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June 2012
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Eliot Ness had faults, but was a man of integrity, principle



Don Babwin's Associated Press article on Eliot Ness in the Sun (Jan. 29) while remaining impartial, perpetuates recurring canards about the famous lawman. Ness remains a controversial figure. Some see him as a vain, self-aggrandizing braggart, while the real man was principled and dedicated to what he believed.

True, Ness did not single-handedly put Capone away. Chicago papers of the era (which I have read) repeatedly emphasized that Ness and his men were part of a larger team dedicated to ending Capone's career. In fact, Ness, when he accepted the job of Cleveland's director of public safety, stressed that bringing down the gangster was a group effort.

Anyone who has read Ness' 20-page original manuscript, which was expanded in the 1957 book "The Untouchables," knows how much co-author Oscar Fraley expanded the material. In fact, Ness was so disappointed at the falsification of his career that he wished to disassociate himself with the book.

Few people realize that Ness scored his most significant victories against crime in Cleveland. Among other achievements, he cleaned the police force of many corrupt officers, broke up union corruption, and so severely crippled the Mayfield Road gang that some members moved their criminal enterprises elsewhere (for example, Newport, Ky.).

Of course, Ness had personal faults and failures: excessive drinking in later years, two failed marriages, an unsuccessful Cleveland mayoral race, and a series of unwise business ventures that brought him and Betty, his third wife, severe financial burdens.  But he possessed a guiding sense of integrity that provoked him in his later years to work at a reduced salary to pay off investors in a failed company, whose founder, a white-collar con man, absconded with the cash, leaving Ness and other major employees holding the bag.

Certainly Ness is not unworthy of having his name placed upon a federal building.



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