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Austin, Texas Myths, Legends and Stories

AUSTIN, TEXAS - As I walked down the incandescently radiated streets of downtown Austin, just blocks away from the Texas State Capitol building in 1985, little did I know that only one hundred years earlier the city wasn't the calm and peaceful municipality that it was on this winter morning. What has become merely a footnote to the capitol city's history is the year of bloodlust that began at the end of 1884 and ran through Christmas Eve 1885. Seven women and one man were brutally murdered, the women dragged outside and sexually assaulted in the moonlight. The identity of their assailant has remained an unsolved mystery in the Austin Police Department homicide files to this day. Could this be the work of America's first serial killer? Some say it was the early work of the White Chapel murderer in London, England known as "Jack the Ripper".

In order to understand the Austin of 1884-1885 we need to re-discover what was happening on the streets of the city sometimes called, "The Athens of the West". Still recovering from years of reconstruction after the Civil War, Austin was emerging as a more modern metropolitan community. The city started attracting people looking for work. William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) arrived in Austin in 1884 looking for employment. According to records Austin's population had grown to 23,000 people. Mayor John Robertson proclaimed, "No city in the state has a promise of a more healthful prosperity."

The Capitol Under Contruction - Dec. 19th, 1886
The Capitol Under Construction - Dec. 19th, 1886 2004 Murray Montgomery - All Rights Reserved


 John "Ox Cart John" Ireland was the Governor of Texas in 1884 and was tasked to rebuild the State Capitol after the old limestone capitol was destroyed by fire during a rainstorm on November 9, 1881. Original plans called for construction with Texas limestone. But following lying of the cornerstone on March 2, 1885, doubt arose concerning the quality of limestone from a quarry in south Austin. The limestone discolored easily. Owners of Granite Mountain at Marble Falls in Burnet County offered building stone, free of charge, to the state. To save tax payer's money convicts were used to quarrying the granite and for building the needed rail line from Burnet to Austin. Was one of the convicts the killer?


  The City had become a place of prosperity and crime was unheard of besides the usual fights at the brothels in "Guy Town". People felt safe to walk the darken streets of Austin without fear of robbery or murder. Doors and windows were left opened and unlocked throughout the city to allow the night air to cool their homes. The last day of December 1884 brought an end to peaceful nights for the citizens of Austin.

"BLOODY WORK!" was the headlines in the Austin Daily Statesman newspaper when the body of victim No. 1, maid Mollie Smith, was discovered in the snow next to the outhouse behind 901 W. Pecan St. (now Sixth Street). She had a large gaping hole in her head.

"ANOTHER SERVANT GIRL FOUND SLAIN" was the headline for Eliza Shelley's murder May 6. Eliza was the cook for Dr. L. B. Johnson. According to the Statesman report, Shelley was found with "her night dress displaced in such a manner as to suggest she may have been outraged (sexually assaulted) after death. Her body was found at the corner of San Jacinto and Cypress Streets.


The City of Austin 1901. Just a few years after the last murder of the Servant Girl Annihilator murders.
The City of Austin (1901) only 16 years after the unsolved murders.

 Only three weeks later, Irene Cross was brutally murder with a knife. An eyewitness who spoke to her before she died stated she looked as if she had been scalped.

That August, a servant named Rebecca Ramey was knocked unconscious while she slept in her bed. Her eleven-year-old daughter, Mary, was dragged to a backyard washhouse, stabbed through the ear with an iron rod, and raped. Mary's death sent shock waves throughout the city. Demands grew stronger for the police department to capture the killer.

Still more death came to those who slept in their homes. In the early morning hours of September 27th, Mr. W. B. Dunham heard a noise coming from his servant's cabin, in the back of his residence on Guadalupe Street, as if someone had jumped through a window, followed by a woman screaming. Dunham grab his gun and swung open the door to see a woman fighting with a man at his gate. He leveled his gun at them and yelled at them to stop making all that noise. The woman ran to him telling him everyone in the cabin had been murdered and the man she was fighting was the killer. The man seeing the woman run to Mr. Dunham fled into the dark streets to the big thicket a few blocks back of the houses. Mr. Dunham at once called his neighbors to assist him in catching the murderer but the man had gotten away. The woman was Lucinda Boddy and she occupied the cabin with a man named Orange Washington and his wife Gracie Vance and anther woman named Patsie Gibson. A newspaper article in the Austin Daily Statesman written three days later described that from the testimony and surrounding circumstances it appears the killer entered the room of the sleeping occupants through a window, and before any of them awoke succeeded in striking all four of them on the head with an axe. Seizing Gracie Vance, he dragged her through a window, threw her over a fence, and then pulled her through weeds across a vacant lot to a rear stable. At this point it appears that Gracie recovered consciousness, as evidence of a death struggle was abundant. She was, however, overpowered and her head battered with a brick that was found nearby smeared with her blood. While she struggling between life and death, her murder brutally raped her. A watch was found on her person with the chain tied around her arm. A horse was also found saddled and tied to a tree near the scene of the tragedy.

