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Friday, December 08, 2017

The Man From The Train by Bill James And Rachel McCarthy James

The Man From The Train, The Solving Of A Century Old Serial Killer Mystery was written by a father-daughter team. Being into genealogy and history, I use old newspapers a lot for gleaning facts and stories for my family research. It is amazing how reporters wrote back then. I recently found a short, one-paragraph blurb that was at once hilarious and shocking!

The Mount Airy News, 11/24/1910, Pg 2 (parenthesis mine)
Robert Gentry was sent to the roads six months (chain gangs working on the roads) for stealing a sheep. The old fellow lives in the western part of the county and is a worthless, old petty thief and has hardly sense enough to be responsible. He robs spring houses (pre-electricity, people constructed spring houses to use water from streams or underground springs to keep foods cool such as butter, milk cans of milk, etc like we use refrigerators, so he was stealing food) and clothes lines (pre-electricity, people hung their clothes to dry so he was stealing clothes) and is a constant source of annoyance to the people.

So I can only imagine what Bill and Rachel James had to wade through to write this. I can honestly say they both wrote so well that I was hooked from the first page and didn't put it down. I finished it in one day. Thank you for a thoroughly engrossing read!

I do have some comments though.

It seems that there were a rash of murders from 1898-1912 that were the killing of WHOLE families (or everyone in the house) by ax(e)! There were so many I got confused. I appreciate how they must have struggled to put so much together. I would suggest a beginning chapter and then stick to chronological events. The presenting of some murders from 1909-1910, and then going back and forth from 1898 to 1912, made it confusing. It may be they were presenting the ones they were 100% sure was their killer (The Man From the Train or TMFTT, for my purposes) and then going back and picking through the many other family murders by axe (which, by the way, can be spelled ax or axe) that could also have been by TMFFT. I'm not sure, but maybe that's the reason for the swings and not keeping in chronological order. It was confusing. Maybe go chronological and end each chapter with the same summary info they always gave as to how the facts of the case matched the modus operandi (mo) and signature of their killer and their percentage of how sure they were that this killing was TMFTT. Maybe it's just me, but I follow things a lot better in chronological order.

Bill James made it entertaining with his comments such as, "It would be nice to report that J.N. Wilkerson was punished for his actions and died under a bridge, but he wasn't and he didn't. He landed on his feet..." Chapter XVII Villisca 5, Pg 167

But then there were comments and opinions that didn't really make sense. For instance, when the murders were attributed to African Americans, the James team made sure we knew that it couldn't possibly have been the hapless black people accused. The James team were forced to relay the information and newspaper articles that were from the times. Because of the times, it was frankly, what we would consider, racist. It is what it is, it happened, but it was a very unsavory part of our history. Nobody today can understand lynch mobs... Well, I say that, but then we see the attacks on President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama and I believe there could still be lynch mobs, LOL! We hear many people, who have lost loved ones to senseless and brutal attacks, say they think the perpetrator should be "strung up". Some imagine being able to "tar and feather" someone and "run them out on a rail". Some say they could never forgive the murderer and want to see them "fry" or "hanged". And then there are those who want people to "roast in hell". I'm not trying to judge people who have had their loved ones brutalized, murdered, or abducted. I can imagine I'd have those same emotions if it was my loved one. As a Christian, I'm called to forgive. This would be impossible for us except the Holy Spirit lives inside us and can do what we cannot. It may take time, but it is in our best interest to let go and let God. Even if the perpetrator is never caught and we think justice was never served, we can know that God is in the justice business.

Anyway, back to the book, I think the authors may have been afraid of the black situation so they overcompensated in their conclusions to avoid being tainted with the racist crap that went on. The authors didn't do it, they didn't in any way contribute to the racist subject matter, but their conclusions may have been oversimplistic to "make up" for the extreme circumstances they had to report. Sort of like, "It couldn't possibly have been a black person because they were a black person." That's kinda reverse racism.

For instance, Chapter XXIII, Just When You Thought This Story Couldn't Possibly Get Any Uglier
On 7/28/1904, the Hodge family of 5 was murdered with an ax on an isolated farm near Colfax, GA. Their house was then set on fire.

