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The Servant Girl Annihilator

In 1884 – four years before Jack the Ripper would terrorize Whitechapel – an unidentified serial killer stalked rather unlikely hunting grounds in Austin, Texas. He was dubbed the ‘Servant Girl Annihilator’, for the targets of his brutal attacks.

Mollie Smith and Eliza Shelly – both cooks in the households of upstanding families – were brutally murdered with an axe. Irene Cross survived her attack long enough to speak with a reporter, who noted that she had been scalped. Rebecca Ramey and her 11-year-old daughter were the next victims, and not long after, Gracie Vance and Orange Washington were murdered in their sleep, on the property of the house they worked in.

By winter of 1885, the killer had targeted his first white woman – Sue Hancock. The same night, Eula Phillips was found not far from where her husband had been attacked in their bedroom.

And the serial killer was never found.

Attempts have been made to link Austin’s unidentified serial killer to Jack the Ripper, but even after more than a century, no concrete evidence has ever been found. Eula Phillips was the last victim, and a combination of police corruption and a lack of forensic knowledge aided the killer in getting away with it – even though he had left the murder weapon, an axe, behind at several of the crime scenes. And the racial prejudices of the day meant that no one dreamed that a white man would be responsible for the deaths of black servants, and that meant the suspect pool was very, very narrow from the start.

Two men were eventually charged with the crimes, in a plot that would have made Alfred Hitchcock proud. The husbands of Sue Hancock and Eula Phillips were put on trial, based on a letter from Sue stating she was going to divorce her hard-drinking husband, and rumors that Eula had, after aborting her second pregnancy by her husband, started making regular visits to one of Austin’s houses of ill repute. It was never determined why she had started visiting a brothel, but inconclusive ideas about political scandals and intrigues were tossed around.

In the end, both men were released. No one else was ever arrested in connection with the rash of deaths, and those involved in the case scattered. Nothing in the way of forensic evidence remains, and those who were there are long dead. Even tracking down family members, like the granddaughter of Eula Phillips’s sister, have proved to be dead ends.

The Zodiac Killer

The Zodiac Killer stalked the streets of Northern California in the late 1960s, starting with the 1966 murder of Cheri Jo Bates. At first, law enforcement thought it was a single, isolated yet tragic murder – until a bizarre typed confession with a blank byline showed up at the Riverside Police Department and the Riverside Enterprise. The note mentioned Bates by name, detailed how he sabotaged her car and then offered to help her before killing her in retribution for all the times she had ignored him. The note also made it absolutely, terrifyingly clear that he wasn’t finished yet.

Six months later, more letters were sent to the police and to the father of the first murder victim; they were starting to show what would become the killer’s signature – extra postage and strange, hieroglyphic signatures.

In December of 1968, Vallejo, California natives began seeing an inexplicably unsettling 4-door Chevy, possibly an Impala, lurking around gas stations and parking lots frequented by young couples. The car would later be sought as the one driven by the man who shot and killed David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen as they sat in their car at a noted lover’s lane. Six months later, Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau would meet the same grisly attacker, killing Ferrin and leaving Mageau severely wounded.

As the killing continued, so did the correspondence with the police departments involved and with local papers. Detailed letters outlining his methods – like coating his fingers with airplane cement to make sure he didn’t leave fingerprints – and some even told of interactions he had with local police officers who’s stopped him to ask if he’d seen anything suspicious. There were also the ciphers, bizarre drawings of symbols that the Zodiac Killer repeatedly asked if police had solved yet.

Encounters with the killer – including a mother and her infant child who managed to escape – continued, as did the bizarre letters and even greeting cards. There’s been much debate over what letters were actually from the Zodiac Killer and which ones are forgeries; regardless, no concrete leads have ever come from his letters.

