Max Allan Collins

Butcher's dozen


September 23, 1935


If the face of Cleveland had been cut by a knife, Kingsbury Run would have been the scar. A rank, sooty gulley just southeast of downtown, the Run was barren but for brown patches of weeds and brush and the occasional rusting tin can or broken bottle. And, of course, rails and switches and motionless freight cars, as here was where the city's trains made their escape to the suburbs and beyond, to Youngstown and Pittsburg and points east.

While commuters were carried home by rapid transit lines to the comfort of tree-shaded streets and landscaped lawns and ritzy residences, less affluent, nonpaying passengers also traveled by rail to and from this dirty, desolate ravine, bordered by the prisonlike walls of factories and warehouses. Whether hobos by choice or circumstance, the men in tattered clothing who walked through this vale of tears were constantly reminded of who they were (and weren't) and what they had (and had not) by the industry that surrounded the Run, the same industry that had created wealth for some and livelihoods for others and ugliness for everyone.

The air in the bone-dry creek bed that was the Run was an affront to eyes and nose alike; beneath the dried-up bed, water still flowed, diverted underneath into sewers, surfacing as a foul, stagnant pool atop the channel flowing into the Cuyahoga River. Nearby, near the train tracks, scattered about the hillside, was the shantytown where so many of the nameless, out-of-work men had made a pathetic home on a stench-fouled stretch of real estate no one could begrudge them.

On this chilly fall afternoon, darting through brownish-gray weeds and scrub brush that clung to the craggy earth like clumps of hair stubbornly gripping a balding scalp, two boys from a nearby low-income neighborhood were using the Run as a playground. Prospecting for treasure amongst the refuse, running back and forth across the railroad tracks, plucking the occasional incongruous sunflower, the boys in their aimless adventuring led themselves to the rubble-strewn sixty-foot promontory known as Jackass Hill.

Jimmy, laughing, charged down the steep, weedy hill, knowing the younger boy couldn't catch him. The boys were not brothers, but each was wearing his own brother's threadbare clothes. They'd been playing tag, fifteen- year-old James Waggner and thirteen-year-old Peter Kester, and Jimmy, small for his age, was enjoying the natural superiority of being the oldest. Scrambling, stumbling, Jimmy careened into a bush at the foot of the hill and, twisting as he fell, found himself suddenly sitting down. The bush had cushioned him, but his pride was wounded. Above him, hands on hips, atop Jackass Hill, Petey was laughing.

'Nice play, Shakespeare!' the kid called. Jimmy felt his face burn and he began to push himself up.

But his hand settled on something cold; at first he thought it was a tree limb, but his eyes told him it was another sort of limb altogether.

Jimmy shot to his feet; his heart was pounding; he tried to swallow.

Two legs extended from under the thicket. Their flesh was white, very white, above black shoes. The brush overtook the legs just above the knees, but everything you could see of this guy (and it seemed to Jimmy to be a man) was bare.

'Petey, get down here!'

'What is it? Ya tear your trousers or somethin'?'

'Get down here, I said!'

The younger boy made a face, then came scuffing down the hillside.

'What's the big deal, anyway?'

'That,' Jimmy said, and pointed.

'What is it?' The boy was backing up; he stood somewhat behind Jim-my, peeking around.

'I think it's a dead guy,' Jimmy said. 'I'm takin' a closer look.'

'Yeah. Good idea.' But Petey stayed put, while Jimmy moved forward.

'Maybe he's just sleeping,' Petey offered.

'Mister!' Jimmy said as he began brushing the branches of the bush aside. 'Mister, wake-'

But he didn't bother finishing his suggestion.

He was looking at the rest of the man with the black socks-or anyway, as much of him as there was to look at.

Stepping back as if he'd been burned, the branches snapping back, Jimmy swallowed thickly, his mouth dry, eyes popping.

'What's wrong, Jimmy?'

'He ain't got no head,' Jimmy said.


Jimmy swallowed again. 'And that ain't all.'


'He ain't got no thing, either.'

'No thing?'

'No dick.'

'No dick?'

'No dick.'

The younger boy touched his groin and grimaced. 'I'm not gonna look.'

'You better not,' Jimmy agreed. 'You might puke or something.'

'Y-you didn't.'

'I'm older.'

'Maybe… maybe I will look.'


Petey thought about it. Still planted in the same spot, he said, 'You think somebody cut the guy's head off?'

Jimmy nodded. 'And his dick.'

'Is there blood all over?'

'I don't see any.'

'I–I wonder where they are.'


'Not who, stupid… where they are-his head and his thing.'

'Well, I'm not looking for 'em.'

'Me either,' Petey said, shivering. 'We oughta do something. We oughta get help.'

'I don't think anything's gonna help that guy.'

'We better find somebody and tell them.'

Jimmy agreed, and skirting the hill, they trudged up the incline at the edge of the Run, which was as steep as Jackass Hill itself, glancing behind them as they went, as if the corpse might get up and follow.

Panting, they stopped at the run-down frame building on the corner of Forty-ninth and Praha; a man was sitting on the wooden steps in front of the sagging gray rooming house. He was a big almost-handsome blond man in a red and black plaid shirt and gray pants, clothing that was not at all fancy, but neither did it have the frayed, ill-fitting look of what the two boys were wearing. The man seemed to Jimmy to be almost as pale as the headless,

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