“THE VOODOO PRIESTESS AND THE MAN FROM THE TRAIN” #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: A series of ax murders took place in Louisiana and Texas. Gruesome as they were, they began to horrify the public even more when they were admitted to by a teenaged voodoo priestess. Despite her confession though, a pair of authors say that there was someone else in the area at the time even more dangerous and who likely did most of the killing unbeknownst to even the voodoo priestess. That man is know simply as “The Man From The Train”. Plus, we’ll look a few more gruesome ax murders that took place in the 1800s.
SOURCES AND ESSENTIAL WEB LINKS…
“The Voodoo Murders of Clementine Barnabet” (https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2c5fcw) and “The Man From The Train” (https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/3fc77w4h) by Benjamin Welton for ListVerse.
“Axe Murders of the 1800s” by Elizabeth Yetter (https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/vjfc6dp6), and Josh Gotter (https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/367wz7rd) for ListVerse.
BOOK: “The Man From The Train: Discovering America’s Most Elusive Serial Killer” by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James: https://amzn.to/3fiuHhM
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Unhinged fury and ax murder go together like greasy, grimy gopher guts and mutilated monkey meat. The threat of being on the wrong end of an ax has seeped into the very floorboards of our language (“getting the ax” comes to mind). Axes make for great verbal imagery because of their very nature: a powerful, imprecise tool, whose efficacy relies heavily on the strength and determination of the person wielding the handle. Put it in the hands of an adrenaline-fueled maniac and you’ve got a terrifying weapon for murderous mayhem. So this episode goes out to those nut jobs who saw a tool used to split logs and thought, “Why not skulls, too?”
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
In late 1911 and early 1912 a series of ax murders took place in Louisiana and Texas. Gruesome as they were, they began to horrify the public even more when they were eventually attached to a teenaged voodoo priestess. (The Voodoo Murders of Clementine Barnabet)
Despite the numerous murders attributed to the voodoo priestess, a pair of authors say that there was someone in the area at the time even more dangerous – known by many as just “The Man From The Train”. (The Man From The Train)
Plus, we’ll look a few more gruesome ax murders around the same time in other areas – there were a LOT of ax murders in the late 1800s! (Ax Murders of The 1800s)
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, my newsletter, enter contests, to connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
And this month we’re celebrating Weird Darkness’ birthday… this month makes seven years of Weird Darkness as a podcast. And to recognize our birthday, every October we ask you to make a donation to our Overcoming The Darkness fundraiser. Every dollar we raise through donations and the Weirdling Woods painting auction will go to organizations that help people who struggle with depression. You can learn more about the fundraiser and what we’re doing with it on the Hope in the Darkness page at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: THE VOODOO MURDERS OF CLEMENTINE BARABET==========
Before becoming the malignant religion known as “voodoo,” vodun or vodoun was the name for the ancestral customs and beliefs of West Africa. Most closely associated with the Fon people of modern Benin, vodun, with its talk about spiritual possession and examples of ecstatic worship, appeared to be nothing less than devil worship to the first Europeans who encountered it. Even though Francophone and Lusophone vodun, as practiced in places like Haiti, Louisiana, and Brazil, contains many Roman Catholic elements and profess a veneration of Jesus and Mother Mary, “voodoo” is still a byword for diabolism.
Between 1911 and 1912, voodoo was cited as the root cause for a string of terrible ax murders in Louisiana and Texas. The unusual killer, a supposed voodoo priestess named Clementine Barnabet, ultimately managed to escape into the bayou before meeting the hangman’s noose. But before escaping from reality into legend, Barnabet hinted at something as frightening as it was fantastic. Was there a murderous voodoo cult at work?
West of Lafayette, Louisiana is the city of Crowley. There, on February 11, 1911, homicide investigators found the dead bodies of Walter J. Byers, his wife, and their young son. Judging from the evidence at the crime scene, the unknown assailant had entered the Byers home from the rear window of nearby house. That other house was located in the “colored quarter” of the city. This meant one thing to the investigators—the killer was black.
Bloodletting wasn’t unusual in Crowley, especially in the colored side of town. However, this crime was different. The sleeping Byers family had been “brained with an ax”. Besides being unimaginably cruel, the killer also appeared to be brazen. He or she hadn’t bothered to hide the murder weapon, as the blood-splattered ax was found dripping gore on the floor inside of the Byers family home.
Less than two weeks later, on the morning of February 24, 1911, Nina Martin’s usual morning routine was interrupted. At approximately 7:00 a.m., Nina and her Lafayette, Louisiana home became adjacent to a crime scene when her son, Lezimie Felix, burst into the kitchen and said that Nina’s sister and brother-in-law had been murdered. Nina rushed over to her sister’s home and found an abattoir: Alexandre Andrus and his wife Meme (some sources write Mimi), along with their son Joachim and daughter Agnes, were found murdered. Just like in the Byers case, the murder weapon was an ax and it was found at the foot of the family’s bed.
