11-02-2009, 05:48 PM #1Registered User
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TX - Texas Servant Girl Annihilator Murders 1884-85
This is one of my pet cases and one of the most fascinating I have ever read and sadly is mostly forgotten, maybe in part because the victims were women of color. It is case that was also thought to have links to the Jack the Ripper case.
Alias(es): Servant Girl Annihilator
Austin Axe Murderer
Number of victims: 7
Span of killings: December 30, 1884–December 24, 1885
The Servant Girl Annihilator or Austin Axe Murderer was a 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 an early example of serial killer in the United States, three years before the Jack the Ripper murders in London. Some have even attempted to prove that the Annihilator and Jack the Ripper were one and the same.
3 In popular culture
5 External links
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.
The Austin Moonlight Towers were erected at least partially in response to the actions of this serial killer. Also, additional officers were hired, rewards were offered and people took more precautions at night. Taverns were also forced to close at midnight.
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...."
Here is the link to the crimelibrary article:
Here is a link to the original newspaper articles from the case:
11-03-2009, 11:26 PM #2
I had thought there was a thread for these cases, but obviously not. I'd like to read Saylor's book, even if it is a fictionalized account. W.S. Porter did live at the heart of the area where the murders took place.
11-04-2009, 02:22 AM #3
All brief quotes from: http://www.serialkillercalendar.com/...NIHILATOR.html
First Murder. New Year's Eve, 1884.
Mollie Smith, age 25. Sexually assaulted, bludgeoned. Her common law husband, Walter Spencer was also attacked, but he survived. Both liven in the home of William Hall.
Census listings for William Halls in Travis County
1. William E. Hall age 28 wife, Sallie A. age 22 living on Hickory Street
He is a minister of the Gospel. He was b. in Tn. She in VA.
2. William Hall, age 30, living in residence of James McGregor, age 31.
Both men listed as farmers, and there are no other residents in the household. Pct. 2.
3.William H. Hall, age 34, Listed as a border in the household of John Spergen?
This Hall works on the RR. Pct. 5
We are given this discreption: "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. "
This should eliminate #3 as he is a boarder, and likely #2 as well since there is only one Hall in that household. So the only logical choice is #1, William E. Hall, except his address is given as being on Hickory St. in the census, and not Pecan Street.
Second Murder. May 1885
Elizabeth Shelley. Murder occured at a cabin behind the home of Dr. Lucien B. Johnson, age 53, wife Ruth, age 48. He born Ohio 1827-1828 She b. NY 1832-1833. They lived by railroad tracks. Pct. 6
Wife heard screams coming from the cabin behind their house where their servant woman, Elizabeth Shelley, age 30, and her children lived. Wife sent her niece to check. Niece came back, reported what she saw, and then Dr. Johnson went down there.
Report states that "a set of large broad footprints coming to the cottage and leaving indicated that a shoeless male had done this deed." Clorform had recently been stolen from an Austin dentist's office. Shelley's oldest son said a man came into their cabin in the middle of the night, and woke him up, moved him, and threw a blanket over him or perhaps chloroformed him as the boy did not know what happened to his mother until he woke up and saw her the next morning.
This report sounds bogus if Dr. Johnson came to the cabin after the murder. Would the woman be left nude, lying on the floor of her cabin for her children to see in the morning? I hardly think so.
2 men were arrested, but then let go due to lack of evidence.
First arrest: "Marshal Lee quickly arrested a nineteen-year-old boy, who was walking around barefoot and was sufficiently dull-witted not to protest strongly.
His footprints did not match those of the assailant's."
Second arrest: "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..."
Third murder. May 1885, a little over two weeks after the prior murder.
"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." No arrest was made.
Mary Ramey."late in August on San Jacinto and Cedar Streets, a block south of the place where Eliza Shelley had been murder. " Victim lived briefly following her attack. Her mother, Rebecca Ramey was also attacked, but remembered nothing. "Rebecca Ramey was in the employ of Valentine Weed, who owned a livery stable..."
According to the 1880 census there was only one Valentine Weed living in Travis Co., and his middle initial was O. Valentine O. Weed, age 30, b. TN, his wife, Billa or Bella, age 25, b. NJ, their children, Katie, 4, Thurston, age 3, Daisy, age 2, and infant, Orilla?/Ovella?, age 3 months. Black servant girl/cook, Nelly Chambers, age 15. Mr. Weed lists his employ as that of a farmer.
Arrest: "That night, a black man in the vicinity was chased by a bloodhound and later arrested, but was released the following morning. "
I will finish up this post tomorrow as I am falling asleep in front of my computer. Time to hang it up for tonight.
11-04-2009, 12:51 PM #4Registered User
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12-02-2009, 06:13 PM #5Registered User
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Rediscovering Austin's Jack the Ripper
By Michael Corcoran
As early as 1888, comparisons were made between the Ripper murders and similar serial killings in Texas, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Tunis, and elsewhere. This article details the ax-murders of Austin, Texas (1884/85) which some believed may have been the "early work" of Jack the Ripper.
