The Millions

An Aneurism of Axe Murders: On ‘The Man from the Train’

Between 1898 and 1912, a madman was loose in America. Dozens of families across the country were murdered in their beds, bludgeoned with the blunt side of an axe. Some of their houses were set on fire. The bodies of many victims—if they were prepubescent girls—were posed after death, and there was evidence that the killer masturbated at the crime scene. The most notorious of these murders, the June 1912 slaughter of the Moore family and their house guests in Villisca, Iowa, shocked the nation and remains a staple of lurid Midwest folklore. The case was never solved.

, by noted baseball statistician and his daughter , offers an explanation not only for the Villisca murders, but for scores of other cross-country killings that spooked America at the turn of the century. The Jameses have an advantage that contemporary reporters and investigators did not: namely, access to newspaper archives, digital maps, and spreadsheets. Based on deep-dive analysis, they argue—elegantly and, , and .

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