In the end, five people have been concretely named as victims of the Zodiac Killer, although estimates suggest that he might be responsible for the grisly deaths of as many as 37 people. Over the course of 50 years, the mystery hasn’t died. More than 2,500 people have been interviewed in connection with the murders, and a new book, published in 2014, claims that one man has discovered the identity of the killer at last, during a search for his own birth father. Earl Van Best, Jr. isn’t the first man to have been accused – Arthur Allen denied accusations until his death in 1992, and internet rumors also fingered Gilligan’s Island professor Russell Johnson as the killer in an urban legend gone viral. In addition to the lives the Zodiac Killer took with his own hands, it’s impossible to say how many more he ruined with accusations, false arrests, and stigmas that followed the accused for a lifetime.

The Kingsbury Run Murders

In spite of a proclamation from famed detective Eliot Ness stating that he’d solved the case, no one was ever convicted or even tried for committing the gruesome murders that swept through 1930s Cleveland, Ohio. From 1934 to 1938, 13 people were murdered in the rather dismal setting of Kingsbury Run. The ancient riverbed was the home to many who had lost everything in the Great Depression, still struggling to regain anything even slightly resembling prosperity.

And that was where the body parts began to turn up.

Not all of the victims were ever identified; with 1930s forensic technology, it’s difficult to identify someone when all law enforcement has is a few parts. The first body – later dubbed Victim 0, as she originally wasn’t thought to be one of the serial killer’s victims – was nothing more than part of a torso and legs. That was in September of 1934, and the first official victim was found a year later. The 28-year old victim had been decapitated, but he was identified as Edward Andrassy; the same chemical that had been used to preserve the body of Victim 0 had been used for him. A second body was nearby, and the third…. the third was part of a female body, packed neatly in several baskets that were then left at the side of the road.

Over the next few years, 13 bodies were found, although the heads of victims were frequently missing. They were often drained of blood completely. The 11th and 12th victims were recovered from a dump site outside the window of Eliot Ness. The murders left police scrambling, and the National Guard was called in to try to keep order.

Eventually, a local brick-layer was arrested for the murders after it was found he had connections to three of the victims. Retrospective examination shows that his confession was bizarre and pretty obviously coached; before Frank Dolezal could be put on trial, he was found hanged in his cell, with a number of questionable injuries.

In the end, the murders stopped as abruptly as they started. Rumors said that Ness had a suspect, but no one – besides the unfortunate brick-layer – was ever fingered as the brutal killer, all police records from the case have all been destroyed.


The six members of Andreas Gruber’s family were murdered on March 31, 1922, with a tool resembling a pickaxe. Before the murderer left, he took time to tend the dead family’s livestock, have a snack from the kitchen, and even spend some time with the family dog. Whatever his motives were, it was personal. There were no signs of robbery, and the sheer amount of damage done to the bodies suggests that there was something deeply, darkly bitter that left many guessing it had been a crime of passion.

Andreas Gruber, his wife Cazillia, daughter Viktoria, grandchildren Cazillia and Josef, and maid Maria were found with injuries ranging from crushed skulls and other head wounds to strangulation marks and bruised, bloody, crushed faces. Perhaps most horrific was the state of granddaughter Cazillia – only 2 years old, the girl had apparently been saved for last, tearing out her own hair as she watched. All were beheaded. In the aftermath, the heads of the family members were sent to a lab, but have since been lost.

Almost a century later, there’s more speculation about the crimes than there are facts. According to the lore, Andreas was a brutal man from a brutal family, and it’s been suggested that Josef was the son of Andreas and his daughter. There’s also speculation that Viktoria’s husband, thought to have been killed in World War I, survived the trenches and had perhaps returned for some vengeance, money… no one’s quite sure. Viktoria had a suitor from a nearby village, and others thought that maybe he had something to do with it… but nothing ever panned out.

Prior to the murders, Andreas had reported a strange occurrence. He had found weird footprints in the snow, leading to the house… with none leading away. The original maid, whom Maria had replaced, had grown convinced that the house was haunted, as she reported hearing strange, unexplained noises in the home, at least six months before the murders.

