from the Ohio Historical Society
Eliot Ness was born on April 19, 1903, in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1927 with dual degrees in business and law. He briefly worked for the Retail Credit Company, before returning to the University of Chicago to earn a Masters degree in criminology.
In 1927, Ness accepted a position with the United States Department of the Treasury. Ness was assigned to Chicago, where he was to enforce Prohibition. Ness created an elite team of Treasury officers, nicknamed the Untouchables, to shutdown the alcohol operations of gangster Al Capone. After operating for six months, Ness claimed that he had either seized or shutdown more than one million dollars in breweries. While Ness’s actions complicated Capone’s operations, they did not end his bootlegging activities. Rather, another group of Treasury officers arrested Capone for income tax evasion. Capone was convicted of this crime in 1931.
In 1934, Ness became the chief investigator of the Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Prohibition for Ohio. The next year, Prohibition ended, causing Ness to seek new employment. This same year, he became the Director of Public Safety for Cleveland, Ohio. Ness took over a police force in Cleveland that was known for its corruption. Under his leadership, the Cleveland Police Department dramatically improved and gained the respect of other departments across the United States. Ness also helped curtail illegal gambling and prostitution in the city, although his department failed to solve several prominent crimes, including finding a serial killer known as the “Cleveland Torso Murderer.”
In 1942, Ness resigned. He worked briefly in Washington, DC, before becoming the chairman of the Diebold Incorporated, a safe manufacturer in Canton, Ohio, in 1944. In 1947, he unsuccessfully ran for the Cleveland mayoral seat. This same year, the Diebold Corporation released Ness from the company. He then took a position with North Ridge Industrial, in Pennsylvania. Ness died from a heart attack on May 16, 1957.