WES COWAN: December 30, 1884.
Residents of Austin, Texas,
prepare to celebrate the new year.
But as the clock strikes 12,
a nightmare begins for the city.
[ woman screaming ]
That night, a 25-year-old cook, Mollie Smith,
is attacked in her bed.
In the light of dawn, gruesome revelations:
a room in violent disarray, a bloody ax...
and a broken, ravaged body.
There would be seven more killings that following year.
In many ways, it was more horrifying
than the Jack the Ripper murders.
And the orgy of violence would almost tear the city apart.
They're starting to say
the whole leadership of the city is broken.
Three years before Jack the Ripper terrorized London,
eight years before H.H.
stalked the Chicago World's Fair.
More butchery, another woman terribly stabbed.
They can't imagine that the same person
might be doing all these crimes.
Were the Austin deaths the work
of the country's first serial killer?
On this History Detectives Special Investigation,
we uncover the bloody details...
Part of this is sexually assaulting the victim.
and bring modern-day forensics...
- He's really in the top 1%.
- Definitely in the hot zone.
to find the suspects...
Can you tell me the profile of the man
who committed these murders?
as we answer the question,
who was the Texas Servant Girl Killer?
History Detectives Special Investigations
1885 servant girl murders.
This is a murder mystery in the Deep South
that has been all but forgotten.
Eight people were killed:
six African Americans and two whites,
all attacked in the middle of the night,
several of them with an ax.
COWAN: The murders took place over a year
and were shockingly violent.
Terror convulsed the city.
One of the victims was only 11 years old.
Thing is, about as soon as these murders
bam, it's over, and they're gone.
And the person who did it has never been caught.
And what I find so curious is that in spite of the fact
that this case garnered national attention,
everybody's forgotten about it today.
And what's more, nobody even knows
if there were eight murderers or there was one murderer.
Well, you know, this is 1885,
three years before Jack the Ripper in London,
Holmes in 1893, the Chicago World's Fair.
That's a really good point.
This may be the first serial killer in the United States.
That's part of the most interesting thing
about this case, I think.
I'm also interested in, who were these women?
The first six were African Americans.
And you've got to remember that this is
The Klan is very active there.
You're thinking there may be some racial undertone to this.
Well, I don't think we can ignore it.
Yeah, you're right, the historical context
is incredibly important.
But, gentlemen, let's not forget,
there were also two white women who were killed.
I guess I really want to know who killed these women.
What I think that I will do is pull together
all of the evidence that I can find:
look at newspaper articles, look at police reports.
I'd like to go down to Austin, Texas, actually,
see if there are any living traces of the story,
any leads that we can follow at this point.
Because if you think about it,
no one's ever really applied modern scientific techniques
to this story, right?
I'm with you.
I'm in Texas.
I want to find out more about the racial angle here.
We need to dig down to get the truth of this story.
Sounds like we've got a plan.
I'll see you in Texas.
I'll see you there.
Are the killings in Austin, Texas, in 1885
the work of America's first serial killer?
To help figure that out,
I need to look at some coverage from the time.
The Austin Statesman paints a picture
of a capital city coming of age.
With an opera house, three colleges,
and a new capitol building under construction,
Austin's economy was booming.
And its citizens were shaping
a more integrated vision for the South
just 20 years after the Civil War.
There was a thriving community of freedmen
who were in the emerging middle class
who were living side by side with their white neighbors.
But there was a swelling undercurrent
of vice and violence, too.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1884,
there are a series of home invasions
and assaults on servant women, most of them African American.
As 1884 ends, the violence turns deadly.
Mollie Smith is a 25-year-old servant
living on West Pecan Street
with her boyfriend, Walter Spencer.
But on New Year's Eve, Mollie's bed is found empty,
with evidence of a violent struggle.
[ woman screams ]
Here's the headline for the Austin Daily Statesman:
A Fearful Midnight Murder on Pecan Street.
A Colored Woman Killed Outright and Her Lover Almost Done For."
Alongside her bed is an ax and a trail of blood.
Her boyfriend has been knocked unconscious.
[ fly buzzing ]
"And there lay the woman stark dead...
a ghastly object to behold.
A horrible hole in the side of her head told the tale."
For five months, there are no more murders.
Then, in mid-spring, the killer or killers
Eliza Shelley is a cook for the Johnson family.
In early May, in the middle of the night,
someone breaks into her bedroom.
"The Foul Fiends Keep Up Their Wicked Work --
Another Woman Cruelly Murdered,
May 8, 1885."
Eliza's children witness the crime
but are too traumatized to give any useful information.
"Stretched out on the floor lay the poor woman,
dead, with a gaping wound over her right eye.
It was done with some sharp instrument,
probably a hatchet."
The pace of the killing quickens.
This is from just two weeks later on May 23rd.
Irene Cross shares her room with a young nephew.
