Archive for June, 2014

The Servant Girl Murders

In Austin in late 1884-1885, 8 individuals were murdered by what was known as the “Servant Girl Killer.” The victims included Mollie Smith, Eliza Shelley, Irene Cross, Mary Ramey, Orange Washingon, Gracie Vance, Susan Hancock, and Eula Phillips.

From http://www.servantgirlmurders.com/:

The Servant Girl Murders were a series of crimes, including eight murders, carried out by an elusive killer who subjected the city of Austin, Texas to an unprecedented reign of terror during the course of the year 1885.

The victims of the crimes were “servant girls” – usually young, African-American women who at that time were commonly employed as domestic servants in many Austin households.  The epithet “servant girl murders” is perhaps something of a misnomer – one of the victims was male, the boyfriend of one of the slain women; one victim was a child, the daughter of a servant who was herself attacked but not killed; and the last two victims were married white women, neither of them servants.

Many theories were put forward and as the crimes continued without resolution, speculations about the perpetrators and their elusive abilities grew more fantastic.  The crime scenes were consistent – a bloody axe or other implement was often left behind, sometimes footprints were found and bloodhounds were used to track suspects.  The police arrested several suspects, but responsibility for the crimes could not be proven conclusively.

Over time, public outrage grew and the police force was frequently declared ineffectual and incompetent… After the murder of two white women on Christmas Eve, the city was on the verge of chaos.  The public demanded action regardless of the consequences and mob violence was a real possibility. All the efforts to stop the crimes had failed and a confounded city awaited the next outrage, but after December there were no further mysterious murders.  Officially the crimes remained unsolved.

The Travis County Archives staff recently uncovered 4 documents relating to the servant girl murders: an autopsy and inquest for victim Susan Hancock, and records for the criminal cases against Moses Hancock and James Phillips, who were charged for the murders of their respective wives. These documents are part of the District Clerk collection at the Archives, but they are not included in the criminal case records microfilm at the office of the District Clerk.

Click on the links to view PDFs of the documents; please contact the Archives to view in person.

Susan Hancock Autopsy 1885

Susan Hancock Inquest 1885

State v. Jas. O. Phillips, No. 7856, 1886

State v. Moses Hancock, No. 7898, 1886 (please note: first 4 pages are missing)

Autopsy of Susan Hancock, 1885

Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 a

Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 b Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 c Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 d

 

Thank you!

The Archives extends a big thank you to the following University of Texas iSchool students, who generously donated their time to rebox and sort approximately 800 cubic feet of records: Emily Johnson, Megan Martinsen, Lisa Ellis, and Rachel Winston. The records had previously been stored in a non-climate controlled warehouse, and included records dating as far back as 1840. Thanks to their work, these records are now organized, in acid-free boxes, and are  ready to be processed. We are very grateful!

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The Archives is also very grateful to County Clerk Dana DeBeauvior, for funding the purchase of shelving to outfit the rest of the Archives records storage space. These new shelves are already being put to good use!

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