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Three years before Jack the Ripper terrorized the Whitechapel district of London, Austin had its own shadowy killer prowling the streets of the Violet Crown in a reign of terror that resulted in the deaths of eight people.

Referred to as the Servant Girl Annihilator, a serial killer preyed upon victims — mostly young, African-American women employed as domestic servants — between 1884-85, causing a general panic in the community that resulted the expansion of the city’s police force. Despite efforts by city officials to bring the killer to justice, the case has remained unsolved.

Nationally-syndicated historical investigative television series “History Detectives: Special Investigations” is focusing on the murders for its July 15 broadcast, and University of Texas Libraries staff member James Galloway was consulted for the program since he’s also the author of a book on the subject, The Servant Girl Murders: Austin, Texas 1885.

Galloway — who works at the Mallet Chemistry Library — was interviewed at length last fall about this dark episode in Austin’s early history based on his extensive knowledge surrounding the events.

Galloway’s book on the murders resulted from an interest in discovering the backstory of a local legend for a graduate research project he undertook while attending The University of Texas at Austin in the late 1990s. He later spent “about a year off and on” reviewing newspaper collections, city directories and other historical materials at the Briscoe Center for American History, the Texas State Library and the Austin History Center which allowed him to piece together the most complete story of the murders. He edited and published the volume in 2010.

The Servant Girl Murders: Austin, Texas 1885 features over 100 newspaper articles from the 1880s, arranged chronologically to allow readers to experience the story as it transpired, including all of the gruesome details.

“History Detectives” airs Tuesday evenings on PBS. Check local listings for air times (8 p.m. on KLRU-Austin).

Read an interview with James Galloway at the University of Texas Libraries Tex Libris blog.

UPDATE: The full episode is now available on the History Detectives website.


Article published on July 10, 2014 - 2:09pm

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