Another Colored Woman Terribly Stabbed
by an Unknown Fiend.
When Will It End?"
A reporter said she looked as if she had been scalped.
Irene was victim number three.
Over the summer and early fall, the bloodletting continues
with three more killings.
And on Christmas Eve night, two white women --
Susan Hancock and Eula Phillips --
The police didn't appear to suspect a lone killer.
After each death, they arrest
either a former boyfriend of the victim, their husbands,
or known street criminals.
But I've dug up some investigative reporting
which suggests the killings were done by a single monster.
It's an article in Texas Monthly published in 2000
which describes, at the time, "a rampage of murders."
The author, Skip Hollandsworth,
notes how most of the victims are attacked by moonlight,
disabled with an ax,
and in many cases sexually attacked.
He believes an unidentified serial killer
escaped the police and the history books.
Listen to this: "One reason that the story
is so little known is that another flamboyant murderer,
Jack the Ripper, came along a mere three years
after the Austin killer."
Did history's most infamous serial killer
follow in the footsteps of an even more prolific killer in Austin, Texas?
It's a good article, but I'm not so sure.
All of these killings are so grotesque.
But they're not all the same.
In some cases there's sexual violence.
In some cases the victim is killed with an ax,
sometimes with a blunt instrument.
And the final two killings are not of African Americans
but are two white women.
- Hey, Kaiama.
- Wes, hi.
Listen, this is a great case, fascinating,
but was this the work of a serial killer?
The cops certainly didn't think so.
They were interviewing boyfriends, friends,
Yeah, I remember that from the research.
Listen, I've got a couple leads.
According to this article in the Texas Monthly,
there might even be a surviving relative
of one of the victims, Dorothy Larson.
And something else.
There's a guy in Austin, Martin Wagner.
He's studied the case.
I think that those would both be good leads to follow up on.
I'm on it.
GLOVER: These unsolved murders are part of Austin's past,
but do any clues remain in today's city?
I became interested in it
more as a filmmaker and a storyteller.
I'm in Austin to meet Martin Wagner,
a filmmaker who's investigated the killings.
So tell me, why are we here?
Just a few blocks from here, Shoal Creek,
that would have been close to
where the first murder took place, Mollie Smith,
on New Year's Eve, 1884.
And then towards Congress Avenue,
First Street, Eighth Street, Lavaca,
those are where the final murders took place
on Christmas Eve, 1885.
So now what was the community's response to this?
Martin says the killings sent waves of fear through the city, especially into the African-American community.
But it was a discovery made by livery owner V.O.
in late August
that took Austin's fear to a fever pitch.
He had a cook working for him, Rebecca Ramey,
and she was living at the residence
with her 11-year-old daughter, Mary.
Weed wakes up at about 4:30-5:00 in the morning
and hears a strange sound outside.
Mr. Weed opens the door to his washhouse,
and he finds Mary Ramey lying there.
She has been beaten about the head
and she has a long spike of some kind
driven into her ears, piercing her brain.
These are the fatal wounds.
And was raped.
And she's 11 years old.
That it was such a small child
just added to the level of horror and anger.
And you see this increasing sense of outrage
and demands for just completely new leadership
in the whole city.
So this was really rocking the foundations of Austin
at the time.
They're starting to say
the whole leadership of the city is broken.
What were people doing at the time
to protect themselves or in response?
At one point you even hear the editorials
just outright advocating vigilance committees.
If the police can't do this job,
citizens just need to start loading up with shotguns
and do it themselves.
I asked Martin who the police thought was responsible
for the bloodshed.
Well, at the time, it was the common opinion
that these had to be gangs,
quite possibly the same gangs who were attempting
home invasion attacks earlier in the spring.
And these gangs would have been what?
It was certainly the thought that the assailants
were probably African American.
One popular theory put forth
by the African-American community at the time
was that these were women who were living with their men
out of wedlock, a sinful lifestyle,
and so the killers were targeting these women
and punishing them for a sinful way of life.
It was one of several popular theories which emerged
as the city struggled to come to terms
with the rising death toll.
If you read the newspapers, you see the attackers
referred to as demons, monsters, fiends.
Certainly it was the feeling that this was part of
a much larger pattern of violence
and that there had to have been multiple assailants involved,
because how could one individual be this savage?
ZUBERI: So a large part of the community
thought there were multiple assailants,
but what evidence did the police have to back that up?
I'm meeting historian
and former police officer Doug Dukes
at the old Williamson County Jail.
He says that in 1885, the 12-man police force
had plenty of violent crime to deal with
but little experience with detective investigation
or modern police work.
Mostly it was jealousy or business dealing disagreements,
but there was a witness 9 times out of 10
that says, "So and so shot John Smith."
Well, talk to me a little bit about the kinds of techniques
that they would have had available to them
in their investigation.
