Who murdered seven women and one man in Austin in a brutal year-long spree that began in late 1884? I’m haunted by the details of his crimes—and I’m not alone.
You would not have been able to turn away if you had seen her. Her name was Eula Phillips—Luly, her best friends called her—and in 1885 she was one of the loveliest young women in Austin. Her skin was pale, her eyes soft and contemplative, her dark, curling hair swept back from her temples. She wore billowy white dresses. One enchanted newspaper reporter described her as “beautiful, frail.”
Although she was descended from two of Texas’ most prominent pioneer families—one of her grandfathers was a member of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony—Eula was the perfect symbol of the new Texas that was finally emerging after the long, painful years of Reconstruction. Only two decades before, Austin had been a rustic cowtown with a population below 5,000. Cattle and hogs ran wild in the streets. But in 1885 the city was on the verge of modernity, its 23,000 residents riding on mule-drawn streetcars, talking on party-line telephones, dining on quail at Dick Bulion’s restaurant, taking in performances at the newly refurbished Millet’s Opera House, just off Congress Avenue, and then visiting the ice-cream parlor run by Mr. J. Prade, an enterprising young man who not only built a steam engine to run cooling equipment for making his dessert treats but diverted some of the air to cool his establishment during the summer.
Austin had all the makings of an urban paradise—the Athens of the West, some called it. Young scholars had their pick of three colleges; besides the two-year-old University of Texas, which could barely accommodate its 250 students, there was the newly chartered St. Edward’s College, which catered to Irish-Catholic immigrants, and the Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute, for black students. The downtown bookstore, Gammel’s, had more than 10,000 volumes for sale. Nearby on Congress Avenue was Miss Barber’s art studio, which offered classes in oil painting. More than nine hundred workers were constructing a new state capitol, a towering monument of pink granite, and the cattle baron Jesse Driskill announced that he would build the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi: the four-story, $400,000 Driskill Hotel, at the corner of Pecan (now Sixth Street) and Brazos. On July 4, 1885, an estimated six thousand Austinites gathered to celebrate the laying of the Driskill’s cornerstone. Electric lights were strung across the streets. A brass band played. Mumm’s extra-dry champagne was served to the crowd, and Mayor John Robertson proclaimed in his speech, “No city in the state has a promise of a more healthful prosperity.”
At that moment, as the crowd cheered and raised their glasses to toast a gilded age, it was hard to imagine that anything could go wrong. Yet something already was—something rarely seen in American life, and never before in Texas. A cold, calculating killer, his identity unknown, was stalking the women of Austin. The attacks had begun nearly a year earlier, targeting the black servants of the city’s wealthiest white families. Some victims were only injured, having been able to make their escape or scream in time to scare off the attacker. Others weren’t so fortunate. In late 1884 a black cook named Mollie Smith was found laid out in the snow next to the outhouse behind her employer’s home, a gaping hole in her head. A few months later, Eliza Shelly, who cooked for the family of a former state legislator, was discovered by her young children on the floor of the room where they’d been sleeping, her head nearly cleaved in two by an ax.
Three weeks after Shelly’s death, a third black servant, Irene Cross, was sliced up with a knife. A reporter who spoke with the dying woman said she looked as if she had been scalped. That September, a servant named Rebecca Ramey was knocked unconscious while she slept, and her eleven-year-old daughter, Mary, was dragged to a backyard washhouse, stabbed through the ear with an iron rod, and raped. Then came the murders of Gracie Vance and her boyfriend, Orange Washington, who were sleeping in a shanty behind the house where Gracie’s boss lived. The attacker hit Washington on the skull with an ax, then carried Vance to a stable on the property, where she was later found, “her head almost beaten into a jelly,” according to a story in the Austin Daily Statesman.
If there was one consolation for white Austin, it was that the killer seemed interested only in black women. But on Christmas Eve, 1885—after students at the State Institute for the Blind had given their concert, after the famous Presbyterian minister R. K. Smoot had completed his sermon—all hell broke loose. The body of Sue Hancock, a white woman described by one reporter as “one of the most refined ladies in Austin,” was discovered by her husband in their back yard, almost exactly where the Four Seasons Hotel is today. Her head had been split open by an ax, and a sharp, thin object was lodged in her brain.