Four days later, the “Lafayette Advertiser” ran a short article quoting Deputy Coroner Clark, who asserted that the deceased had been “brained with an ax”. The article included other shocking facts, some of which were surely provided by Sheriff Louis LaCoste. Namely, the newspaper noted that the Andrus family had been killed while they slept, probably sometime after midnight. Alexandre and Meme had been moved after death, with the killer putting them in a kneeling position beside the bed. Alexandre and Meme appeared to be praying.
Sheriff LaCoste and his men suspected that the murderer of the Andrus family was also the killer of the Byers family. Better yet, Sheriff LaCoste named their primary suspect—a recently escaped lunatic named Garcon Godfry.
The next killing occurred outside of Louisiana. On March 22, 1911, Louis Cassaway, his wife, and their three children suffered the same awful fate as the Andrus and Byers families. They too were mercilessly bludgeoned to death with an ax.
As similar as the murder of the Cassaway family seemed to the previous crimes, there were some major differences that caught investigators by surprise. First of all, the Cassaway family lived in San Antonio, Texas (several sources say Beaumont, Texas). Second, while all of the previous victims had been black, one of the victim’s in this case, Mrs. Cassaway, was white. This fact initially convinced detectives that a hatred of mixed-raced couples was at the root of this awful crime.
After the murder of the Cassaways, Sheriff LaCoste had a new suspect in the form of Raymond Barnabet. Barnabet was a petty criminal and sharecropper who lived in Lafayette. Raymond had a long rap sheet and was known to have a violent temper. The case against Raymond broke wide open when his mistress approached police and told them that Raymond had confessed to committing murders during one of their frequent quarrels.
In the autumn of 1911, Raymond Barnabet stood trial in Louisiana for the murders of three whole families. Zepherin and Clementine Barnabet, Raymond’s own children, testified against their father. While on the witness stand, Clementine Barnabet told a graphic story about how her father came home one night covered in blood. Zepherin seconded this story, and he went one step further by claiming that Raymond had announced one night that he had “killed the whole damn Andrus family”.
Then as now it was highly unusual for children to testify against their parents. However, Clementine and Zepherin justified their actions by claiming that they were terrified of their father. It was better for everyone if Raymond Barnabet, a lifelong criminal, was behind bars. In October 1911, a Louisiana jury convicted Raymond Barnabet of murder. This conviction would not last to the end of October, but Raymond would remain confined until November 1911. He was let go because another murder proved his innocence.
On October 27, 1911, Raymond Barnabet was granted a new trial. The reason for this decision was threefold: Raymond had been drunk throughout the earlier trial, thus calling his testimony into question; the jury had failed to follow the judge’s instructions during deliberation; and the prosecution had never bothered to offer a motive for the murders.
While Raymond languished in the Lafayette Parish Jail, police in Lafayette stumbled upon a new crime scene. On November 27, 1911, the bodies of Norbert Randall, his wife Azema, and the four children were found murdered inside of their cabin located on Lafayette Street. Like the others, 8-year-old Albert Sise, 6-year-old Renee Randall, 5-year-old Norbert, Jr., and 2-year-old Agnes had been beaten to death with the blunt side of an ax. Norbert had been shot in the head before he too was brained with an ax. As per usual, the murder weapon was found at the crime scene, although police discovered that this ax had been partially washed.
The horrific slaying of the Randall family sent the citizens of Lafayette into a panic. Rumors circulated that the Randall children had been mutilated by their killer. Because of this, well over 150 people met at the Good Hope Baptist Church in Lafayette. The meeting reminded citizens to sleep with weapons nearby. It also demanded action from the police. Namely, the good, God-fearing people of Lafayette thought that the police should look at other members of the Barnabet family.
When police returned to the Barnabet family home in search of new evidence, they found several sets of bloody clothes belonging to 17-year-old Clementine. The specific objects of horror included a suit of woman’s clothing covered in blood and brain matter. Blood was also found on the door leading to Clementine’s room.
Although few believed then that a 17-year-old woman could carry out such gruesome crimes, Clementine was arrested and set to the same Lafayette Parish Jail as Raymond Barnabet.
While both Raymond and Clementine Barnabet languished in jail, a killer used a blood-hungry ax to snuff out another family. In January 1912, the Broussard family of Lake Charles, Louisiana—father Felix, his wife, and their three children—were ambushed by a mad killer. This crime scene was the most shocking of all. It not only suggested that Louisiana was the home of a crazed serial murderer, but also a serial murderer who appeared to know a thing or two about the occult.
The murdered Broussard children had had their blood drained into buckets left at the said of their beds. A message written in blood was left on one of the home’s walls. It read: “When he maketh the inquisition for blood, He forgetteth not the cry of the humble”. For decades this inscription has been cited as coming from Psalm 9:12 of the King James Bible. However, the King James Bible actually reads: “When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: he forgetteth not the cry of the humble”. The biblical quotation left behind at the Broussard crime scene was actually taken from the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which had originally misquoted the verse.
Other facts of the Broussard crime scene were soon sensationalized by the regional media. The “El Paso Herald” of El Paso, Texas called the murders a “sacrifice” and noted that the youngest victims had been found with their fingers splayed and secured with pieces of paper and pins. The words “Human Five” were found scribbled at the crime scene as well. The newspaper wasted little time in blaming “voodoo worshippers” for the murders.