There were things that didn't make sense. Henry Hodges, the husband and father, was evidently accosted by the murderer (whoever that was) along the road near his house, as investigators found his hat, signs of scuffle and clotted blood. Yet, he was found inside the house with no bloody drag marks to account for it. There was also a kerosene lamp sitting on a fence post without the chimney and it was still burning the next morning. Someone had hastily lighted the lamp, not waited to finagle the chimney back in place and run out. The mother and children were murdered in their beds although the small children's bodies were so burned as to only leave some bones. The adults were murdered by blows to the heads and it was assumed (and I say "assumed" because without a body, how could they tell?) that the children died in the fire rather than being murdered by ax, knife, strangulation, etc. If you have no body, you don't know if their throats were slit, they were stabbed, strangled, smothered, or otherwise disposed of so the assumption is faulty. The reason I bring this up is that TMFTT always killed by axe blows except for a few occasions where he was forced to use a gun. And a bloody knife figured in the evidence of this particular murder.

The authors concluded that this family was probably murdered by the TMFTT instead of the men who confessed to doing it. They had their reasons as the murders occurred at night, it was in the hunt ground at the time, it was 3/4 of a mile from a railroad, the house was rural and secluded which matched his mo AT THE TIME (it changed later), the women were sexually assaulted, and it seemed there was no robbery (although, with the house burned down, how do you tell?). On the other hand there are things that give evidence that it WASN'T the TMFTT: the husband being attacked away from the house, the killers allowing the man to stagger back to the house, the mother AND the teen daughter being raped (usually the sexual attention was given to the teen girls and it was masturbation, or, at least, that's what I understood from this book), the bloody knife. If the children were killed in any other way than an ax blow to the head, then it probably wasn't the TMFTT. So why would there have been a bloody knife?

Now, two black men were accused of the crime and arrested the next day. Paul Reed's wife, Harriet, told authorities a story that implicated the men in the murders. It seems they had heard that Henry Hodges kept $300 in coins buried in a kettle behind the chicken coop. It was their "pot 'o gold at the end of the rainbow". They planned on sneaking on the property and digging up the pot of money and stealing it. But Hodges interrupted them. I don't know where the chicken coop was in proximity to the place of scuffle and initial injury on the road?? Was he chasing them and they turned on him?

Harriet's account then went on to say that the wife came running out in aid of her husband and was carrying the kerosene lantern, sans chimney, which she set on the fence post before rushing the two murderers!?! She attacked 2 black men with weapons?!? They killed her too. Then the bodies were dragged back to the house (investigators found "scuffle marks" and blood but they didn't find bloody drag marks) and the house set on fire. She said the children died in their beds of the fire. How did 2 men drag 2 bodies into the house, place one in the bed, the other beside the bed and start a fire without waking the children? Confusing isn't it?

Paul Reed confesses to the crime and implicates others including Will Cato. I can understand Paul Reed might confess to anything if he was being beaten, harrassed or "sweated" by the police. It happens all the time and for a black man, in the custody of the police, accused of killing a white family, you would be scared white (as the old saying goes). But why did Harriet confess and give such a senseless story? She went to the police. The fact that she pointed the finger at her own husband leads you to think he did it but the senseless story (see above) leads you to think he didn't. Paul Reed not only confessed but he implicated others and came up with another story that was so fantastic that it may have been true. It would at least fit the evidence better than Harriet's story or the author's conclusion that it was TMFTT.

Paul Reed said that he and other black men were members of a "Before Day Club".

"The Before Day Club was said to be an assemblage of rogue black men who plotted crimes against white people, robbing and killing white people. Reports of 'Before Day Clubs' now popped up all over the region... A white farmer (N.W. Epps) was murdered near Tallahassee; the black man who shot him would claim to be a member of the local Before Day Club." Chapter XXII, pg 237

But the authors say, "The Before Day Clubs almost certainly never existed anywhere except in Paul Reed's imagination, but the reprisal clubs were very real." Chapter XXII, pg 237

This conclusion is simplistic. Obviously African American men and women are perfectly capable of organizing groups for mischief (see the BLM movement) whether it was some sort of protest or just an outlet for theft, vandalism, rape and murder with the justification that it's against "the man". A black man can murder, yes, I said it. They are just as capable of evil as white people.