You might call them old-school,
because they brought in bloodhounds
because there were barefoot tracks
at some of the crime scenes.
Several of the people that they arrested,
they arrested them for no other reason
than when the dogs would follow the tracks into a stable,
this person would be in the stable and would be barefoot.
In one particular case, they cut out a piece of wood floor
from one of the murder scenes
because it had a bloody footprint in it.
The police response was especially hard
on African-American men.
Hundreds were rounded up and herded into the local jails.
The city also called in outside detectives
who turned to law enforcement techniques
from the days of the Old South.
There was testimony from several of the suspects
in the cases later on that these detectives,
with the help of a couple members
of the Austin Police Department,
took them out and tried to beat a confession out of them,
and in one case, was going to hang them
if they didn't get the truth.
So lynching was used as a threat.
Lynching was used as a threat.
Doug says it's clear the police may have missed
evidence and clues at the murder scene.
In one case in particular, they picked the body up
and carried it back into the house.
And as a police officer, I cringed when I saw that,
thinking about what all evidence that they left there
when they just picked the body up.
It would have been anarchy.
The cops might have believed there were multiple killers,
but Doug says they had little evidence to base this on.
After each murder, they simply arrested scores of young men
or blamed a former boyfriend.
When the two white women were killed in December,
again, the police suspected a crime of passion.
The husbands are now suspects in these cases.
Was there marital discord?
Was one or both of them stepping out on the other?
He believes the police response
had as much to do with political pressure
as solid police work.
I think they were trying to arrest
anybody and everybody they could,
hoping that they would get lucky
and get the right person off the street
just to allow people to feel better
about what was going on.
The Austin Police had clearly struggled that year,
but I'm no closer to figuring out
if the killings were connected.
The murders of the two white women on Christmas Eve
are especially baffling.
Consistent with their multiple killer theory,
the district attorney had charged the two husbands,
Moses Hancock and James Phillips.
But were they guilty?
GLOVER: The final murder victim was 17-year-old Eula Phillips.
We've managed to track down a relative, Dorothy Larson,
whose name Wes saw in the Texas Monthly article.
I have a picture of Eula
that I found in my grandmother's photo album.
I want to see if she might have family knowledge
that can shed light on the mystery.
Dorothy, how exactly are you related to Eula Phillips?
Eula was my grandmother's sister.
That would make her be my great-aunt.
How old was Eula when she married James Phillips?
I think she was probably only 15.
Eula was beautiful,
and Dorothy says on the surface,
she appeared to have married well.
The Phillips family was a very wealthy family in Austin,
and their son was several years older than Eula.
I mean, it sounds to me like she married him
because it was a marriage of necessity.
What do you mean by that?
That in those days, if you got a girl pregnant,
you married her.
Oh, that kind of necessity.
That kind of necessity.
Eula and 24-year-old Jimmy married in 1883.
Their son, Thomas, was born soon after.
But behind closed doors, the marriage foundered.
He was from a lovely family,
but apparently he was an alcoholic
and apparently he was very unkind to her,
both physically and emotionally.
I ask Dorothy if she has any family information
to help us figure out who killed Eula
or the other women.
But she says her grandmother had kept the story
of Eula's death away from her, even as an adult.
I was already married and had children.
I was sitting in her living room and I noticed a picture
that I had never seen before.
I said, "Grandmother, who is that beautiful young woman
on the shelf in your living room?"
She said, "That's my sister, honey."
I said, "Your sister?
Grandmother, I never knew you had a sister."
She said, "She was killed."
And I said, "She was killed?
And she said, "Honey, I don't want to talk about it."
And that was the end of that conversation.
And you didn't press her any further?
Well, no, you didn't press my grandmother.
The secret remained
until Dorothy got a call a few years ago
from the author of the Texas Monthly story,
He suggested her grandmother's sister
may have been the final victim
of America's first serial killer.
He said there were several women, young women killed,
and he said, "Your great aunt was one of them."
And I said, "You're kidding."
She learned of the terrible events
of Christmas Eve, 1885.
Jimmy, Eula, and their young son were home that night.
The story is the three of them were in bed together.
Dorothy learned that Jimmy Phillips had told police
he'd gone to bed with Eula and their son between them.
Phillips claimed he'd been attacked,
although he didn't remember exactly what had happened.
Apparently her husband was covered with blood.
The little boy who was in bed with them was not harmed.
She was dragged outside,
and the job was finished out in the yard.
So within the space of a few years,
you found out your grandmother had a sister,
you had a great-aunt.
Not only this, but in fact that your great-aunt
had been involved in this very complicated series of events.
I thought, my poor grandmother, she carried this load of grief
and apparently a load of shame that it was to her
that her sister was killed and the way she was killed.
It seems it was very much buried in your family history
in ways that remind me of the extent to which
the entire incident has been somewhat buried
in Austin's history.