Despite being behind bars at the time of the Broussard family murders, Clementine Barnabet confessed to having a hand in the killings. Clementine, whose demeanor and behavior was deemed odd by investigators and newspapermen alike, also claimed that she was responsible for more murders than the public knew about. Clementine ultimately confessed to her involvement in the murder of some 35 people between 1911 and 1912. Seventeen of these victims were reportedly murdered by Clementine herself.
After her confession, Clementine was examined by several doctors, most of whom deduced that she was perfectly sane. Due to the severity of her crimes, Clementine was sent to the infamous Angola State Penitentiary near the Louisiana state capital of Baton Rouge. On July 31, 1913, Clementine tried to escape from prison, but was captured by officers on the same day. For whatever reason, this escape attempt was forgotten, and in 1918 Clementine was given the job of cane cutter. This meant that Clementine was allowed to work outside with minimal observation. Five years later, on Saturday, August 28, 1923, Clementine Barnabet was allowed to leave Angola due to years of good behavior.
The story of Clementine Barnabet remained a mystery until 1985. According to one Internet user named “voodoogalll,” she visited her 103-year-old great grandmother in 1985. During that visit, the pair were joined by another woman who told them all a story about a forgotten string of voodoo murders. That same year, after the mysterious storyteller died, “voodoogalll” and other attendees at the funeral noticed that a youthful picture of the woman matched newspaper photographs of serial killer Clementine Barnabet.
As part of her confession, Clementine Barnabet claimed that she belonged to a secret cult known as the Church of Sacrifice. This cult and its secretive “Human Five Gang” were supposedly part of the Christ Sanctified Holy Church, an evangelical church headed by a man named King Harrison. The church could be found all along the Southern Pacific Railroad, and according to Clementine’s confession, Harrison encouraged his congregation to use lethal discipline against any wayward members. Clementine said that the Randalls were an example of such backsliding. On top of all of this, Clementine also told Louisiana authorities that she was a voodoo sorceress who enjoyed supernatural protection from punishment.
Sheriff LaCoste and others investigated Clementine’s claims, but came up empty in almost every instance. District Attorney Howard E. Bruner, who categorized Clementine as a “moral pervert” because she admitted to “caressing” some of the corpses after killing them, believed that most of the murders Clementine admitted to were copycat crimes.
Several years later, in 1942, when the Federal Writers Project wrote down the history of Clementine’s trial, they noted that confusion was the one constant in the case. In fact, given that newspapers had already suggested that a voodoo cult was behind the murders, Clementine could have been influenced by such coverage and cooked up the Church of Sacrifice as part of her confession. Tragically, after Clementine’s story circulated around the Southeast, many white citizens began to suspect that their black neighbors belonged to the murderous Sacrifice Church. This belief led to a handful of violent encounters and false arrests.
In their 2017 book, “The Man from the Train,” writers Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James make the case that a slimy German immigrant named Paul Mueller is in fact the deadliest serial killer in American history. After murdering the Newton family of Westbrook, Massachusetts in 1897, Bill and Rachel James believe that Mueller began traveling the railroads in America and Canada, murdering entire families along the way. His death toll was somewhere around 90. Mueller’s crimes almost always saw him break into homes after midnight and murder all of the occupants with the blunt side of an ax. Mueller also had a habit of leaving his murder weapons at the crime scenes.
Although Bill and Rachel James accept that Clementine Barnabet confessed to committing multiple murders, they are convinced that most, if not all of the crimes associated with Clementine Barnabet were actually carried out by Mueller, aka the Man from the Train.
When Weird Darkness returns… the story of the Man From The Train.
STORY: THE MAN FROM THE TRAIN==========
How can you quantify or qualify serial killers? They are all horrible. They are all awful. They are all worthy of scorn. However, some are upheld as worse than others. Ted Bundy, the charismatic and handsome necrophile, is the archetype of the charming sociopath who managed to convince family and friends that he was completely “normal.” Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who may have killed as many as 650 people, is the quintessential noble killer—a pampered slaughterer of the Early Modern Period who was only caught because she killed a fellow aristocrat.
Oddly enough, the man possibly responsible for killing over 100 individuals is almost totally unknown. This killer, who struck again and again in the United States and Canada between 1897 and 1912 (he may have killed as late as 1922), is known simply as “the Man from the Train.” First outed by writers Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James in their book The Man from the Train, the blood trail of this serial killer is astounding. That blood trail will be dissected in this list.
On the afternoon of June 6, 1912, the bodies of Rollin D. Hudson and his wife Anna were found by neighbors at around 4:00 PM. Both had been murdered with an ax. As reported by the Miami Republican of Miami County, Kansas, the Hudsons’ heads were all but obliterated by several blows delivered from the blunt side of an ax.
Two years earlier, on December 10, 1910, another Kansas couple, the Bernhardt family, were also murdered with an ax. Again, the killer in this instance used the blunt side. In the Hudson case, local rumor speculated that the murders were the result of Anna’s infidelity. Added to these cruel jabs was the rumor of the pig-faced man—an unknown boarder at a local rooming house who supposedly asked far too many questions about the murders.
