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SERVANT GIRL ANNIHILATOR
The Servant Girl Annihilator or Austin Axe Murderer is the given name of a notorious serial killer or killers who terrorized Austin, Texas between 1884 and 1885.
It is thought that at least seven women, mostly servant girls, died at the hands of the killer, who typically dragged his victims from their beds and raped them before slashing or axing them to death. Several victims were stabbed by some sort of spike in the ears or the face. His first victim was Mollie Smith on New Year's Eve, 1884.
Many people were arrested for the crimes, but none were convicted. The last killings were a year after the first, ending with the murder of two wealthy white women, Eula Phillips and Sue Hancock, in downtown Austin on December 24, 1885.
The crimes represented the first recorded serial killer in the US, three years before Jack the Ripper wreaked a far better-known series of crimes on London. Some have even attempted to prove that the Annihilator and Jack the Ripper were one and the same.
The crime spree was depicted in fictionalized form in the Stephen Saylor book A Twist at the End. William Sydney Porter, better known as the short story writer O. Henry, was living in Austin at the time and is presented as the protagonist. Though the murders are depicted accurately, there is no evidence that Porter was involved or knew the victims. He did, however, make a contribution to the story: he coined the term "Servant Girl Annihilator" for his friends working at the Austin Daily Statesman (now the Austin American-Statesman).
Author Katherine Ramsland lists the annihilator's victims as follows:
Mollie Smith, 25 and her common-law husband Walter Spencer, were attacked on New Year's Eve, 1884. Spencer survived the attack.
Eliza Shelley was attacked on May 6, 1885.
Irene Cross, was attacked on May 23.
Mary Ramey, 11, and her mother, Rebecca Ramey in August. Rebecca alone survived.
On September 26, Gracie Vance, Orange Washington, Lucinda Boddy, and Patsie Gibson were attacked. Vance and Washington died of their injuries.
In separate attacks on Christmas Eve, 1885, Sue Hancock and husband and wife Eula Phillips and Jimmy Phillips.
In popular culture
The crime spree was depicted in fictionalized form in the Steven Saylor novel A Twist at the End, published in 2000. William Sydney Porter, better known as the short story writer O. Henry, was living in Austin at the time and is presented as the protagonist. Though the murders are depicted accurately, there is no evidence that Porter was involved or knew the victims. Porter did, however, make one real-life contribution to the story: he coined the term "Servant Girl Annihilators" in a May 10, 1885, letter addressed to his friend Dave Hall and later included in his anthology Rolling Stones: "Town is fearfully dull," wrote Porter, "except for the frequent raids of the Servant Girl Annihilators, who make things lively in the dull hours of the night...."
A Fearful Midnight Murder
It was near the end of 1884. In three and a half years, London would be terrorized by the fiend known as Jack the Ripper. Seven years after that, H.H. Holmes would be tried in Philadelphia for a murder that blew the lid off his extensive series of killings and frauds. Both would be dubbed as unique in the annals of crime, the Ripper as the "World's First Serial Killer," and Holmes as America's first. Yet in both cases, that distinction would be incorrect. The world's first documented serial killer preceded Red Jack by centuries, and in America, Holmes took a back seat to several other predators. Among them was the mysterious person who operated for a brief but brutal year in Austin, Texas (also erroneously dubbed by some as "the first American serial killer").
On New Year's Eve, 1884, a bloody killing spree began that left the city breathless. It started with "negro servants," sometimes felling one and sometimes several in a single night. Mollie Smith, 25, was the first victim, killed behind the home where she was employed as a servant, left lying in the snow next to the outhouse. Her face was badly bludgeoned, her nightdress torn to shreds and her head gashed in a way that suggested that she'd been the victim of someone wielding an ax. It also seemed likely, from the way she was posed, that she had been "outraged," or raped. Marshal Grooms Lee employed a pack of bloodhounds to track the culprit, says Skip Hollandsworth in "Capital Murder," but the trail was quickly lost.
"Bloody Work!" was that day's headline for the Austin Statesman, according to Clayton Stapleton in "What Was Then." Steven Saylor describes the paper as an eight-page layout of small print and narrow columns, generally featuring market news, editorial opinions, fashions, and social announcements. There were also front-page stories about suicides. On this day, the story about the attack ran as "A Fearful Midnight Murder," with a reporter's first-person account of seeing the mangled corpse.