My conclusion, from reading this chapter, was that at least two men approached the house with the idea of stealing the money they thought Mr. Hodges had. Henry Hodges heard something and pulled on some clothes and went outside. He saw something and chased the men to the road Then the would-be robbers turned and attacked Henry Hodges but didn't kill him there. They taunted him and followed him as he staggered back to the house. They knew they couldn't leave him, or his family, alive because he recognized them. They followed him back to the house knowing they were going to kill a whole family to save their own hides. One had a knife, the other picked up an ax, which, on a farm, would be handy. They raped the women while the farmer was incapacitated. Another way to humiliate and degrade someone you hated. Then one slit the throats of the children while the other knocked the wife and injured husband on the head with the ax. They set the house on fire and ran out with the kerosene lantern to light their way to the road.

Now, I didn't do the research, I didn't live back then and I wasn't there that night. So my conclusions could be faulty. But, at least, I'm not making assumptions just because someone is African American. The killer could have been Paul Reed and Will Cato or it could have been someone else and they were innocent.

Why did Harriet rat out her husband? Why did he confess? Why did they find his shoes nearby? Why did they find a bloody knife in the road near the shoes and it was identified as Paul Reed's knife? Witnesses said Paul Reed had talked about and planned on robbing the Hodges.

Now, was it right for the community to drag Paul Reed and Will Cato out of jail, soak them in kerosene, set them on fire and then lynch them? Absolutely not! I, in no way, think it was right. It was nauseatingly wrong! But, then, if we think about how the Hodges died, we can imagine there were those who wanted revenge and we can understand their raw emotions. But taking the law into your own hands is dangerous and makes you as just as nasty as the accused murderer. Let us not forget that there were white people who were trying just as hard to stop the mob and the lynching as those trying to murder Reed and Cato. Henry Hodges' brother, stood in front of the mob several times and tried to stop them. The sheriff and others tried to protect the accused.

The Before Day Clubs, like the KKK, could have been formed initially as a protest against injustice and for mutual protection. But, human beings being what we are, we can turn something evil and end up being just as bad as what they were organized against. The BLM movement is a good example of this. It might have been protesting against injustice but it turned into a free-for-all where innocent people have been murdered, police officers murdered or assaulted, thievery and businesses/cars/roads/public places vandalized. People will band together to protect themselves but then we get a feel of power and before you know it we've become the bullies.


Another story was in Chapter XXXVIII, Clementine Barnabet. There were 11 black families murdered in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi in 1911-1912 mostly by ax. In looking at these, the authors tell us about Clementine Barnabet. The Barnabet family was Raymond, his girlfriend, Dina Porter, Clementine (18 yrs old) and Zepherin aka Ferran (teenager). In the murder of the Andrus family (2 adults, 2 children), Raymond Barnabet was arrested, tried and convicted of the murders. Dina, Clementine and Ferran told different stories implicating Raymond as the murderer. Poor Raymond.

"Also, a month after the trial, Clementine would begin to say that she herself had committed the crime, or had led those who committed it. Also, Clementine was just a terrible liar, although frankly we kind of like her anyway." Chapter XXXVIII, Pg 388

So the authors like Clementine who was a liar and, now, a confessed ax murderer!?!

"Clementine was eighteen years old at the time of these murders probably fifteen or sixteen when the Oeplousas family was murdered in 1909. She had large doe eyes, a slender figure, and smooth skin. Clementine had what one could describe as a pixie face. The lower half of her face was round but small and delicate. The word to describe her, honestly, is cute - cute being usually nonthreatening, like a child or a puppy. Many of the drawings that are attached to articles about her make her look mature and exotic, but that isn't at all what she looked like. If, in fact, she had done everything she said she had done, she would be a figure without equal in the history of crime." Chapter XXXVIII, Pg 392

Not having a picture, I can't judge how "cute" this teenage confessed murderess was. And we are in the middle of a book on a serial killer who killed over a hundred people so I think TMTT would be the "figure without equal in the history of crime", not Clementine.

