Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Servant Girl Annihilator

A Trial

Both Saylor and Hollandsworth detail the subsequent proceedings. Both victims' husbands were suspected of killing their wives and making their murders appear to be part of the series of attacks from the previous year, but the best case seemed to be against Jimmy Phillips, a known alcoholic with plenty of troubles. Although he had been severely beaten himself during the attack, he was nevertheless a good suspect. Hollandsworth and Saylor both point out how absurd it seems that two married men coincidentally decided on that same night at the same hour to kill their wives and stage the murders as something else. Apparently, reporters at that time were skeptical as well.

Yet the trials went forward, and Saylor provides the details of the testimony, gleaned from historical documents. A letter was found in a trunk in the Hancock house that indicated that Sue had been disturbed enough by her husband's drinking to consider leaving him. The DA decided that Moses had read the letter, gotten drunk, and attacked her in a frenzy over this. Yet the jury hung, undecided over whether Moses even knew about the letter.

Texas Court of Appeals
Texas Court of Appeals

With Jimmy Phillips, the proceedings were more salacious. He and Eula had only been married for two years, and friends knew that Eula had been unhappy. That murder had been a copycat killing, the prosecutors said. His wife had been prostituting herself at a "house of assignation" behind his back — including a visit to this place on Christmas Eve — so he had killed her in retaliation but had disguised it as the attack of a stranger. There was testimony from witnesses who knew about Eula's comings and goings and who believed that she was seeing a man on the side. Several politicians were embarrassed publicly by some of the testimony. In addition, Jimmy was known to have threatened his wife with a knife and to have thrown things at her. Eula had been afraid of him. Indeed, said the DA, it was she who brought the ax into the room, as protection. Unfortunately, Jimmy had found it and used it against her. Then he'd carried her outside. Even a bloodhound had rushed back into the bedroom to indicate from a scent trail that Jimmy had been out there.

However, Jimmy's father hired the best team of attorneys he could find, and they managed to deflect most of what the DA threw at them. When the footprint impression measurements from the Phillips' porch were presented, the DA insisted that Jimmy put his own foot into ink to make an impression that they could compare to the suspect's print. To the consternation of the prosecution, Jimmy's foot proved to be smaller than the impression. But then the DA decided that adding his wife's weight as he carried her outside would make his feet spread to a larger size. So there in court, Jimmy was forced to pick up his own attorney to prove the point. Still, his footprint was no match.

Nevertheless, the prosecutor's logic and the testimony about Eula's apparent affairs were sufficient grounds for the jury to take only a day to convict Phillips of his wife's murder in the second degree. They gave him a sentence of seven years in the penitentiary. Yet before the end of the year, the Texas Court of Appeals overturned the verdict, citing a lack of evidence on several key points. Jimmy was not retried. Neither was Moses Hancock. But the Dallas Morning News, quoted in Saylor's book, published the following: "The trial of Mr. Phillips has demonstrated three things: that Mrs. Phillips was not what she should have been, that several attachés of the government are not what they should be, and that no one can possibly know who committed that murder."

While suspects have been considered in the decades since, this set of murders was never solved. But the servant girl annihilator would be mentioned again in a famous series of crimes not long in the future.

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