It's an embarrassment to Austin,
and it was an embarrassment to my family,
and a mystery that was never solved.
In spite of the new information,
I'm no closer to figuring out
if there was one murderer or many.
To try and pin it down, I'm meeting up with
investigator and author Steven Saylor,
who has studied Jimmy Phillips' murder trial.
I came across that headline,
"Bloody Work: Murders in Austin, Texas,"
and that set me on the trail.
History has largely forgotten the Austin murders,
but the headlines which followed the prosecution
of the well-born Jimmy Phillips
made his trial the 19th-century equivalent
of the O.J.
There were reporters there from Chicago,
from St. Louis, from New York.
District attorney James Robertson charged Phillips
with killing his wife in an act of murderous rage.
To make his case,
introduced sensational information.
He claimed Jimmy's teenage bride
had been living a secret life.
Eula Phillips was apparently either acting as a prostitute
or having a series of affairs with men behind Jimmy's back.
The possibility that Eula had been the victim of a fiend
who had already killed seven times that year
was largely ignored.
Instead, the details of Eula's love life
splashed into newspapers across the country.
Apparently Eula was seeing some very big names
in the state government.
Rumors are swirling that it may be Comptroller Swain,
who's running for governor.
So Austin's dirty laundry is exposed to the state,
to the nation...
The DA appeared to imply
that Eula had brought about her own death
by her extramarital affairs and friendships.
An hour before she was murdered,
Eula had visited May Tobin's whorehouse,
and she counted an African-American brothel owner
among her associates.
Steven, let me get this straight.
Eula Phillips, 17-year-old society white woman,
is hanging out with a black madam in Austin?
How does this come about?
Well, we don't really know that.
The fact that Eula is either acting as a prostitute
or needs an assignation house for her string of lovers,
clearly Eula is not following the rules of society.
In many ways it becomes not just the trial of Jimmy Phillips,
but Eula is put on trial as well for her behavior.
That Christmas Eve, another white woman,
Susan Hancock, had been attacked
with some sort of object and dragged outside.
She later died of her injuries.
What is the likelihood that these two men
woke up that night, killed their wives
within an hour, more or less, of one another,
in the exact same way?
It's interesting that that idea was not introduced
in the Phillips case.
No linkage was made between the two crimes.
I'm sorry, two women killed on the same night
within about an hour of one another,
in the same way.
No one puts these two circumstances together?
Well, certainly public opinion.
And the Statesman newspaper
I think the very next day has that headline:
have the fiends transferred their thirst for blood
to white people?
So certainly a connection was made in the public mind
right away that these must be a part of the pattern
that's been going on all year.
But the prosecutors, for whatever motivations,
decide to go after the two husbands.
Was there any concrete evidence against James Phillips
in the murder of his wife?
In the trial, it was established
that Jimmy had said, "If I were to find out
that Eula were cheating on me,
I would kill her and kill myself."
This is the most damning piece of evidence against him.
That's the most damning piece of evidence.
A dramatic moment came when the prosecution introduced an item discovered at the crime scene.
Brought into court as a piece of evidence
is a plank from their veranda which has been sawed out,
and this has a fairly clear bloody footprint on it.
Can Jimmy be matched to that footprint?
He's made to put his foot in a pan of ink
and then to stand on a piece of board.
And we all know if it does not fit, you must acquit.
We hear the echo through history.
And it's just not big enough.
It does not fit.
Incredibly, in spite of the footprint evidence,
perhaps swayed by tales of adultery
and teenage prostitution, the jury voted to convict.
Steven suggests the prosecution of Jimmy Phillips
was almost certainly a show trial.
It's no small detail that the district attorney
is a Robertson brother, and the mayor's a Robertson.
Mayor Robertson needed help shoring up his image
as a crime fighter.
He's just barely held on to his office
in the recent elections, largely because
many people thought there needed to be a shake-up;
these murders haven't been solved.
It's starting to sound to me like the fix was in almost.
They wanted this conviction of Jimmy Phillips.
As the Dallas Morning News editorial would eventually say,
the three things we learned from this trial are
that Mrs. Phillips was not what she should be,
certain attachés of the state government
are not what they should be,
and we may never know the truth of who killed her.
COWAN: The extraordinary pursuit of James Phillips
by the district attorney
may be one reason that the Austin murders
have largely escaped the history books.
- Pleased to meet you.
Crime historian Harold Schechter has recently looked
at some of the period news coverage of the Austin story.
I was actually surprised that nobody had explored it
in greater depth.
He's convinced that the killings were the work
of a single homicidal maniac
on a par with history's worst serial killers.
In many ways, it was more horrifying
than the Jack the Ripper murders.
The Servant Girl Annihilator
would savage these women in their bedrooms,
inflict these horrible injuries on them
while they were still alive.
And he actually ended up killing more victims
than Jack the Ripper.
