You’ve probably heard about Jack the Ripper and his reign of terror in 1888 in London. What you may not know, however, is that his bloodthirsty ways may have begun halfway around the globe. Some believe that Jack the Ripper once walked the streets of Austin, where he perfected his grisly art before going to London.
The Servant Girl Annihilator
In 1884, Austin was a rustic city with a population of about 5,000, but it was undergoing a boom. By 1885 it had tripled in size, adding restaurants, hotels, businesses…and the nation’s first serial killer.
The first murder occurred on December 30, 1884, when a young black cook named Mollie Smith was killed by an ax blow to the head. She was also stabbed in the chest, legs, and arms so many times that she was surrounded by a pool of blood. The next murder occurred in May of the same year, when another black cook, Eliza Shelly, was found killed in almost exactly the same manner. The newspapers referred to the killings as the Austin Axe Murders at first, but the short story writer O. Henry came up with the name “Servant Girl Annihilator” during a visit to the area.
The sensational name doesn’t reflect the victims accurately, though. Only the first few were servants. What all the victims have in common is that they were murdered with extraordinary violence and bloodshed, much like the victims of Jack the Ripper.
All in all, eight people died at the hands of the Servant Girl Annihilator. The final murders occurred on the same night, Christmas Eve of 1885. Almost exactly one year after the killing spree began, it culminated in the murder of two women, a mile apart. The first woman died shortly before midnight, and the other in the early hours of Christmas morning. And then, as suddenly as they began, the murders stopped. A few years later, Jack the Ripper began stalking his victims in London.
Possible Connections to Jack the Ripper
No one was ever convicted of the killings in Austin, although a few suspects were identified. A 19-year-old cook working in Austin, Nathan Elgin, was shot by police as he attempted to drag a woman out a saloon. Many people thought he was the murderer because he was missing a toe, making him a possible match for an unusual footprint found at the scene of one of the killings.
Some historians think the Austin killer may be Jack the Ripper, and two of the suspects could have been responsible for both sets of murders. The first was a cook from Malaysia, named Maurice. All but two of the Servant Girl murders occurred close to the hotel where he worked. Maurice left town in 1886 to travel by ship to London. This puts him in Austin after the last murder and in London before Jack the Ripper’s first murder.
Another strong possibility is a cotton merchant from Liverpool who was living in Austin at the time. James Maybrick kept a series of journals, in which he spoke of killing prostitutes. There’s even a page in one journal that he signed “Jack the Ripper.” Not only was Maybrick living in Austin at the time of the Servant Girl murders, but he also lived in London during Jack the Ripper’s killings. The murders ended after he died in 1889, most likely poisoned by his wife.
What do you think?
Who do you think the Servant Girl Annihilator was? If you’re interested in learning more about this grisly chapter in Austin history, we invite you to schedule a tour with Nightly Spirits. Our knowledgeable tour guides will show you the final resting spots of some of the victims, as well as other haunting sites in town.
For more information, learn more about our Austin ghost tours!
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