Mollie, 25, worked for William Hall on West Pecan Street. She kept house and cooked for the Halls, and lived with a male companion in the Halls' two-story home in a room in the back. Saylor indicates that she also suffered from migraine headaches. In "A Twist at the End," he sets this murder in a fictional context involving William Sydney Porter, the writer who penned stories under the name, O. Henry, and who actually resided in Austin at the time of the murders. Saylor, who did a fair amount of historical research to portray the events of 1885 accurately, utilizes newspaper articles and ideas from physicians at the time to illustrate what they believed about mental derangement.
With the rise of modern science during the middle of the nineteenth century and the emphasis on natural law, the appraisal of human character from external appearances was the fashion. Phrenology done by "skull readers" involved feeling the bumps or depressions on a person's skull to determine how individual areas of the brain were functioning. The seat of thought was considered to have thirty-five different organs, each associated with such traits as "cautiousness" and "adhesiveness," and the larger the organ, the more pronounced the trait. Hubert Lauvergne, the prison physician in Toulon penitentiary, observed that many convicts had unusual faces, which he believed must reflect their criminal instincts. For a time, prisoners would be classified according to their phrenological profiles--a listing of traits specific to their skull formations. Thus, brain damage supposedly caused insanity and other forms of derangement. That was the question posed about this killer: With the kind of vile assault he'd perpetrated, was he deranged?
On this night, Mollie's common-law husband, Walter Spencer, had been attacked as well. He was in his bed asleep and had awakened in terrible pain with a deep gash across his face. The room was in disarray and Mollie was gone. Blood decorated their bedroom and bloody handprints were found on the doorsill. He went looking for help.
Mollie's employer followed a blood trail that led outside and found her by the outhouse. Back inside, he discovered a blood-covered ax, apparently brought there by the killer. The obvious suspect, Marshal Lee thought, was a man with whom Mollie had once been involved, William "Lem" Brooks. The blood spatters in the room seemed to support the degree of brutality that can arise from jealousy. So Brooks was arrested, protesting his innocence and offering an alibi. A crime reporter checked it, finding it more or less solid, although it seemed possible that Brooks could have been where he said at the estimated time of the attacks and still have had time to commit them.
Thus, an inquest was held to determine if there was sufficient evidence for a trial. In those days, no one was taking fingerprints in Texas, or offering a DNA analysis or blood spatter pattern report. Courts operated on logic, confessions, and eyewitness testimony, each of which in its own way was flawed. As one of Saylor's characters says, speaking years later: "And you must keep in mindthis was also a good two or three years before the invention of Sherlock Holmes. Retired Texas Rangers and Pinkerton snoops, those were our only models of detection. Rangers tracked down outlaws on the frontier; Pinkertons infiltrated labor unions and spied for the bosses. People didn't have the superhuman expectations of investigating detectives that they've since picked up from popular fiction. The closest thing we had to a Sherlock Holmes were the bloodhounds!"
The coroner's jury, comprised of six white male citizens, met on New Year's Day and continued to listen for several days to witnesses and theories about the crime. Despite what the alibi witnesses affirmed, Saylor writes, the jury came to the conclusion that Lem Brooks had the means and motive for the crime, so he probably did it. But it wasn't long before he was freed because of lack of evidence.
Then, when another woman was killed in a similar fashion to Mollie Smith, it looked like a different type of crime altogether--and a type for which no one in the city or country had analytical experience.
Six months had gone by, and no one suspected a predatory killer on the loose. Stapleton points out that the city, with a population of 23,000, was recovering from the Reconstruction Era and was attracting people from all over to work in the area. Numerous convicts were employed as well to help with public buildings. There were lots of strangers in town, and many of them frequented the public houses and taverns. A killer could move among them, undetected.
On Wednesday, May 6, he seemed to have struck again. The victim's name was Eliza Shelley (Hollandsworth spells it "Shelly"), and she, too, had been a black servant. Her battered body was found lying on the corner of Jacinto and Cypress Streets. The newspaper, aligned with other major papers of that era in seeking sensational and lurid events to report, mentioned what her murder and her occupation had in common with Mollie Smith's situation, and that reporter's observations would eventually earn the killer a nickname: "the Servant Girl Annihilator."
"The Foul Fiends," ran the Statesman's headlines that day, "Keep up Their Wicked Work." They had performed yet another "Deed of Deviltry" in the "Crimson Catalog of Crime."