The Austin murders took place eight years before
Holmes stalked the Chicago World's Fair.
Holmes had confessed to a score of killings,
gassing and torturing young women
in a hotel he'd built.
But Harold says that even if the servant murders
were the work of a serial killer,
they weren't the country's first.
Serial murder is a very recent term
for an age-old phenomenon.
In the past, it used to be called lust murder,
and these are killers who derive their deepest pleasure
from committing certain kinds of sexual atrocities.
What you're saying is that this is as old
as the human species probably.
Many people have a misconception about what serial murder is.
Many people feel it began with Ted Bundy
or John Wayne Gacy or Charles Manson.
I think it's important for people to recognize
that this is a feature, you know, of human culture
and has always been that.
In the late 19th century,
the nation experienced rapid expansion,
and anonymity cloaked big cities.
There were a disturbing number of horrific serial killings.
One person that many scholars of American crime
regard as America's youngest serial killer,
a guy named Jesse Pomeroy,
who is known as the Boston Boy Fiend,
tortured and murdered a string of children
in south Boston in the 1870s.
Let me ask you a question, because everybody knows
about Jack the Ripper.
So why has this story been forgotten?
The servant girl murders happened
away from the centers of the national media.
Austin was considered to be something of a backwater.
The trial of James Phillips in Austin
became a form of celebrity spectacle.
Harold suspects that there was another uglier reason
the Austin killings may have been pushed
from the history books.
Most of the victims were African American,
with a shameful result that is all too familiar.
Even today, if a white middle-class girl
is abducted from her bedroom,
it's likely to generate 24/7 cable news coverage.
If a young African-American inner city girl
is abducted from her home, nobody -- well, people are
going to pay relatively little attention to it.
GLOVER: If the murders were the work of a serial killer,
is there surviving evidence
the police and district attorney overlooked?
The prosecution of Jimmy Phillips
appears to have been deeply flawed,
but the court proceedings
are some of the best surviving records.
Can't count the number of witnesses
that testify at this trial.
As I make my way through the witness accounts,
I notice something curious.
As we know, physical evidence had been discovered
at the crime scene.
A bloody footprint was found at the Phillips' home
on the night of the murder.
And we also know that Jimmy had been made to compare
his foot in court with one of these prints.
Jimmy's footprint turned out to be smaller.
But here's what's interesting.
It seems that several other prints were found that night.
They were unusual in some way and had been, quote,
"distinctly marked by the toes."
The subject of disfigured or unusual feet comes up again
in the cross-examination of a witness.
Here's something interesting.
A witness testified about George McCutcheon,
one of Eula's alleged lovers, and he's asked
if George had anything peculiar about his feet.
But the witness said he'd never noticed anything
about George's feet.
I'm not sure what to make of this,
but it seems the police had evidence
that whoever Eula's killer was
may have had some sort of foot abnormality.
So my question is, what is all this business
about the peculiarity of the suspect's feet?
ZUBERI: Although Jimmy Phillips was acquitted on appeal
the following year,
the prosecutors continued to believe
there were multiple killers.
They press charges against Moses Hancock
for the Christmas Eve murder of his wife.
But I'm growing skeptical of this theory.
We have all of our information.
Let's try to put it up here.
Wes has shared his notes,
and Kaiama and I are going back to the drawing board
to plot out exactly what were the differences
and similarities in the murders.
Was a single killer stalking Austin that year?
- Mollie Smith.
- She's 25 years old,
- sexually assaulted.
Bloody ax, dragged into the backyard.
- She was a cook, right?
- Cook, that's right.
- Eliza Shelley.
- The hatchet.
She's definitely dragged out of the bed.
Irene Cross, the weapon is a knife,
and she was a servant.
- All right, so Mary Ramey.
- Sharp object.
- So Gracie Vance?
Susan Hancock, an ax.
Eula Phillips, dragged into the backyard.
- All right.
I've got to say, Tukufu, looking at this,
it really does seem like we've got more similarities
- than differences.
- Yes, absolutely.
It looks like with the exception of Irene Cross,
everyone was dragged,
everyone was moved from somewhere,
everyone was attacked at night in their bed initially
and then dragged somewhere else.
Occupation: with the exception of the white women,
everybody is a servant, three of them are cooks.
The similarities in the cases are inescapable.
It certainly seems to us we are on the trail
of a serial killer.
I want to show the evidence we've discovered
to a modern profiler.
How do you know when there is a serial murder?
I look at behavior.
Mark Safarik spent 17 years in the FBI as a profiler.
We've sent him a dossier of our notes and findings.
So how many people do you believe committed these murders?
One guy is -- there's only one guy
that's ever seen at all of these crime scenes,
Secondly, forensically, blood is not drips of blood,
it's drag marks of blood.
One offender is dragging the victim
because it's really the most efficient way
for him to move the victim
rather than trying to pick her up.
