Prof. Bennett L. Gershman of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University has reviewed a new book, The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth. In his review, The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer. Prof. Gershman lends his prosecutorial eye to Hollandsworth’s written account of an unsolved series of murders – believed it to be the America’s first serial killer case. Prof. Gershman writes
Set in Austin, Texas—the capitol of the newly minted Lone Star state— The Midnight Assassin recounts a series of eight ghastly murders that were committed during the years 1884 and 1885. More like annihilations, these butcheries incited panic and paranoia in this frontier town of 17,000 people, and undermined municipal efforts to make Austin a mecca of prosperity and modernism.
The killer was never caught, although tantalizing clues point to several potential suspects. Some observers believe that the killer fled Texas, traveled to London, and recreated himself into the legendary Whitechapel killer famously known as “Jack the Ripper.”
Prof. Gershman mentions a PBS TV documentary that identified the killer as 19-year old Nathan Elgin, who was allegedly apprehended at a crime scene, whose involvement was supported by additional circumstantial evidence, and after whose death these killings stopped. Yet, Hollandsworth discounts this possibility in his book leaving readers with a well-written dramatic story of one of the oldest (and almost forgotten) murder mysteries in the history of America.
- Bennett L. Gershman, The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer, New York Law Journal of Books (2016).
- The Servant Girl Murders, Austin, Texas 1885 – The Servant Girl Annihilator.
- Rebecca Salinas, Look Back at the Serial Killer that Terrorized Austin in the 1880s, MySA (Apr. 28, 2015).
- Skip Hollandsworth, Capital Murder: Who Murdered Seven Women and One Man in Austin in a Brutal Year-Long Spree that Began in Late 1884? I’m Hunted by the Details of his Crimes – and I’m not Alone, Texas Monthly (July 2000).
- Travis Willmann, Interview: James Galloway on The Servant Girl Murders, Ephemera News – Tex Libris (Jul. 10, 2014).
- PBS TV, HDSI – Texas Servant Girl Murders, History Detectives Special Investigations (Season 11).
- Macabre Tourist, Servant Girl Annihilator, YouTube (Jun. 5, 2015).
- Servant Girl Annihilator, Wikipedia.
As lohud.com reports, a select group of Pace students (Luis Rosario Rodriguez, Ryan Koleda, Maria Ouzlian, Jonathan Campozano, Amy O’Donohue, Karine P. Patino) along with Miguel Sanchez-Robles, Rebecca Merton, and professors Vanessa Merton, Thomas M. McDonnell, and Vikki Rogers, spent their ‘2016 spring break’ in Dilley, Texas assisting the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project by offering legal assistance to women and children apprehended by ICE who are seeking asylum status in the United States. This was an intense and intimate lawyering experience for the students in the Pace Immigration Justice Clinic, lead by Prof. Merton, who worked closely with detained Central American children and mothers in the country’s largest family immigration detention center. Not only were the students able to work with the incredibly intricate and arcane immigration asylum law – many of these women and children face physical danger or death in their native countries – but they did so in a context that, as one of the students reported, required them to gain sufficient trust to make the representation effective. As result of their efforts, more than 90 women and children were released to join family members already residing in the United States.
- Adrienne Sanders, Pace Students, Profs Help Asylum Seekers in Texas, Lohud the Journal News (May 2, 2016).
- Madlin Mekelburg, State Sued for Licensing Detention Centers, The Texas Tribune (May 3, 2016).
- AILA, CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, AILA Doc. No. 14100656 (Apr. 5, 2016).
- Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, Texas Officials Want Controversial Family Detention Centers to be Labeled as ‘Child Care’ Centers, Think Progress – Immigration (Feb. 8, 2016).
- Grassroots Leadership, The Facts About Family Detention: A List of Resources, Facts, and Media Coverage on Family Detention (Feb. 29, 2016).
- National Immigratnt Justice Center, Stop Detaining Families (last visited May 4, 2016).
- Migration and Refugee Services / United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Demanding Dignity: The Call to End Family Detention (2014).
- US ICE, ICE’s New Family Detention Center in Dilley, Texas to Open in December (Nov. 17, 2014).
- Department of Homeland Security, US ICE, Supplemental Environmental Assessment for Housing of Family Units at the South Faxas Family Residential Center, Dilley, Texas
- CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project
- US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, South Texas Family Residential Center
- South Texas Family Residential Center
The Houston Chronicle reports that in Texas
thousands of cases are being reviewed for testimony about DNA odds that may have been given using outdated guidelines that inflated the likelihood a defendant had touched a murder weapon or another piece of evidence.
Developments in DNA technology had revolutionized the use of DNA evidence in criminal trials and had played a major role in the efforts to uncover wrongful convictions.
Although those involved in innocence litigation know that Texas has a very bad record in wrongful convictions, particularly based on DNA, in the words of Barry Scheck (a co-founder of the Innocence Project), “Texas is the only place that’s systematically trying to correct it.”
In case you didn’t have a chance to read this when it first came out, we bring to you another post by Professor Bennett L. Gershman, titled On the Death of Raynette Turner.
Prof. Gershman introduces his piece by saying,
The fifth death of a woman of color in US police custody in July. An unspeakable tragedy by itself, but arguably symbolic of the legal profession’s failure to examine the factual and logical foundation for our system of modern policing and mass incarceration.
The prosecutor in the Michael Morton case in Texas, in which the defendant was exonerated, has pled guilty to criminal contempt for intentional non-disclosure of exculpatory evidence and will give up his law license, perform 500 hours of community service, and serve 10 days in jail. Among the withheld evidence was the account of an eyewitness, the defendant’s son, who said he was not the murderer.
No matter what one’s views are on this unprecedented event, it should raise consciousness about the risk of withholding substantial exculpatory evidence and risking the conviction of an innocent person.