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Forty years after his death, Eliot Ness’ ashes dispersed

September 11, 1997

CLEVELAND (AP) _ More than a half-century after he brought Al Capone to justice, Eliot Ness finally received a hero’s funeral.

A black 1938 Buick carried the former G-man’s remains Wednesday to their final resting place in Lake View Cemetery, where President James A. Garfield and John D. Rockefeller are buried.

As bagpipers played ``Amazing Grace,″ the lawman’s ashes were laid to rest with full police honors in a quiet cemetery lagoon along with those of his third wife, Elisabeth, and their adopted son, Robert.

The famous federal agent who raided Chicago speakeasies and smashed Al Capone’s liquor operations during Prohibition died broke of a heart attack at age 54 in 1957. As a member of the U.S. Prohibition Bureau and leader of ``The Untouchables″ Ness helped convict Capone, the legendary Chicago gangster, on income tax evasion charges.

In 1935, not long after Prohibition’s repeal, Ness became Cleveland’s public safety director.

``He was a good man who did a lot for Cleveland, and the fact that his ashes had not properly been put to rest after 40 years _ it just seems appropriate that they should be,″ said Rebecca McFarland, vice president of the Cleveland Police Historical Society.

Under cloudy skies, the remains _ kept by Ness’ son and his son’s widow for 40 years _ were scattered in the center of the lagoon. A rifle salute was fired and a lone bugler played ``Taps.″

About 200 people showed up to pay tribute to the lawman whose adventures were lionized in ``The Untouchables″ TV series and movie.

``Eliot’s integrity was pure and his sense of justice inflexible,″ said McFarland.

In Cleveland, he routed out police corruption, cut juvenile crime, started a citywide Boy Scout program and reorganized the city’s traffic patterns, drastically reducing traffic accidents.

But he was not the ramrod-straight action hero portrayed on television by Robert Stack and in a 1987 movie by Kevin Costner.

He was a cerebral man who rarely carried a firearm and later in life sometimes drank too much, said his biographer, Paul Heimel.

Ness’ reputation crumbled on a frigid night in 1942, when his car crashed on an icy road while he was driving home from a party. He left the scene. When word got out that the straight-laced Ness had been in a hit-and-run crash, he was forced to resign.

He spent the rest of World War II with the federal government, trying to stamp out venereal disease among soldiers. In his last years he made a failed Cleveland mayoral run and had an unsuccessful career in private business.

He was working in the tiny town of Coudersport, Pa., when he died. The public took little notice at the time, but a few years later, the book and television series had made Ness better-known in death than he was in life.

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