The victim was found on the property of Dr. L.B. Johnson, a former state legislator who lived with his wife and niece near the railway track. Behind his house was a cabin in which Eliza Shelley had resided with her three children. For more than a month, she had been the Johnson family's cook. Mrs. Johnson had heard screams coming from Eliza's cabin, and had sent her niece to check on the children. She returned to report a ghastly sight, which Mrs. Johnson in turn told her husband.
He found thirty-year-old Eliza Shelley on the floor, dead. She had been wounded in the head with the punctures of a sharp implement, as well as a gash that appeared to have been made by an ax. The killer had hit her so hard that the weapon had gone deep into her brain, and as Hollandsworth describes, had cleaved her skull nearly in two. Blood-covered pillows indicated that she had been attacked while asleep in bed and was then dragged to the floor, onto a pile of blankets. Because her nightdress was pulled up and her nude body oddly elevated, exposing her, it was surmised that she had been sexually assaulted as well. The weapon, whatever it was, had been taken. A set of large broad footprints coming to the cottage and leaving indicated that a shoeless male had done this deed. But Eliza's husband was in prison and she had never been known to entertain other men.
Eliza's eight-year-old son spoke to a reporter and described a man entering the cabin in the middle of the night. The boy woke up and the man shoved him into a corner, placed a blanket over him, and ordered him to be quiet. He apparently fell asleep (or was treated to chloroform that recently had been stolen from a dentist's home in Austin), because he had no idea what had happened to his mother until he saw her the following morning. His younger brothers, who slept in the same bed with their mother, were unable to add anything to the report.
Again, the bloodhounds were sent for, and again, the dogs came up short. Nevertheless, Marshal Lee quickly arrested a nineteen-year-old boy, who was walking around barefoot and was sufficiently dull-witted not to protest strongly. The tracks were measured to compare against his, but it soon became clear that he was not the person who made them. It wasn't long before he, too, was released because of lack of evidence. Then another black man who once had lived with the victim was arrested. He'd recently quarreled with her and had no alibi. But he, too, was innocent, and this became clear when another violent attack occurred in the area.
Just over two weeks after Eliza Shelley was killed, on May 23, Irene Cross, another black servant, was similarly attacked in the middle of the night in her cottage, situated across the street from a beer garden. But the person who came after her had used a knife. He had stabbed her so viciously in the head that it appeared as though he was trying to remove her scalp, and her arm was nearly severed from her body. She was still dying, says Hollandsworth, when reporters arrived and one actually spoke to her.
No one then knew about linkage analysis among crime scenes and modus operandi, so it wasn't immediately obvious that this murder was part of a series, but people did wonder about the possibility of the same perpetrator committing all three of these murders, and the newspapers called for the police to find the killer or killers quickly.
Local reporters also presented such prurient details about the murders that some readers were shocked. This kind of excess was not new to journalism, having been introduced fifty years earlier by James Gordon Bennett in New York with the 1836 Helen Jewett murder, but Austin had never seen such continued brutality. Even as they cried out for an end to the killings, reporters were taking full advantage of their experience in seeing the victims to elevate circulation and sales.
People speculated that the influx of foreign workers was to blame, and many assumed the perpetrator was a black man. But Saylor shows how the black population reacted to this, at least fictionally, angry that the murdered black servants would not garner the attention that white victims would. In this third case, no arrest was made.
In time, the commotion died down and the murders seemed to have stopped, although incidents of that magnitude in a normally quiet city were still the subject of random conversation. Unsolved murders generally are. And it wasn't long before the murmurs yielded to another intense buzz of alarm.
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The fourth and fifth victims turned up late in August on San Jacinto and Cedar Streets, a block south of the place where Eliza Shelley had been murdered. Rebecca Ramey was in the employ of Valentine Weed, who owned a livery stable, according to Saylor. She had been knocked out while asleep in her bed, and her eleven-year-old daughter, Mary, was dragged outside, raped, and stabbed through both ears with an iron rod. Rebecca survived but Mary did not (although she did not die instantly from this horrendous attack). It seemed that the midnight fiend had knocked the girl out inside the cottage before dragging her to the alley outside to complete his crime. The tracker with his bloodhounds was sent for even before the marshal arrived on the scene. Rebecca, dazed, failed to recall any helpful details.