While the assassin was killing Gracie, Lucinda Boddy, recovered somewhat from the blow she had received, regained sufficient strength to get up and light a lamp in the cabin. The assailant seeing the light in the cabin, returned, shaking his head in the window while looking at Lucinda, cursed the woman and ordered her to put out the light. On seeing him she screamed and ran from the building. He leaped through the window, put the light out, followed and overtook the fleeing woman. This was the commotion that awakened Mr. Dunham. Gracie Vance was dead when found. Orange Washington died at an early hour the following Monday morning. Lucinda was taken to the hospital. All the victims had horrifying gashes in their head and face.

Map of the Cityof Austin 1885-1886.
Map of Austin, TX 1885-1886
These murders created intense excitement among both whites and blacks at the repeated occurrences of this nature in the capital city, read the article in the Austin Daily Statesman dated September 30th. Yet the greatest horror was still to come.

The killer seemed interested only in black women. All the previous victims had been black. But on Christmas Eve that would change. Sue Hancock, a white woman described by one reporter as "one of the most refined ladies in Austin," was discovered by her husband lying in their back yard. Her head had been split open by an ax, and a sharp, thin object was lodged in her brain through her ears like Mary Ramey. Today the location is near 98 San Jacinto Boulevard along Town Lake. The Four Seasons Hotel occupies the property.

About an hour later, Eula Phillips was found dead in the wealthiest neighborhood in the city, near where the Austin Public Library stands today. Lying in an unlit alley behind her father-in-law's home where she lived with her husband and son, her bare body was discovered with her skull bashed in by an ax, and heavy pieces of timber had been placed across her arms, as if to keep her pinned down during the attack. And she had been raped. Jimmy, her husband was found in his father's home lying in their bed, nearly unconscious, a severe gash in the back of his head. The little boy was next to him, unharmed, holding an apple. Eula was found by following the trail of blood from the bedroom to the alley. A writer for the Fort Worth Gazette, one of many Texas journalists who rushed to the scene, reported that Eula was on her back, her face "turned upward in the dim moonlight with an expression of agony that death itself had not erased from her features."

Governor Ireland posted a reward of three hundred dollars for the capture of the killer or killers. Citizens questioned the authorities and wanted to know why the Austin Police department only had 4 officers on duty at one time. Others blamed the City Council for not hiring more men to patrol the streets at night as sworn in emergency police officers. Anger raged as men stayed home at night in fear of losing their wives to the killer. People started locking their doors and windows and refusing to leave their homes after sun down.


 To this day the murders have remained unsolved. Their impact has forever changed Austin. The City erected the now famous "Moonlight Towers" in 1895 in order to light up the neighborhoods so people would feel safe walking around after sun down. The women forever rest in some-what peace in Oakwood Cemetery. Their killer has never been brought to justice!

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1. AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN - Headlines from the Austin Daily Statesman
2. Texas Monthly - July 2000 - "Capital Murder" by Skip Hollandsworth
3. Photo "Capitol Under Construction" (Dec. 19th, 1886)  - Photo by Carl Montgomery, Copyright 2004 Murray Montgomery - All Rights Reserved. Used on WHAT WAS THEN with permission from Copyright holder - Murray Montgomery.
4. File at the Austin History Center - 9th and Guadalupe Streets, AF-Murder-Mass M8960 (2)  The Servant Girl Annihilator
5. Panorama Photo of 1901, City of Austin, Texas - Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-122815] -DLC (b&w film copy neg.)

"Austin landmarks claim haunted history" By Gil Song - THE DAILY TEXAN  (The Daily Texan Online) 10/31/2003
"Killer Reputation" BY KEVIN FULLERTON - The Austin Chronicle - January 26, 2001
THE MALAY COOK - Strange Coincidence in the Austin and Whitechapel Woman Murders (19 November 1888)





Ranking up there with London's Jack the Ripper is Austin's own Servant Girl Annihilator. For two years, a maddened axman roamed the darkened streets of the Violet Crown City searching for the victims of his trade domestics, working girls who were invariably hacked to death while sleeping. Altogether, 13 Austin girls fell prey to this, the unkindest cut of all, the last on Christmas Day 1885. And like Jack the Ripper, the Annihilator's identity has never been unmasked.

