History

Was Austin’s Ax Man Jack the Ripper?

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A madman wielding an ax threw Austin, Texas, into a turmoil of fear and paranoia. The midnight killing sprees took place from December 30th, 1884, to Christmas Eve, 1885. Only a few years removed from the threat of Comanche raids, Austinites were confronted with a strange new kind of murderer. A serial killer whose sole motives were rage and bloodlust. Who was the Servant Girl Annihilator? Some investigators believe that before he stalked the foggy streets of London, Jack the Ripper struck first in the Texas Hill Country.

Was Austin’s Axe Man Jack the Ripper?

Photo: strangeco.blogspot.com

The great short story writer William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry, called Austin home in 1885. In a letter to a friend, Porter referred to the killer as the Servant Girl Annihilator, so called because most of the victims worked as domestic servants. 130 years later, with the murders still officially unsolved, Porter’s nickname is how the killer is remembered.

Seven of the eight murder victims were women, five black, two white. The first body was that of a 25-year-old, mixed-race woman named Mollie Smith. She was found behind 901 West Pecan Street—which is now 6th Street. They were assaulted in their own homes in the dead of night, brutally axed while asleep in bed. The killer then dragged them outside into the backyard where he raped and killed them, often leaving a bloody ax behind. Most of the women led hard-working lives, with little to show for their labor except families who loved them. After the actions of the demented killer, those families were left grieving their loss for decades.

Police found bloody footprints at the scene of the crimes. The killer went barefoot to creep silently into homes. The prints were distinctive: his right foot was missing a toe. Packs of bloodhounds went baying down dirt streets in the moonlight, chasing the ax man’s scent. Possible eyewitnesses gave conflicting reports: a white man, a black, a man wearing a Mother Hubbard dress.

Was Austin’s Axe Man Jack the Ripper?
Photo: austinpostcard.com

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