That night, a black man in the vicinity was chased by a bloodhound and later arrested, but was released the following morning. Now the people of Austin were reaching a level of concern about these killings that verged on panic. They wanted the murderer caught so the city could be restored to its usual safe status, where people could keep windows open on hot summer days and nights without fear that some intruder would climb through and do them in. At least the victims were servants. That was somehow comforting to the white middle and upper classes. But everyone was of one mind in demanding that the police do something about this marauder. Lee's competence was widely questioned.
Then someone had the fearsome opportunity to witness the killer in the act, but not before he had taken two lives in one night.
On September 26, Lucinda Boddy, a cook in a home near the university, went up the street to the home of attorney Major W. D. Dunham, where her friend, Gracie Vance, worked. Gracie lived in a servant's cabin behind the house with her common-law husband, Orange Washington. Saylor describes Lucinda as being ill and in need of care, so she had gone to stay with Gracie to heal. That day passed uneventfully, but by evening, Gracie and Orange had an argument over his behavior. The major heard them, reporting it later to the police. From then until midnight, everything on the premises was quiet. The entire household lay in bed, asleep. Stapleton adds that a fourth person, Patsie Gibson, was in the servant cabin as well, although he is the only source that names her.
Gracie woke first, screaming when someone grabbed her. Orange jumped from the bed and was felled immediately by a strong blow from an ax that crushed his skull. Then the intruder turned his ax on Lucinda, hitting her in the head. Her skull was fractured, with bone entering her brain. Someone then raped her and she blacked out. Patsie, too, was hit in the skull and face with an ax. (One source says that these two victims were actually bludgeoned with sandbags, not an ax.)
The attacker (or attackers) had entered the cabin through a window. After bludgeoning Orange and Lucinda, he (or they) pulled Gracie Vance out of the room and into some bushes near a stable, where she put up a fierce struggle before she was "criminally assaulted" and finally silenced with a brick against her skull.
Lucinda returned to consciousness around that time and, against all odds, got up and used a kerosene lantern to look around. Orange lay on the floor and another man was in the room. She later reported that he commanded, "Don't look at me!" He cursed her and told her to put out the light. Panicking, she threw it at him and ran with whatever strength she could summon. Her screams alerted the major, who came out of his house with a gun to find out what was going on in the servants' cabin. Stapleton says that the major saw her fighting with a man, who apparently had followed her, while Saylor fails to mention it.
Apparently she screamed to the major, "We're all dead!" before he realized that this incident was more than just a servants' squabble. She yelled to him that the man she was struggling with was the killer of the other occupants in the cabin, and he saw the blood on Lucinda's garments just before she passed out. Stapleton says that the killer saw Major Dunham and ran, but other authors omit this detail. The major then entered the cabin, smelling kerosene fumes, and spotted Washington on the floor, next to an ax. Gracie was nowhere to be found. Presumably, Patsie was still unconscious in her bed.
Aware of the attacks not far away of black servants, the major walked the grounds, calling out to his neighbors to help, and came across Gracie's body by the stable. Her head was crushed and a blood-covered brick lay near her corpse. There was no doubt as to the murder weapon or the sexual purpose of the attack. Oddly, she clutched a gold watch that did not belong to her, attached to a chain that was wrapped around her arm. In the stable, writes Stapleton, a horse was found, saddled and tied. Both of these elements seemed like good clues as to who the killer could have been, but during the subsequent investigation they weren't connected to anyone.
(Different sources provide different versions of this part of the tale. Hollandsworth mentioned only Vance and Washington as victims, perhaps since they were the two who died, while Saylor discusses three, and Stapleton quotes the papers as indicating that four people had been attacked that night, with two survivors who were taken to the hospital.)
The crime was both horrendous and bold, and seemed to indicate that more than one perpetrator was involved. Yet more affronts were still to come.
After the last attack, the citizens of Austin discussed forming vigilance committees to keep watch over the stricken neighborhoods at all hours. More criticism was leveled at the marshal and his unfruitful attempts to track and apprehend a perpetrator. Some people wanted every stranger in town to explain his presence, indicating that residents could not bring themselves to believe that a fellow townsperson was responsible. They wanted suspicious persons run out.
