Cover image for
Title:
The midnight assassin : panic, scandal, and the hunt for America's first serial killer
Author(s):
Hollandsworth, Skip,
ISBN/ISSN:
9780805097672
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
xii, 321 pages : illustrations, maps, portraits ; 25 cm
General Note:
Maps on lining papers.
Contents:
"A killer who gives to history a new story of crime" -- December 1884-April 1885. "Doctor Steiner reports a woman lying near Ravy's" -- April 1885-August 1885. "Who was it? Who did this to you?" -- September 1885-Christmas Day 1885. "A woman has been chopped to pieces! It's Mrs. Hancock! On Water Street!" -- December 26, 1885-January 1886. "The whole city is arming. If this thing is not stopped soon, several corpses will be swinging from the tree limbs" -- February 1886-May 1888. "A prominent State officer and an active candidate for the Governorship of Texas ... knows something about Eula Phillips' murder" -- September 1888-August 1996. "I would suggest that the same hand that committed the Whitechapel murders committed to Texas murders" -- "If no one could catch the killer back when he was alive, what makes you think you can catch him now?"
Abstract:
"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. Along the way, the murders 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"-- Provided by publisher.
Bibliography Note:
Includes bibliographical references (pages [271]-308) and index.
Pub Date:
Henry Holt and Company, 2016.

©2015
Holds:

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Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Ideson Building Adult Texas and Local History Collection Reference material 364.1523209 H737
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On Order

Summary

Summary

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.


Author Notes

Skip Hollandsworth is an award-winning journalist, screenwriter, and executive editor of Texas Monthly magazine. His work was included in the 2006 edition of Best American Crime Writing and he has won a National Magazine Award for feature writing. Hollandsworth co-wrote the acclaimed screenplay "Bernie" with director Richard Linklater. He lives in Texas with his wife.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Fans of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City will relish this gripping and atmospheric account of a horrific series of murders in late 19th-century Texas that are largely obscure today, despite their fantastical elements and similarities to the Jack the Ripper butcheries. Texas Monthly editor Hollandsworth provides the definitive account of the killings that began on New Year's Eve 1884, when someone attacked African-American cook Mollie Smith, stabbing her repeatedly and nearly splitting her head in two. With a novelist's eye for detail, the author brings the reader inside the reign of terror that gripped Austin, Tex., as the killer "crisscrossed the entire city, striking on moonlit nights, using axes, knives, and long steel rods to rip apart women from every race and class." Hollandsworth successfully conveys the horror of the crimes, the baffling lack of an obvious motive, the so-called Midnight Assassin's almost supernatural ability to strike twice in less than an hour, and the ineffective official responses to the murders. This true crime page-turner is a balanced and insightful examination of one of the most stirring serial killing sprees in American history, and certainly one of the least well-known. Agent: David Hale Smith, Inkwell Management. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Austin, TX, was evolving from a town to a city in 1885, with money flowing in and a bright future in sight. But that future was damaged by a series of brutal attacks that killed ten people-eight women (including two who were assaulted in nearby Gainesville), a child, and a man; the victims spanned race and social class. The police assumed it was the work of "bad blacks" and tried unsuccessfully to coerce confessions out of several men. Two of the victims' husbands fell under suspicion, but that went nowhere, and as the case dragged on without result many prominent Austin politicians saw their careers destroyed. The murderer (or murderers) terrorized the area for two-and-a-half years before disappearing without a trace, just months before similar crimes were committed in the Whitechapel district of London. Hollandsworth (executive editor, Texas Monthly) became fascinated by this nearly forgotten Austin story and searched through primary sources for clues that might have surfaced over the years, but the truth remains elusive. VERDICT The lively social history of a town on the brink combines with a riveting true crime story that will make this a favorite in regional history collections as well as true crime collections.-Deirdre Bray Root, MidPointe Lib. Syst., OH © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal Review

Before Jack the Ripper mutilated prostitutes in the dark corners of London in the late 19th-century, Austin, TX, was besieged by a vicious killer whose victims were African American servants. He cut up women with an axe to the head and left them bloody in their beds. Husbands of the first three victims were arrested in succession, even though they had alibis and swore their innocence. Racism delayed justice for a year. Black men became so terrified of the police that they rubbed their feet and legs with asafoetida, a natural paste slaves had used when running away from their masters to throw off bloodhounds. Nicknamed "the midnight assassin," the murderer left an eyewitness, a nine-year-old boy who thought the man who killed his mother-the first victim-was white, but no one listened. Then on New Year's Eve, in 1885, two prominent white women were hacked to death within an hour of each other, and a wider search was undertaken. This is a painstakingly researched book written by a Texas native that examines prejudices, which still keep justice at bay. VERDICT This work introduces students to a grisly piece of American history and models footnote and bibliographic research. A must-have.-Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


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