A sweeping narrative history of a terrifying serial killer - America's first - who stalked Austin, Texas, in 1885.
In the late 1800s, the city of Austin, Texas, was on the cusp of emerging from an isolated western outpost into a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. But beginning in December 1884, Austin was terrorized by someone equally as vicious and, in some ways, far more diabolical than London's infamous Jack the Ripper. For almost exactly one year, the Midnight Assassin crisscrossed the entire city, striking on moonlit nights, using axes, knives, and long steel rods to rip apart women from every race and class.
At the time the concept of a serial killer was unthinkable, but the murders continued, the killer became more brazen, and the citizens' panic reached a fever pitch. Before it was all over, at least a dozen men would be arrested in connection with the murders, and the crimes would expose what a newspaper described as "the most extensive and profound scandal ever known in Austin". And yes, when Jack the Ripper began his attacks in 1888, London police investigators did wonder if the killer from Austin had crossed the ocean to terrorize their own city.
With vivid historical detail and novelistic flair, Texas Monthly journalist Skip Hollandsworth brings this terrifying saga to life. The introduction and epilogue are read by the author.
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A Fascinating Cold, Cold Case
I find books about historical murder cases fascinating, the best of its kind being "Devil in the White City" by Erik Larsen, which happens to take place in roughly the same time period as this case does. Like Larsen, this author goes to great lengths to contrast the technological growth spurt and hopeful high spirits of the people of Austin in the late 19th century with a series of truly horrible crimes that knocked its citizens for a loop.
Although Hollandsworth spends a bit too much time in the setup and is not the literary magician that Larsen is, this long lost tale of horror obviously haunted and obsessed him for some time, and the product of his obsessive research is worth reading.
The comparisons with the Jack the Ripper case are tantalizing, and the fact that future of forensics, psychology and even public lighting were influenced by the details of this forgotten case is amazing. Took some patience in the beginning, but I was glad I stuck with it by the end.
Amazing Literary Accomplishment...