Before Jack the Ripper Came America's First Serial Killer

The 'Midnight Assassin' terrorized Austin in the 1880s
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 10, 2016 1:35 PM CDT
Updated Apr 10, 2016 2:05 PM CDT
Before Jack the Ripper Came America's First Serial Killer
A1849 first edition map of Texas, considered the first official map it became a state in 1845.   (AP Photo/Heritage Auctions)

For years, author Skip Hollandsworth has been trying to solve the case of the Midnight Assassin—a serial killer who brutally slayed six women and a 12-year-old girl in Austin, Texas, between December 1884 and December 1885. But, he tells the Star-Telegram, "I still have no clue," adding that he has changed his thinking on the killer's identity "more times than socialites switch dresses. But I’m still convinced the answer is still out there." In his new book, The Midnight Assassin, Hollandsworth recounts the story of the little-known murders, which occurred three years before Jack the Ripper terrorized London and left Austin "on the verge of panic." The victims of the Midnight Assassin were "mutilated by axes, knives, bricks, and even iron rods that had been driven into their ears," according to Esquire, which published an excerpt of Hollandsworth's book.

At the time of the Midnight Assassin slayings, Hollandsworth writes, "the science of criminology had not yet been invented," let alone the term "serial killer," which was coined nearly a century later. Upon the discovery of the first victim—a black servant girl named Mollie Smith, who had been "ripped open like a calf at a slaughterhouse"—law enforcement's only suspect was an ex-boyfriend, despite his having an alibi. As the killings continued, per Esquire, "clueless police officers and bumbling private detectives" focused their attention on "uneducated young black men." But later, some became convinced that the killer was "a diabolical but brilliant … man driven to destroy one woman after another in almost ritualistic fashion." Detectives in London later toyed with the idea that the Midnight Assassin had moved to England and was Jack the Ripper. Read the first two Chapters of The Midnight Assassin at Esquire, or read this theory about Jack the Ripper's identity. (More Austin stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.