Another somber note, "Servant Girl Annihilator," which though the title sounds like one of those strange old Budgie/Blue Oyster Cult songs with weird titles just for comic relief, is actually based on a true, local horror story, about an Austin fellow in the 1800s who, as the name implies, murdered servant girls.

"The thing about this," explains Charlie, "is that it happened about four years before Jack the Ripper. The Ripper is known and world famous for being the first serial killer, but this Austin case -- this Servant Girl Annihilator -- is undisputably the first serial killer, maybe in the world."



January 26, 2001:




Amateur historian Jeanine Plumer is one of the few people in Austin who still relives the nightmare year of 1885, those long months of chilling fear that must have seemed interminable to the city's residents. A killer such as the world had never seen before was stalking the women of Austin on moonlit nights and using an axe to cleave his victim's skulls. Plumer has become so fascinated with the serial killings -- which have never been solved -- that she has put together a walking tour of the locations where each of the nine victims were found.

As she stands near the corner of Brazos and Third, in what was once a neighborhood filled with German immigrant families, Plumer points south to a parking structure covering one murder site, and north to another site, now a vacant lot. On not a single lot where one of the murders occurred, Plumer says, is a house now standing -- it's as if the killer's rampage left scars on the city that never healed, even if no one remembers their origin. Gazing up at the moonlight towers that dot central city neighborhoods, most Austin residents probably feel a touch of warm nostalgia, not realizing that city leaders raised those huge arc lights to lift the cover of darkness under which the serial killer had struck.

"The city covered them up completely," Plumer says of the killings. "This is a huge event that no one knows anything about." But though the death toll of the 1885 "Servant Girl Annihilator" murders is astounding (Jack the Ripper, by comparison, slew but five victims during his murder spree in London three years later), they were but the first of a series of Austin murders that shocked not just this city but the world. By the time Charles Whitman climbed the UT Tower with a hunting rifle and unleashed the "violent and irrational impulses" that tortured his soul in 1966, this oasis of civilization had already produced a handful of murderers who had set new standards in psychotic criminality.

"Austin is a city so known for its reputation as this sort of paradise of Texas," says Texas Monthly Senior Editor Skip Hollandsworth, who followed up on the research done by Plumer and other local historians and wrote a historical account of the Servant Girl Annihilator murders (published last July; Steven Saylor's A Twist at the End: A Novel of O. Henry is also about the murders). "It's always had that reputation from away back -- this great center of learning and relaxation and leisure. But more than other cities, it's been dotted by vicious mass murder."

The 1885 serial murders introduced the world to a new breed of criminal, who seemed unfathomably evil even a century later in the persons of New York's Son of Sam or Wisconsin's Jeffery Dahmer. But in 1885, there was no criminal profile to explain a killer who took out his violent passions on seemingly anonymous victims. The first of the Austin murderer's victims were black servant girls, one of whom he stabbed through the ear with an iron rod and raped. But then, on Christmas Eve, the killer struck at the most precious sanctum of 19th-century society: Two wealthy white women, Eula Phillips and Sue Hancock, were found lying dead just outside their homes where they had been dragged, raped, and bludgeoned with an axe.

The killings sent Austin into a frenzy. The Christmas edition of the Austin Daily Statesman cried "BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!" and more than 500 citizens gathered in the streets, desperate for a plan that would stop the murders. It was arguably the most dismal Christmas morning in Austin history. "The baying of blood hounds frantically seeking the killer's scent broke into the usual chorus of Yuletide merriment, chilling holiday spirits," wrote a Statesman reporter.

In the aftermath, the husbands of the two white women were tried for their murders, though not until investigators had first roughed up some black suspects. But Messrs. Phillips and Hancock were eventually released from custody, and though plenty was learned at trial about the titillating private affairs of affluent white families, the perpetrator was never discovered.

Hollandsworth, who like other sleuths has been seduced by the unsolved riddle of 1885, says he has continued to track down descendents of victims' families, hoping to find a clue in someone's attic that will give the killer away. For more than 100 years, it seems, nearly everyone else has preferred to forget.




