1885 may have been 75 years before the term Serial Killer was ever used, but The Servant Girl Annihilator sealed Austins reputation as being the first American city to have a Serial Killer. Many of the Annihilators victims were women and murdered with an axe. The unknown killer would enter the victims home while they were sleeping and drag them outside where they would be brutally murdered and mutilated. All the victims were posed in a similar manner. Many of the murdered women were found with a sharp, thin object inserted into the brain through the ears. Women were found with their heads severed in two or nearly decapitated and although it soon became apparent that he was fixated on heads, the victims were also found with gashing wounds to the abdomen, intestines and organs ripped out, legs and arms slashed open. Media described the victims as ‘mutilated into a jelly.
December 30, 1884 – Mollie Smith, 25, was murdered. Walter Spencer was seriously wounded.
March 19, 1885 – Clara Strand and Christine Martenson, two Swedish servant girls, were seriously wounded.
May 6 1885 – Eliza Shelly was murdered.
May 22, 1885 – Irene Cross murdered.
August 1885 – Clara Dick was seriously wounded.
August 30, 1885 – Mary Ramey, 11, was murdered. Her mother, Rebecca Ramey was seriously wounded.
September 28, 1885 – Gracie Vance was murdered. Orange Washington was murdered during the attack upon Gracie Vance. Lucinda Boddy and Patsey Gibson were seriously wounded
December 24, 1885 – Susan Hancock was murdered.
December 24, 1885 – Eula Phillips was murdered. Her husband, James Phillips, was seriously wounded.
The rustic little town was launched into full blown panic and terror. The number of police tripled in size and armed citizens patrolled the streets. 24 hour saloons started closing at midnight, residents were told to go home before dark and take extreme precautions to protect their home. Newspapers all over the United States struggled to make sense of the horrific murders. The New York Times reported that the “murders were committed by some cunning madman, who is insane on the subject of killing women”. Eyewitness accounts left police baffled. The axe murderers’ complexion was described as being both light and dark. Several described him as a yellow colored man. Some say he acted alone, while others saw a gang of men committing the murders. Some reports even said he was wearing a dress and hat. Residents also believed the Annihilator was equipped with magical powers and could make himself invisible, this made it easier to slip by the dogs guarding homes. In 1885 over 400 men were arrested under suspicion of being the Annihilator, none were charged.
In 1888 The Austin American Statesman reported a suspect in the London, Jack the Ripper murders was also a Malaysian cook “running on ocean vessels” and he was employed at the Pearl House Hotel in Austin from December 1884 to January 1886. All of the Annihilators victims were no more than several blocks from the Pearl House Hotel. The cook told coworkers that he planned to travel to London on a ship in January 1886. Did the Austin Annihilator move onto a bigger city to become known as the infamous Jack the Ripper?
All five of the Ripper’s victims would follow a similar pattern as the Annihilator, lower-class women, deep cuts, severe body mutilations and organs removed. However, the differences in the two are enough for skepticism from many. Texas had an ax; London had a knife. Texas was messy; London was more precise and much more refined. But wouldn’t the work of a new serial killer be fairly messy? Wouldn’t it be easier to use an axe in Austin than it would be in London? It’s not typical to walk around the streets of London with an axe.
The Austin American Statesman attempted to follow up with the Malay cook in London, but he had left town before the reporter was able to reach him. After that the Whitechapel killings stopped, just as abruptly as the Austin killings did.
In 2014 PBS aired an episode of history detectives featuring the Annihilator. 128 years later they claim to claim to have discovered new evidence and now have a suspect in mind. Nathan Elgin was a 19-year-old man living in Austin and working as a cook in a downtown restaurant. He was witnessed arguing with a female and dragging her outside, then into a nearby home. Police arrived on scene and Elgin was shot, he died the following day due to his injuries. History Detectives discovered Nathan was missing a toe which lead them to believe his footprint was a match to a set of footprints found near one of the murders.
Who was the Servant Girl Annihilator? A four toed cook who died from a gunshot wound? Were the Annihilator and the Ripper the work of one crazed madman? Over 100 years later and a lack of solid evidence, we will likely never know.
Murders: Austin, Texas 1885 : Book by J.R.Galloway