Eliot Ness Biography

(American Prohibition Agent Known for His Efforts to Bring Down Al Capone)

Birthday: April 19, 1903 (Aries)

Born In: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Eliot Ness was one of the most renowned Federal Agents in the history of U.S. law enforcement. Along with his small team, ‘The Untouchables’ he destroyed organized crime in Chicago and brought down gangster Al Capone. He displayed great aptitude, competence, honesty, integrity, and reliability throughout his Federal law enforcement career. He not only crushed the illegal multi-million-dollar breweries run by Capone but also established law and order in the crime-ridden cities of Cincinnati and Cleveland. He improved the deplorable traffic control situation in Cleveland and drastically reduced the number of deaths caused by road accidents. He also took care of rising corruption in public institutions. After fighting organized crime as a federal agent for a decade, he became Cleveland’s Public Safety Director, successfully eradicating corruption among policemen and modernizing the fire department. In his later life, his professional reputation was tarnished by his reckless behaviour and he had to do odd jobs to earn his living. At the time of his death, his heroic contribution was almost forgotten and he was more or less bankrupt. He co-authored the popular autobiography, ‘The Untouchables’which was released shortly after his death and re-established his fame as amorally upright crime investigator.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 54


father: Peter Ness (1850–1931)

mother: Emma (King) Ness

American Men University Of Chicago

Died on: May 16, 1957

place of death: Coudersport, Pennsylvania, United States

City: Chicago, Illinois

Ancestry: Norwegian American

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

U.S. State: Illinois

More Facts

education: University Of Chicago

Recommended Lists:

Childhood & Early Life
Eliot Ness was born on 19 April 1903, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. He was the youngest of five children born to Norwegian immigrant parents, Peter Ness and Emma King. Peter and Emma operated a bakery.
He attended Christian Fenger High School in Chicago. He then studied at the University of Chicago, majoring in Economics. He graduated in 1925.
Continue Reading Below
After graduation, Eliot Ness began his career as an investigator for the Retail Credit Company. He was in charge of the Chicago territoryand would conduct background researches and verifications. Meanwhile, he also completed a master's degree course in criminology.
In 1926, he was encouraged by his brother-in-law, FBI agent Alexander Jamie to join law enforcement. Ness agreed andin 1927 he joined the Chicago branch of the U.S. Treasury Department, working with the Prohibition Bureau.
Around that time, the federal government was investigatingthe illegal undertakingsof gangster Al Capone in income tax evasion and violation of prohibition. Ness was selected to lead the investigation under the National Prohibition Act.
Since the widespread corruption among Chicago's law enforcement agents was well-known, in 1929 hemeticulously built a trustworthy team of eleven Prohibition agents called ‘The Untouchables’.
The team immediately began attacking illegal breweries run by Capone and within a very short time, successfully seized and halted operations of breweries worth over amillion dollar.
Ness and his team effectively brought about Capone's downfall.In 1931, Capone was charged with 22 counts of tax evasion and 5,000 violations of the Prohibition Act. Eventually, he was sentenced to eleven years in prison.
Soon after, the special team was dissolved andNess was promoted to the position of Chief Investigator of the Chicago Prohibition Bureau,a position he held till the end of the Prohibition period in 1933.
In 1934, he moved to Cincinnati's Justice Department wherein he was assigned the task of finding and eradicating the ‘Moonshine’ operations in the mountains of Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
In December 1935, he joined asan investigative agent of the Treasury Department's Alcoholic Tax Unit in Cleveland, Ohio. At 32, he became the youngest agent in Cleveland’s history to claim the position.
Continue Reading Below