It was just the start of another hotter-than-hell Del Valle August day in 1925, until the visitors stepped across the threshold of Charles Engler's spacious home. Then they found the bullet-riddled bodies of the prosperous farmer, wife Augusta, and pretty 25-year-old foster daughter Emma. There was no apparent motive.

The sheriff's department "went fishing" with a couple of suspects but didn't catch a thing. So desperate were the whitehats for a nibble that they resorted to the use of a then-new and controversial drug--scopolamine--for the first time in Travis County. Most of us know scopolamine as truth serum.

A related story has one of the suspect's wives cornering him while "under the influence." "What I want to know," she demands of him, "is have you always been true to me?" His answer is not known. The case was still alive 13 years later when True Detective Mysteries magazine retold the grisly story and offered a thousand-dollar reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer. The reward was eventually withdrawn, and no perpetrator or motive has ever surfaced.


"The first and only Giraffe to be ever exhibited in Texas," trumpeted circus advertisements during the early fall of 1880. The Greatest Show on Earth stretched its neck all the way out in promoting its newest mysterious strange attraction, fresh from the depths of darkest Africa. A full complement of rubberneckers and starry-eyed children were waiting for the great Barnum & Bailey gypsy train as it chugged in from Houston (Just as it does each summer now, 120 years later). This greeting committee didn't exactly get what they came for; Giraffe was a lifeless (and smelly) as a land-locked mackerel, and had been since Brenham.

The roustabouts were looking forward to a big giraffe barbecue until a public-spirited citizen decided that the children of Austin would not walk away from the circus disappointed. He engrossed the carcass and engaged the services of Mr. Lesterget, Austin's most popular butcher. Lesterget promptly and scientifically skinned the hide and in turn presented it to the local tanner, who performed his peculiar ablutions, and bequeathed the hide to the local taxidermist, who restufied it to original specs.

Suitably remodeled, Giraffa camelopardalis was now ready for the carnival midway where it could be viewed by the general public for the modest sum of l5 cents. (So much for public spirit.) Folks paid the price, gazed upon its remnant beatification, and left, muttering that they had seen it all now ...

Being as this particular mother lode played out rather quickly, the giraffe's proprietors/agents offered it up for sale or trade for city property. It sure beats the hell out of a wooden Indian, they suggested to prospective clients.

We don't even know whether they ever managed to palm their four-legged skyscraper off on some cubic rube, much less what ultimately happened to the long-necked pawn in this story. But we can be sure of one thing: an 18-foot mercerized giraffe doesn't just gambol off into the sunset one evening, never to be seen again.


Louis Francke had a powerful thirst, and he was determined to do something about it. A day's labor in the vineyards of the public weal often does that to a man. But at that particular hour of the aftemoon, he and his pocketbook weren't on speaking terms. No problem; Fayette County's representative to the Texas Legislature just quick-stepped down the statehouse hall to the sergeant-at-arm's office, where he pocketed his per diem and travel pittances.

Thus armed, he maneuvered down Capitol Hill, down Congress Avenue, hellbent on fulfillment, past the Blue Ruin, past the Last Chance, finally turning into an anonymous little watering hole just the wrong side of the End of the World, where the beer was cold and the talk cheap. He drank his fill, and as there was no lobbyist present to pick up the tab, Francke whipped out a fiver and shoved all but a nickel back in his pocket.

Then he steered back up Congress to Capitol Hill. The black hills to the west were clutching at their violet crowns. Climbing the dark statehouse steps, Francke was ambushed by a pair of deadly swift shadows, who stove in his skull with a large rock. They lightened his pockets and tossed the corpse down the steps before disappearing forever into the night. Quite a few people had noticed two strange men lounging on the Capitol steps late that afternoon, February 19, 1873, and a grocer recollected selling them some beers, but neither they, nor anyone one else, were ever apprehended.


There was no law to speak of, save what the citizens could muster up. Robert E. Lee had surrendered two months ago, Governor Pendleton Murrah had faded into Mexico, Yankee General Gordon Granger's triumphant entry into Galveston on Juneteenth was still a week away. There was no moon, either. All in all, a perfect time to strike, that particular Sunday night, June 11, 1865.

The 40-odd brigands, turncoats, bushwhackers, and other assorted scalawags stole into town at a fashionably late hour and up darkened Congress Avenue to Capitol Hill, to the old Treasury building, which stood to the right of the old corncrib-cum-pumpkin Capitol building. Some stayed outside as lookouts, while the rest battered down the doors and proceeded to smash open the safe.