And then there was the state of the place. The bodies of the family had been neatly stacked in the barn, where investigators think they were lured. But the animals were fed and cared for, the dog was fed and tied in his usual spot. Paranormal explanations are almost as profuse as more worldly guesses, but a recent reexamination of the case has found that there’s simply just not enough to go on for the case to be investigated, solved, or even linked to any others. Sadly, the mystery of the headless bodies buried on the later demolished farmhouse will go unknown.

Bible John

In the late 1960s, three women were murdered after spending the night out at Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom. Patricia Docker, Jemina McDonald, and Helen Puttock were all found near their own homes on the mornings after they headed out to the club; all were strangled with their own nylons, and all three were found to have been menstruating at the time of their death. All three were also missing their handbags; all three were married with children.
It’s not clear whether or not any other murders can be tied to the man that came to be known as Bible John, but the mystery surrounding him continued for decades – and has never been solved.

The only living soul to spend time in the company of the unidentified serial killer was the final victim’s sister, Jean. The three shared a cab ride back home from the club; the taxi dropped Jean off first, and it was the last time she ever saw her sister alive. She described the man that had spent the night dancing with her sister as being between 25 and 30 years old, about 6 feet tall, with short, red-blond hair and blue-grey eyes. Police were armed with a sketch of the man, but it didn’t help in his apprehension, even when undercover officers started hanging out at the Barrowland in an attempt to catch him stalking his next victim.

According to Jean, he had told them that he was raised in an extremely strict, religious home and that he could quote numerous scriptures from the Bible – giving him the nickname that would be heard all over Glasgow for decades.

Around the time of the murders, so many men were taken in for questioning that law enforcement began giving them official cards testifying that they’d been cleared of being Bible John. Even the development of DNA testing didn’t help solve the case, which had gone rather cold by the time it was an option for examining the bodily fluids that had been found on the dress of the last victim, and preserved. Leads were found and suspects eliminated; unfortunately, in one case, it was only after a massive media smear campaign, a suicide, and exhumation and DNA testing that a suspect was cleared.

Jean died in 2010, but that hasn’t stopped the public from speculating about the identity of Bible John. A new book suggests that it was one of the officers who were assigned the task of finding the killer, and that even though his colleagues suspected something was amiss, they weren’t allowed to do anything about it. That, however, is hearsay, and it’s looking unlikely that Bible John will ever be brought to justice.

The Axeman of New Orleans and the Mulatto Axe Murders

Betwen 1911 and 1919, two waves of bizarre killings swept across the Louisiana and Texas areas. Whether or not they’re connected is up for debate, but the two serial killers left such a bizarre and grisly trail of blood in their wake that we’re putting them both on here together.

In January of 1911, the killing started in Rayne, Louisiana with a young mother and her three children. By April of 1912, 49 people would be dead in Louisiana and Texas, victims of the same unidentified serial killer. He struck at night, often targeting entire families, and always the victims or their children were of mixed race. There was no evidence of robbery or any other motive, or connection save the ethnicity of the families. At one point in the investigation, a woman named Clementine Bernabet was arrested, but the killings continued; not long after her arrest, a note was left at the scene of another murder. It read: When He Maketh the Inquisition for Blood, He forgetteth not the cry of the humble – human five.

The note led to several more arrests, but nothing concrete could be found in the end. After still more killings, which police found were following the route of the Southern Pacific Railroad line, Bernabet made a startling confession; she was involved in the killings, and it was part of a voodoo ritual. Her confession didn’t stand up, though, and she was released. The last fatal attacks happened on April 12, and the final attempt – on August 6, 1912 – was bungled when the first blow of the axe wasn’t a fatal blow, waking the entire family. Then, killings stopped.