About an hour later, Eula Phillips was found dead in the wealthiest neighborhood in the city, near where the Austin Public Library stands today. Her nude body was in an unlit alley behind her father-in-law’s home, where she had been living with her husband, Jimmy Phillips, Jr., and their young son. Jimmy was in bed, nearly unconscious, a severe gash in the back of his head. The little boy was next to him, unharmed, holding an apple. Eula was found by following the trail of blood from the bedroom. Her skull had been bashed in by an ax, and heavy pieces of timber had been placed across her arms, as if to keep her pinned down during the attack. And she had been raped. A writer for the Fort Worth Gazette, one of many Texas journalists who rushed to the scene, reported that Eula was on her back, her face “turned upward in the dim moonlight with an expression of agony that death itself had not erased from the features.”
It is a spellbinding narrative, A multilayered tale of murder, insanity, and mystery replete with shocking twists and turns. It is a startling pastiche of late-nineteenth-century characters, from the most elite figures of Austin society to the poorest African Americans. Yet amazingly, it is almost entirely absent from the annals of history. Novelist Steven Saylor, who grew up in Goldthwaite and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, did use the murders as the basis for his recent book, A Twist at the End (Simon and Schuster), in which short story writer O. Henry—who actually lived in Austin in 1885 under his real name, William Sydney Porter—uncovers the killer’s identity. But that’s fiction. As far as I can tell, other than a couple of brief newspaper articles and a few sentences in a history book and an academic journal, nothing fact-based has ever been published on what really happened.
One reason that the story is so little known is that another flamboyant murderer, Jack the Ripper, came along a mere three years after the Austin killer. His disemboweling of five prostitutes in Victorian London—and the letters that he, or someone claiming to be him, wrote to the newspapers describing the murders—so captivated the world’s attention that he is the subject of hundreds of books, articles, plays, and film scripts.
But there are a handful of amateur researchers in Texas—and I proudly claim to be one—who find far more drama in the Austin killer’s rampage. Occasionally, you’ll see one of us at the Austin History Center, at the public library, or at the Center for American History at UT-Austin, staring slack-jawed at the old Texas newspapers preserved on microfilm, digging through faded city records, poring over century-old photos. Other library patrons think we’re as nutty as Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists, and maybe we are. Among the Austin killer buffs I’ve gotten to know is Allan McCormack, a 34-year-old database programmer who spent nearly five years copying down every Statesman story written between 1877 and 1910 that had anything to do with the killings or suggested an escalating pattern of crime. Terry Jones, a 50-year-old archaeologist, studies contemporary FBI research on serial killers in order to analyze the 1885 killings. Jeanine Plumer, a 36-year-old packager of historical tours of the city, is so consumed with the killings that she has mapped out a route that takes people to the exact spots where each victim was found. Nicole Krizak, a 26-year-old high school teacher, spends her weekends attempting to prove that the Austin killer and Jack the Ripper were the same person. One afternoon, we met at the library after she thought she had found evidence linking the two. When it didn’t pan out, she leaned against a microfilm machine and burst into tears. “I won’t stop until I find the truth,” she whispered to me between sobs.
I understood exactly how she felt. When I began researching this story more than a year ago, my first impulse was to quit my job and do nothing else. It wasn’t just the suspense that gripped me; on a more intellectual level, the killings were a gruesome foretaste of the kind of violence that was to come in America, especially in the rapidly growing cities. The Austin killer was one of the first of the modern criminals, a monstrous sadist with a colossal, uncontrollable fury toward women that manifested itself in rapes and brutal murders committed out of sheer spite. Unlike Jack the Ripper, who confined his attacks to the prostitutes in a poor district of London, the Austin killer boldly crisscrossed his city, hunting down women regardless of race or class, striking quickly on moonlit nights and then vanishing just as quickly, often leaving behind a bloody ax.
In the process he brought Austin to the brink of chaos. When word spread of the Christmas Eve massacre, men raced from their homes “bordering on frenzy,” according to one reporter’s account, and gathered on Congress Avenue. “BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD! Last Night’s Horrible Butchery!” screamed the headline in the next day’s Statesman. The lines grew long at Austin’s gun shops. When supplies of new weapons ran out, would-be vigilantes hauled out rusty ones last used by their fathers and grandfathers during the Texas Revolution. Many older black residents, convinced that the killer had supernatural powers, burned candles in their homes throughout the night to protect themselves.