The drummer of the local militia company discovered the break-in and started to beat a call to arms on his drum. Within minutes, 15 armed men were marching on the Treasury. Gunfire erupted as the minutemen encountered the bandits' lookouts; the militia stood their ground, the outlaws ran. The good guys entered the building with gum blazing, not that it did much harm; only one robber bit the dust. The others escaped into the inky night, some toward Mt. Bonnell, others to the south. No one knew exactly how much they got away with best estimate was about twenty grand but much of what they left with was dropped along the roadside as they scurried for cover. The militiamen found the treasury-room floor knee-deep in silver and gold coins, but neither they, nor anyone else, ever found any of the midnight raiders.



The pestilence brought on by the lure of buried treasure seems to be a universal affliction, and Austin has certainly been no exception to the rule. We have long been possessed of all the right ingredients: skulking Indians, vulnerable Spanish gold trains, skulking bushwhackers, a vulnerable state treasury, skulking robbers, vulnerable bank vaults you get the picture multiplied by a multitude of limestone cubbyholes in which to stash the swag.

A buried-treasure map once fell into Will Porter's hands. According to the map, the hoard seemed to rest somewhere in Pease Park. Porter and company hoisted shovels and lanterns one night soon thereafter, and set about retrieving it. These two-legged moles resolved that they would either have the treasure or be standing in the streets of Shanghai by dawn.

Would have, but for the inhuman shriek and accompanying scream that frightened them off. A few hours later, early risers found a state hospital inmate sitting on the edge of the hole with a spade in his hands. They all wondered how he could have dug such a deep hole in so short a time.

Every bit as infectious as the buried-treasure bug is Diamond Fever. Diamond Fever was wreaking havoc around here by 1869, sending countless citizens out into hills in search of bits of crystalline allotrope of carbon.

The Gazette observed: "Everybody in Austin will soon have his pocket full of rocks. The search for diamonds is unabated. During the rain, we saw individuals hunting with umbrellas over their heads. We are fearful that digging will commence soon, and that our beautiful city will be undermined."

Another account read: "For some time past, people of all sorts officers, clerks, white boys and black ones have been seen roving over our gravelly hills, with their eyes intently fixed upon the ground as if in search of something lost. They are looking for Austin diamonds, not yet found, but they may be who knows? What they do find are small pieces of crystalized quartz, very hard, hard enough to cut common glass."




Everything's bigger in Texas, and that includes The University of Texas. It's the biggest public university in the US and has branches in more than 10 Texas cities. Campus tours are available from many different companies, and you will see things like the infamous UT Tower, the Blanton Museum of Art, the LBJ Library, and the UT Communication Building, where the show "Austin City Limits" is filmed. Go down to "the drag" and shop at some of the quirky little boutiques, or buy something orange-and-white to wave at a UT Longhorns game.

The city is home to nation's largest urban bat colony found under the Congress Ave. Bridge during the eminent summer. A kiosk on the north shore of Town Lake's hike-and-bike trail near the Four Seasons Hotel and another on the south shore inform visitors when and where to watch for the nocturnal mammals.

Garriott's Haunted House

Wishful rumors aside, the ultimate "haunted house" attraction of all time was the Halloweenified home of Richard Garriott (better known as "Lord British," the creator of the Ultima series of computer games) of Austin, Texas. Garriott's 4,500-square-foot mansion and its three surrounding acres were reputedly something to see even at normal times, what with their dungeon, hidden library, indoor tropical rain forest, trap doors, secret passageways, rooftop observatory and private island. (He's moved since then to larger, scarier quarters.) But every second Halloween between 1988 and 1994, Garriott would go all out, investing more than $100,000 to turn his mansion into an interactive theme park where guests were led through a real-life sword-and-sorcery adventure, complete with monsters and mayhem. The renovations were so extensive that he'd have to move out for the three months leading up to the event to allow workmen sufficient rein to do what they needed.

This fright-fest was in operation for only four years, so it's too late now to think about getting to see this in operation. Only 200 guests a night were led through the manse and its grounds. People typically lined up two days in advance to get in on the adventure. The tour was free (the only cost was the wait to get in), and it was reputedly well worth the camp-out. Garriott himself claimed to have seen folks going up and down the line offering $1,000 for anyone who'd give up his ticket and finding no takers


Barbed Wire Capitol

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Barbed wire and the XIT Ranch

In spite of earlier failures to sell Texans on barbed wire, Henry Sanborn didn't give up. Along with Joseph Glidden, Sanborn bought land in the Texas Panhandle and set about to prove the usefulness of their wire fence.

