True Crime Book Review: The Man From the Train by Bill James

The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery
Get a copy here

On June 9, 1912 in the town of Villisca, Iowa, all six members of the Moore family and two house guests were bludgeoned to death with an axe. An investigation yielded a number of suspects, one of whom was actually charged with the murders. But two trials later, the case remained unsolved. Bill James, a statistician, baseball analyst, and crime writer, set out to connect the Villisca Axe Murders to a single, prolific, and heretofore unnamed killer.

Between 1898 and 1912 dozens of families were bludgeoned to death in their sleep. These victims were in Nova Scotia, Florida, Oregon, Kansas, and Arkansas among other locations. During this time local police assumed most murders were committed by someone known to the victims. When they could not find a suspect, the cases went cold. James’ theory was the killer was an itinerant worker who used the railroad system to move about, slipping in and out of night under the cover of night. James believes he has correctly identified the man who murdered at least 59 people and could be responsible for another 94 deaths.

This is a meticulously researched book and the authors present a cogent argument against the The Man from the Train. His case is plausible and compelling, offering a fresh look at a number of 100 year old cold cases.

This was one of the first cases we discussed in Riverinos and it remains a group favorite. Feel free to join us Wednesday, January 19th at 7:00pm, when we talk about Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Register here and we’ll send you the Zoom link.