Annihilator: The Texas Serial Slayer Who May Have Been Jack The Ripper
Have you ever heard of Texas serial killer "The Servant Girl Annihilator"? While that's a rather intense moniker, it's not an exaggeration. The Annihilator left his eight victims unrecognizable with multiple hacks from an ax. That's horrible enough, but there is some evidence that points to the annihilator being the real Jack the Ripper.
This "annihilator" was also dubbed the Austin Axe Murderer, which is a little more catchy, but not quite as shocking. Some folks believe this uncaught killer was a man named Nathan Elgin, while other folks think the unknown killer sailed overseas to become the infamous Jack, who was never caught, and whose true identity remains a heated debate for historians and amateur detectives.
The Annihilator had a very clear pattern of murdering women. Each of the eight women he murdered suffered axe wounds to the head while they slept, then were moved from their beds into their yards and sexually assaulted. This spree of murders all happened in 1885.
Animalistically, the killer left bare footprints behind at the crime scene. This would prove to be an important clue during an era of criminal investigation that lacked many of the forensic methods we take for granted today. Fingerprinting would not be invented for another seven years. Blood type detection was in its early infancy in the 1900s. And of course, DNA was very, very far away.
The City of Austin was thrown into a panic, and many of the seedier elements of the capitol were weeded out with near authoritarian force. It was an excuse to tame and change Austin- and it did. From The Servant Girl Murders website:
In the month since the last murders in December 1885, the city’s police force had been tripled in size. A curfew had been enacted and private citizens had organized into patrols to guard the neighborhoods after dark. Strangers were forced to identify themselves or be evicted from the city. Saloons and other raucous downtown establishments, usually open twenty-four hours a day, were forced to close at midnight. A new era of law and order had begun.
While we will never know for sure that Nathan Elgin was the killer, we do know that he was shot and killed by police in 1886 following an incident in which he grabbed a woman from a saloon in a fit of rage and beat her while she screamed. Her screams brought the attention of folks nearby, including the police, who attempted to handcuff Elgin but were forced to shoot him when he could not be subdued.
In death, police discovered Elgin was missing a toe from his right foot, which matched the bare bloody footprints left behind by the Annihilator. Additionally, no more servant girl murders were committed after Elgin's death in 1885.
Circumstantial evidence to be sure, but it's rather convincing. Was this an open and shut case? Not for everyone. Some contemporaries of these crimes speculated that the Annihilator might have been another man, a cook named Maurice who left Austin in January 1886, which would also explain the end of the murder spree.
Maurice was suspected because he worked near where all the murders were committed. Did this Maurice spend the next three years honing his "craft" to become Jack the Ripper in 1888?
From Texas Hill Country:
In November 1888, according to the Atchison Daily Globe, the Austin American-Statesman reported on a possible American connection to the Ripper: a Malay cook on an ocean vessel was suspected in the White Chapel killings. The article went on to report that a Malay cook had been working at a small Austin hotel called the Pearl House “near the foot of Congress Avenue.” The Austin reporter learned a Malay cook named Maurice had worked there in 1885 before departing in January 1886. The last killings occurred just before Maurice left Austin. “A strong presumption that the Malay was the murderer of the Austin women was created by the fact that all of them except two or three resided in the immediate neighborhood of the Pearl House.”
Unfortunately, it's unlikely we will ever know for sure who Jack the Ripper was. The Annihilator was brutal and "overkilled" his victims, the work of a very unhinged man. Jack the Ripper also brutalized his victims, who were prostitutes, not servants, but still near in class to one another. However, we know that Jack was surgically precise. Could our killer have honed his craft?
I think "Maurice" is an outlier guess for the identity of Jack the Ripper, but it's interesting to think the world's most legendary killer could have come from Texas.