Texas Dark

In 1884, America got its first serial killer. The “Servant Girl Annihilator” of Austin, Texas, would drag his victims from their beds, rape them, then kill them with an ax or a spike. In a yearlong spree he murdered at least seven women. Then he disappeared.

Three years later, Jack the Ripper surfaced in London.

See also Långrocken.

The Werewolf of Dôle

In 1572 something began killing the children of Dôle in eastern France. A 10-year-old girl was strangled and partially devoured in October; another girl succumbed after a similar attack a few weeks later, and more victims followed. The province decided there was a werewolf abroad, and one evening some workers spotted a creature carrying a child’s body through the failing light.

It wasn’t a wolf. It was Gilles Garnier, a local hermit and, as it turned out, a cannibalistic serial murderer who hunted children to feed his new wife. Garnier said that a specter had given him a magic ointment that would let him assume a wolf’s shape in order to hunt more easily.

Who’s to say he was wrong? After confessing to four murders, Garnier was convicted of “crimes of lycanthropy and witchcraft” and burned at the stake.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

On Dec. 10, 1968, a uniformed man pulled over a bank car in Tokyo. He explained that police had received a warning that dynamite had been planted in the vehicle, which was transporting bonuses for local Toshiba employees. The four passengers got out and watched as the officer crawled underneath.

After a moment he rolled out, shouting that the car was about to explode. When the passengers ran, he got in and drove off.

Thus one man stole 294,307,500 yen in broad daylight, working alone and without harming anyone. It remains the largest single heist in Japanese history. The thief was never caught.

The Alphabet Murders

In the early 1970s, an unknown assailant sexually attacked and strangled three young girls in towns near Rochester, N.Y.:

  • Carmen Colon in Churchville
  • Wanda Walkowicz in Webster
  • Michelle Maenza in Macedon

The crimes have never been solved.

The Whitehall Mystery


Scotland Yard is built on the site of an unsolved murder.

The torso of a “well-nourished” 24-year-old woman was found in a cellar vault in October 1888, while the police service’s headquarters was being built in Westminster. Her arm had been discovered earlier on the bank of the Thames, and a reporter later discovered a leg elsewhere on the construction site.

The woman’s uterus was also missing, an unsettling echo of Jack the Ripper’s killings, which were terrorizing London at the same time. The Metropolitan Police said there was no connection.

The woman’s head and other limbs were never found, and her identity — and that of her killer — has never been established.

The “Boy in the Box”


On Feb. 25, 1957, a pedestrian came upon a cardboard box in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia. Inside was the naked, battered body of a young boy between 4 and 6 years old.

A media sensation ensued throughout the Delaware Valley, and pictures of the boy were inserted in every gas bill in Philadelphia. But the boy’s identity has never been established, and the case has never been solved.

Murder at the Priory

In 1876, London barrister Charles Bravo took three days to die of antimony poisoning but refused to say who had poisoned him or why.

An inquest determined it was a case of willful murder, but no one was ever arrested or charged. To this day, no one knows who killed him.

Sideshow Justice


Frontier lawmen chose some odd fundraising techniques. When rangers killed Joaquin Murrieta, “the Mexican Robin Hood,” in 1853, they cut off his head, preserved it in brandy, and sent it on tour through California, charging spectators $1 per person to see it.

Captain Harry Love insisted it was the real article, but Murrieta was sighted several times after his “death,” and the pickled head was said to lack a characteristic scar.

So whose head was it? It was lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, so we’ll never know.

The Gentleman Bandit


For an Old West outlaw, Black Bart had a rather poetic sensibility. Born Charles Bolles, Bart robbed stagecoaches of thousands of dollars throughout the 1870s and 1880s, but even his first victims noted his politeness — he avoided foul language and merely asked the driver to “please throw down the box.”

Eventually Bart was writing full-blown poetry to leave at the scene of each crime. He left behind this verse after one California robbery in 1877:

I’ve labored long and hard for bread,
For honor and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

… and this one the following year:

Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will I’ll try it on,
My condition can’t be worse;
And if there’s money in that box
‘Tis munny in my purse.

When Bart was released from prison in 1888, a reporter asked if he were going to return to robbing stagecoaches. “No, gentlemen,” he said, “I’m through with crime.” Another asked whether he would write more poetry. He smiled, “Now, didn’t you hear me say that I am through with crime?”

Cruel and Unusual


Account of a torture and execution by elephant at Baroda, India, 1814:

“The man was a slave, and two days before had murdered his master, brother to a native chieftain, called Ameer Sahib. About eleven o’clock the elephant was brought out, with only the driver on his back, surrounded by natives with bamboos in their hands. The criminal was placed three yards behind on the ground, his legs tied by three ropes, which were fastened to a ring on the right hind leg of the animal. At every step the elephant took, it jerked him forward, and every eight or ten steps must have dislocated another limb, for they were loose and broken when the elephant had proceeded five hundred yards. The man, though covered in mud, showed every sign of life, and seemed to be in the most excruciating torments. After having been tortured in this manner for about an hour, he was taken to the outside of the town, when the elephant, which is instructed for such purposes, was backed, and put his foot on the head of the criminal.”

— From The Percy Anecdotes, 1821