The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James Download (read online) free eBook .pdf.epub.kindle

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

2018 Edgar Award Finalist—Best Fact Crime

Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies 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 thei

Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies 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. 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 celebrated baseball statistician and 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. In turn, they uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America.

Riveting and immersive, with writing as sharp as the cold side of an axe, 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.
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    Julie

    Oct 25, 2017

    rated it
    really liked it

    The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James is a 2017 Scribner publication.

    A most unorthodox approach to True Crime, but interesting and fascinating.

    Right from the start, the author explains he mainly writes books about baseball. I know nothing about the sport or the statistics that Bill James writes about. But, whatever it is he writes about the sport, it obviously requires the ability to analyze, theorize, and puzzle out

    A most unorthodox approach to True Crime, but interesting and fascinating.

    Right from the start, the author explains he mainly writes books about baseball. I know nothing about the sport or the statistics that Bill James writes about. But, whatever it is he writes about the sport, it obviously requires the ability to analyze, theorize, and puzzle out various probable outcomes. For some his name is very recognizable, but this is my introduction to his writing.

    When Bill stumbled across ‘the first crime’, his natural instincts prompted him to scratch beneath the surface and do a little digging. Before long he had found several other similar crimes, and so he commissioned his daughter, Rachel, to help him with the research.

    This book is the result of what looks like a great deal of painstaking and time consuming exploration. The sheer volume of crimes is shocking. We are talking about WHOLE FAMILIES that were slaughtered!! But, uncovering similar crimes was only the beginning.

    The authors attempt to connect the dots and find commonalities between these ghastly killings hoping to find a pattern that would link the crimes, which would hopefully lead to pinpointing whom ‘the man from the train’ might be.

    True Crime enthusiast might be taken aback by the writing style or approach the author chose to employ. He speaks to the reader as though is expects them to be highly skeptical, imploring them to just hear him out, to try out his theory, to look at what facts are available, to take into consideration the approach to crime solving nearly a century ago, to see if maybe he might be on to something after all.

    Sometimes, it felt as though he were speaking to me directly, which was effective in that I found myself paying rapt attention to his narrative, almost as though I were a student and he a professor. I think I absorbed more details that way, but I also felt like he was trying too hard sometimes, or trying to sell me snake oil on a few occasions. But, I enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to exercise my critical thinking skills.

    However, there were times he mentioned a random event or crime, then told me he had no intention of delving into that situation, or he would get back to it later, or that it had nothing to do with these crimes, which was very distracting, and I wondered why he even brought it up in the first place.

    But, I did find myself caught up in his enthusiasm, and was determined to keep an open mind. It is obvious that besides the research, that much thought went into how these crimes were connected- or not- in some cases. He explains why those arrested or suspected were probably innocent, and proceeds to lay out a case for the defense or prosecution, as the case may be.

    As the title of the book suggests, Bill believes the killer traveled by train, chose victims close to a train depot, perhaps to put distance between himself and his crimes once they had been committed.

    Law enforcement typically looked inward at those living nearby, or connected to the community in some way, and often pinned the crimes on the uneducated, the poor, or minorities. Some suspects were convicted without due process and some were released due to lack of evidence.

    The murders do have a few striking similarities- an ax was always the murder weapon, no valuables were stolen, and the victims lived close to a railway track or depot, just to name a few.

    The author laid out each instance of mass murder, the towns in which they lived, the suspects, and if they believed the murders were linked or not. It is an amazing and surreal connection of dots, but sadly, there is not on shred of actual concrete proof, forensics, witnesses, etc. If this case were indeed brought into a court of law and presented before a jury, it would all be circumstantial conjecture.

    The authors do eventually present their prime suspect, then proceeded to apply a unique mathematical percentage method to measure the probability their guy could have committed each individual set of murders, how he may have selected each family, how he escaped, and how he remained at large, and if or why he may have stopped killing.

    The one downside, is that the title is just a bit misleading, since it is really up to you, the reader, to decide to convict based on the information presented. You may or may not believe the case is solved.

    Overall, this was a very fascinating read, with a fresh approach and presentation. It is nearly impossible to know for certain if they have guessed the real identity of the ‘man on the train’, or if these mostly forgotten crimes are indeed the work of one killer, but I think the authors did an amazing job of collecting evidence and researching police procedures of the era in question.

    I’m on the fence about how much stock I put into the some of the author’s theories , but overall, I believe they make a compelling case.

    3.5 stars rounded up


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    Nancy Oakes

    Sep 29, 2017

    rated it
    it was ok

    This book has a great premise, to be sure — in a 2016 article in The New Yorker Mr. James notes that

    “… a hundred and four years ago eight people are found dead, murdered with an axe, inside this locked house, in a quiet, small town in the southern part of Iowa. It’s a famous crime, and the reason that it became famous is that at the time it was obvious that it was the latest in a series of similar attacks. I had the idea that I’ll bet there are others like this which have not been tied to th

    “… a hundred and four years ago eight people are found dead, murdered with an axe, inside this locked house, in a quiet, small town in the southern part of Iowa. It’s a famous crime, and the reason that it became famous is that at the time it was obvious that it was the latest in a series of similar attacks. I had the idea that I’ll bet there are others like this which have not been tied to the same murderer, because at the time they didn’t have the methods you have now to connect the dots between unrelated events. So I started looking for them, and I found several.””

