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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An Edgar Award finalist for Best Fact Crime, this " investigative inquiry wrapped within a cultural history of rural America" ( The Wall Street Journal ) shows legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applying his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Some of these cases--like the infamous Villisca, Iowa, murders--received national attention. But most incidents went almost unnoticed outside the communities in which they occurred. 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 celebrated true crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern. Applying the same know-how he brings to his legendary baseball analysis, he empirically determined which crimes were committed by the same person. Then after sifting through thousands of local newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he and his daughter Rachel made an astonishing discovery: they learned the true identity of this monstrous criminal and uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America.

"A suspenseful historical account" ( Publishers Weekly , starred review), The Man from the Train paints a vivid, psychologically perceptive portrait of America at the dawn of the twentieth century, when crime was regarded as a local problem, and opportunistic private detectives exploited a dysfunctional judicial system. James shows how these cultural factors enabled such an unspeakable series of crimes to occur, and his groundbreaking approach to true crime will convince skeptics, amaze aficionados, and change the way we view criminal history. "A beautifully written and extraordinarily researched narrative...This is no pure whodunit, but rather a how-many-did-he-do" ( Buffalo News ).
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2017.
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781476796260
Branch Call Number: 364.1523209
Characteristics: xi, 464 pages ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: James, Rachel McCarthy - Author


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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.

AL_LESLEY 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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