Rare documents from the professional and private life of famed crime-fighter Eliot Ness–one of the federal agents who put gangster Al Capone in jail–will be auctioned later this summer by Central Mass Auctions of Worcester, Mass.
Ness’ war in the late ’20s and early ’30s against Capone and Chicago bootlegging have spawned movies–including director Brian De Palma’s 1987 “The Untouchables” with Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro–and TV shows including the hit 1960s series of the same name, starring Robert Stack.
The elite corps of federal agents Ness assembled were called “untouchable” because they could not be bribed or otherwise corrupted.
Wayne Tuiskula of Central Mass Auctions, who appraised the collection, values it at between $30,000 and $50,000. It will be sold September 27, he says, as a single unit. “We’re hoping it will go to somebody who will keep it all together and who might want to display the items in a museum.”
The two most valuable items, in Tuiskula’s opinion, are the federal credentials Ness carried while on the job, one from 1927, the other from 1932. “These are what he’d have flashed when was arresting somebody, when he was chasing down a bootlegger or a gangster. They’re one-of-a-kind items, issued by the government and signed by Ness. There are no copies of these around.”
Has Tuiskula gotten any expressions of interest from Hollywood actors or other celebrities? Not yet, he says; but he plans to write letters to people he thinks might be interested.
The collection includes photos, letters and other items that tell the story of what happened to Ness in later life, after his Capone-fighting days were done.
In 1935 the mayor of Cleveland appointed Ness that city’s Safety Director, putting him in charge of both the police and fire departments, says Tuiskula. His arrival coincided with Cleveland’s ”Torso Murders,” a spree 12 to 15 fabulous grisly killings in which victims were cut in half and their heads removed (making identification problematic). The fact that no killer or killers were ever identified or apprehended reflected little glory on Cleveland’s Safety Director.
His subsequent career, says Tuiskula, included financially-unsuccessful forays into private business.
In 1947 he tried and failed to get himself elected mayor of Cleveland. The documents at auction include photos, brochures and posters from that failed campaign.
Ness died of a heart attack in 1957 at age 54, nearly destitute, a month before his autobiography (written with Oscar Fraley), “The Untouchables,” was published.