The Man From the Train

The Man From the Train

The Solving of A Century-old Serial Killer Mystery

Book - 2017
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"Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station. When ... baseball statistician and true crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2017
ISBN: 9781476796253
Branch Call Number: 364.15 JAM 2017
Characteristics: pages cm
Additional Contributors: James, Rachel McCarthy - Author


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Aug 18, 2018

I love reading about historic true crime, and this is one of the best books I’ve ever read - and not just in the genre, but period. “The Man From The Train” is well-written, intensively researched with citations, and tells the story of a set of serial killings that took place early in the 20th century. Unlike Jack the Ripper, most people have never heard of this series of murders. If the Jameses (father and daughter) are correct, this killer murdered many more people and was on the prowl for more than a decade, almost coast to coast.

The Jameses begin in medias res, with a killing they believe is in the middle of the extended spree of brutality. They then move forward in time, presenting both the method of the killings and the signature aspects - those that are not related to the actual commission of the crime but is needed for the murderer in some way. For example, some killers feel a need to wash or put makeup on their victims after death. The Jameses painstakingly note the similarities and the differences in killings across the country and present their case for whether they think a case is part of the series or not.

This was not easy research. In one chapter, they recount the differences in forensics and journalism between now and the early 20th century. This gives them the chance to show how accustomed we’ve become to things like fingerprinting (in its infancy at the time), well-funded police forces, and a news media that at least sometimes does more than pay lip service to telling the truth. Frequently arrests were made and then the person released, with and without that release being subsequently publicized. Cars were a new thing, as was indoor plumbing and electricity over much of the country. Yet there are tens of deaths over more than a decade with certain important elements in common.

The one that most caught my attention is that many were performed with an axe, but as a bludgeon instead of using the cutting edge. That is unusual. The Jameses make a point of how common axes were at the time in almost every dwelling, but to strike with the blunt side is noteworthy. They also note the location in reference to at least one and usually multiple railway lines, which would have worked as well for escape as modern interstates.

Then they go back in time to the late 1800s, to try to find the start of the spree. They make the argument that the killings they presented first show an accomplished murderer, and wanted to see if they could pinpoint the first crime. Finally, they present their theory for who the killer may have been.

Frankly, I found “The Man From The Train” to be more engaging than any Jack the Ripper book I’ve ever read. I liked it better than any book by Ann Rule, including “The Stranger Beside Me,” and it blows “Helter Skelter” right out of the water. If you like true crime, you should definitely give this one a chance! Five of five stars.

Jul 19, 2018

An interesting thesis and story about a number of murders mostly in the early 20th century. The book is well researched and the points are well made unfortunately the writing style and narrative suffer from informality and "breaking the fourth wall" A bit long but worth reading if you enjoy the true crime genre.

Jun 06, 2018

This book has a great story in it, but is ruined by awful writing. The narrative is choppy and the writing resembles an eighth grader's rough draft. The book is meticulously researched and the story is fascinating, but the awful prose and clumsy transitions ruined the reading experience

May 07, 2018

An interesting approach to introducing the crimes. The author provides charts of the timelines of crimes and victims at the end of each section of the book. This is well organized and a helpful reference. The writing style is contemporary and objective. A sad tale but well researched and a profound commentary on turn of the century criminal justice in America.

Apr 18, 2018

I agree with one of the reviews that said this book could have used a good editor. This book of 400 plus pages could have easily been reduced to 250 pages. The writing was often redundant and silly. I was expecting a book along the lines of The Devil in the White City, which is far superior to this version of an old Police Gazette. Detailed research doesn't excuse poor writing for this book.

Jan 08, 2018

REVIEW: Spanning the United States, this is a fascinating look at unsolved murders committed along the rail lines around the turn of the century, basically from 1898 to around 1913. From a few central murders that had information available (notably Vallisca, Iowa), the authors work forward and backward in time to piece together a map and a timeline for “ the man from the train.” What is written is an incredible accounting of ax murders across the USA in a span of about 15 years. Each main occurrence is examined as a “man from the train” murder and “marked” with pros and cons to support.
This is a rambling account of numerous ax murders, and many have criticized the layout and comments in the book.
In my view, this is written in the style that these authors had to use in their quest to both chart the killings and attempt to identify this killer. Police techniques, private investigator antics, forensic evidence available, and lack of nationwide news service makes this is a lesson in history, in research, and in true crime.
Note- IF you expect a tightly written first to last account with all questions answered, this is not the book for you.

Dec 11, 2017

While this book may have been meticulously researched, it could have used a good editor. The jokes are lame and inappropriate, given the subject matter. And the details could have been put in an appendix. Quite the slog.

ArapahoeLesley Dec 10, 2017

A quote from the authors represents the struggles I had with this book.

"We're not sociologists or psychologists or criminologists or detectives. We're not even real historians. We're just writers."

This book is overly long, written very oddly and could have used some dedicated editing, and I disliked how the authors spoke directly to me and made jokes as if we were sitting down to coffee. And there were so many statements about train routes, distances from train lines, and whole series of murders in routine directions and distances, but no maps or drawings to show me. That was unfortunate.

But I can see the dedication and the obsession of solving these crimes about which they did great research. The crimes themselves are chilling and the author's suppositions weren't too bad and I really liked the big reveal at the end.

AnnabelleLee27 Nov 17, 2017

Facinating true-crime book which examines and successfully attempts to find the man behind a series of axe murders committed from 1898 through 1912 (including the well known1912 Moore family murder in Villisca, Iowa). Bill James, a baseball statistician & historian, & his daughter, Rachel McCarthy James, analyze and present a chillingly compelling view of a wandering serial killer which they put in historical context with a view of psychology, life, society and law enforcement of that time period. The tone is conversational & sprinkled with dry humor (warning - this will not be to everyone's taste) but the authors insist that the reader recognize the humanity of the victims and those who were falsely accused - some of whom were lynched or executed. The final reveal of the killer is convincing and satisfying.


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