Is Any All-Female House Really Considered a Brothel?

iStock/Artem Ermilov
iStock/Artem Ermilov

© Image Source/Corbis

In just a few weeks, most college kids will head back to school. Inevitably, some roommate/lab partner/friend/professor/tour guide/lacrosse team mascot is going to tell one of those kids about how, according to “an old law still on the books,” any house with more than a certain number of female residents constitutes a brothel.

If you happen to be a college kid who hears this story this fall, or used to be a college kid who heard it years ago, I have some news for you: the brothel law thing is bunk. Don’t feel bad, though. This story has been circulating around the United States for decades and may well be the most widespread and persistent piece of campus folklore in the country.

The story about brothel laws has been recorded since the 1960s—a decade that saw a huge uptick in the number of women attending college—and may even be older than that. No one seems to know at which school the story started. Every college's version differs in the details. The number of women needed to make a brothel varies from telling to telling. (After a quick, unscientific survey, four and six seem to be the most common numbers).

The story is often told to explain the absence of sorority houses on certain campuses. But for as many times as the tale is told, these laws have never actually been documented anywhere. In 1998, a group of eight Tulane University students searched through municipal and state law books going as far back as the 1800s and came up empty. I did a little digging of my own closer to home; I couldn’t find any laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the municipalities where I went to school.

Housing Laws That Do Exist

How did this myth start? It’s possible that too much binge drinking might have led to the jumbling of zoning laws and morality-motivated “blue laws” in the mind of some mid-century proto-Bro. Certain municipalities do actually have zoning laws that prohibit more than a specified number of people, male or female, from living together. Often, this is to keep groups of possibly rowdy young people from overrunning quiet, mostly family-occupied neighborhoods.

In State College borough, where almost everyone in my family except me went to Penn State, houses in residential zones can’t have more than three unrelated people occupying them. This prevents student housing from overrunning family housing and driving down property values in neighborhoods. Students who find a house in a commercial zone aren’t subject to the same occupation rules.

Many states also have blue laws that enforce certain religious standards, usually the observance of Sunday as a day of worship or rest. These laws are the reason why you can’t buy liquor most places on a Sunday in Pennsylvania or go to a horse race on Sunday in certain towns in Illinois.

Even in these cases, though, households that violate the zoning codes aren’t considered brothels. There are anti-brothel laws in some places in America, but houses of prostitution earn that designation by having prostitution going on inside them, not by having a certain number of residents with lady parts.

Here’s one more twist to the myth: Even in municipalities that limit the number of unrelated persons in the same dwelling, the laws often provide exceptions for buildings meant for communal living, like YMCAs, convents and fraternity/sorority houses.

Have you heard about brothel laws at school? What other campus folklore have you always wondered about?

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

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The Cleveland Torso Murderer: The Scariest Serial Killer You've Never Heard Of

Kutsuks/iStock via Getty Images
Kutsuks/iStock via Getty Images

Even in the throes of the Great Depression, there was a lot going on in Cleveland in 1936. Then the sixth-biggest city in the United States, Cleveland had sold itself as the “city of conventions,” welcoming travelers to downtown through its new union train station, with a variety of fancy hotels nearby and a state-of-the-art public auditorium.

For the second time in a dozen years, the city hosted the Republican National Convention, but the big event in Ohio that summer—and the summer after—was the Great Lakes Exposition, celebrating Cleveland’s centennial. The fair, which spread across 135 acres through downtown Cleveland and on the Lake Erie shore, touted local businesses like Higbee’s Department Store, Standard Oil (John D. Rockefeller had founded the company in 1870 in Cleveland), and General Electric, which was showing off its new fluorescent lights. It also spotlighted the handiwork of a serial killer who had been plying his trade for nearly a year.

Killer Attraction

On June 5, 1936, two boys who had cut school to go fishing found a rumpled pair of pants under a tree on the city’s east side. Tied up in the pants was a man’s severed head. The nude, exsanguinated body was found by nearby railroad tracks soon after. The cause of death was decapitation. It was the fourth dismembered body to show up in less than a year, and Cleveland police realized they had a serial killer on their hands.