That covers him in blood.
Mark says the news reports
track clear, consistent behavior.
He is coming under cover of darkness.
He is accessing residences that are easy for him to get into.
He is waiting until the victims are asleep.
He's using a weapon that is going to cause massive damage.
That's probably the bulk of what we know about his M.O.
So let me just differentiate his M.O.
from his need-driven behavior.
So exactly what do you mean by need-driven behavior?
Once the victim is dead,
if you're interested in lowering your risk,
you should probably leave the crime, but he doesn't.
Part of this is sexually assaulting the victim.
A lot of these women have been moved a great distance.
That's part of the ritual behavior.
It's important for him to take them out
where he has some time.
At least he feels he has more time.
Take them away from the crime scene.
Mark has no doubt the Austin murders
were the crimes of a serial killer,
a classic predator with an M.O.
and signature pathological needs.
It's about a guy who doesn't have a lot of power
and control in his own life,
and so he takes that power and control back
by rendering power and control over someone's life.
Can you tell me the profile
of the man who committed these murders?
The first five assaults all are on black females.
So I think we're dealing with a black male,
because most crimes of violence are intraracial:
black on black, white on white,
Hispanic on Hispanic.
That's true today across all races,
across all age groups.
Why is that?
People are connected to people that they know
and they're generally of the same race as they are, right?
So when there's anger, when there's conflict,
when there's jealousy,
it's generally with people that you know.
Christmas Eve, two white women are killed,
and they happen almost one hour apart.
That's a different dynamic.
By the time you have committed six homicides
and you've not been caught, that's pretty emboldening.
So he got cocky.
That's how we catch a lot of serial offenders.
They think that they're just that smart
that, "I have been able to do this,
and I'm watching the police run around
murder after murder after murder,
nobody's catching me."
And you understand their M.O.
is getting better, right,
because they might be making some mistakes,
but in the next crime, he may be correcting that.
And that allows him to maybe go after a victim
he didn't think he could go after earlier in his career.
What else can you tell me about him?
The risks that he's willing to take
to go into these residences, take on a male,
suggest to me that he's probably on the younger side,
so probably maybe early 20s.
So you've got a guy who's going to be fairly muscular.
He's going to have some strength because of --
he's got to drag these women.
He's got to get them out of the window,
over a fence.
Mark says the sudden end to the rampage
may be a clue to the killer's identity.
This kind of a guy doesn't stop.
He's going to continue until he gets caught.
So very likely there's something
that's preventing him from acting out.
The killer may have moved from Austin, died,
or been swept up in the police dragnet.
He may have been incarcerated for something else,
simply cannot act out.
That's a very strong likelihood.
GLOVER: We've got the beginning of a profile.
We may be looking for a young, strong, African-American man
who may have had a foot abnormality.
Our killer had escaped the history books
and the authorities.
Can modern police techniques pick up his trail
after more than a century?
One of the things that is interesting
about a serial killer
is there's a mathematical pattern that they create.
Kim Rossmo is a pioneer in a specialized detective skill
known as geographic profiling.
He's studied the servant murders
and is familiar with Austin in 1885.
Kim, we've been working with this map here,
and I'm hoping you can talk me through this a little bit.
Well, this is a perspective map of Austin in 1887,
so it's going to actually reflect
what the city looked like at the time of the murders.
The red dots indicate where the killings occurred.
This is the first, this is the last,
this a double murder here.
But all these distances are very close.
Kim explains how geographic profiling
is based on a simple truth of criminal behavior.
The best way to know what you're doing
when you're committing a crime
is to have some familiarity with an area.
So most of the time we're going to find
that offenders live within the area of their crimes.
He points out that most of the murders
are in residential areas
but that many of them fall close
to a rough-and-tumble part of town.
This part of Austin was known as Guy Town.
It was a center of prostitution,
it was a place with a lot of gambling joints,
and it was mixed race.
The killer may have worked in this area.
Kim also notes that many of the freedmen's communities
lay on the outskirts of the city
but within easy walking distance of the crime scenes.
At the time there were segregated black communities
Masontown, Wheatsville, Clarksville.
I'll also point out Shoal Creek.
A number of the tracks of the killer
seem to lead towards that area.
So you would say then comfortably
that the suspect, the person who committed these crimes,
most likely lived and/or worked somewhere within this area.
Kim points out a curious connection
between two of the murders.
Here's where Susan Hancock was murdered.
Here's where Eula Phillips was murdered.
And interestingly, between them,
and only about a block or two from Susan Hancock's home,
is May Tobin's brothel here on South Congress.
That's where Eula Phillips had gone that evening, yeah?
It raises the possibility that Susan Hancock's killer
saw Eula Phillips, perhaps even followed her back home.
It is quite an unusual set of coincidences.
Kim's entered the murder locations into the computer.