In an extraordinary Christmas Day meeting, more than five hundred city and business leaders, lawyers, doctors, and clergymen met to devise a plan to stop the killings. There were proposals to light the entire city at night with huge lamps. Governor John Ireland suggested that fire alarms be set off whenever the next attack occurred so that everyone could come out of their houses fully armed to hunt the killer down. A bombastic former Confederate general suggested that sentinels be stationed around Austin to prevent anyone from leaving and that all those within the city be strictly questioned as to their whereabouts on the night of the murders.
None of it would be necessary. Just as suddenly and as inexplicably as they had begun, the attacks stopped. The city was left reeling, torn by questions and consumed with suspicions about who the killer was. And many of those questions, it turned out, revolved around the death of Eula Phillips.
The investigation was hampered, in a textbook kind of way, by incompetence and a clash of egos. More than a year before the killings began, Grooms Lee, the confident but lackadaisical young son of a powerful local politician, was chosen as Austin’s police chief. In 1884 a group of aldermen tried unsuccessfully to have Lee impeached because many of the twelve officers on the force spent more time at the saloons and bordellos in Austin’s “Guy Town” area than they did patrolling the streets. After rumors emerged that city money was missing, the chief clerk at the police station skipped town, and there were allegations that a few officers had committed robberies themselves. Not exactly a crack squad capable of corralling a serial killer.
Of course, at that time the phrase “serial killer” had not even been coined. No one had thought of studying crime scenes to help create a psychological profile of a killer. Fingerprinting and blood-typing hadn’t been invented yet. Like other police departments around the country, Austin’s relied on trained bloodhounds to track suspects. Each night that a body was found, the pack, led by a large, snarling bloodhound named Old George, sniffed for scents at the scene of the crime, then raced up and down the unpaved streets of the city, baying at the top of their lungs.
When the murders began, the consensus within white Austin was that no white man would have any reason to mutilate a black servant woman. As a result, Lee focused his attention on black men. Because bloody footprints were often found around the bodies of the victims, some black men were arrested on suspicion of murder simply because they were found not wearing shoes. Others were arrested because they were reputed to be bad characters. One of those jailed off and on during the murders was described in the newspapers as “the great American chicken lifter.”
In contrast to other Southern cities, Austin had been accommodating toward its black population. Former governor E. M. Pease had given his onetime slaves several acres of land in West Austin; those acres were later christened Clarksville, the city’s second black neighborhood. Although racism was a given (a white servant woman in Austin could make $20 a week, three times the amount paid to a black servant woman), Austin’s black community was bustling. By 1885 a few black entrepreneurs even owned businesses along mostly white Pecan Street. The most popular black saloon, the Black Elephant, was located there, as was a black grocery.
The Austin killings, however, upended the city’s race relations. An editorial in the usually progressive Statesman claimed that the perpetrator had to be a Negro afflicted by “idleness and drink.” Some white citizens felt justified in arguing that, deep down, blacks would always be savages. Innocent black men found themselves on the run from Lee’s hound dogs, which they called “nigger hounds,” because they believed the dogs had been trained to attack only blacks. Some resorted to the old slave trick of tying bags of “asofoetidie” (a folk remedy that supposedly threw bloodhounds off a scent) around their ankles.
In time, Mayor Robertson hired a team of private detectives from Houston’s Noble Detective Agency to assist Lee, hoping that the outsiders would sweep into the city and see things no one else could. But if anything, the climate of fear only intensified. One evening Lee walked into the Black Elephant and asked to see a patron named Alex Mack, who had known one of the victims. Mack accompanied Lee down the street, where a group of detectives and officers threw him to the ground, kicked him, tied a rope around his neck, and demanded that he tell what he knew about the murders. In what can only be described as a heroic act, a white man named Press Hopkins came out of his house and witnessed what the police were doing. The potential lynching was stopped, but Mack was taken to jail, where he was regularly beaten over the next nine days.
The good news for Austin’s black residents during this awful period came in early December 1885, when district attorney James H. Robertson, the mayor’s brother, decided to try Walter Spence, the boyfriend of the first victim, for murder. After a two-day trial, Spence was acquitted. Yet the victory didn’t last long: After the Christmas Eve massacres of the two white women, many of the same black suspects from a year earlier were rounded up once again, along with a mentally ill Mexican American man and two suspicious-looking white brothers found with blood on their clothes in a town north of Austin. By then, Lee had been succeeded as the police chief by James Lucy, a brusque and fearless former Texas Ranger. Lucy had added extra officers to the force, putting about fifty men at his disposal, all of whom were under orders to stop strangers and to ask them what their business was in town. If the answers were not satisfactory, the strangers were given 24 hours to leave town. Spurred on by a $3,000 reward being offered by a citizen’s committee of Austin’s most prominent businessmen, who desperately wanted their city’s image restored, as well as a $300 reward by the Texas governor, private detectives and police officers from other cities arrived in Austin in droves to begin their own investigations. The city was turning into a police state.
