Eliot Ness, Head of "The Untouchables"


For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like cemeteries to boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my photo library of interesting tombstones to good use.

When Al Capone and his gang tried unsuccessfully to bribe Eliot Ness and his crackerjack law enforcement team, they came up against something they rarely encountered: Men who couldn’t be paid off. Ness keenly turned the failed bribery into a PR moment, deeming his crew “The Untouchables.” As a result, the incorruptible group enjoyed just as much fame as the gangsters they put behind bars.

However, when Prohibition ended and Capone was finally put in prison (for tax evasion, no less), there was really no need for the Untouchables anymore. The group was disbanded, and Ness became an alcohol tax agent in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. He later spent about seven years as Cleveland’s Safety Director—the youngest in the city’s history, in fact. But he hung up his badge in 1942 to become the National Director for the Federal Social Protection Program, and the the chairman of Diebold Corporation, a security safe company.

In the end, Ness wasn’t totally untouchable. After his career in law enforcement ended, he ran for mayor of Cleveland in 1947, but the allure of the Eliot Ness name wasn’t what it once was. He lost the race almost two to one, and was ousted from his chairman job at Diebold shortly thereafter. Ness ran through a string of jobs after that, from working as a clerk in a bookstore to selling frozen hamburgers to restaurants. He invested a huge amount of money into North Ridge Industrial Corporation, a company that watermarked checks to prevent forgery. The company went under pretty quickly, and Ness lost almost everything. Depressed, alcoholic, and riddled with debt, he suffered a heart attack in 1957 and died at the age of 55.

The once-legendary agent may have been lost to history had he not been working on his memoirs when he died. Writer Oscar Fraley took what Ness had written, peppered it liberally with embellishments and elaborations, and created both a best-seller and a modern-day hero in one fell swoop.

Despite the posthumous second round of fame that followed, the whereabouts of Ness' remains was a secret for decades. In the mid-'90s, a librarian's research uncovered Ness' ashes nestled among other family flotsam and jetsam in the garage of one of his relatives. The librarian persuaded the family to lay Ness to rest at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland. His ashes were scattered in the lake there, with a headstone erected on the bank for people to pay their respects.

Peruse all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.