Farmers were the traditional fence builders, using them to keep livestock, wild or domesticated, from trampling their planted fields. Sanborn had a vision of fences used to keep cattle in their designated feeding grounds. It was a novel use for the product in a land that prized its wide open spaces and free-roaming livestock.

Into the Frying Pan
Henry Sanborn's Frying Pan Ranch had 120 miles of barbed wire fencing. The experiment was a success even though it wasn't enough on its own to sway the cattlemen.

It was but one step in the taming of the wild west.

The Frying Pan ranch demonstrated the usefulness of barbed wire for cattle ranches but it would take a much larger experiment to substantially effect a move from free-range to closed land ranching. That experiment was made possible in 1881 when the Texas State Capitol building in Austin burned to the ground.

Ten counties that built the State Capitol
Everything's bigger in Texas. In 1882 Texans wanted a new capitol building that was bigger than any other state capitol and the legislature further decreed that it must be one foot taller than the national capitol building in Washington D.C.

To pay for the rebuilding of the capitol, three million acres of public lands in the Texas Panhandle were set aside for the men of the Capitol Syndicate of Illinois. In exchange for building the new capitol building, these men received this "worthless" land that became the XIT ranch (one story says that the name XIT is X for the 10 counties across which the property spread and IT for in Texas; other stories say the name was more a matter of convenience, a brand that could be easily applied to cattle by just turning a single bar several directions).

Take a tour of the State Capitol of Texas, a huge pink granite building that is over 300 feet high. Tours are free and leave from the south entrance every 15-30 minutes, seven days a week. The guides will tell you all sorts of interesting details about the history of the lovely building. A Texas tradition is to stand on the star that's on the rotunda floor, clap your hands or make some noise to hear the incredible echo, and then look at the gold star over your head and spin around until you get really dizzy. If you're touring behind a group of Texas school kids, you may have to wait your turn to have a spin.

The XIT ranch was intended as a new way of raising cattle - by confining them as opposed to raising them on the open range. To accomplish this the XIT ranch turned to barbed wire fencing. And it took a lot of wire. By 1885 476,000 acres had been fenced. Despite the destruction of much of the first fence in a prairie fire the fence builders continued their work until they had eventually completed fifteen hundred miles of barbed-wire fencing.

Although not created specifically to showcase barbed wire, the ranch in effect did just that. The XIT was an example - a huge example - of how barbed wire could effectively fence animals in in addition to being useful for farmers who wanted to keep animals out.

The successes of The Frying Pan and XIT ranches also served to ensure the preservation of the barbed wire industry after some unfortunate developments in the early to mid-1880s that threatened to stop the industry in its tracks.

---------- Forwarded message ----------

This story came from the "Daily Texan" - the University of Texas newspaper. Apparently it occured during Fall Premier - a UT tradition that is a celebration of the end of midterms.

"Reason to not party anymore"

This guy went out last Saturday night to a party. He was having a good time, had a couple of beers and some girl seemed to like him and invited him to go to another party. He quickly agreed and decided to go along with her. She took him to a party in some apartment and they continued to drink, and even got involved with some other drugs (unknown which).

The next thing he knew, he woke up completely naked in a bathtub filled with ice. He was still feeling the effects of the drugs, but looked around to see he was alone. He looked down at his chest, which had "CALL 911 OR YOU WILL DIE" written on it in lipstick.

He saw a phone was on a stand next to the tub, so he picked it up and dialed. He explained to the EMS operator what the situation was and that he didn't know where he was, what he took, or why he was really calling.

She advised him to get out of the tub. He did, and she asked him to look himself over in the mirror. He did, and appeared normal, so she told him to check his back. He did, only to find two 9 inch slits on his lower back. She told him to get back in the tub immediately, and they sent a rescue team over.

Apparently, after being examined, he found out more of what had happened. His kidneys were stolen. They are worth 10,000 dollars each on the black market. (I was unaware this even existed.) Several guesses are in order: The second party was a sham, the people involved had to be at least medical students, and it was not just recreational drugs he was given.

Regardless, he is currently in the hospital on life support, awaiting a spare kidney. The University of Texas in conjunction with Baylor University Medical Center is conducting tissue research to match the sophomore student with a donor.

I wish to warn you about a new crime ring that is targeting business travelers. This ring is well organized, well funded, has very skilled personnel, and is currently in most major cities and recently very active in New Orleans. The crime begins when a business traveler goes to a lounge for a drink at the end of the work day. A person in the bar walks up as they sit alone and offers to buy them a drink. The last thing the traveler remembers until they wake up in a hotel room bath tub, their body submerged to their neck in ice, is sipping that drink.

