Someone, presumably with a love of tequila and regret, once said that if we don't learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. If that's true, we think we should stop studying it in hopes that dragons will come back. But fire-breathing super-lizards aside, there is something to be said for not repeating our mistakes. For example, if we just hadn't forgotten about all of these lesser-known, yet way crazier versions of huge news stories, maybe we could have avoided some of the tragedy. Or at least looked a little less surprised when tragedy showed up on our doorstep with a pillow and a sleeping bag ...
5 The Unsolved Gruesome Serial Murders of Young Women in the Late 19th Century
The Famous Version: Jack the Ripper
In the late nineteenth century, Jack the Ripper began murdering prostitutes in London's Whitechapel district. We don't know the killer's true identity, despite an entire coven of "Ripperologists" still devoting their efforts to unlocking the mystery. The Ripper's exploits have him dubbed "the world's first serial killer" by some, though if we'd only looked a few thousand miles west and a few years earlier, we'd see ...
What you've never heard of: The Servant Girl Annihilator
The Servant Girl Annihilator isn't the most subtle nickname, we know, but Texas in the 1880s was a simpler time, back when men were men and women were just viciously, brutally murdered all over the place. Seriously, three years before Jack ruined the carefree and utopian ambiance of the destitute London prostitute population, a remarkably similar, even more horrifying case of serial woman killings hit the booming town of Austin, Texas.
Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
"We've always been ahead of the curve." -- some Aus-hole.
The Servant Girl Annihilator began by targeting black servant girls over a period of several months, kidnapping, brutally raping, and dismembering them with an ax. There was a slight uproar in the press early on, but as all the victims were black, female servants and this was Reconstruction Era Texas, the white townsfolk treated it like an epidemic of bicycle theft -- annoying, sure, but you'll just buy a new one. Then, on Christmas Eve, the killer attacked two prominent white women, and white people went flapping into an indignant slack-jawed panic. The headlines were so overwrought we half-suspect they were written by terror-weeping onto the keys of an old typewriter until the weight of the tears depressed a random key.
"BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!" read one; "HELL BROKE LOOSE!" read another.
Fort Worth Gazette
"IF ONLY THERE HAD BEEN SOME SIGN OF THIS IMPENDING DISASTER!" lamented another.
Crowds began protesting, lines at gun stores stretched around blocks, the city was put on lockdown, and ... all of the killings suddenly ceased. Like the killer just didn't realize anybody minded his horrific butchering, and when people finally raised a fuss about him putting iron pokers through the ears of children, he just put it aside to be polite. By the end of the massacre, eight victims were dead, a number of others seriously injured, and white folk everywhere learned that if you habitually just straight up ignore the brutal murders of a half-dozen black people, something bad might happen.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
"Please accept this giant statue of a white woman with our deepest apologies."