Still, the killer remained at large, and the panic reached a fever pitch. Women rarely left their homes at night. Some homeowners purchased a newfangled piece of equipment called an “electric burglar alarm.” Others packed their belongings and moved elsewhere. Among the only people who came to Austin were reporters, from as far away as New York and St. Louis.
To their surprise, and everyone else’s, they would soon have a trial to cover—and the two men charged were white.
In early January 1886, 23-year-old Jimmy Phillips was arrested for the murder of his wife. A few weeks later 50-year-old Moses Hancock was arrested for the murder of his wife. The two husbands did it? They just happened to come up with the same plan—murder their wives with an ax and make it look like the work of the serial killer terrifying black servants—on the same night? As one skeptical Statesman reporter wrote, the police were asking Austin to believe that Hancock and Phillips had “transformed themselves from men into infernal fiends.”
But district attorney Robertson, presumably under pressure from the citizens committee and anxious to redeem himself after his embarrassing loss in the Spence trial, was undeterred. His biggest piece of evidence in the Hancock case was a letter written by Sue to Moses months before she was murdered. In the letter, which was found in their house at the bottom of a box of fake flowers, she explained that although she loved him, she could no longer live with his drinking. Despite having no eyewitnesses, the DA believed that on the night of the crime, Moses visited the Iron Front saloon, returned home, and attacked Sue in a drunken rage, convinced she was going to leave him.
The evidence against Jimmy Phillips was far more intriguing. He was a young rake, a handsome and talented musician who played the violin. The young women of Austin back then must have adored him the way the young women of Austin love musicians today. But by all accounts, he could be a raucous drunk, and he could be abusive to Eula. Various family members and friends later testified in court that Jimmy had once thrown a cup at Eula and that he once chased her with a knife. After one evening of drinking, Jimmy became so enraged at Eula and his sister Delia that they ran out of the house, crying for the police. After another of Jimmy’s angry, drunken binges, Eula hid at the home of her older sister, Alma, for several days. Yet another time, she had Delia take her to the shabby East Austin home of a sympathetic black prostitute, Fannie Whipple, who perhaps understood what life could be like for a woman abused by a man.
Eula had married Jimmy in 1883. Her mother, a member of the Eanes family (for whom the school district in West Austin is named), had died when Eula and Alma were little. Their father, hotelier Thomas Burditt, essentially gave them up, asking one of their aunts, a member of the Slaughter family (for whom Slaughter Creek, south of Austin, is named), to raise them. Reading between the lines of testimony later given at Jimmy’s trial, it is clear that Eula was a desperately unhappy person. When she became pregnant with their second child, she asked a family friend to go to a drug store on Congress Avenue and purchase chamomile flowers, extract of cottonwood, and ergot—which, if mixed properly, could induce an abortion.
Then, in late 1885, when Eula was seventeen, her life took a dramatic turn: She began slipping away to May Tobin’s “house of assignation,” which was located at the southern end of Congress Avenue. It was a kind of discreet hotel where a man and a woman could secretly meet for an hour or two, and it attracted Austin’s highest-priced prostitutes, who would go there to rendezvous with their customers, as well as men and women cheating on their spouses. Apparently, Eula had visited the place nearly half a dozen times in the late fall of 1885—and, Tobin told the police, she had been there briefly on Christmas Eve, the night she was murdered.
Among today’s Austin killer buffs, one of the hottest debates revolves around Eula’s romantic life: What was she after? Had she fallen in love with someone else? It would have been impossible for another man not to have been attracted by her exquisite, wistful beauty. Or was she a sexual temptress, slipping away from Jimmy to seduce other men—which eventually led him to seek murderous revenge? Or had she turned to prostitution, the one certain way a woman could make money in those days, so she could afford to start a new life with her son?
