View attachment 16635 For years, people have suggested that the Servant Girl Annihilator and Jack the Ripper were connected. In fact, in 1888, the same year as the Ripper murders, as they were gaining some worldwide press, several newspapers first suggested that the Ripper was connected to the 1884-85 Servant Girl murders in Texas. The Ripper was active, as far as we know, starting and ending in 1888 in Whitechapel, London. The girls were all prostitutes, and were devastated brutally, throats very deeply cut, bodies cut open at the abdomen and genitals and organs removed. Later girls had their faces cut badly. I am not the first to delve into this mystery. The first time I opened the drawer of the microfilm cabinet and saw all the small cardboard boxes of microfilm packed snuggly inside, I noticed that the boxes labeled 1885 were noticeably more worn than any of the others, undoubtedly having been pulled out, opened and put back many times before I got to them. I wondered who had looked at them and what they had found. What was I looking for? The details of a murder mystery that drew comparisons to Jack the Ripper – someone stalking through the night with an axe, committing horrifying crimes and disappearing without a trace. I was surprised such a sensational story did not have more notoriety; I myself had read only the briefest mentions of it. A lot of Old West history is long on story but short on facts, filled with colorful characters and events and I wondered if this was just another Texas Tall Tale, an exaggeration from the imaginations of old-timers to scare the kids around the campfire. Why had these murders remained a mystery? And could a close examination of the facts shed any light on the subject? When I first asked at the Austin History Center in 1996, I was told there had been a clipping file about the murders but that it had been missing for some time. I suppose if those newspaper clippings had been available I might not have pursued this as thoroughly as I did. Over the course of about a year, I gradually assembled my own files on the murders, taking lots of notes and making lots of photocopies and with a lot of patience and persistence I was able to somewhat satisfy my curiosity about the crimes, and discover the who what when and where. But even now there are many questions about the murders that may never be answered. My intention in sharing what I’ve found, collected and published is to hopefully present it with some clarity so that others who are interested can perhaps make some heads or tails of it and maybe offer new insights and ideas. The main problems I encountered with this murder-mystery-as-research project were the lack of extant sources, a lack of indexing for the sources that were available, and the difficulty of deciphering old newspaper microfilm, all of which I believe would have been major impediments to any casual reader or would-be researcher. The lack of extant sources is probably due in part to the 1880s being something of a lull in Texas history. Materials from prior historical eras of Texas including, The Republic, The Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Old West have been vigorously collected and archived and there is much accompanying scholarship. Materials from the 1880s and 1890s are scarce by comparison and interest and enthusiasm for Texas history does not pick up again until the Oil Boom at the turn of the century. Thankfully the Austin History Center’s collections and their cataloging and indexing are superb, and if their resources had not been put in place long ago and maintained by dedicated and conscientious professionals and volunteers this project would have been much more difficult. And with increasing efforts to digitize collections I expect there will be many new and interesting discoveries made. With that in mind I want to briefly describe some of what was involved in my research, some of the sources I used, and I also want to give thought to the way the murders of 1885 have been remembered. William Sydney Porter famously mentions the servant girl annihilators in an 1885 letter, later included in the O.Henry short story compilation, Rolling Stones, published 1912. Had that letter not been reprinted the crimes might have been completely forgotten. In Mary Starr Barkley’s History of Travis County and Austin, published 1963, she briefly mentions the murders as part of local folklore: ..the axe murderer who made citizens nervous in 1884-1885. His victims were women, always killed while sleeping. No one knows, even today, who murdered the thirteen people, with the last murder being on Christmas, 1885. Even though the details as remembered by Barkley are incorrect, it is remarkable to see how the memory of the crimes, as a story retold over the years, eventually took on the aura of a local legend, not unlike the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which continued to fascinate Londoners in subsequent decades. In 1983 the murders were mentioned by David C. Humphrey, LBJ Library archivist, in an article in Southwestern Historical Quarterly. He gets the details substantially correct and cites specific Austin Daily Statesman sources: …six black Austinites, five of them females, were viciously attacked at night, in all but one case with axes and knives. More than one victim was raped. None of the murders was solved, despite efforts of specially hired detectives. Then on Christmas eve two white women who live a dozen blocks apart were dragged from their beds into their backyards, at least one of them raped, and both butchered to death with axes. There were no suspects. Those three brief mentions by Porter, Barkley and Humphrey were the only descriptions of the murders that found their way into print in the 100 years since the murders had been committed. (Although Humphrey’s account was subsequently re-tooled for inclusion in various Austin city guidebooks.) I had started my search for information about the murders by searching the index of the Austin American-Statesman, which at the time was available on an old-fashioned terminal station in the Austin History Center. The Statesman index did not include the late 19th century and no entries about the murders were to be found from the 20th century. Searches of various academic indexes for any mention of the murders turned up nothing. A complete lack of secondary sources meant going directly to primary sources, in this case, 19th century newspapers. Since Austin newspapers from that time period were not indexed there would be no easy way to find what I was looking for. I simply had to start reading without knowing where to start. There were several daily and weekly newspapers published in Austin during the 1880s but only the Austin Daily Statesman has survived in completeness in archived microfilm to the present day. Microfilm is not the most user-friendly format to work with but at least it is easily stored and preserved and in many cases it is the only format available when brittle print originals have long since turned to dust. Read the rest here.