Bill and Rachel James believe that the Man from the Train committed the murders. These crimes bore all the trademarks of this elusive killer. Namely, the Man from the Train attacked families during the early morning hours, used an ax taken from the family’s house, killed with the blunt side of the tool, and always picked victims who lived close to railroad tracks.
One of the key points of the book “The Man from the Train” is the theory that the serial killer worked as a lumberjack. As a result, the murderer frequently took seasonal logging jobs. That is why ax murders occurred in the lumbering communities of Oregon, Washington, Texas, Maine, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida. In 1906, the Man from the Train struck in Alabama.
Sometime during the night between February 7 and 8, 1906, the entire Christmas family was murdered inside their home. In total, three people were killed, including 61-year-old Confederate Army veteran Jeremy Christmas. According to the James authors, the Cottonwood murders, of which not too much is known, are connected with other aspects of the larger pattern of the Man from the Train’s crimes. Notably, the mysterious serial killer liked to kill close to or on state lines. The state lines of Florida-Alabama and Florida-Georgia were some of his favorite hunting grounds.
Similarly, the crime in Cottonwood is important because it conformed to the Man from the Train’s modus operandi of attacking homes located near the first train stop past a state line.
Trenton Corners, New Jersey, no longer exists. However, in 1900, Trenton Corners was a small town in Central New Jersey that was half-white and half-black. On November 17, 1900, an awful discovery was made—the entire Van Lieu family had been murdered by someone wielding the blunt side of an ax. The Van Lieu house was just 5 kilometers (3 mi) from Trenton Junction, the nearest train stop.
For the Mercer County authorities in 1900, the Van Lieu murders were an open-and-shut case. Local ruffian Bob Hensen was quickly arrested and charged with the crime. Hensen, who had prior convictions for larceny and assault, reportedly had a fight with the Van Lieu family on November 6 after he brought them a stolen chicken. On December 27, 1901, Hensen was executed by the state of New Jersey after just a five-day trial.
Unfortunately, this was not the last time that someone else was killed for the crimes committed by the Man from the Train.
The case of the Lyerly family of North Carolina is best-known for a subsequent crime—the August 7, 1906, lynching of three black men named Nease Gillespie (seated right), John Gillespie (Nease’s son, standing right), and Jack Dillingham (seated left). All three were hanged by a Rowan County lynch mob for the murders of the white Lyerly family. Amazingly, the mob originally rounded up eight suspects in the case but let five go after subjecting them to an impromptu trial.
According to the James authors, these men were innocent. Like other victims, the Lyerlys lived in small town near a railroad stop. They were killed in their sleep by a man using the blunt side of an ax that he had found at the residence. This ax was then washed clean and left at the scene (both of which were common tactics of the Man from the Train). Other indications that this was a Man from the Train crime was the fact that the killer set the house on fire following the murders and left money in plain sight. Regarding the latter point, author Bill James thinks that the Man from the Train actually left his own money at his crime scenes.
On September 21, 1909, six members of the Meadows family were murdered, and their house was set on fire. This crime occurred in the bucolic environment of Buchanan County, Virginia. More specifically, the Meadows family lived in the minuscule village of Hurley. The body of the patriarch, George Meadows, was found dead outside the burned home. His body had been struck by two bullets, and he had been severely mutilated. Inside the cabin was Meadows’s mother-in-law, Betty Justs, who was also found dead. George’s wife Lydia had been hacked into several bloody pieces, while their three children were also found badly mutilated.
At the time, the biggest employer in Hurley was the Ritter lumber mill. This means that the area was swarming with lumberjacks, all of whom were experts with an ax. Despite this, Virginia authorities focused on a suspect named Howard Little, a mountain of a man who had a local reputation as a philanderer. At the time of the murders, Little was already married with four children. The word, though, was that Little planned to leave his wife for a married woman named Mary Stacy.
Little’s bad reputation, plus the fact that he had already been convicted of murder in Kentucky, made him an easy target. Little’s fate was all but sealed when Mary Stacy told police that he had given her $20 sometime after the murders. Given that the police thought that the butchery at the Meadows homestead was done for robbery, they arrested and convicted Little.
On December 8, 1904, the small town of Trenton, South Carolina, woke up to the horrific news that the local Hughes family had been murdered by an axman. The Decatur Daily Review of Decatur, Illinois, reported that the entire Hughes family died in their sleep.
The crime was discovered by the Hugheses’ neighbors, who, on December 8, found the family’s home ablaze. After the fire calmed down, searchers found the body of 42-year-old Benjamin Hughes, 42-year-old Eva Hughes (Benjamin’s wife), 19-year-old Emma, and 14-year-old Hattie. All had died in their sleep, with their heads crushed completely by the blunt side of an ax.
More disturbing still was the evidence recovered at the scene that the murderer had molested Hattie’s corpse after the crime. This was another of the Man from the Train’s calling cards. His twisted desire for prepubescent girls frequently saw him assault corpses postmortem.