Marshal Lee invited a team of detectives from Houston to assist him, and relied on several eye witnesses to make an arrest in this latest crime. Two, in fact: Dock Woods and Oliver Townsend, both black men from the area. Saylor indicates that Lucinda Boddy had implicated the first man, and she was the person who got the best look at the killer. She said she had seen him that night and it was known to the marshal that he sometimes harassed Gracie. Another witness said he'd overheard Townsend, Wood's friend and a known petty thief, threaten to kill Gracie. In addition, when arrested, Wood was in possession of a bloody shirt. It seemed to the marshal to be just a matter of inducing these men to confess.
Saylor indicates that during this time, the two professionals from Noble Detective Agency had tried extracting confessions from another suspect, Alec Mack, as well, for the murder of Mary Ramey. The entire shameful affair was printed in the newspapers. They even threatened to string him up unless he admitted to murder. They may also have tried extracting confessions from the other two men, but in the end, none was tried. The marshal explained in an interview with the Statesman that the bruises found on Mack were the result of his own desperate struggles to resist imprisonment. Eventually his statement would be questioned and his practices condemned. Yet Lee returned his focus to Walter Spencer, who had been assaulted with the first victim, Mollie Smith, and an indictment against him was issued later in November. He was tried over the course of three days, based on a far-fetched theory, and acquitted.
From one case to another, it seemed like the same story was being repeated: black servants living in cabins behind the homes of their well-to-do employers were coming under attack. All of them had been bludgeoned in some manner, and all of the female victims were raped. Black men had been arrested and let go. There were now five dead and three survivors, for a total of eight victims. Prosecutor E. T. Moore speculated that the murders had all been committed by a single perpetrator who hated women, but his ideas were mocked by his colleagues. The white community, while fearful, believed that this fiend was interested only in black women, but they were in for a terrible surprise.
Shift in Victim Type
The "Servant Girl Annihilator" struck again on Christmas Eve, 1885, but this time the attacks were different. Hollandsworth indicates that just after a concert at the State Institution for the Blind, Moses Hancock, 50, woke up and discovered his wife murdered and lying in the backyard of their home on San Jacinto Boulevard. She had been pulled from their bed while he dozed on a chair. Sue Hancock, a white woman, had been bludgeoned with an ax, her head cleaved open, and a sharp, thin implement remained stuck in her brain. Blood ran from her ears and matted her hair. She did not die immediately, although she did not retain consciousness, either. Those who examined her noted that she had been raped.
The new marshal, James Lucy, brought in bloodhounds, just like his predecessor, who had been ousted for lack of confidence. Yet this former Texas Ranger was as much at a loss about how to catch the fiend as Lee had been. And he was about to get another challenge.
That same hour, Eula Phillips died as well. Hollandsworth describes "Luly" as one of the "loveliest women in Austin." She'd had dark curly hair, pale skin, an exquisite figure, and "contemplative" eyes, and many a man had turned to look at her as she passed. Hollandsworth goes on to show how she symbolized a more civilized and modern Austin than had once been the case. Saylor actually makes this "frail" woman the fictional lover of William Sydney Porter, who over the subsequent years becomes haunted by the series of murders. Hollandsworth, too, offers clues to the possibility that Eula was an unfaithful wife, taking up with a prominent politician.
In fact, Eula had been killed in what seemed a protected area, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Austin. Her nude, "outraged" body, spread-eagled, with arms pinned under some lumber (which led some to believe that the crime had to have been perpetrated by two men), was discovered in an alley near the home of her father-in-law, where she had lived with her husband, Jimmy, and their infant son. Jimmy, too, had been attacked. He lay in bed unconscious, with a severe wound on the back of his head. The boy, unharmed, was next to him, clutching a piece of an apple. An ax lay in the middle of the floor and a trail of blood ran from the bedroom to the alley where Eula was left, her skull smashed. A bloody shoeprint, clearly from a man, had been left behind on the porch.
The gossip traveled fast and reporters from several papers managed to see the body before it was removed. They wrote about Eula's agonized expression as she lay face-up and assumed that she had suffered terribly before she died. "The Demons have transferred their thirst for blood to white people!" shouted one of the papers. Another splashed "Blood! Blood! Blood!" across the front page to announce the "butchery." Fullerton quotes the Statesman from an article: "The baying of bloodhounds frantically seeking the killer's scent broke into the usual chorus of Yuletide merriment, chilling holiday spirits." It was a regular heyday for crime reporters, and with the new element of white women being attacked, practically everyone bought these editions of the papers.
