Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Servant Girl Annihilator


After the last attack, the citizens of Austin discussed forming vigilance committees to keep watch over the stricken neighborhoods at all hours. More criticism was leveled at the marshal and his unfruitful attempts to track and apprehend a perpetrator. Some people wanted every stranger in town to explain his presence, indicating that residents could not bring themselves to believe that a fellow townsperson was responsible. They wanted suspicious persons run out.

Marshal Lee invited a team of detectives from Houston to assist him, and relied on several eye witnesses to make an arrest in this latest crime. Two, in fact: Dock Woods and Oliver Townsend, both black men from the area. Saylor indicates that Lucinda Boddy had implicated the first man, and she was the person who got the best look at the killer. She said she had seen him that night and it was known to the marshal that he sometimes harassed Gracie. Another witness said he'd overheard Townsend, Wood's friend and a known petty thief, threaten to kill Gracie. In addition, when arrested, Wood was in possession of a bloody shirt. It seemed to the marshal to be just a matter of inducing these men to confess.

Saylor indicates that during this time, the two professionals from Noble Detective Agency had tried extracting confessions from another suspect, Alec Mack, as well, for the murder of Mary Ramey. The entire shameful affair was printed in the newspapers. They even threatened to string him up unless he admitted to murder. They may also have tried extracting confessions from the other two men, but in the end, none was tried. The marshal explained in an interview with the Statesman that the bruises found on Mack were the result of his own desperate struggles to resist imprisonment. Eventually his statement would be questioned and his practices condemned. Yet Lee returned his focus to Walter Spencer, who had been assaulted with the first victim, Mollie Smith, and an indictment against him was issued later in November. He was tried over the course of three days, based on a far-fetched theory, and acquitted.

From one case to another, it seemed like the same story was being repeated: black servants living in cabins behind the homes of their well-to-do employers were coming under attack. All of them had been bludgeoned in some manner, and all of the female victims were raped. Black men had been arrested and let go. There were now five dead and three survivors, for a total of eight victims. Prosecutor E.T. Moore speculated that the murders had all been committed by a single perpetrator who hated women, but his ideas were mocked by his colleagues. The white community, while fearful, believed that this fiend was interested only in black women, but they were in for a terrible surprise.

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