The Servant Girl Annihilator

The following article is presented for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the subject. 

This Freaky Friday is all about true crime.  Let’s travel back in time to 1880s Austin, Texas.

Austin circa 1880s

Jack the Ripper became known as “World’s First Serial Killer” in 1888.  H.H. Holmes was named America’s first serial killer in 1894.

Three years before Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror and ten years before H. H. Holmes was active, Austin, Texas was terrorized by a serial killer.  Between 1884-1885 someone brutally killed six women and one man.

William Sidney Porter–AKA O. Henry–dubbed the murderer The Servant Girl Annihilator.

William Sidney Porter wrote as O. Henry

The nickname likely came about because the first five victims were poor, African-American, and worked as domestics.  Their names and dates of death were:

  • Mollie Smith — December 30, 1884
  • Eliza Shelley — May 6, 1885
  • Irene Cross — May 23, 1885
  • Mary Ramey — August 23, 1885
  • Gracie Vance — September 27, 1885

Victim number six was the husband or boyfriend of victim number five.  He was killed for being unfortunate enough to get in the Servant Girl Annihilator’s way.  His name and date of death was:

  • Orange Washington — September 27, 1885

Each of the victims was attacked in her home while she was sleeping.  The victim was bludgeoned into unconsciousness and dragged outside.  There, the murderer raped his victim and stabbed or hacked her to death.  Some victims had both axe and knife wounds.  The killer had a particular way he posed the victims after death.

Police investigated the crimes, but the murders remained unsolved.  The public grew outraged and demanded something be done to stop the crimes.   Detectives were brought in from Houston and arrests were made.  Despite eye-witness accounts, none of the cases went to trial.

The situation intensified when The Servant Girl Annihilator chose his final victims–two wealthy, caucasians from the nice area of town.

Susan Hancock, the seventh victim, was killed on Christmas Eve 1885.  She was dragged from her bed  and taken in to an alley.  There, the murderer raped her, cleaved her head with an axe, and jammed an ice pick into her brain via her ear.

The eighth and final victim, Eula Phillips, was murdered about one hour after Susan Hancock.  She was a housewife who lived in the wealthiest section of Austin–which, at that time, was a town of about 23,000 residents.  Eula’s husband, Jimmy, was also wounded in the attack but survived.

The public needed something to happen.  Some of them believed this killer was a supernatural being.  On Christmas day, five hundred citizens met and devised ways to make Austin a safe city again.  Austin’s Moonlight Towers were erected to prevent more murders from happening.

[Update: Further research shows that Austin’s Moonlight Towers were erected in 1894-95, ten years after The Servant Girl Annihilator Murders.]

The murders did come to an abrupt stop.  The public needed justice.  They needed the killer off the streets.  Three days later, two arrests were made.  The husbands of both Susan Hancock and Eula Phillips were arrested.

Moses Hancock, 50, was said to have discovered Susan’s plans to leave him over his drinking.  He supposedly killed her in a fit of rage. A hung jury eventually freed him.

Jimmy Phillips had been injured during his wife’s murder, but salacious details about his marriage came to light…and made him look guilty.  Eula–AKA Luly–worked as a prostitute behind Jimmy’s back.

Prosecutors claimed Jimmy blew up and killed Eula after finding out about her prostitution.  The lurid trial aired the dirty laundry of several of Austin’s very important men.  Jimmy was convicted by a jury, but the conviction was later overturned in an appeal due to lack of evidence.

The Servant Girl Annihilator never made another peep.  It has been  speculated that The Servant Girl Annihilator went to England and got a new nickname–Jack the Ripper.  Eerie similarities also exist between the Servant Girl Annihilator murders and the Axeman of New Orleans murders (1918-1919).

The case remains unsolved to this day.  In Austin, ghost tours visit the sites where the murders took place.  Novelist Steven Saylor wrote a fictionalized account of the murders.  And people speculate.

Can’t get enough?  Join Stacy Green as she talks about the history of body snatching.

Still want more? Visit Tiffany A. White for an accounting of the Kiss and Kill Murder, also in Texas.

Insatiable? Visit TruTV to read Katherine Ramsland’s very thorough version of the Servant Girl Annihilator story.