Posts Tagged ‘american’

Wayne Williams

In 1979, Atlanta was re-emerging as the jewel of the South, a town rumbling with political and economic pulses that created opportunity, arts, and culture echoed only faintly elsewhere. Unfortunately, poverty and African-American race relations would pave the way for a killer to murder many young people whose futures were eradicated overnight.

The deaths of a series of innocent young African American people conducting casual errands produced bodies found in the river and roadway. Children started vanishing while about everyday activities. These were all young people or children or very young juvenile adults. Fresh young black faces smiled in police files from photographs gone forever dim. Twenty seven to twenty nine missing persons were attributed to the Atlanta Child Murderer.

The late 1970’s was “heavy” time for a racial killer to strike Atlanta. A rash of ugly race relations, accusations, Atlanta’s political upheaval, and backlash against police and law enforcement occurred all at once. Police were unable to find a white perpetrator, and African Americans were insulted when profilers targeted a black killer. Concern, anger, grief, fear and rage in 1979-1981 shook Atlanta to its core. The killings progressed day by day and stretched racial tensions to the breaking point.

Police behavior during this period has been strongly questioned. Constant challenges that police did not pursue the killer because the targets were African-American were substantiated by the media and the political totems of the time. The notoriety of the Atlanta Child Killings was rife throughout the nation. Mohammed Ali and Gladys Knight came to Atlanta to donate money to the families of the victims, money that would itself become mishandled and lost.

H. H. Holmes

The Chicago World’s fair has a grandiose and sumptuous feel to it even in the 1880’s suggesting grand hotels, formal dresses, and fancy mustaches. This Fair was to cast a positive glow over a city that regularly made headlines for violence, riots, and murders. Even the Mayor of Chicago was murdered on his own doorstep. But the reputation of Chicago still had bolgias to descend to, literally. The plan for the World’s Fair was to keep the image of the city of Chicago somewhat attractive for future generations. But in the basement of the Holmes Castle a horror lay hidden.

Yet during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, a “Murder Hotel”, run by a stunningly precocious serial killer, performed ritual murders with outlandish and elaborate equipment. The University of Chicago at Ann Arbor issued a medical license to one Dr. Herman Mudgett, who later renamed himself A. A. Holmes. Holmes would be the first and most stunningly inventive of the American serial killer pantheon. The story of the Holmes Murder Castle transcends mere crime history and succeeds into a new one: Americana Macabre.

While no serial killer is more infamous than Jack the Ripper, Chicago’s nightmare had barely begun. In the shadow of the Whitechapel murders, a hotel offering White City lodgings did a brisk business in young female guests, secretaries, and romantic ladies. Camouflaged by the activity of the big city thriving, H. H. Holmes performed triple digit murders in an era where even a street attack would cause a sensation. The Mudgett episode is one of America’s darkest.

Ironically, just as Sigmund Freud was introducing the superego and conscious to the thinkers of Eastern Europe, individuals on the other end of the planet were subduing it. Small town life and frontier romance had built new cities where elements of the metropolis included industrial malaise and immigrant labor. Uneducated women took what jobs they could get. Mudgett was an educated con man with charm, looks, and money to burn. He was also a monstrous serial killer.

Jane Toppan

Jane Toppan was as violent a shock to nineteenth century America as the Manson murders would be almost a century later. One of many serial killers using an avocation to nursing or medicine, Jane Toppan was a nurse who had access to both medicine and victims with little or no supervision. But many experts attest that Jane Toppan was less a programmatic serial killer than simple an insane woman whose access to medical resources enabled her to end life in the double digits.

The rare female serial killer, Toppan used her medical resources to experiment on patients with fake charts and using strychnine and atropine. Dubbed the “Angel of Death” from later newspaper reports, Toppan “topped” over seventy victims in her New England hunting ground. Getting private income from members of the public as a private nurse and earning respect as a ward sister, Jane Toppan has institutional credibility in an era when public knowledge of clinical medicine was rare.

Jane Toppan needed no vehicle to cruise for patients. As a nurse at Cambridge Hospital, they were already within her purview. While initially her victims were patients she disliked, there is no reason to suppose anyone was safe from her killer bedside manner. The epithet “Angel of Mercy” was common to nurses in the period. But Jane Toppan delivered a special meaning to about thirty human beings of which mercy played no part.

Born Honora Kelly in 1857, Jane Toppan was the name her life evolved her into. Who knows who “Honora Kelly” might have been? Jane’s birth father and sister both went insane. Jane wasn’t far behind. Adopted by the Toppans from a Boston orphanage at age five, Jane was raised in the shadow of her pretty and privileged foster sister. Jane’s memories of her “mother’s” abuse would come back to haunt them.