The Man from the Train by Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James
eBook review copy; 480 pages
The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by
Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James is a very highly recommended
presentation of and solution to a series of century-old murders.
1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their
sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in
plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth."
Sometimes the hoses were then burned. The murderer chose houses near
train tracks. Bill James takes his skills as a statistician, historian,
and baseball writer to research and present the cold cases of the series
of horrific murders. His daughter, Rachel McCarthy James helped with
researching and finding the earlier cases. He ended up discovering even
more cases that fit the pattern of those that were originally thought to
be the work of one man. As James and his daughter continued in their
research of old papers, court transcripts, and other public records,
they made a surprising discovery: they learned the identity of the
killer, one of the deadliest serial
killers in America.
The research began with perhaps the best known case, the mass killing of
family in Villisca, Iowa, in 1912. As research continued, similar
murders were found in the Midwest and South. Soon likely cases that
could be tied to being perpetrated by The Man from the Train, were found
crisscrossing the country, in Virginia, Oregon, Colorado, and Kansas,
while even earlier murders were in Nova Scotia to Arkansas to Florida.
Several of the murders were right in my area of the country.
The Man from the Train is addictively readable blend of true
crime and historical documentation. James does an admirable job of
presenting all the facts (and suppositions) about each case and the
investigation. He recounts the cases and the facts surrounding it in a
straightforward, conversational style and ties in a historical portrait
of American in the early 1900's while demonstrating how one man could
have gotten away with the murders. At that time, crime was a local
problem and murder was not a common occurrence, let alone the mass
murder of whole families. Public opinion, gossip, and rumors were often
taken as facts, and sometimes the local papers helped in the spreading
of falsehoods. The judicial system was also often dysfunctional at the
local level. This is a fascinating recounting of the cases. Anyone who
appreciates historical true crime books won't want to miss this one.
My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.