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Touched By an "Untouchable"

updated 09/29/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/29/1997 01:00AM

WHEN SHE DISCOVERED THE ignominious resting place of legendary crime fighter Eliot Ness—his ashes stashed in a cardboard box in a relative's garage—Rebecca McFarland's fourth-generation Cleveland pride kicked in. "He was such a local hero," says the 44-year-old city librarian. "It was high time poor Eliot had a proper burial." McFarland got her wish on Sept. 10, 40 years after Ness died, destitute and an alcoholic, at 54. Ness had spent seven years as Cleveland's director of public safety (overseeing both the police and fire departments) after retiring from the Justice Department's gang-busting "Untouchables" in Chicago. Ness's ashes, along with those of his third wife and their adopted son, a leukemia victim, were scattered in a lagoon at Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.

McFarland, a divorced mother of two teenage daughters, first became intrigued by Ness while preparing talks on local history. With the help of biographer Paul Heimel, she tracked Ness to his daughter-in-law's garage and, with mostly public funding, set up a send-off. Ness, who is credited with cleaning up Cleveland's corrupt police department, resigned from his post after being implicated in a 1942 hit-and-run accident. Still, says McFarland, "he truly turned the city around. What he did in Cleveland, I believe, actually outshone what he did in Chicago."

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