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1888, an unidentified serial killer murdered at least five women — who would have later become known as the “canonical five” — in and around the Whitechapel district of London. This serial killer, whose identity is, as already said, uncertain, is known as Jack the Ripper. The sobriquet was clearly part of a larger urban myth that became global pretty soon. As a matter of fact, since the days when he attacked female prostitutes living and working in the slums of the East End of London, Jack the Ripper has featured in hundreds of works of fiction. We all have heard, at least once, his name and some speculations about his identity.

However, this article is not about Jack the Ripper, the most popular serial killer of the Victorian Age. Instead, it is about another murderer whose sobriquet is even more horrific, that is: the Servant Girl Annihilator.

The Servant Girl Annihilator

Some might think there’s no point in talking about another serial killer. However, the story about this one is much more interesting than the story of Jack the Ripper. This is because, even though there are some similarities between the figures, the Servant Girl Annihilator’s criminal record is much more impressive. Both serial killers are unknown. Lots of assumptions have been made about their identities, but we are still far from — and probably we will never find out — the truth.

Newspapers headlines relating to the Servant Girl Annihilator (Source: www.mentalfloss.com/article/94680/how-servant-girl-annihilator-terrorized-1880s-austin)

The Servant Girl Annihilator — also known as the Austin Axe Murderer — committed his crimes in Austin (Texas), starting from December 30th 1884 to December 26th 1885. Hence, he began his dreadful career roughly three years before Jack the Ripper. The American serial killer has been charged with the murder of eight people; that is, three more than those ascribed to the British one. More specifically, the killer murdered seven women (five black and two white) and one black man. Additionally, the Servant Girl Annihilator seriously injured six women and two men. He attacked his victims indoors while asleep in their beds; then, he dragged and killed them with an axe outdoors. His youngest victim — Mary Ramey — was only eleven years old.

The sobriquet was first used by William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name O. Henry, in a letter he wrote to a friend in 1885, when he lived in Austin. However, no contemporary newspaper referred to the murderer as the Servant Girl Annihilator. The nickname became popular many years later, when people started to look at those events as history and not chronicle anymore.

The same person?

Both Jack the Ripper’s and the Servant Girl Annihilator’s victims followed a certain pattern of lower-class women. Also, the way in which the women were killed is similar: deep throat cuts, severe body mutilations, and organ removals. This brought many to believe the two serial killers could have been the same person.

The “Nemesis of Neglect” — Jack the Ripper depicted as a phantom stalking Whitechapel, and as an embodiment of social neglect, in a Punch cartoon (1888) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This supposition gained particular attention when the Austin American-Statesman — the major daily newspaper in Austin — compared the figure of a Malay cook “running on ocean vessels” — who was suspected to be the Ripper — to the figure of a Malay cook that had been employed at the Pearl House, a small hotel in Austin, in 1885. The Malay had departed from the American city sometime in January 1886; that is, a few days after the Austin Axe Murderer’s last killing.

Even though we cannot confidently rule out this possibility, we have also to say that it cannot be deemed more than a mere speculation because of the lack of evidence.

As the murders of both mysterious serial killers were never solved, the legends surrounding these crimes became a combination of historical research, folklore and pseudo-history. What’s interesting about this story is that, even if the Servant Girl Annihilator killed more people than the Ripper, and even if he worked in a smaller town causing much more panic, the American murderer never hit the headlines. Conversely, Jack the Ripper is still an intriguing character nowadays.

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