Soon, Cleveland Mayor Harold Burton assigned him the task of eradicating crime and corruption from the city. Heading a team of 34 agents, he began conducting detailed investigations against dishonest policemen. The evidences were presented before a grand jury in October 1936. Fifteen senior officers were brought to trial and two hundred corrupt policemen were forced to resign.
His next assignment was improving Cleveland’s notorious traffic control situation. He established a special court for fast handling of traffic casesand within a short period of time drastically reducedthe number of deaths caused by traffic accidents.
Later, as Cleveland’s Public Safety Director, he led a campaign to wipe out police corruption and modernize the fire department.
Eventually, upheavals in his personal life began to tarnish his professional image in Cleveland. Although his divorce, high-profile social drinking, and conduct in a car accident was much criticised, he continued in his position with the next Mayor, Frank Lausche.
In 1942, he shifted to Washington, D.C.working for the federal government. He led a campaign against prostitution in areasadjoining military bases, where venereal disease had become a grave problem.
For a short period, he unsuccessfully ventured into the corporate world. In 1944, he joined asChairman of Diebold Corporation, a security safe company in Ohio. In 1947, he contested unsuccessfully for the position of Mayor of Cleveland and was later expelled from Diebold in 1951.
Reckless behaviour like drinking and incurring heavy debts forced him to take up various odd jobs in order to earn a living. He worked as an electronics parts wholesaler, a clerk in a bookstore, and a salesman of frozen hamburger patties to restaurants.
By 1953, he joined a start-up company, Guaranty Paper Corporation in Cleveland that specialized inwatermarkingvarious documents in order to thwartforgery. Since Ness was a former law enforcement officer, he easily bagged the job.
The company soon shifted to Coudersport, Pennsylvania to avail lower operating cost. Armed with a respectable income, he once again began visiting local bars and narrating exaggerated tales of his heroic career to fellow customers.
Continue Reading Below

Earlier, Al Capone had tried to bribe Ness heavily if he was willing to overlook Capone's illegal activities. Ness, however, refused the bribe and was always short of money in later years. He died almost bankrupt at the age of 54.
Major Works
Eliot Ness is best remembered for destroying the illegal multimillion-dollar breweries operated by gangster Al Capone in Chicago. He played a crucial role in Capone's arrest and crushing the unregulated power he exercised over the city of Chicago.
He was also responsible for bringing about a positive change in the city of Cleveland, Ohio in the mid-1930s. With detailed investigations and fast trials, he successfully fought crime, eradicated corruption among policemen, enhanced the city’s deplorable traffic control situation, and modernized the fire department.
Awards & Achievements
Several media works have been inspired from Eliot Ness's life and his career. In his final years, he co-authored the book ‘The Untouchables’ (1957) with Oscar Fraley, which was published a month after his death and sold over a million copies.
The book inspired many additional works. The most popular adaptations include the 1959 TV series ‘The Untouchables’, and the 1987 Brian De Palma film by the same name. A second TV series in 1993 was also titled ‘The Untouchables’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Ness was married thrice. He was married to Edna Staley from 1929 to 1938, then to illustrator Evaline Michelow from 1939 to 1945, and finally to artist Elisabeth Andersen Seaver from 1946 until his death in 1957. He also had an adopted son, Robert (1946–1976).
After he was expelled from Diebold in 1951, he began drinking heavily and spending his spare time in bars, narrating exaggerated tales of his career. He also incurred heavy debts.
On 16 May 1957, at the age of 54 he suffered a massive heart-attack and died at his home in Coudersport, Pennsylvania. His ashes were scattered in a small pond on the grounds of Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.
Unfortunately, by the time of his death he was almost forgotten as no Chicago newspaper published the news of his death. His heroic reputation resurfaced only after the book he had co-authored with Oscar Fraley was published posthumously in 1957.
The Western Reserve Historical Society maintains many important documents related to his life and career, such as a scrapbook, newspaper clippings, a typewritten manuscript about his career in Chicago, etc.

See the events in life of Eliot Ness in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Eliot Ness Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com

People Also Viewed

John Cabot
John Cabot
Matilda Ramsay
Matilda Ramsay
Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
Rumi Carter
Rumi Carter

Also Listed In