    He also claims to have discovered the identity of the murderer who had eluded justice for years, with crimes going back to 1898. However, rather than being the “compelling” or “dramatic” book promised by the dustjacket blurb, this has to have been one of the most frustrating, amateurish and utterly confusing true-crime accounts I’ve ever read.

    Why this is the case you can discover here at my reading journal; otherwise, I’ll just give a summary here.

    First, the lack of any sort of bibliography or footnotes is just wrong when someone is writing an historical account. While he does say that “it is inadequate to acknowledge in a footnote those whose work you use,” and that he feels that “sources should be directly acknowledged in the text,” and that he “tried to do this throughout the book,” that’s just not always true. Another issue: the author makes assumptions about the killer that have absolutely no factual basis; not only that, but then after he’s made one statement, he contradicts himself later. In one huge example, he notes that the murderer “likely” lived around Marianna, Florida between 1901 and 1903 but then fails to elaborate any further. Third, when in some cases he’s decided that The Man From the Train was responsible for a particular crime but it doesn’t fit into the author’s pattern, he makes it fit. As just one example he tries to justify including a murder in North Carolina in 1906 where the killer left people alive (which he hadn’t done before) he says that the killer “heard a train coming.” Not “may have heard a train coming,” or “probably heard a train coming,” but “heard a train coming” and therefore decided to catch it, implying that he was in a hurry to get out of town.

    And then there’s the fact that after he’s taken us through a whopping 121 murders, some in chapters that could have been left completely out of the book, he tells us that while “the authors do not believe that all 121 murders were committed by the same man,” they do believe that a “substantial number” can be attributed to him; that gets narrowed down on page 336 to ” “perhaps fourteen crimes about which we have enough information to be certain they were committed by the same man.” So why write about all 121 and not focus just on the fourteen? That makes no sense at all and fills the book with a lot of unnecessary details and way more conjecture than fact.

    Finally, the writing style and I did NOT get along, but I will say that when his daughter takes the reins in the last few chapters, it was like a breath of fresh air after sitting through a thoroughly disorganized, meandering, not-so-well written rest of the book by her father.

    I was so disappointed here because of the premise and I’d been looking forward to this one for a long time. It is getting some wonderful ratings and reviews, but in this case, not from me. It’s one where you’ll have to decide for yourself, I suppose.
    …more

    Tom Mathews

    Years ago, I read on a website listing top unsolved murders a report of the 1911 murders of six people in two adjacent houses on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. These murders were of particular interest to me as I once lived on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. Both families were apparently bludgeoned in their sleep in the middle of the night. Nothing was stolen and the houses were then closed up and the murder weapon, a bloody axe, was found leaning against the wall of one of the hous

    So when Scribner announced recently that a book was soon to be released about a string of serial killings that occurred mostly between the years 1910 and 1912 in which an unknown person used an axe or similar item found at the scene to murder families in their beds in houses near railroad tracks (the 300 block of West Dale is less than three blocks from the D&RGW tracks), I knew this was a book I had to read.

    Thank god I waited until a library copy was available.

    While the book contains a lot of fascinating information about a truly horrific series of murders, the writing is wretched beyond words. Author Bill James began his career by self-publishing books on the statistical analytics of baseball, a springboard which secured him a job with the Boston Red Sox and a reputation that was said to influence Nate Silvers Fivethirtyeight.com and The Upshot at the New York Times. In 2011, though, he decided to change course and published Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, a disjointed mishmash about a wide variety of notorious criminal cases. He does not shy away from unlikely theories, as indicated by his assertion that President Kennedy was killed by the accidental discharge of a Secret Service officer’s weapon.

    James’ conversational tone may work well in writing about baseball games but when talking about murderers, or more importantly, their victims, folksy banter comes off as disrespectful and just plain weird.

    “After their marriage they moved to Centerville, Ohio, where they boarded with Mr. and Mrs. George W. Coe. (We might say they coe-habited with them [you might, but you shouldn’t]…Anna’s maiden name was—”Axxe”really—but we’re going to let that pass without comment.”[You should have, but didn’t])

    In other cases James’ tone is almost conspiratorial which make me feel in need of a shower.

    Something in the room would later cause the chief detective to describe the perpetrator as a “moral pervert”; what that was was never revealed, but you and I know.

    Shudder!

    In one chapter he lists four reasons why a particular set of killings should not be considered as one of this series with the first reason being that there was insufficient information to include it. Then he immediately offers ten reasons why it should be included ending with “The absence of any factor that would make us think that it isn’t him.” In short, he has two contradictory lists that each say that there is no data belonging in the other list. Go figure.

    Bottom line: I’m torn on how to rank this as I’d like to give it five stars for the material but only one star for the writing which is abominable. The only thing that is keeping me reading it is the desire to find out what happens but the author’s history of favoring unlikely conspiracy theories makes me wonder if I will be able to trust his conclusions. Additionally, the book is lacking an index, footnotes, pictures, or much in the way of maps that would help readers gain a better understanding of the case. While the material in this book is very interesting, the author makes enjoying the book all but impossible. The writing is disjointed. He regularly refers to cases which have yet to be mentioned in the book. At one point he admitted that newspaper accounts of a certain murder exist but admitted that he hadn’t bothered to read them. I can’t be sure what research he actually did and what material he lifted from the research of others. Sometimes I wonder why I keep reading this, and yet I do. It’s like watching a car wreck. I can’t turn away.

    FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
    *5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
    *4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
    *3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or even memorable.
    *2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
    *1 Star – The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.
    …more