It has to be Eliot Ness and the Torso Murders. That’s what Beth McGee thought in early 2016 when Adam Kern, a Canton native and producer, tasked her with writing a script for an immersive theater show.
There were no words on paper, not even a name, but she knew that needed to be the centerpiece.
The legendary Cleveland safety director and his investigation of Cleveland’s Torso Murders case, at least a dozen gruesome killings around Kingsbury Run, had long fascinated McGee. While Ness had taken down gangster Al Capone in Chicago, he was never able to apprehend the Torso Murderer.
“It vexed him that he couldn’t,” says McGee, a Case Western Reserve University theater professor.
McGee drew early inspiration from Duke Riley’s 2010 multimedia exhibit, An Invitation to Lubberland, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. In a video, Riley burrowed into a sewer tunnel under downtown — where Kingsbury Run has been hidden since the Great Depression — and told the story of the hobo village that Ness had ordered to be burned down to find the killer.
“That ruined his reputation in Cleveland,” McGee says.
The resulting script, Shadow of the Run, throws theatergoers right into the shantytown and Ness’ pursuit of the killer. The only way to break free is for audience members to solve the puzzles as they make their way through the set complete with Cleveland landmark scenery and two escape rooms.
Originally targeted to debut this fall, Shadow of the Run has been slotted for fall 2018. The show even has the backing of Cleveland natives Anthony and Joe Russo. McGee has a long relationship with the Hollywood directors. She taught Joe acting and voice techniques at CWRU and worked as a dialect coach during Welcome to Collinwood. So after McGee reached out for advice, they decided to invest.
McGee plans to make it authentic by incorporating artifacts from her research. For example, one room uses letters based off the taunting notes sent to Ness from “The Doctor” — one of his prime suspects.
“It was clear to me that whoever wrote that letter was deranged,” McGee says.
With a subject so grisly, the play could easily be all blood and gore, but McGee wants to dig deeper to tell the tale of the people affected by the murders.
“We’re focusing on how people come together in times of adversity and how they battle darkness,” she says.
Get to know Eliot Ness with these details hidden in the show.
He Can Dance
Eliot Ness and his second wife, Evaline, frequently dined and danced at the top hotel ballrooms in Cleveland. Ness’ co-workers said that he used dancing to release the stresses of his job — and he had moves.
He liked booze
Despite his role as a prohibition agent, some in Ness’ life claim alcohol was a factor in the car accident that caused him to lose his job in Cleveland. After chasing the Torso Murderer for years, it’s said that Ness turned to booze to help him cope.
He was a ladies’ man
Ness was married to three different women. It’s been said that he cheated on his wives. While he was married to Evaline, she stayed in a Bay Village home while he resided in an apartment downtown.