This pattern of crime sites in effect is a geographic clue
that helps point towards who was the killer.
An algorithm then processes this information,
noting where the bulk of the murders took place.
It then generates zones, or bands of probability,
for where the murderer may have lived or worked.
The dark orange area is the area that most likely contains
the offender's base.
So we can see that more or less falls around Congress Avenue.
Congress Avenue was a main commercial artery for Austin
in 1885, a busy hub of restaurants and stores
where black and white mixed freely.
Kim's plotted a few other locations
that featured in the police investigation.
One of the best fits is the Union Depot train station.
Wow, so that's right on top of that red zone.
Right, possibility that the offender
worked at the train station
or maybe came into Austin by train
and departed at this particular point.
We'll look at one of the Guy Town brothels.
So this is the Guy Town area.
This is the heart of the brothel area.
We can see that's also very high on the profile.
Might that be where an investigation would get started?
It would be one of the places
they definitely would want to focus on.
ZUBERI: Is it possible after all these years
to give this monster a name and a face?
- Hey, how you doing?
Here are the records you requested.
Don't have a whole lot from the police department
from this era.
What I'm putting out for you first is a ledger
listing all of the police calls.
This lists by date every time a police officer was called out
to investigate something.
Our investigation so far has given us an idea
of who we may be looking for
and where he may have lived or worked.
Other volumes will then detail all the arrests.
It's a record of the arrests.
- Thank you very much.
- You're welcome.
Okay, let's see what we've got here.
I'm looking through records for 1886.
Mark Safarik said the violence of the previous year
may have stopped because the murderer was killed,
skipped town, or been arrested.
My first impression is we don't get much information
in this at all.
Unfortunately, the records are either missing or cursory.
This is not going to give us a lot of information.
Forensic science was in its infancy at this point.
And this is playing out in these records.
They're not very informative, and they don't help us
with our investigation.
There's not enough in the call records
to match with our profile,
no information on address,
and certainly nothing on a foot abnormality.
Let's see what we can find in the arrest records.
This book is old and it has a lot of character.
"Common prostitute," "disturbing the peace."
After the murders end,
there's still plenty of petty crime in Austin.
But there's no sudden death or incarceration
of a young black man from the downtown area
who might fit our profile.
I'm drawing a blank.
Okay, we had to try, but I don't think
we're going to add to our investigation
from these documents.
Truthfully, it's beginning to feel like a wild goose chase.
I want to try one more way to match our killer's profile
and cast our net as wide as I can.
The papers in Austin gave us
a tremendous amount of information.
So now I want to broaden my search
to the newspapers in the surrounding cities.
Maybe we can get some clues
that they weren't reporting in Austin,
because you've got to remember,
this was an ongoing investigation.
The reporters in the neighboring cities
may not have been under the same constraints.
Let's see what we can find.
It's mostly the same horrific details
of the murders and growing public outrage
at the Austin authorities.
But when I look in the period after the murders stop,
I spot something interesting.
This is from the San Antonio Daily Express,
Friday morning, February 12, 1886.
It's a summary of the news out of Austin
for San Antonio readers.
The big story is Jimmy Phillips' court appearance.
Okay, so the article is about the Phillips trial,
but we know all about that.
And that's not the most surprising thing
about this article.
What is most surprising about it is a name comes up.
The news summary includes an account of a barroom brawl
involving a young African-American man
which ended in gunshots.
The name is Nathan Elgin,
and he was just recently killed by the police.
Elgin had attacked a woman in a saloon
and been shot resisting arrest.
[ gunshot ]
But there's something else.
An autopsy reveals an odd characteristic.
It had stated that he had the little toe gone
from one of his feet.
Kaiama had told me how footprints had been found
at the Phillips murder scene
which had been peculiar in some way.
The San Antonio paper then reveals
some blockbuster information.
It directly connects the autopsy results
with one of the servant girl murders.
Listen to this: "the foot corresponding in this respect
to the track of the murder of the Ramey girl."
Mary Ramey was the 11-year-old who had been the fourth victim
of the serial killer.
A footprint had been found at the murder scene,
but there had been no mention by the authorities
or the Austin newspapers that the prints taken
had included a foot with a missing toe.
We didn't know we had this guy as a suspect.
I need to find out more about this Nathan Elgin.
He certainly fits some of our profile:
a young black man killed soon after the murders stopped
who had a missing toe.
It may actually blow our investigation open.
I've emailed Wes,
and he's been researching Elgin some more.
[ phone rings ]
- Hey, man.
- ZUBERI: Hey, Wes.
I found a website that may be able to help us out.
It's put together by a guy named J.R. Galloway.
He actually is at the University of Texas,
he's a librarian there.
And it looks like he's gone down
some of the same rabbit holes that we have.
He's got Elgin's name, too?
Yeah, that's right.