There is a note taped to the wall instructing them not to move and to call 911. A phone is on a small table next to the bathtub for them to call. The business traveler calls 911 who have become quite familiar with this crime. The business traveler is instructed by the 911 operator to very slowly and carefully reach behind them and feel if there is a tube protruding from their lower back. The business traveler finds the tube and answers, "Yes." The 911 operator tells them to remain still, having already sent paramedics to help.

The operator knows that both of the business traveler's kidneys have been harvested.

This is not a scam or out of a science fiction novel, it is real. It is documented and confirmable. If you travel or someone close to you travels, please be careful. Sadly, this is very true. My husband is a Houston firefighter/EMT and they have received alerts regarding this crime ring. It is to be taken very seriously. The daughter of a friend of a fellow firefighter had this happen to her. Skilled doctor's are performing these crimes! (which, by the way have been highly noted in the Las Vegas area). Additionally, the military has received alerts regarding this. This story blew me away. I really want as many people to see this as possible so please bounce this to whoever you can.


Claim:   The film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was based on a true story.

Status:   Sort of.

Origins:   When The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

hit movie theaters in 1974, it quickly supplanted the previous year's top horror flick, The Exorcist, as "the most terrifying movie ever made." Unlike The Exorcist, however, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre eschewed standard production values and modern special effects in  favor of a grainy documentary-like approach with decidedly low-tech visual effects. The tale of five young students who unwittingly meet up with a sinister hitchhiker, the mask-wearing maniac Leatherface (whose mask is actually made from dried human skin, not leather), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre turned "a lumberjack's tool into the stuff of nightmares and the blood-curdling scream into an art form," in the words of Toronto Star writer Melissa Aronzyk.

The 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been touted with the tagline "Inspired by a true story," leading many horror fans to wonder whether the grisly film was actually based on real events, or whether the claim is simply another bit of Hollywood promotion intended to attract filmgoers via the extra-chilling lure of a macabre tale not entirely the product of a screenwriter's imagination (a technique successfully used by the Coen brothers to entice viewers into suspending disbelief for 1996's Fargo, their gruesome cinematic depiction of a kidnapping-for-hire scheme gone awry).

Actually, the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been promoted as being "based on a true incident" for quite a few years now, as the original videocassette cover includes the following synopsis:

The film is an account of a tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare when they were exposed to an insane and macabre family of chain saw killers. One by one they disappear to be brutally butchered, each murder more horrendous than the last with one victim being hung live on a meat hook, another trapped in his wheelchair as he is hacked to death and the surviving member of the group making a frantic bid for escape in the horrific climax.

This video cassette is based on a true incident and is definitely not for the squeamish or the nervous.

So, true story or not? Certainly there was no real family of cannibalistic chainsaw murderers slaughtering people in Texas, nor any actual series of chainsaw-related killings. Writer/director Tobe Hooper said the inspiration for the film came from his spotting a display of chainsaws while standing in the hardware section of a crowded store:

I was in the Montgomery Ward's out in Capital Plaza. I had been working on this other story for some months about isolation, the woods, the darkness, and the unknown. It was around holiday season, and I found myself in the Ward's hardware department, and I was still kind of percolating on this idea of isolation and such. And those big crowds have always gotten to me. There were just so many people to go through. And I was just standing there in front of an upright display of chainsaws. And the focus just racked from my eyeball to the people to the saws and the idea popped. I said, "Ooh, I know how I could get out of this place fast if I just start one of these things up and make that sound." Of course I didn't. That was just a fantasy.

Hooper has also said that he based the character of Leatherface on Ed Gein, a Wisconsin farmer who robbed graves (his own mother's supposedly among them), allegedly engaged in necrophilia and cannibalism, and murdered at least two women in the 1950s (one of whose corpses was found hanging naked decapitated and disembowelled in Gein's residence). As Gunnar Hansen, the actor who portrayed Leatherface, notes in his Texas Chainsaw Massacre FAQ:

Here's what Tobe (director) and Kim (writer) told me themselves one night during the filming. They had heard of Ed Gein, the man in Plainfield, Wisconsin, who was arrested in the late 1950s for killing his neighbor and on whom the movie Psycho was based. So when they set out to write this movie, they decided to have a family of killers who had some of the characteristics of Gein: the skin masks, the furniture made from bones, the possibility of cannibalism. But that's all. The story itself is entirely made up. So, sorry folks. There never was a massacre in Texas on which this was based. No chainsaw either. And, in spite of those of you who have told me you remember when it happened, it really didn't happen. Really. Believe me. This is an interesting phenomenon. I've also had people tell me that they knew the original Leatherface, that they had been guards at the state prison in Huntsville, Texas, where he was a prisoner. Maybe they knew somebody who dreamed of being Leatherface. It is, I suppose, something to aspire to.

