Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Servant Girl Annihilator

Serial Killer

Drawing of Irene Cross
Drawing of Irene Cross

Just over two weeks after Eliza Shelley was killed, on May 23, Irene Cross, another black servant, was similarly attacked in the middle of the night in her cottage, situated across the street from a beer garden. But the person who came after her had used a knife. He had stabbed her so viciously in the head that it appeared as though he was trying to remove her scalp, and her arm was nearly severed from her body. She was still dying, says Hollandsworth, when reporters arrived and one actually spoke to her.

Sketch of Helen Jewett
Sketch of Helen Jewett

No one then knew about linkage analysis among crime scenes and modus operandi, so it wasn't immediately obvious that this murder was part of a series, but people did wonder about the possibility of the same perpetrator committing all three of these murders, and the newspapers called for the police to find the killer or killers quickly.

Local reporters also presented such prurient details about the murders that some readers were shocked. This kind of excess was not new to journalism, having been introduced 50 years earlier by James Gordon Bennett in New York with the 1836 Helen Jewett murder, but Austin had never seen such continued brutality. Even as they cried out for an end to the killings, reporters were taking full advantage of their experience in seeing the victims to elevate circulation and sales.

Journalist James Gordon Bennett
Journalist James Gordon

People speculated that the influx of foreign workers was to blame, and many assumed the perpetrator was a black man. But Saylor shows how the black population reacted to this, at least fictionally, angry that the murdered black servants would not garner the attention that white victims would. In this third case, no arrest was made.

In time, the commotion died down and the murders seemed to have stopped, although incidents of that magnitude in a normally quiet city were still the subject of random conversation. Unsolved murders generally are. And it wasn't long before the murmurs yielded to another intense buzz of alarm.

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