Arguably the worst crime committed by the Man from the Train occurred in the small hamlet of Milton, Florida, in 1906. On May 26, 1906, The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg, South Carolina, reported that all nine members of the Ackerman family were murdered with an ax. The victims included the father, Reverend Ackerman, his wife, and seven children, who were all butchered in their secluded home.
If this crime was committed by the Man from the Train, then it was the deadliest attack of his entire killing spree. According to author Bill James, the evisceration of the Ackerman family occurred just two months before the murder of the Lyerly family in North Carolina. James believes that the Man from the Train murdered the Lyerlys after catching a northbound train from Barber Junction, a train stop in the Florida panhandle near Milton.
Although nine people were killed in total, not too much is known about the murder of the Ackerman family.
One of the more shocking assertions in The Man from the Train is the idea that the infamous American killer may have somehow moved to Germany and carried out that country’s most infamous ax murder in 1922. On March 31, 1922, six members of the Gruber family were killed at their Bavarian farm by some unknown intruder.
The horrific crime was not discovered until April 4, when neighbors finally decided to check in on the family after they had not been seen in the area for several days. Inside of the Grubers’ barn, the investigation party, which was led by a man named Lorenz Schlittenbauer (later a prime suspect in the case), found the bodies of the Gruber family amid some hay. Dead alongside the Grubers was their maid, Maria Baumgartner, who had been killed on her first day as the family’s maid.
While the James authors are not 100-percent convinced that the Man from the Train carried out these murders, they do believe that he should be taken seriously as a suspect. After all, the Grubers had been murdered with an ax (in this case a pickax), all had been beaten with the blunt side of the ax, and several of the bodies had been covered after death. (This had occurred at other Man from the Train crime scenes.) Another fact that possibly links these murders to the Man from the Train is that Bavarian investigators found cash scattered all over the Gruber household.
However, there is evidence that the Man from the Train did not kill the Grubers. First of all, the previous maid employed by the Grubers felt that the house was haunted. This may indicate that someone was researching the Grubers prior to the murders. The Man from the Train was known to do this during his early crimes but stopped after 1908. The Man from the Train also preferred using logging axes, not pickaxes, which are most commonly used by miners. Finally, the killer of the Gruber family stayed at their farm for several days after the crime. There is no evidence that the Man from the Train ever did this.
While Bill and Rachel James are not certain about the Hinterkaifeck crimes, they are convinced that the Man from the Train carried out the infamous Villisca ax murders in Villisca, Iowa.
Between Sunday, June 9, and Monday, June 10, 1912, the Man from the Train may have entered the Villisca home of the Moore family. While the family slept, the murderer used the family’s ax to bludgeon them all to death. The dead included 43-year-old Josiah B. “Joe” Moore, 39-year-old Sarah Moore, 11-year-old Herman Moore, ten-year-old Katherine Moore, seven-year-old Boyd Moore, five-year-old Paul Moore, 12-year-old Lena Stillinger, and eight-year-old Ina Stillinger.
This crime shocked the small community of Villisca, and today, the Moore home stands as a ghoulish attraction for thousands of visitors every year. What is known for certain is that Joe Moore was struck several times in the head with the blunt side of an ax, while his wife Sarah was struck only once with the sharp end of the ax.
As for the children, only one, Lena Stillinger, showed signs that she was not killed while she slept. Indeed, the prepubescent Stillinger was likely intimately assualted after death. According to the James authors, the killer’s sexual attraction to young girls drove him to murder, and it likely drove him to kill the entire Moore family.
According to the James authors, the first crime of the Man from the Train may have occurred in the year 1897. In January of that year, the Newton family of Westbrook, Massachusetts, were murdered with an ax. The Worcester authorities named the man suspected of murdering the Newtons and furthermore reported that he was last seen fleeing the crime scene toward a nearby train station.
The name of this suspect is Paul Mueller. In 1897, Mueller worked as a farmhand for the Newton family. Mueller was a short, powerful man with a high level of intelligence. He was also a physically repulsive man. He was known as a shabby dresser and reportedly had few social skills. Like the later Man from the Train murders, Mueller left the Newton family home by crawling out of a window.
Paul Mueller made his living with his hands. He may have worked as a logger between 1897 and 1920. If so, then he would have likely lived in logging towns like Milton, Florida, or Hurley, Virginia. Mueller was also ethnically German and most likely could speak German. Maybe this ability to speak German allowed him to blend in with the Bavarian neighbors of the Grubers? We may never know the answer, but it could very well be that Paul Mueller is the deadliest serial killer in North American history.
The Man From The Train (whomever that may be) got his start at murdering in the 1800s – but he wasn’t the only one. It appears the fashionable choice for a murder weapon in the 1800s was the ax. We’ll look at a few of those crimes when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: AX MURDERS OF THE 1800S==========
Ax murders were fairly common in the 19th century. A murderer could easily enter a home and chop the inhabitants to bits without disturbing or waking the neighbors. The ax was a silent and deadly instrument of death, and sadly enough, many ax murders were never solved. Unlike murder by gun, an ax murder was generally gruesome. Chunks of flesh and brain would scatter the floor. The victim often did not die right away and was sometimes hacked multiple times before death overcame him. The subject also sold newspapers, and that is probably why so many ax murders were reported in the worldwide press at that time.
