Did Jack The Ripper’s Life Of Crime Begin In Austin?

A novelist explores similarities between the famous London killings, and a string of murders in 1880s Austin.

By Laura RiceFebruary 27, 2018 11:50 am

In the fall of 1888, Jack the Ripper wreaked havoc in the London community of Whitechapel. The killer targeted prostitutes. No one was ever prosecuted for these particularly gruesome crimes. A similar set of killings happened during the same era, right here in Texas.

In 1884 and 1885 in Austin, an unknown killer targeted maids. Several of them were African-American. The killer was tagged with the moniker, The Servant Girl Annihilator.

In both crime sprees, the slayings stopped as abruptly as they began. What we were left with were rumors and hearsay that became something close to legends – legends many believe may have been connected by a single killer.

A Central Texas author has taken a stab – so to speak – at putting an end to the debate over the identity of this killer. Ernie Lee is a poet and writer from Canyon Lake. Lee has written a fictional account, simply titled “Him” in which he reconciles the two sets of killings.

Lee found inspiration for his novel in the factual accounts of Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly.

“There are a lot of similarities between the two sets of killings, but also many differences as well,” says Lee. “The police report of a [sea crewman] named Dodge claimed that he overheard a fellow shipmate, a man named Maurice, threaten to kill all the prostitutes in England. Previous to that he [Maurice] had worked here in Austin. He worked at the Pearl Street Hotel on Sixth Street.”

“I didn’t avoid the facts. I did a tremendous amount of research,” says Lee. “I just kind of had a feeling that this Malaysian cook, this Maurice, was somehow connected. But I didn’t have any way to tie him to the murders, any more than the police of that time did. Until I began my research and I discovered some things that point directly toward Maurice as the culprit.”

According to Lee, stories about killers like Jack the Ripper and the Servant Girl Annihilator stay with us precisely because they are unsolved.

“Because so many questions remain unanswered,” says Lee, “we’re left free to make our own conclusions.”

Written by Christopher De Los Santos.

Casey Cheek/Texas Standard

Casey Cheek/Texas Standard

Author Ernie Lee discusses his book, “Him.”