Clementine was employed as a domestic by the Guidry family. Just down the block from the Guidry's, the Randall family were murdered. The husband was shot in the head and then the mother and baby were bludgeoned to death, as well as, 3 other children. The oldest daughter had spent the night away and when she came home and found the bloody corpses, she ran screaming down the street. Clementine "watched from the Guidry's porch as the little girl ran screaming from the Randall house, and she laughed." (pg 392)

Due to that weird reaction and her father's conviction, the police turned their investigation on her and  "inside Clementine's room police found a dress, apron, and underwear covered in blood and brains. At first Clementine denied it, but soon after she was bragging. Hours after her arrest, she laughed at a judge on the witness stand, laughed and laughed and laughed at all of them and told everyone that she had killed the Randalls, the Andruses, and the family in Rayne, whose name she didn't know." Chapter XXXVIII, Pg 392

She was a member of King Harrison's Christ Sanctified Holy Church and Clementine was a "deaconess". Clementine claimed she was the leader of a group within the Christ Sanctified Holy Church know as the Church of Sacrifice. "She said she had murdered the Randalls (who were also apparently members) because they had disobeyed the church's orders. She also claimed that she had a charm from a local voodoo doctor that would prevent her from being punished." Chapter XXXVIII, Pg 393, parenthesis mine

It seems she believed in voodoo and had bought a "candja" or "conjure bag" from Joseph Thibodeaux who sold these kind of things. It was suppose to protect her against the consequences of her crimes. But I'm not sure how it was going to protect her against her own confessions?!? She not only claimed the murders before she was arrested, but also claimed to direct other murders by her followers after her arrest.

She was examined by medical professionals (whatever that could be in 1912?) and "she was 'morally depraved, unusually ignorant and of a low grade of mentality, but not deficient in such a manner as to constitute her imbecile or idiot.'" Chapter XXXVIII, Pg 404.

"Clementine confessed to murdering eighteen people, but it would seem to be impossible to believe that she actually did exactly what she said she did." Chapter XXXVIII, Pg 404

Why? They really don't make a good point for why she couldn't have done it. Just because she's black doesn't mean she's incapable. She's just as capable of leading a group in murder as any white teenager. Just see the Columbine High School massacre where 2 teenage boys killed 12 students, 1 teacher and wounded 23 others.

Unfortunately, there is no age limit, race limit or gender limit on evil. Clementine Barnabet confessed, was found to be capable of evil and convicted of the crime. She escaped for a few hours but was recaptured. She was in prison for 10 years. The authors think she was released because someone thought she was innocent. Again, an assumption. Maybe she was released because she had been a female teenager at the time of the murders? She disappeared according to the authors and was never heard from again.

I think she may have been the murderer or instigator of at least some of the ax murders as a sort of teenage femme fatale with dark religious overtones. We see teenagers fall for this kind of Svengaliism all the time. She loved the feeling of power, machination and dark religion and it grew into murders. Again, I didn't do the research, wasn't there. But calling Clementine "cute" and innocent was going too far. Don't give her a pass just because she was black and lived during a racist time of history. That doesn't automatically make her innocent.


The traveling ax murderer is scary to think about. How he managed to kill so many families in their sleep and getting away with it via the trains is evil and genius and terrifying. Thankfully, in most cases, they were dead before they could wake up so it was quick. But the thought of someone being that quiet, that sneaky, that brazen, that self confident, that capable and that evil is horrifying.

Why did the murders seem to stop after 1912? That was an interesting question. The authors said he could have been arrested for another crime and incarcerated; he could have died or been killed; he could have been institutionalized; or, he could have left the country.

I won't ruin the conclusions of the authors and their solution. They could be right. They made a good case and I'm willing to admit they sold me. But I think the last chapter was a stretch. I think something happened to TMFTT and he was permanently removed from the killing game. He was probably too old to participate in the First World War. They think he was probably in his fifties by the time he did his last murders and the War wasn't until 1915, 3 years after the murders stopped. I'm not sure leaving the United States would have been a solution for a risk adverse person. The War started in 1915 in Europe and who would go back to that?!?

Then there was the Spanish Influenze epidemic of 1918-1919. That's also 6 yrs later than when he stopped killing so that wouldn't be what stopped him.

So did TMFTT die, and if so, how? Or was he incarcerated or institutionalized? I think those are really the only options. Did he die of natural causes, age or the Spanish Flu while incarcerated or institutionalized? He could have been in a state hospital somewhere because of age, illness or mental illness.

I've gone to a lot of trouble reviewing this book. BECAUSE IT MADE ME THINK! And that's what I love. I was engrossed. I read through it in one day. And I couldn't get it off my mind. So I recommend this book and again, I thank the authors for an interesting read!

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