The Man from the Train
|Author||Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James|
|September 19, 2017|
In The Man from the Train, the Jameses claim to have discovered, through analysis of contemporary records, the existence and identity of a serial killer – Paul Mueller – who operated throughout North America in the early 20th century killing between 40 and 100 people.
Bill James's research began with and attempt to solve one famous unsolved crime, the Villisca axe murders, in which a family of eight was slaughtered in Villisca, Iowa on the night of June 9, 1912. James suspected a possible serial killer, found some similar crimes, and brought on Rachel McCarthy James who found more.
Via research in newspaper archives the Jameses discovered scores of murders of entire families, committed from 1898 to 1912, occurring in Nova Scotia, Oregon, Kansas, Florida, Arkansas, and other locations, which they ascribe to Mueller.. Though many of these crimes earned significant publicity, they have mostly faded from attention apart from the Villisca murders. Muller's name was apparently linked to only one crime in contemporary media. He was the subject of an unsuccessful yearlong manhunt as the sole suspect in the 1897 murder of a family in West Brookfield, Massachusetts who had employed him as a farmhand. According to Rachel McCarthy James, she and her father unearthed "probably 500 words of material about Mueller, specifically his physical appearance, where he’s from, his skills and his family." Mueller was believed to be an itinerant lumberjack, as most of the murders occurred in or near logging areas and the killer preferred using an axe.
According to the Jameses, a number of murders in the period which were assumed by local police to be one-off incidents were actually committed by a single person, probably Mueller, based on certain similarities among these crimes. These similarities include proximity to railroad transport (thus the book's title), the slaughter of entire families in small towns with little or no police force, using the blunt edge of an axe as a murder weapon, leaving the axe in plain sight, covering victims with sheets or blankets prior to the murders (probably to prevent blood spatter), and the absence of robbery. The killer's motive is believed to have been a sadistic sexual attraction to pre-pubescent girls, given that girls had a different injury pattern than other victims.
The Jameses point out that in these times, local police usually assumed a local murderer with some connection to the victims. The concept of a nationwide traveling serial killer was never even considered in most cases. Locals arrested after police investigation were usually released on lack of evidence, but some were convicted and executed or lynched, in the case of several African-American suspects.
A lack of such crimes anywhere in the nation for about a year in 1908 led the Jameses to speculate that the killer was apprehended and imprisoned for a minor crime. The authors also suggest that Mueller may have been responsible for the 1922 Hinterkaifeck murders in Germany. The murders bear some similarities to the US crimes, including the slaughter of an entire family in their isolated home, use of the blunt edge of a farm tool as a weapon, (a pick axe), and the apparent absence of robbery as a motive. They suspect that Mueller, described as a German immigrant in contemporary media, might have departed the US for his homeland after private investigators and journalists began to notice and publicize patterns in family murders across state lines following the brazen 1912 murder of two families in a single night in Colorado Springs, Colorado and a similar family murder weeks afterward a few hundred miles away in neighboring Kansas.
In a review for The New York Journal of Books, Bill McClug described The Man from the Train as "an interesting and fascinating albeit rather unknown story, and it is commendable that the authors have chosen to bring it to light." But he also criticized the writing style as overly casual and thought it unlikely that the Jameses case could be conclusively proved after a century.
- "The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery − Kirkus Review". Kirkus. 2017. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- Elizabeth Cook (October 15, 2017). "The Man from the Train: New book says serial ax murderer killed Lyerly family". Salisbury [North Carolina] Post. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- Ben McGrath (July 14, 2003). "The Professor of Baseball". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- Nathaniel Rich (June 2, 2011). "Crunch the Numbers; Solve a Famous Murder". New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
- Elon Green (2017) The Father-Daughter Duo Who Found the Truth Behind a String of Century-Old Murders, MelMag.com
- For data on Mueller, McCarthy James cites History of the Department of Police Service of Worcester, Mass., from 1674 to 1900, Historical and Biographical (1900) by Herbert M. Sawyer
- Thomas McClung (2017). "The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery". New York Journal of Books. Retrieved November 30, 2017.