A morgue photograph of the "tattooed man" from 1936.Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

A plaster cast of the man’s face and a diagram showing all the tattoos on his body were displayed at the Great Lakes Exposition. More than 11 million people attended the exposition in the two summers it was open, but none could identify “the tattooed man,” one of at least a dozen “torso murders” that plagued northern Ohio—and possibly beyond.

The killer became known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, since most of the bodies were found in that area, described by Cleveland News reporter Frank Otwell as “an unwholesome, crooked gash that meanders carelessly through Cleveland’s lower east side.” The crime bedeviled investigators, including Eliot Ness, one of the era’s most celebrated lawmen.

More than 1500 people were questioned in connection with the murders. A shantytown was burned. Ness’s career ended up ruined. And the case remains officially unsolved to this day.

Untouchable Indeed

When Eliot Ness arrived in Cleveland in 1934, he was known as one of the treasury agents who helped enforce Prohibition laws and did battle with gangsters in Chicago, including Al Capone. Because of his “untouchable” reputation, Ness was named public safety director for the city the following year. His mission was to professionalize and revitalize a police department that had become a corrupt, lazy unit of political patronage.

"Untouchable" lawman Eliot Ness.Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

By the time Ness took office, the Mad Butcher had already claimed four victims. The first two were found in September 1935, both decapitated, exsanguinated, and washed; their genitals had been cut off as well. One was never identified. The other was Edward Andrassy. A year earlier, the lower half of a woman’s torso, down to the knees, had washed ashore east of Cleveland. “The Lady of the Lake” was later determined to be the Mad Butcher’s first victim.

Body parts continued to pile up. Lead police investigator Peter Merylo noted similarities between the Torso Murders and other dismemberment killings in western Pennsylvania, theorizing that the killer might be hopping trains and hiding bodies in boxcars (Kingsbury Run and the city of Cleveland had plenty of railroad tracks). Cuyahoga County coroner Dr. Samuel Gerber said the precision with which the bodies had been dismembered led him to believe the killer could have had some medical training.

Ultimately, Ness was drawn to Francis Sweeney, a doctor from a prominent Cleveland family (his first cousin, Martin Sweeney, was a congressman). Residents were terrified, and public pressure began to mount on Ness, who ultimately holed Sweeney up in a downtown hotel and questioned him for weeks, including with a polygraph. Ness felt Sweeney was the murderer, but could never bring it to trial. For years afterward, Ness would receive taunting postcards from Sweeney.

"Rest Easy Now"

The killer was known as the Mad Butcher, but the killings themselves drove Ness mad. Two more bodies—officially, the 11th and 12th victims—were discovered on August 16, 1938, in a spot on the lakefront that could be seen from Ness’s office. Two days later, Cleveland police swept through Kingsbury Run making dozens of arrests and burning down the shantytowns. Ness was excoriated for his actions—but the murders stopped.

Snake Oil Magazine via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In late 1938, the Cleveland police received a letter purportedly from the killer. “You can rest easy now,” it read. “I have come out to sunny California for the winter.” The killer claimed to have killed someone and buried their body on Century Boulevard between Crenshaw and Western in Los Angeles. No body was ever found.

Ultimately, the only person ever arrested for the Torso Murders was Frank Dolezal, a bricklayer who had lived with Flo Polillo, the third victim, and knew Andrassy and Rose Wallace, the only other victims who were ever identified. Dolezal confessed to killing Polillo, but later recanted. He died in custody, officially a suicide, but his death remains suspicious.

In 1947—the same year Ness unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Cleveland—a woman, later identified as Elizabeth Short, was found murdered in Leimert Park in Los Angeles. Short was cut in half, her intestines were removed, and she was drained of her blood—all similar hallmarks to the Torso Murders. She became known as the Black Dahlia, and her murder has one more thing in common with the Torso Murders: It remains unsolved.

Ness died at 54 in 1957, broke and broken; the man who was once the nation’s top Prohibition agent now had a serious drinking problem of his own. Six months after his death, his memoir, The Untouchables, was published and became the basis for a television show a year later. Ness has remained a pop culture icon ever since. Forty years after his death, Ness was given a funeral with full police honors in Cleveland, and his ashes were scattered at Lake View Cemetery on the city’s east side—not far from Kingsbury Run, where the Mad Butcher left a trail of body parts.