendance.

It can easily be said that Eliot Ness’s integrity was sincere, and his sense of justice was inflexible. His life was never easy, but he didn’t allow fear to guide him.