Prostitution has always been a dangerous line of work, but 19th-century New York at least provided the relative security of classy brothels. That didn’t help out 23-year-old Helen Jewett—a young, successful, and sophisticated prostitute whose room, one night, was discovered full of smoke. When the madam of the brothel entered the room, Helen’s body was found with three hatchet gashes dug into her face. Her bed was smoldering. The madam then shouted “fire” in a crowded brothel, and pandemonium ensued. When the chaos you’d expect from roomfuls of professional fornication being disrupted by cries of “fire” subsided, Helen’s nightclothes were discovered to be reduced to ash. One side of her body was charred, and her pillow was soaked through with blood. A young clerk named Richard P. Robinson—one of Helen’s regular customers, with whom she regularly exchanged florid love letters—was quickly fingered by the testimony of Helen’s fellow ladies of the night. He was arrested after he didn’t flinch when taken to view her still-warm corpse. The evidence against Robinson was strong, including a discarded hatchet and cloak that didn’t require Sherlockian deduction to trace to him. Somehow, the brutal slaying captured the nation’s imagination. The story ran in papers throughout the country, something not all that common for 1836. In the end, Robinson was acquitted despite the considerable evidence against him, because the judge instructed the jury to disregard testimonies from many of Helen’s fellow prostitutes because they were “polluted.”
No one could believe it. Why would a retired police constable, living in Mudgee, New South Wales, murder his wife and infant child? At first, when the news broke out, some newspapers were inclined to believe there was a mistake. It had to be a lie, but it wasn’t. In September 1898, John M’Coy snapped, grabbed an ax, and battered the brains out of his wife and child. Neighbors knew that the marriage was tense and that M’Coy was often very cruel to his wife. Mrs. M’Coy had often hinted that she was afraid John would one day murder her, but no one stepped in to help because they did not believe M’Coy would go so far. On the morning of the murder, screams were heard coming from their home. A young man ran over and witnessed M’Coy strike his wife with an ax. The man took off and ran to the police station. The police arrived to a grisly scene. There were “pools of blood, clots of brains, and the murdered bodies of the woman and child.” The infant had her head “chopped open from the back.” The wife had been hacked with the ax multiple times. The back of her head was split open, and her brains were on the floor. M’Coy was caught trying to clean himself off with a bucket of water, and his three sons were safely nearby. At the inquest, M’Coy claimed that his late wife was the abuser, despite witnesses claiming that he was the aggressor in the relationship. He refused to pay for the internment of his wife and infant daughter. At trial, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged.
The sea can do strange things to men. In 1828, trading ship Mary Russell returned to port in Ireland with seven of its crew members brutally murdered. The ship’s paranoid captain was to blame. William Stewart, for reasons known only to his own psychotic brain, falsely believed his crew was about to mutiny. So he took the completely reasonable next step of binding the seven men in his crew from hand to foot and splitting their skulls. To pull this off, Captain Stewart coerced three adolescents to help him. Stewart started his rampage by clocking his Chief Mate with a harpoon and ordering the other crewmen to tie him up. The Chief Mate was thrown into solitary confinement for two days. Stewart then lured the rest of the adult crew, one by one, to be bound. The brainwashed children stood guard. From there, Captain Stewart killed seven of his crew, first using a crowbar and then moving on to an ax. During the attacks, he screamed, “The curse of God is upon you all,” because of course he did. With most of his crew dead, he could finally kick back and relax for the first time in ages, smoking and drinking happily amid the mangled corpses. Two of the crewmembers managed to survive, and when one escaped his confinement, his reappearance frightened the captain. Naturally, Stewart then threw himself overboard on three separate occasions before the ship reached shore. After being brought to trial, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Grand Rapids City, Wisconsin, got quite a shock in the spring of 1858, when the body of a butchered woman was found inside a shanty. The scene was gruesome, and the shanty was covered in the woman’s blood. According to one report, the woman’s “head is literally chopped to pieces [ . . . ] [The murderer] gloated over his victim and mangled the lifeless corpse, after he had murdered her.” The blood-coated ax was found near the body. As is often the case, the woman’s husband was immediately suspected and taken into custody after being discovered near the shanty. Patrick Bennet admitted to butchering his wife. He had a previous criminal record for robbery and was known to be a drunk. What happened to Patrick Bennett after his arrest is not known.