Before Jimmy’s trial, word spread through Austin that May Tobin was talking to the DA about the men who had come to see Eula. One of the most shocking names rumored to be on her list was that of William J. Swain, who had been elected state comptroller in 1882 and reelected in 1884 by more than 240,000 votes—then the largest majority ever cast in favor of any candidate for public office in Texas—and was considered a shoo-in for governor. His biggest rival for the Governor’s Mansion was Sul Ross, an Indian fighter with the U.S. Army and a Texas Ranger whose major claim to fame was that he had recovered the captive Cynthia Ann Parker while pursuing a Comanche raiding party. Ross was an ineffective orator—no match for the charismatic Swain. Yet suddenly the front-runner was backpedaling. He angrily claimed he was the victim of a whisper campaign, perhaps started by Ross’s “cohorts,” and vowed he would expose the identity of the author of a telegram sent to newspapers saying he “knew something about the murder of Eula.” But by the time the trial began, Swain was strangely silent. Perhaps, like other men in Austin, he was holding his breath to see what would happen.
Held in the old Travis County courthouse, Phillips’ murder trial (which preceded Hancock’s) was as sensational for nineteenth-century Texans as the O. J. Simpson trial was for twentieth-century Americans. Each day the courtroom was “crowded to suffocation,” according to one reporter, the testimony so riveting that the audience listened in “breathless attention.” DA Robertson had brought in one of his predecessors, E. T. Moore, to assist him in the prosecution. Phillips’ father, meanwhile, hired the Austin version of the Dream Team: William Walton, the F. Lee Bailey of Texas, who had written a book about his successful defense of Ben Thompson, a former Austin city marshall who had been charged with murder in 1882, and the brilliant and droll John Hancock (no relation to Moses Hancock).
The prosecutors came up with a novel scenario about the events of Christmas Eve: Eula, scared because her husband had learned of her infidelity, had brought an ax into their bedroom to protect herself. He assaulted her first, then she wounded him with a blow to the head, which made him even more crazed, and he grabbed the ax and struck her, killing her instantly. To divert suspicion, he became what criminologists today call a copycat killer, carrying Eula into the alley and working over her body to make it look similar to the previous murders of black women. To support their theory, Robertson and Moore brought forward a police sergeant who testified that one of the bloodhounds that sniffed Eula’s body the night of the murder had caught a scent, rushed back to the house, and reared up on the bed where Jimmy still lay. “I wouldn’t hang a dog upon such testimony of a dog!” a furious Hancock replied.
To prove Jimmy’s innocence, Walton asked him to take off his shoes and place his bare foot in ink and then make a footprint on a board for comparison with a bloody footprint left on the Phillips’ porch. In a moment of high drama that presaged Johnnie Cochran’s “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” defense by more than a century, a detective took measurements—and Jimmy’s foot turned out to be smaller! Moore quickly argued that because Jimmy was probably carrying his wife at the time, his feet would have produced flatter prints. Walton had no choice but to ask his client to pick him up and step onto the board once again. Jimmy’s foot still didn’t match.
Then there was the testimony of May Tobin, who said that Eula had come to her house to meet four men, two of whom were rising young politicians (one was the secretary of the committee overseeing the building of the Capitol, and the other was the handsome head of the state public education department, Benjamin Baker). She did not mention Swain. She did say that Eula came to her door on Christmas Eve at about eleven o’clock, but she had no room for her. Tobin added that she could not identify the man waiting for Eula in the carriage in front of the house. The reporters covering the trial had heard rumors that she would have named more men, but she was blackmailing them, demanding money in return for her silence. Clearly, there was some sort of cover-up going on. Jimmy’s sister Delia later admitted that she had been asked by certain prominent Austin men to leave town so that she would not be able to tell the police what she knew about Eula’s affairs.
Still, despite the Phillips family’s insistence that Jimmy seemed peaceful on Christmas Eve, the jury agreed that he probably caught Eula slipping back into their house and could contain himself no longer. They convicted him of “uxoricide” (the murder of one’s wife) and sentenced him to seven years. It all seemed too simple, and perhaps it was. Six months later, the Court of Appeals of Texas overturned Jimmy’s conviction and ordered a new trial, claiming the prosecution had presented insufficient evidence connecting him with the killing and none at all that he knew of his wife’s extramarital conduct. Then came the Hancock trial, which resulted in a hung jury after the defendant’s teenage daughter destroyed the DA’s case by saying that her mother had never worked up the courage to show her father the infamous letter.