Some people now spoke of this killer as a supernatural creature, while the more pragmatic ones purchased weapons or kept the ones they owned loaded and ready. On Christmas day, a meeting was held which some five hundred frightened citizens attended to devise strategies for making the town a safer place. As a result, the "moonlight towers" were erected to light up the city streets at night -- still in place a century later. Marshal Lucy hired and posted more officers, charging them with the task, says Hollandsworth, of finding out more about strangers in town. Rewards were offered from both the governor and a citizen's group, which lured detectives from other areas to try to solve the mystery, and in general, people took more personal precautions at night. Taverns were forced to close at midnight.
But after that Christmas Eve, the murders suddenly stopped. There would be no more clues, no more opportunities to get out the hounds, and no more footprints left behind. Yet someone had to pay; the city needed closure on this series of deadly attacks. So, logic and rumor combined to dictate a story that made some sense to law enforcement, even if there was no evidence to support it. Within three days, an arrest was made.
Both Saylor and Hollandsworth detail the subsequent proceedings. Both victims' husbands were suspected of killing their wives and making their murders appear to be part of the series of attacks from the previous year, but the best case seemed to be against Jimmy Phillips, a known alcoholic with plenty of troubles. Although he had been severely beaten himself during the attack, he was nevertheless a good suspect. Hollandsworth and Saylor both point out how absurd it seems that two married men coincidentally decided on that same night at the same hour to kill their wives and stage the murders as something else. Apparently, reporters at that time were skeptical as well.
Yet the trials went forward, and Saylor provides the details of the testimony, gleaned from historical documents. A letter was found in a trunk in the Hancock house that indicated that Sue had been disturbed enough by her husband's drinking to consider leaving him. The DA decided that Moses had read the letter, gotten drunk, and attacked her in a frenzy over this. Yet the jury hung, undecided over whether Moses even knew about the letter.
With Jimmy Phillips, the proceedings were more salacious. He and Eula had only been married for two years, and friends knew that Eula had been unhappy. That murder had been a copycat killing, the prosecutors said. His wife had been prostituting herself at a "house of assignation" behind his back -- including a visit to this place on Christmas Eve -- so he had killed her in retaliation but had disguised it as the attack of a stranger. There was testimony from witnesses who knew about Eula's comings and goings and who believed that she was seeing a man on the side. Several politicians were embarrassed publicly by some of the testimony. In addition, Jimmy was known to have threatened his wife with a knife and to have thrown things at her. Eula had been afraid of him. Indeed, said the DA, it was she who brought the ax into the room, as protection. Unfortunately, Jimmy had found it and used it against her. Then he'd carried her outside. Even a bloodhound had rushed back into the bedroom to indicate from a scent trail that Jimmy had been out there.
However, Jimmy's father hired the best team of attorneys he could find, and they managed to deflect most of what the DA threw at them. When the footprint impression measurements from the Phillips' porch were presented, the DA insisted that Jimmy put his own foot into ink to make an impression that they could compare to the suspect's print. To the consternation of the prosecution, Jimmy's foot proved to be smaller than the impression. But then the DA decided that adding his wife's weight as he carried her outside would make his feet spread to a larger size. So there in court, Jimmy was forced to pick up his own attorney to prove the point. Still, his footprint was no match.
Nevertheless, the prosecutor's logic and the testimony about Eula's apparent affairs were sufficient grounds for the jury to take only a day to convict Phillips of his wife's murder in the second degree. They gave him a sentence of seven years in the penitentiary. Yet before the end of the year, the Texas Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, citing a lack of evidence on several key points. Jimmy was not retried. Neither was Moses Hancock. But the Dallas Morning News, quoted in Saylor's book, published the following: "The trial of Mr. Phillips has demonstrated three things: that Mrs. Phillips was not what she should have been, that several attachés of the government are not what they should be, and that no one can possibly know who committed that murder."
While suspects have been considered in the decades since, this set of murders was never solved. But the servant girl annihilator would be mentioned again in a famous series of crimes not long in the future.
In 1888, the Atchison Daily Globe in Kansas and the Daily Statesman in Texas, among others, drew a connection between what had taken place in the Whitechapel area of London from September through November that year and the unsolved series of murders in Austin three years earlier. "A very curious circumstance has been discovered," the article claimed, and went on to say that it was the opinion of many people that the person who had operated in Austin and gotten away before being apprehended was the very same grisly perpetrator as Jack the Ripper. In one case, five women of the lower class were dead and in the other, seven women and one man.