Police eventually discovered the remains of 15 different mutilated female bodies in Gein's filthy farmhouse, parts of which (mostly skin and bones) had been fashioned into a variety of bizarre objects (including drums, bowls, masks, bracelets, purses, knife sheaths, leggings, chairs, lampshades, and shirts), as well as a refrigerator full of human organs.

Gein later admitted to killing two women, one in 1954 and one in 1957. He was suspected of involvement in the disappearance of four other people in central Wisconsin (two men and two young girls) between 1947 and 1952, but the remains found in his farmhouse all came from adult females, and none of them matched up with any of the four missing persons. (Gein maintained that with the exception of the two women he had admitted killing, all of the body parts in his farmhouse had been taken from corpses he dug up in the local cemetery.)

Gein's story inspired (at least in part) the Norman Bates character a young man who murders women out of a twisted sense of loyalty to his dead mother in the classic thriller Psycho, and the Buffalo Bill character a transvestite serial killer who murders women to make use of their skin in the horror novel Silence of the Lambs. Although the the Leatherface character and the events depicted in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre differ in many substantial ways from what is known about the life and activities of Ed Gein (most notably in that Gein was apparently far more a grave robber than a murderer, and he didn't go around slicing up live victims with a chainsaw), there are definite similarities between the film and the Ed Gein story as well (e.g., hanging a murder victim's corpse in the house, making functional use of the skin from dead bodies, elements of cannibalism). Whether these similiarities are sufficiently close to justify the statement that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was "based on a true story" is up to filmgoers to decide for themselves.

Additional information:

    Crime Case Closed - Ed Gein   Crime Case Closed - Ed Gein   (BBC)

    Case File - Ed Gein   Case File - Ed Gein

    Eddie Gein   Eddie Gein   (Court TV)

Last updated:   15 October 2003


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Austin, TX
Guide Picks - Books by or about Austin, Texas Heroes and Legends
Our heroes, living legends, and famous characters make for some fascinating, entertaining, and often educational reading. This selection of books covers Texas celebrities from the world of sports, business, politics, and music � including some in their own words. Known just as well outside Texas as here in Austin, give a little bit of Texas celebrity to friends far away.
1) It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life
Lance Armstrong was a winner on a different front when he fought his way back from a devastating bout with cancer to later become a four-time Tour de France winner. This Austinite is an American hero.
2) Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire
The all-too-brief life of Texas blues-guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan is told by Austinites Joe N. Patoski and Bill Crawford. It covers his early years, his comeback from drug and alcohol addictions, and the final years before his death in a helicopter crash before the age of 40.
3) Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin
This classic biography by Myra Friedman explores the too-short life and music of this legendary rock musician from her birth in a small Texas town to her worldwide fame. Her short but memorable life included her years at the University of Texas and being involved in the early music scene in Austin.
4) Willie Nelson Sings America
This well-researched work looks at and into the recordings of our living legend. Stephen Opdyke and others include background on various recordings, Willie's memories, and notes from others involved in Willie's long musical career.
5) Direct From Dell: Strategies That Revolutionized an Industry
From a dorm room at the University of Texas to one of the leaders in the computer industry, it's the story of Michael Dell. In this book he looks at Dell's direct-selling method - both the history and the approach. Good reading for anyone who would like to learn from the success of Dell Computer.
6) Liz Carpenter: Girl from Salado
Betty W. Cox tells the story of this noted writer, journalist and former press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson.
7) There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos: A Political Subversion
Texan Jim Hightower assesses the political scene in no uncertain terms. Molly Ivins calls it "the best and most important book about out public life I've read in years."
8) A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House
You won't find any deep, dark family secrets revealed here but there are a lot of family memories and some peeks into the influences that shaped the life of George W. Bush. If you're expecting a book that "dishes the dirt," you'll be disappointed. What you can learn more about is his convictions and the Bush political philosophy.

9. Others: LBJ, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Robert Rodriguez, Rene Zellwegger,


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