Then, in 1918, apparently unmotivated axe murders started happening in New Orleans. Catherine Maggio was killed in an attack, and her husband was seriously injured. Only a month later, another couple met a similar fate. The next victim was a pregnant woman who survived to deliver her baby, and the next, a 2-year-old girl whose parents survived their attempts at driving the attacker away from their child.

On March 14, 1919, a New Orleans newspaper printed a letter from the killer, stating that he would walk the streets of the city on March 19, looking for his next victim. As he was a fan of jazz music, he would pass by any house playing jazz music… and those that weren’t playing jazz would receive a visit from him. There wasn’t a single murder that night, but there was, unsurprisingly, a lot of jazz music drifting into the streets of New Orleans.

The murders stopped, and it was never conclusively proved who the Axeman of New Orleans was, or if he had been the same person that had terrorized the state years before. Law enforcement did have a suspect – Joseph Mumfre – but Mumfre was killed by the widow of one of the Axeman’s victims before anything could be conclusively proven. And the murders stopped after his death, but many chalk that up to coincidence.

The Monster of Florence

The Monster of Florence left a body count of 16 – 8 couples – around the beautiful countryside of Florence, Italy between 1968 and 1985. The signature was brutal and clear – couples were targeted when they were parked in their cars, where they were shot at close range. Afterwards, the sexual organs of the female victim would be mutilated or removed with a knife.

The killer was first thought to be a practitioner of a bizarre, unsettling pastime practiced by 1970s voyeurs in Florence and the surrounding areas. With the prevalence of traditional family values, that meant that couples dating still probably lived with parents – in order to get some alone time, that meant parking their cars somewhere secluded. Not only did this turn out to be the prefect hunting ground for a serial killer, but it also meant police had a lot of people to talk to – the Indians. Given their nickname because of their ability to move silently in the dark, this group of voyeurs were known to stake out places where teens would sit and park – and then, they would watch.

As law enforcement and journalists investigated – and developed – theory after theory about the killer’s identity, public outcries and trials stretched on for decades after the killings stopped.

Florence police have investigated more than 100,000 people to try to discover any leads as to the identity of the killer. More than 12 people have been arrested, but no one has ever been conclusively proven to be the serial killer. In 1994, a man was convicted for 14 of the 16 murders, but the conviction was ultimately overturned. When police then turned to the idea that the killings were the actions of a Satanic cult, two of the man’s friends were put on trial for the murders – but both died before anything conclusive was proven. And in 2004, suspicions fell on a journalist who vocally criticized the police effort – who was ultimately also cleared of the accusations.

Jack the Stripper

The nod to the nickname given to the most notorious unidentified serial killer ever is for good reason. In 1959, the body of Elizabeth Figg was found on the banks of the River Thames. It was one of many spots in London that was favored by those who traded sex for money, and hers was only the first body that would be found. And at first, no one really thought much of the body of another prostitute found on the streets… until more started turning up.

The next victim was in 1963, a young woman named Gwynneth Rees. She had a lot in common with the first victim, a string of questionable acquaintances, unwanted pregnancies, and falling out with families. The third victim was found in 1964, and by then, fear was running through the underbelly of London like it had when the original Jack the Ripper had been stalking the streets.

All the victims of Jack the Stripper were dead prostitutes, all of small stature, all with sexually transmitted diseases, who were or had been pregnant. All were strangled.

Law enforcement put forth a request that anyone who had seen anything unusual, come forward. While many of the women who shared a profession with the victims didn’t have a choice but to go out onto the streets every night, they started to carry weapons. But even that didn’t deter the killer, and it wasn’t long before 30-year-old Mary Fleming, who’d been walking the streets for 10 years – was found, beaten so badly that law enforcement knew that fighting back wouldn’t necessarily help them.

Men seen in the company of prostitutes were discreetly questioned, and more than 7,000 people were questioned by the time the killings stopped. That wasn’t long after police were able to identify the source of traces of paint found on the bodies, tracking it to a covered transformer near a paint spray shop. Once the hiding spot was found, killings stopped…. but what was never found was the identity of the killer.