The first victim in Whitechapel was 45-year-old Mary Ann (Polly) Nichols, an alcoholic and the mother of five children. On Friday, August 31, just after 1:00 a.m., Polly went out into the street to earn money for a bed. Around 3:30 A.M. she was found murdered. Her skirt was pulled up to her waist, her legs were parted, and severe cuts into her abdomen and throat appeared to have been made by a long-bladed knife. Whoever had killed her had first controlled her by grabbing her around the neck and used a blitz-style attack.
Then on September 8, Annie Chapman was found murdered, her dress pulled over her head, her stomach ripped open, and her intestines pulled out and draped over her left shoulder. Her throat was cut, too, with what appeared to have been a surgical knife with a narrow blade. It appeared that once again she'd been quickly subdued. Small items like coins and an envelope had been arranged around her, and a closer inspection showed that her bladder, half of her vagina, and her uterus had been removed and carried away.
By the end of that month, on September 30, there were two victims on the same night, just as there had been in Austin. The ripper slashed the throat of Elizabeth Stride, 45, only a few minutes before she was found, but then disemboweled Catherine Eddowes less than an hour afterward. With Eddowes, the intestines had been pulled out and placed over the right shoulder, the uterus and one kidney had been cut out and taken, and the face was oddly mutilated. Two upside down Vs had been cut into her cheeks, pointing toward the eyes, her eyelids were nicked, and the tip of her nose was cut off. And her throat was slashed.
The last victim, twenty-four-year-old Mary Kelly, took the brunt of this predator's frenzy. On November 8, she apparently invited a man into her room. He slashed open her throat and then ripped open her lower torso, pulled out her intestines, and skinned her chest and legs. Blood was splattered all over the room. When police arrived, they found a severed breast on the table next to her, with the tips of her nose and ears. Her abdomen had been emptied and its contents spread all over the bed and thrown around the room. Her heart, too, had been removed and was missing, and flesh had been cut from her legs and buttocks clear to the bone.
One suspect, who rarely gets mentioned by Ripperologists, was a Malay cook calling himself Maurice who often worked aboard ships. The London Times described him in October as a man who had threatened to kill Whitechapel prostitutes but who had then disappeared. It turned out that in 1885 he had been employed at the Pearl House, a small hotel, in Austin, Texas. A letter to the editor of the Statesman drew the newspaper's attention to it and a reporter checked it out. The information was confirmed, and it was ascertained that the cook had left the premises in January 1886. The series of murder had ended just weeks earlier. Most of the victims resided not far from the Pearl House.
Some contemporary amateur sleuths -- Hollandsworth mentions one of his acquaintances -- do believe that the Servant Girl Annihilator and Jack the Ripper are one and the same, but clear proof is lacking.
Currently, a 90-Minute tour is offered in Austin once a month to point out the areas in Austin's Historic District where victims were found. According to Kevin Fullerton in the Austin Chronicle, amateur historian Jeanine Plumer points out the sites and lets people know that no houses are currently standing on any of the lots associated with the victims. Apparently, ghost tales are associated with the spots. Tours leave from the Hideout Coffeehouse & Theater at 617 Congress Avenue. Interested parties are urged to check the schedule at www.austinghosttours.com, and make reservations, or purchase tickets at the Austin Visitors Center.
Hollandsworth says that, outside some newspaper articles, nothing "fact-based has ever been published on what really happened." He penned his article for Texas Monthly in July 2000, gleaning information from Austin's History Center and the library, among other places, and came up with his own theory about who the killer actually was. So have other amateur historians who live there.
In 2003, Publishers Weekly announced that Hollandsworth will publish a nonfiction book about the crimes, tentatively titled "Midnight Assassin." That article suggested that he will reveal the identity of someone in Austin's high society as the killer, possibly one of the politicians, as he suggests in his article, who was suspected of having an affair with Eula. While this tale may not command the attention of crime aficionados the way Spring-heeled Jack has done, it's clearly a phenomenon in American history that ought to receive more attention than it has. Hollandsworth's book will be a welcome addition to crime literature, but until then, Saylor's books offers quite a lot of detail.
The Serial Killer Calendar is back...