Both men were released from custody and never tried again. For months there was still talk about various suspects, both black and white. Some people continued to believe that Swain was somehow involved. A few years after the killings, a young Austin socialite got into an argument with Swain’s son Walter, who pulled out a pistol and fired a shot in her direction. According to trial testimony, the woman provoked him when she said, “Your whole family is just as low as can be. Your father before you was a midnight murderer, and you are no better.”
Yet there were no more investigations. Most people were exhausted by the whole affair and ready to forget it, especially since the murders had come to a halt. The city did do its best to ensure that no such crimes could ever happen again. Huge arc lights were installed over various neighborhoods, casting a glow over a radius of three thousand feet (Those moonlight towers are still in operation today). To keep criminals from congregating, saloons and gambling dens were ordered closed at midnight. To prevent other innocent women from traversing the same path that Eula did, a campaign was begun to shut down the city’s bordellos and houses of assignations. In February 1888 the Goddess of Liberty, a symbol of virtue, was placed on top of the new state capitol, followed by a week-long celebration in May. Austin was restored.
By then, all the characters tarnished by the killings had left the city or public life. In a shocking defeat, Swain lost to Ross in his bid to be governor and never again ran for office. Baker, the young head of state education accused of having a fling with Eula, moved with his family to Canadian, a new railroad town in the faraway Panhandle, where he lived quietly as a lawyer and later as a judge. Moses Hancock left Austin, as did Jimmy Phillips, who moved to the nearby town of Georgetown, got a job at a chair factory, fell in love with a young girl who lived across the street, and started a new family. (One of Jimmy’s sisters took in Jimmy and Eula’s little boy, who stayed around Austin until he was a young man, working as a plumber’s apprentice and a bartender, then left and was never heard from again.) I tracked down some of the descendants of Jimmy’s second family, who told me that he rarely mentioned the events of 1885 except to complain about his recurring headaches from the ax wound. He kept drinking—“He could be a scary old man when he was drunk,” one relative recalled—but toward the end of his life, after his second wife died, he would spend much of his time alone in his room, playing his violin, staring out the window. He died in 1929 at age 68.
And what of the enigmatic Eula, the achingly pretty young woman who felt the need to go against the conventions of the day? For more than a year, as I tried to track down information about her, I felt as if I were moving in a shadowland, looking for someone hidden by history. I learned that Alma had lived out her last years in the town of Buda, seventeen miles south of Austin, where she was renowned for her stories about the early days of Texas life. But when I started contacting people there, they could not remember Alma telling any stories about her little sister. One of Alma’s two surviving granddaughters, Dorothy Larson of Los Angeles, said that she did remember Alma talking years ago about having a sister who was found dead in an alley. “But I don’t think she ever mentioned her name or why she died,” Larson said.
A few days later, Larson called back. She had searched through her garage and found a tattered photo album that her grandmother had kept throughout her life. “There had always been something about that photo album that had bothered me,” she said. Next to a photo taken of Alma when she was a little girl, she explained, was a photo of another little girl. Next to a photo taken of Alma as a young woman was a photo of another young woman. “I always wondered who the other girl was and why my grandmother had her photos,” Larson said. “Now I realize they were photos of Eula. All these years, Alma kept these memories of her sister—her beautiful, doomed sister.”
It would be easy to describe the story of the murdered Austin women as a period piece, a tale about a forgotten time. Yet the same questions that haunted Austin 115 years ago haunt it today. One afternoon I went with Jeanine Plumer, my fellow Austin killer buff, to the ancient Oakwood Cemetery, just east of downtown, where townspeople were buried in the late nineteenth century. In those days whites were buried on top of a sloping, grassy hill in an area called Old Green, and blacks were buried at the bottom of the hill, across a dirt road, in Colored Green. Almost all of the grave markers in Colored Green were gone, broken apart by time, but Jeanine did show me one cracked little headstone in the back of the cemetery. The name Ramey was barely visible. “That’s where the youngest victim, Mary Ramey, the eleven-year-old, was buried,” she said. “The other murdered black women must have been buried right around here too.”
Then she pointed toward the crest of the hill, in an area between some trees. “There is the plot of the Phillips’ family, where Eula is. It’s as if she can see the other women down here at Colored Green, and they can see her.” Jeanine paused, and I realized she was holding back tears. “Think of these women, from such different walks of life, dying the same way, their eyes full of terror,” she finally said. “And now here they are, joined together forever.”