Staff Picks: The Man From the Train

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Mystery readers and true crime fans will appreciate the forensic and profiling skills of today that James is able to apply to these Century old crimes.

This true crime is meticulously researched with 464 pages detailing crimes that have plausible connections to the unsolved Villasca axe murders in Iowa, 1912. The author goes to great lengths to carefully outline his findings, admitting speculation rather than proof, to build a very believable case for these murders being committed by a serial killer he dubs “The Man From the Train”. At times this voluminous collection becomes difficult to read as crime scene after crime scene is described in disjointed order (which the author explains), along with background on the families, testimony and reports relating to the cases. But interwoven is a rich picture of rural life in America in those times. Mystery readers and true crime fans will appreciate the forensic and profiling skills of today that James is able to apply to these Century old crimes.

Researcher, Rachel McCarthy, has told interviewers that she examined at least 10,000 sources dating from 1890 through 1920, back-tracking from the Villasca murders in 1912 to find patterns and probable evidence that the brutal killing of two adults and six children wasn’t the first time the “Man From the Train” had killed. What she and author, Bill James, achieved is a horrifying record of crimes that lead them on a trail of murders dating back to 1898.  Family after family across the U.S.A. were murdered in their beds, and although men were accused and punished, many of the murders remain unsolved. It’s no wonder it took McCarthy & James four years to sift through and correlate such an enormous amount of information, carefully selecting crimes that fit the modus operandi of “The Man From the Train” and building a sound historical background for the reader to appreciate why this serial killer was able to continue accumulating a devastatingly long list of victims. I did skim sections since I found the constant need of the author to convince the reader of his rationale, along with some lengthy portions indirectly related to the Villasca axe murder, unnecessary. Other readers might appreciate their inclusion. Also, James uses profanity at times. What kept me reading was how the mystery was solved by James & McCarthy and the interesting historical background of the legal system and many other aspects of America in the early 20th Century (Submitted by Pippa)

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