Samuel H. Morris had managed to make a bit of extra money working in New Zealand, and with it, he and his wife moved to Blacktown, NSW. They bought a small homestead and eventually hired a worker, Hing Loong. Everything went as it should until one day in 1888, Loong received two visitors. Morris didn’t like the appearance of the visitors and ordered them off of his property. Instead of complying with the owner’s wishes, Loong ignored Morris and had the visitors return to the hut where he lived. Sometime later, Loong received a mysterious letter. After reading it, Loong appeared to be upset, but nothing more was said of the matter. The wife then sent her husband to fetch some water, and while he was stooping down, Loong struck Morris over the head with a piece of wood. A struggle ensued, and Loong grabbed an ax. Morris grabbed a garden hoe. Loong gave Morris two hard blows to the head with the ax, and Morris returned a blow to Loong’s head. Morris, amazingly still alive, ran toward the house, calling for his wife. She stepped out and was attacked by Loong, who broke three of her ribs with the ax. She escaped and ran to the neighbor’s house, over 0.8 kilometers (0.5 mi) away. By the time the neighbors got to the homestead, Morris was dead from an ax wound that cut through his head. Loong was caught crawling back to his hut. At his inquest, Loong claimed that the fight was over wages that Morris owed him. The wife, however, stated that there were no wages due and that she believed they were attacked for other reasons. Loong was found guilty of willful murder but died from his wounds before he could go to trial for sentencing.
There’s nothing worse than paying for your own death. Such a crime rocked an Indiana town in 1878, when four family members were discovered hacked beyond recognition by a hired hand. Patriarch John Desire Vacelet received nine ax gashes to the dome. His wife was so brutalized by the madman’s ax that she was virtually decapitated. Their two sons died side-by-side in bed, with brain matter protruding from their broken skulls. The murders were so elaborate that both axes and knives were used. Suspicion soon fell upon French immigrant Pierre Provost. He reported the attack to neighbors when he appeared at their doorstep before sunrise, barefoot and wearing nothing but his underwear. Eventually, he even expressed amusement about the whole ordeal. Not being the greatest judges of character, the Vacelets had set up Provost on a trundle bed in their teenage sons’ bedroom. He claimed to have narrowly escaped out of a window while a savage attack was taking place by a large group of men. The problem with his story was that the window remained fastened shut, and the presence of cobwebs proved that it hadn’t been opened in ages. A bloody barefoot print next to the Vacelet parents’ corpses did Pierre no favors either. In the wake of the murders, there was a threat of a lynch mob, but Pierre saved the townsfolk the hassle and hanged himself in his jail cell.
Leroy Rogers had been an old bachelor living on a small farm in Michigan when his body was found in 1894. It was a horrible scene. Leroy’s skull had been crushed in above one of his eyes with the flat end of an ax, and the blade of the ax was still embedded in the man’s neck. The body was still warm when it was discovered by a neighbor, so the murder was fresh, but there was no solid clue as to who could have done it. All that was known was that there had been a tall man spotted near the house sometime before the murder was committed. The only motive the police could come up with was robbery. Leroy’s gun and watch were missing. He was not known to have had much else in the way of money.
From 1845, we have an odd story of an old man and a young girl, probably aged 14 or 15, who rented a house in Parramatta, NSW. The neighbors were naturally suspicious about the circumstances concerning the young girl, whom the old man passed off as his daughter. They believed they were a couple and that the young girl had somehow been seduced by the man. However they came into each other’s lives is not the story, though. It was how the couple ended that filled the newspapers of the day. A few days had passed, and the neighbors saw no movement coming from the rented house. Out of curiosity, some of them went inside. They found nothing on the first floor, so they went upstairs. There, in the corner of a room, they found a bunch of old clothes on the floor and a blanket being used as a makeshift bed. On top of this, they found the mutilated body of the young girl—but no blood. The blood and gore was found in another rented home in Sydney. In that place, there were pools of blood on the floor, and the walls were covered in red. In an apparent ax mark in the wall, there were traces of the girl’s hair. It was obvious that the old man had murdered the girl in one place and carried her to the other. According to a doctor who examined the body of the young girl, she had multiple head wounds, and her forehead and cheeks were covered with bruises. She had bite marks on her chin, her ears were injured, and one of her fingers was cut off. Bruises on her torso revealed that she may have been brutally kicked multiple times. The old man was identified as possibly being named Halloran or O’Hallen. He had disappeared after the murder, and no report was found about his capture.
Clay Young met Bush and Cooey at a wagon yard in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1899. They told him that they were on their way to Arkansas, and Clay asked if he could join them on their trip. The men were fine with having another traveler join them, and they left, crossed the Arkansas River, and traveled by wagon for several more miles before stopping for the night. As the three men bedded down in the wagon, Clay began to think over his situation. He realized that it would be easy for him to kill the other two men and take everything they had, including the horses and wagon. Clay decided that murder would be an excellent plan, and while the other two men slept, he grabbed a gun and an ax. He whacked Cooey on the head with the ax. As Bush woke up, Clay gave him a blow to the head. To finish off the job, Clay put the gun to Bush’s neck and pulled the trigger. At this point, Cooey began to regain consciousness. Clay raised the ax again, and this time he crushed the man’s skull “as if it were an eggshell.” Bush, who had already endured a blow to the head and a gunshot wound through the neck, was still alive, so Clay finished him off with the ax. Unfortunately for Clay, the men had very little money on them. Clay was quickly captured after the bodies were found, and he confessed, without remorse, to what had happened that night. He was given a life sentence.