Who preyed on the city's servant girls? A local author exhumes a century-old mystery -- and O. Henry.
From late 1884 to late 1885, a vicious serial killer haunted the streets of Austin. Below is a list of his victims.
Mollie Smith Dec. 30 1884
Eliza Shelley May 6, 1885
Irene Cross May 23, 1885
Mary Ramey Aug. 29, 1885
Gracie Vance Sept. 27, 1885
Orange Washington Sept. 27, 1885
Susan Hancock Dec. 24 1885
Eula Phillips Dec. 24 1885
It's a well-known fact of Austiniana that William Sydney Porter, later known as that master of the surprise ending O. Henry, lived in "the city with the violet crown" in the late 1800s. Another famous Austinite at the turn of the century was German sculptor Elisabet Ney, whose Hyde Park studio, Formosa, has been turned into a tribute to her eccentricity.
What has become merely a footnote to our town's history is the year of bloodlust that began at the end of 1884 and ran through Christmas Eve 1885. Seven women and one man were hacked to death in their bedrooms, the women dragged outside and sexually assaulted in the moonlight.
"BLOODY WORK!" screamed the Austin Statesman when the body of victim No. 1, maid Mollie Smith, was discovered behind 901 W. Pecan St. (now Sixth). "Another Servant Girl Found Slain" was the headline for Eliza Shelley's murder May 6. According to the Statesman report, Shelley was found with "her night dress displaced in such a manner as to suggest she may have been outraged after death."
When author Steven Saylor came across a brief mention of the serial killings while thumbing through "Austin: An Illustrated History" eight years ago, his first thought was "Why haven't I heard of this before?" Three years after the Austin murders, Jack the Ripper began his infamous spree in England, inspiring countless books and movies. Yet the butchering of eight in a Texas town with a population of 20,000 rated only a blurb in a local history book. It's been Austin's dark secret.
That changes with the release of Saylor's "A Twist at the End: A Novel of O. Henry" (Simon & Schuster), a work that mixes history with invention to present a tantalizing portrait of 1880s Austin. "Every detail of the murders is absolutely correct in the book," says Saylor from his home in Berkeley, Calif. (He also owns a condo in Austin).
The first five victims were female black servants, attacked with an ax in the quarters behind the homes where they worked. (The boyfriend of victim No. 5, Gracie Vance, was bludgeoned to death as he lay beside her.) Then on Christmas Eve came a change of pattern: Two white women were hacked to death and violated. "THE DEMONS HAVE TRANSFERRED THEIR THIRST FOR BLOOD TO WHITE PEOPLE!" the headline screamed. Working the spurned lover angle, three arrests were made in the five servant slayings, but only one suspect went to trial, and he was acquitted. None of the murders was ever solved.
Saylor worked hard to get the facts straight. Will Porter's conviction for embezzlement, which sent him from Austin to an Ohio prison in 1898, is just as Saylor reports it. He's got the missing sum right down to the dollar ($5,654). But Porter's motive to steal comes from Saylor's imagination. And a visit to Austin in 1906, when the by-then-famous O. Henry is lured back with the promise of finding out who murdered his ex-lover Eula Phillips (hacking victim No. 8), never happened.
In reality, Porter and Phillips probably never met. Neither did Porter and Ney, though they have several deep and sometimes daffy conversations in "Twist." In fact, Porter's only known connection to the killings was a letter he wrote to a friend in which he credits "the Servant Girl Annihilators" with bringing some excitement to the local paper.
"I'm a novelist, not a historian," Saylor says. "When I started really digging in on the research in the summer of '97, I thought about writing the book as a nonfiction account of what happened. After all, I was doing primary research on the subject. I was finding things that no one had even looked for. But I also wanted to explore the theme of remembrance in a way that a novel can."
Though the book carries the standard disclaimer -- "Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental" -- the characters have the names of real people and roam the haunts of the time, including the Guy Town red light district (Fourth and Colorado), Salge's Chop House restaurant and Scholz's Garten.
Saylor, who grew up in Gold-thwaite, just north of Lampasas, calls his style of mixing fact and fancy "a sort of literary cubism. It's like a painting where you see both eyes in profile. I want to show two views of Austin's mythic past."
The key to accomplishing this twist is to be absolutely meticulous in your research, says Saylor, who received grand training in being scrupulous with details while writing seven historical crime novels set near the end of the Roman Empire. After writing "Roman Blood," the first in the "Roma Sub Rosa" series, Saylor sent it to a Roman classicist for fact checking and the galleys came back marked full of mistakes. "I was freaking out, thinking that I'd really blown it, but it turned out to be the most picayune corrections." Saylor learned at the outset that Roman experts take their Cicero seriously and so he often spends more time at the library than at the writing table.