According to detectives that had been working the case, they knew the identity of the killer, but the man committed suicide before they had been able to arrest him. They called him “Big John”, but didn’t reveal his real name out of respect for his family. Others close to the case weren’t shy about doubting their findings, though, saying that the police were doing nothing more than blaming a dead man for crimes they couldn’t solve.

In the end, there were several suspects, but no single one in which everything added up. It’s not even known how many victims really were the work of the same killer, and tallies range from six to eight.

Gypsy Hill Murders

Decades-old, unsolved murder cases aren’t necessarily forgotten, and it’s only recently that law enforcement has gotten a lead on a 40-year-old cold case that devastated 1970s San Mateo California.

The first victim was 18-year-old Ronnie Cascio, stabbed 30 times, sexually assaulted, and ultimately dumped on a golf course. The next victim was 14 years old and named Tanya Blackwell. The murders of Paula Baxter, Denise Lampe, and Carol Lee Booth were all attributed to the same killer, but the ultimately unsolved case has now gotten a new lead.
In February of 1976, Michelle Mitchell was murdered near the University of Nevada, and responsibility for the killing was claimed by a woman named Cathy Woods. Woods was a patient at the Louisiana State University Medical Center, and now, it’s thought that she didn’t kill the girl at all – today, here psychiatrists think that it was all a ploy to be labeled as more dangerous than she actually was, and be rewarded with her own room at the facility.

Unfortunately, her confession kept Mitchell’s murder from being connected to the other Gypsy Hill Murders – and along with Mitchell’s body was a vital piece of DNA evidence that could end up turning this one from an unsolved case to a closed one. A lone cigarette butt is now linking the deaths together, and the DNA evidence found has reportedly been connected to an Oregon State Penitentiary inmate named Rodney Halbower.

Since the discovery, Woods has been exonerated, freed, and reunited with her family. What’s going to happen with Halbower is yet to be determined, meaning this one isn’t officially over with…. yet.

The Woman Without A Face

Female serial killers aren’t unheard of, but they are relatively rare. The absolute lack of information about the female serial killer that has been tormenting German officials for nearly two decades had earned her the nickname of the “Woman Without A Face”, and this one, at least, may have been solved.

The only thing that police had on the killer was DNA – no fingerprints, no witnesses, no descriptions. But this one hadn’t been forgotten – if anything, the 2007 murder of a young policewoman made sure that law enforcement would never, ever give up on finding this killer.

Michele Kiesewetter was on her lunch break when she was shot and killed by the unidentified assailant – her partner was also shot, but recovered with no memory of the incident. DNA found at the scene tied her to a whole series of murders, along with thefts as far away as France and Austria. Among the unidentified serial killer’s other victims were three car dealers, a 62-year-old woman strangled by wire that had bound some flowers, and a 61-year-old man in southwestern Germany.

And her DNA has been found seemingly everywhere. Traces were discovered on a dirty syringe that was stepped on by a 7-year-old boy; it was on the edge of a teacup found at a murder scene, on the petrol cap of a stolen car, on empty beer bottles, on a bit of biscuit and on bullets fired in an attempted murder case. No match has ever been found, in spite of comparing the sample to literally thousands of likely suspects – including heroin addicts and homeless women – across the area that the Woman had allegedly been stalking.

But in a surprising and somewhat embarrassing twist, law enforcement may have finally identified the ruthless murderer known as the Woman Without a Face – as a non-existent entity with no true identity at all. In 2009 it was revealed the DNA was likely left by a woman working for the German medical company that supplied the swabs on which the evidence was collected. Because the swabs are now thought to have been inadvertently contaminated during their production, authorities have acknowledged that they may have spent 15 years on a wild goose chase in the pursuit of a phantom serial killer that never was.

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