Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Man from the Train

The Man from the Train by Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James
Scribner: 9/19/17
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476796253

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.

"Between 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 the Moore 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.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribner.

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