Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Servant Girl Annihilator


On September 26, Lucinda Boddy, a cook in a home near the university, went up the street to the home of attorney Major W. D. Dunham, where her friend, Gracie Vance, worked. Gracie lived in a servant's cabin behind the house with her common-law husband, Orange Washington. Saylor describes Lucinda as being ill and in need of care, so she had gone to stay with Gracie to heal. That day passed uneventfully, but by evening, Gracie and Orange had an argument over his behavior. The major heard them, reporting it later to the police. From then until midnight, everything on the premises was quiet. The entire household lay in bed, asleep. Stapleton adds that a fourth person, Patsie Gibson, was in the servant cabin as well, although he is the only source that names her.

Drawing of Orange Washington
Drawing of Orange Washington

Gracie woke first, screaming when someone grabbed her. Orange jumped from the bed and was felled immediately by a strong blow from an ax that crushed his skull. Then the intruder turned his ax on Lucinda, hitting her in the head. Her skull was fractured, with bone entering her brain. Someone then raped her and she blacked out. Patsie, too, was hit in the skull and face with an ax. (One source says that these two victims were actually bludgeoned with sandbags, not an ax.)

The attacker (or attackers) had entered the cabin through a window. After bludgeoning Orange and Lucinda, he (or they) pulled Gracie Vance out of the room and into some bushes near a stable, where she put up a fierce struggle before she was "criminally assaulted" and finally silenced with a brick against her skull.

Lucinda returned to consciousness around that time and, against all odds, got up and used a kerosene lantern to look around. Orange lay on the floor and another man was in the room. She later reported that he commanded, "Don't look at me!" He cursed her and told her to put out the light. Panicking, she threw it at him and ran with whatever strength she could summon. Her screams alerted the major, who came out of his house with a gun to find out what was going on in the servants' cabin. Stapleton says that the major saw her fighting with a man, who apparently had followed her, while Saylor fails to mention it.

Drawing of Lucinda Boddy
Drawing of Lucinda Boddy

Apparently she screamed to the major, "We're all dead!" before he realized that this incident was more than just a servants' squabble. She yelled to him that the man she was struggling with was the killer of the other occupants in the cabin, and he saw the blood on Lucinda's garments just before she passed out. Stapleton says that the killer saw Major Dunham and ran, but other authors omit this detail. The major then entered the cabin, smelling kerosene fumes, and spotted Washington on the floor, next to an ax. Gracie was nowhere to be found. Presumably, Patsie was still unconscious in her bed.

Aware of the attacks not far away of black servants, the major walked the grounds, calling out to his neighbors to help, and came across Gracie's body by the stable. Her head was crushed and a blood-covered brick lay near her corpse. There was no doubt as to the murder weapon or the sexual purpose of the attack. Oddly, she clutched a gold watch that did not belong to her, attached to a chain that was wrapped around her arm. In the stable, writes Stapleton, a horse was found, saddled and tied. Both of these elements seemed like good clues as to who the killer could have been, but during the subsequent investigation they weren't connected to anyone.

(Different sources provide different versions of this part of the tale. Hollandsworth mentioned only Vance and Washington as victims, perhaps since they were the two who died, while Saylor discusses three, and Stapleton quotes the papers as indicating that four people had been attacked that night, with two survivors who were taken to the hospital.)

The next day, as Orange Washington died from his wounds, a newspaper reported, "This city is again agitated over four mysterious outrages which were committed west of the capital at 2 A.M. All were servants living together." The Austin Daily Statesman described Gracie Vance's condition thus: "Her head was almost beaten into jelly."

The crime was both horrendous and bold, and seemed to indicate that more than one perpetrator was involved. Yet more affronts were still to come.

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