That search ethic worked in his favor while preparing "A Twist at the End." He looked at microfiche at the Austin History Center every day for two months and found all the details of the serial killings that had been made public at the time. But something was missing. "The story needed a motor," Saylor says, some kind of information that would take the plot beyond a sleuth novel.
One afternoon in '97, Saylor popped in at Uncommon Objects on South Congress and came upon an enormous bookshelf of old law books. The musty collection contained an 1887 volume called "Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Court of Appeals of Texas," and when he thumbed through it he came upon what he calls the "capstone" of his book. Sixty pages were devoted to the trial of Jimmy Phillips, accused of killing his wife Eula Phillips on Dec. 24, 1885. Even though the husband was severely beaten in the same attack, prosecutors sold the jury on a "copycat" killing, and a guilty verdict was returned. Phillips eventually won his release on appeal, however.
"It came out in the trial that Eula had been a prostitute behind her husband's back," Saylor says. Suddenly, Saylor had a possible link to Porter -- he could have been one of her gentleman callers at the house of ill repute run by May Tobin at 103 Congress Ave. After reading pieces of her testimony, Saylor turned Phillips' sister Delia Campbell into a major character. One rich detail from the transcript: An "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit" scenario presented itself when it was revealed that Phillips' footprints were slightly smaller than those left in blood by the killer. When the prosecution argued that Phillips was probably carrying his wife, thus flattening his feet at the time of the impression, new prints were made with Phillips carrying his attorney.
"You just can't make up details like that," Saylor says.
"I have faith that the authors of these crimes will yet be uncovered. No human heart is strong enough to hold such secrets."
-- Austin Mayor John Robertson, in his State of the City address, Nov. 10, 1885
At the beginning of the project, Saylor admits to fleeting thoughts that he might actually solve the case. His favorite character from literature is, after all, Sherlock Holmes. "I quickly realized that it just wasn't feasible to find the solution," Saylor says. "All the people involved have been dead for years. There's no one to talk to and criminal forensics were crude, at best, back then." Fingerprinting would not be considered a viable technique for 20 more years, so use of bloodhounds was as high-tech as investigations got.
The scent's been cold for more than a century, but that doesn't keep Saylor from playing full-court fiction and revealing the killers in the book. The big mystery today is why the case of the "Servant Girl Annihilators," perhaps America's first serial thrill-killings, is so obscure today.
"For starters, it was unsolved," Saylor says. Without the establishment of guilt, the ghastly crimes couldn't be positively linked. You also have to wonder if the race and class of most of those murdered made it a lesser story in the minds of some. It's worth noting, however, that the marshal in charge of the investigation, Grooms Lee, lost his job when witnesses saw him beat and torture a black male suspect.
"You have to consider the era. There was no concept of serial killers in 1885." When special prosecutor E.T. Moore went public with his suspicion that the murders were the work of a single fiend with a deep-seated hatred of women, his theory was met with derision. The "servant girl" savagings predated not only Jack the Ripper, but Sigmund Freud.
These days, the news of another mass murderer on the loose is almost as common as the change of seasons. We've been Speck-ulated, Dahmer-ized and Bundied-about to the point that no sort of aberrant human behavior is surprising anymore. Can you name the guy who killed 22 people at Luby's less than 10 years ago? In the numbed and jaded present, serial killers can't even get decent ink. ("Hello, this is Jasmine from PlatinumMedia PR. I'm just following up on a package I sent you on James Huberty. Remember, he's that maniac who killed all those people at McDonald's? Right. Right. You got the coffee mug -- good! Anyway, we're setting up phoners with Mr. Huberty and a 20-minute slot just opened up for tomorrow.")
In 1885, those sort of random, grisly slayings just didn't happen. Not in Austin. Not anywhere. But by digging deep and filling the hole with his own fantasia, Saylor has once again found the truth that defines his literary pursuit. "The past is richer and more complicated than you would think."
12-02-2009, 09:35 PM #6
While researching the Villasca ax murders, I discovered a series of ax murders in west Texas and Louisiana in which entire families (all black) were killed (1911-1912). The total killed was over 40. The murders didn't receive much press, only to blame a "colored religious group" for the murders.
12-02-2009, 10:05 PM #7Registered User
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Shadow Angel do you have any sources to those killings of black families? I would love to read more about it!
What do you think of this case?
12-02-2009, 10:12 PM #8
I'll take a stroll through my old notes...I found the case(s) in old papers on Newspaperarchive.com.
This case sounds like a killer who found easy targets that the police wouldn't be in any hurry to investigate.
12-02-2009, 10:22 PM #9Registered User
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Except he made the mistake of attacking a white woman from a prominent family
04-27-2015, 06:53 PM #10
04-27-2015, 07:20 PM #11Registered User
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Thank you for this. Too bad there is no way to test for DNA.
04-27-2015, 07:28 PM #12
My jaunt to Whole Foods right after it opened would have been enhanced (I guess that's the word I want) if I'd have known the above.
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