MURRAY, Ky. — In late December 2011, North Carolina publishers McFarland and Co., released the second edition of Eliot Ness and the Untouchables, the Historical Reality and the Film and Television Depictions, by Dr. Kenneth Tucker, professor emeritus of Murray State University’s department of English.
During the early 1930s, Ness gained fame as one of several men instrumental in putting Al Capone behind bars and inspired Chester Gould’s comic strip detective Dick Tracy. Afterward Ness served as a prohibition agent in Kentucky and Tennessee and became the public safety director of Cleveland, Ohio, where he tackled labor racketeering and organized crime and achieved some of his most important victories against the underworld.
The Untouchables, Ness’s 1957 account of his war against Capone, revived interest in the former treasury agent and led to the classic television series The Untouchables, starring Robert Stack as Ness (1959-63), the 1987 feature film The Untouchables, with Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, as well as other movies and a revived television series.
The major purposes of the first edition of Tucker’s book were to present historical information about the actual Ness and to critique the media portrayals of him. The second edition’s resumption of these goals is strengthened by interviews with regular actors of both series and conversations with nationally known authorities on Ness such as Dr. James Jesson Badal and Rebecca McFarland of Cleveland, Ohio. Additional photos enhance the second edition.
New detailed information is provided on Frank Nitti, the Chicago gangster often portrayed as Ness’s archenemy after the downfall of Capone. Biographical data is provided about historical gangsters, such as Dutch Schultz, Legs Diamond and Lucky Luciano, whom Ness never encountered but who figure in fictional portrayals of his war against crime. The book provides up-to-date information on controversial underworld events such as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the evident suicide of Frank Nitti and the career of Ma Barker.
The second edition also explores the astounding case of Cleveland’s serial killer, the so-called Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, who dismembered perhaps 13 victims during the thirties. Ness was rumored to have identified the killer, but was unable to convict him. Since the first edition of Tucker’s book, other researchers have almost positively identified Ness’s suspect as Francis Edward Sweeney, an alcoholic physician who evaded capture by checking himself into mental hospital. Tucker recounts the investigation by Ness of this grim but intriguing case.
Tucker also provides new information about the campaign Ness waged against Capone and his marriages. In fact, Tucker comments on Ness’s Kentucky connections and verifies the rumor that he and his second wife Evaline McAndrews eloped from Cleveland to be married under unusual circumstances in Greenup, Kentucky.
The book concludes by investigating why Ness has become a cultural icon. Tucker also defends the historical Ness from charges of being a glory-grabbing self-promoter. Although admitting Ness’s later alcoholism, Tucker finds the historical Ness as a basically honest, truly heroic man whose dedication drove him to work exceedingly long hours to fight crime and corruption.
Tucker’s book is available by phone and online at McFarland and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other Internet dealers. Copies are also on the shelves at the Murray State University Bookstore and at University Book and Bean. It is also available on Kindle and other e-books.