Lost treasure, unsolved crimes, haunted buildings, and more – the 10th annual History day on October 27, 2018, explored Travis County’s extra-ordinary past. Commissioner Jeffrey W. Travillion, Sr., emceed the program, and authors Dr. Jeffrey S. Kerr, J.R. Galloway, and Michael Barnes were the featured speakers. The program featured a screening of the film “The Last of the Moonlight Towers,” and displays included recently uncovered original documents relating to the so-called Servant Girl murders of 1884-1885.
In Austin in late 1884-1885, 8 individuals were murdered by what was known as the “Servant Girl Killer.” The victims included Mollie Smith, Eliza Shelley, Irene Cross, Mary Ramey, Orange Washington, Gracie Vance, Susan Hancock, and Eula Phillips.
The Servant Girl Murders were a series of crimes, including eight murders, carried out by an elusive killer who subjected the city of Austin, Texas to an unprecedented reign of terror during the course of the year 1885.
The victims of the crimes were “servant girls” – usually young, African-American women who at that time were commonly employed as domestic servants in many Austin households. The epithet “servant girl murders” is perhaps something of a misnomer – one of the victims was male, the boyfriend of one of the slain women; one victim was a child, the daughter of a servant who was herself attacked but not killed; and the last two victims were married white women, neither of them servants.
Many theories were put forward and as the crimes continued without resolution, speculations about the perpetrators and their elusive abilities grew more fantastic. The crime scenes were consistent – a bloody axe or other implement was often left behind, sometimes footprints were found and bloodhounds were used to track suspects. The police arrested several suspects, but responsibility for the crimes could not be proven conclusively.
Over time, public outrage grew and the police force was frequently declared ineffectual and incompetent… After the murder of two white women on Christmas Eve, the city was on the verge of chaos. The public demanded action regardless of the consequences and mob violence was a real possibility. All the efforts to stop the crimes had failed and a confounded city awaited the next outrage, but after December there were no further mysterious murders. Officially the crimes remained unsolved.
In 2016, the Travis County Archives staff uncovered four documents relating to the servant girl murders: an autopsy and inquest for victim Susan Hancock, and records for the criminal cases against Moses Hancock and James Phillips, who were charged for the murders of their respective wives.
Click on the links to view PDFs of the documents; please contact the Archives to view in person.
State v. Moses Hancock, No. 7898, 1886 (please note: first 4 pages are missing)