Andrew Manning lived in a factory village in Connecticut with his wife and adult children in 1879. He was a brute toward his wife and would often beat her. Their children grew tired of seeing Andrew hit their mother, so they gave him money to leave the house for good. Andrew accepted the deal and left, but after spending all the money on rum, he showed back up at the house. His wife came to the door, and he asked if he could simply spend the night and rest. She allowed him inside the home. Two of their daughters were concerned and feared that he would hit their mother, but the night went by, uneventful. In the morning, Andrew gave his wife a warm kiss on the cheek, saying, “Goodbye, goodbye,” and went out the door. Everyone assumed it would be the last time they would see him, but they were wrong. He went next door and borrowed an ax from the neighbor. Then, as quick as lightning, Andrew bolted back into the house and buried the ax in his wife’s head. She collapsed, dead. Andrew ran off to the mill pond, stuffed his pockets full of stones, and jumped in. Town authorities retrieved his body and buried it without ceremony. The wife received a full funeral.
Harriet Williams, a woman in her fifties, was known to be hard-working. She was respected in her North Carolina neighborhood and knew how to save a penny. She worked six days a week in the city and returned to her cabin on Saturday nights to enjoy her Sunday off in quiet. On a spring morning in 1890, a neighbor was walking past her cabin, looking for his horse, when he heard groans coming from inside. He opened the door and saw Harriet on the floor, covered in blood, with two axes by her side. The neighbor ran off in a fright and fetched others to return to the scene. They lifted poor Harriet onto a bed, and she passed away shortly thereafter. The coroner examined her body and found that she had “three bloody and deep gashes made in the head, a gash at the shoulder that cut to the bone and one on either arm.” It was also learned that Harriet had kept one of the axes at the head of her bed and the second against a wall. When her attacker entered her room, she grabbed the ax by her bed, and the intruder grabbed the other one. A struggle ensued, and Harriet was the weaker in battle. A search of her cabin showed that some of the money she had hidden in her home had been taken, but much was left behind. The murderer was not known, and no suspicious people had been seen in the area.
Benjamin Ellison lived with Elizabeth Rous Seman in a little cottage in Penzance, England, in 1846. One night, Benjamin showed up at a nearby hotel and asked if he could spend the night there. When asked why he would not go home, he stated that it was simply too late to do so. He then called a friend to visit him, and when the friend asked if Elizabeth was well, Benjamin stated that she was, in fact, quite unwell. The next morning, Benjamin left the hotel and went to a neighbor near the cottage. He told the woman that someone had broken into his home and that Elizabeth had been murdered. The police came and found Elizabeth’s butchered body inside the home. An ax lay on the floor, and there were pools of blood. Elizabeth’s head was almost completely severed, and the back of her skull was beaten in. Her body bore numerous cuts, showing that there was a struggle with the murderer. In her hand was a tuft of hair that, by appearances, seemed to match Benjamin’s hair. When Benjamin was examined, his hands showed bruising, and one of his fingers had bite marks. He was taken into custody, and a jury gave him a verdict of willful murder.
James P. Davis of Maine had spent some time in the state insane asylum for being of unsound mind, but he was discharged as cured and returned home to his parents. On a spring morning in 1874, his mother went out into the yard and saw her son standing over the body of his father, holding a bloody ax in his hands. The top of the father’s head had been chopped off. The mother spoke to her son and convinced him to put away the ax. She then led him into the house and told him to wait there while she got the neighbors. The neighbors came and took the troubled young man into custody. When questioned why he killed his father, Davis said, “Washington ordered me to do it.”
If you’re going to be the first woman executed by the state of North Carolina, you might as well get your money’s worth. Frances Stewart Silver hacked apart and scattered her husband so thoroughly that he wasn’t found all at once. His remains were eventually buried in three separate graves. In addition to an ax murderer, Frankie was something of a twisted fire-starter as well. She became the prime suspect in her husband’s disappearance when a snooping neighbor poked around the couple’s fireplace and found ashes oozing with fleshy oils. It didn’t help that a pool of blood “as big as a hog liver” was discovered under the floorboards of their home. The eventual discovery of what remained of Charles’s head and torso sealed the deal. The motive is unclear, with theories ranging from jealousy to self-defense of herself and their infant daughter. Either way, 1830s society didn’t take kindly to wives dismembering their husbands. Controversy swirled around the trial, and Frankie was nearly acquitted. Despite public support shifting toward pardoning her, Frankie needed a jailbreak by her father as a last gasp at dodging the hangman’s noose. It was not to be. Following her recapture, the petite Frankie was hung from the neck until dead.
SHOW CLOSE, CREDITS, A LITTLE LIGHT, AND A FINAL THOUGHT==========
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All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise) and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“The Voodoo Murders of Clementine Barnabet” and “The Man From The Train” by Benjamin Welton for ListVerse.
“Axe Murders of the 1800s” by Elizabeth Yetter and Josh Gotter, also from ListVerse.
Again, you can find links to all of these stories in the show notes.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a production and trademark of Marlar House Productions. Copyright, Weird Darkness, 2022.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” – Romans 12:9-10
And a final thought… “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.