Elgin, that's his name.
Okay, I'm going to head over there.
Okay, talk to you later.
James Galloway stumbled across the servant girl murders
while in grad school.
Since no one else had ever really delved into it very much,
I thought this would be a good research topic to pursue.
He found the same story in the San Antonio Express
of Nathan Elgin's death and his possible connection
to the Mary Ramey murder.
I had the same experience you had reading that,
and I was interested to see
if his name would come up anywhere else.
Galloway was baffled that information
that could have helped find the killer
of the 11-year-old Mary Ramey had not been made public.
He hunted for any other mention of Nathan Elgin
in news accounts of the murders.
I worked my way through the reports of the Hancock trial.
Susan Hancock was the other white woman murdered
on Christmas Eve.
Her husband, Moses Hancock,
had been accused of the killing,
but that trial had gotten a lot less attention
and come months later.
As Galloway read, a story from June 3, 1887,
included a jaw-dropping detail.
The very last thing they reported in that story
was Sheriff Hornsby's testimony for the defense.
Sheriff Malcolm Hornsby revealed that Nathan Elgin
may have been guilty in the most high-profile
of all the killings,
the rape and murder of Eula Phillips.
Hornsby said that a plaster cast was taken of Elgin's foot
after his death which corresponded to the track
at the Phillips murder.
It is an extraordinary discovery.
There had been no mention in the newspapers
that a missing-toe footprint
had been found at the Phillips murder scene.
In fact, the authorities had attempted to convict
Jimmy Phillips by comparing his footprint
to a normal footprint they claimed had been found
at the crime scene.
So a missing-toe footprint was found
at the Phillips murder scene, the Ramey murder,
- and the Phillips murder.
Do you think the police department was aware of this?
Some members of the police department were aware of that.
The sheriff hinted in court that Nathan Elgin
had murdered Susan Hancock, Eula Phillips,
and all six other victims.
Hornsby commented that after the death of Elgin,
that there was no further murders.
So you're saying that Moses Hancock was not convicted
because the sheriff held Nathan Elgin
as the prime suspect in his wife's murder.
Elgin already fit our profile.
Now a forensic detail appears to tie him
to two of the victims.
Were you able to find out anything else
about Nathan Elgin?
I mean, who was this guy?
The 1880 census lists his occupation at that time
as being a servant.
At the time period the murders were occurring,
he was working as a cook at a restaurant called Simon's,
which is one of the most upscale restaurants
in Austin at that time.
A lot of Simon's employees also boarded at the restaurant,
some waiters and cooks.
And exactly where is Simon's located?
It was right at Pecan Street and Congress.
That's in the heart of the zone where we've discovered
the killer may have lived or worked.
Our evidence is pointing directly at Nathan Elgin.
He thinks Elgin was the Austin serial killer
and that behind the scenes the Austin authorities
had long suspected the same thing.
Why don't you think Nathan Elgin was made an issue
as a possible perpetrator in the Phillips trial?
I believe mainly still at that point,
they were really focused on convicting
James Phillips and Moses Hancock.
Is it possible that in their rush to win a conviction,
police intentionally overlooked a prime suspect?
I'm headed back to New York to fill in Wes and Kaiama.
- Hey, guys.
- WES: Hey there.
Wow, we have a fascinating case on our hands.
You know, it's chilling,
because this really brought terror to the city of Austin.
And the most vulnerable populations
were put through the ringer.
So who's our serial killer here?
We probably will never know
whether it was really Nathan Elgin
who committed these brutal murders in 1885,
but we do know a few things.
We know that he was arrested for attacking a woman.
We know that the killings stopped when he was killed.
And we know that he fits our profile almost to a T.
ZUBERI: Elgin was a young African American,
as suggested by our profiler.
He'd lived and worked at Simon's Restaurant
on Congress Avenue
with easy access to most of the murder locations.
That address was in the top 1% zone of probability
in the map our geographic profiler had created.
And Elgin's missing toe might connect him
with the footprints found at several of the murder scenes.
There's something that bothers me about this.
The police had the footprints from the crime scenes
of both the Ramey murder and the Phillips murder,
and yet during the trial, they withheld that evidence.
Wes, the Austin establishment
really wanted to put this case to bed:
the police, the politicians.
This was a huge mess.
So you can see why they might have rushed to judgment
in some cases.
So they basically railroaded Jimmy Phillips.
They may have railroaded this guy, but, you know,
his conviction was overturned.
I think what we learned from this case
is that the Austin police at that time
had no notion of serial murders or what that was about,
which led them to not connecting the various murders together.
They were using primitive techniques
to solve a problem that required
a very modern conceptualization of crime.
I think what we've done in this case
is we've shed a light on a very dark corner of history
and we've illuminated how this community suffered
as a consequence.
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History Detectives Special Investigations
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History Detectives Special Investigations