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Publisher's Summary

Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.
Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station.
When celebrated baseball statistician and true-crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern. Applying the same know-how he brings to his legendary baseball analysis, he empirically determined which crimes were committed by the same person. Then, after sifting through thousands of local newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he and his daughter, Rachel, made an astonishing discovery: They learned the true identity of this monstrous criminal. In turn they uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America.
Riveting and immersive, with writing as sharp as the cold side of an axe, The Man from the Train paints a vivid, psychologically perceptive portrait of America at the dawn of the 20th century, when crime was regarded as a local problem and opportunistic private detectives exploited a dysfunctional judicial system. James shows how these cultural factors enabled such an unspeakable series of crimes to occur, and his groundbreaking approach to true crime will convince skeptics, amaze aficionados, and change the way we view criminal history.
©2017 Bill James & Rachel McCarthy James. All rights reserved. (P)2017 Simon & Schuster Audio. All rights reserved.
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Customer Reviews

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By 6catz on 09-25-17

As good as true crime gets

Fascinating to have a sports statistician tackle this 100 year old mystery - actually dozens of mysteries that occurred in a time span around the beginning of the 20th century. The James team offers a pretty convincing case that this spate of mass murders can be tied together, and backs it up with numbers that are tough to argue with.
A great read, creepy as hell and hard to put down.

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful


By Buretto on 09-23-17

Thoroughly engrossing, with some caveats

First of all, I was completely captivated by the story. I eagerly listened, I anticipated listening, I listened at night in bed, and I re-listened what I had missed after falling asleep. So I definitely have to give this book a positive review. However, that doesn't mean there aren't a few shortcomings.

Typical of many books like this, is the review of being "well-researched". I suspect it was (for all I know), but it was oddly rather refreshing to hear how many times the authors said that they just don't know, or couldn't find information. It would be easy to claim laziness, but I just think that so much time had past, and rural records being so scant to begin with, it was always going to be a difficulty. They addressed it head-on, to their credit.

They very effectively (perhaps manipulatively, considering your perspective) present the most compelling crimes to assign to the man from the train, followed by those less apparently connected, and various seeming outliers. They create a profile of the killer and skilfully build up a case against him.

That being said, some of the conclusions edge to the sketchy. For example, most of the crimes were done with an axe, but when one killing used a different implement, the rationalization is that surely the killer, lacking an axe, would have used anything available in the madness of the moment. Any baseball fan whose ever heard a sabermetrician try to justify dWAR (defensive Wins Against Replacement), an attempt to statistically rank defensive baseball players' skills, you'll have the same rational skepticism (not the irrational skepticism the authors seem to hate). But yet again, the authors freely acknowledge that some conclusions are less convincing than others, and don't demand they all be accepted.

And it has to be said that the attempts at folksy humor get a bit tiring. In particular, the puns on names of victims, suspects and witnesses are unnecessary. (At one point, discussing the massacre of a family named Pfanschmidt, the phrase "the Schmitt hit the fan" is used.)

I waited for this from the moment it was introduced until it was available to be downloaded. And I was thoroughly intrigued, even with the minor annoyances. It was well worth the purchase.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By mrs_v on 10-13-17

Fascinating unknown story.

Really interesting, frightening and atmospheric book about a series of axe familcides across North America at the beginning of the 20th century. Well researched and perfectly captures rural, small town life in the US at that time. Very frustrating at times, partly down to lack of available information and the attitude of law enforcement at the time. I also think there is too much repetition, I get it for linking the crimes, but certainly phrases or information was unnecessarily repeated again and again. However this was a fascinating story and I couldn't stop listening.

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