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The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery

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Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history. Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Je Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history. Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station. When celebrated baseball statistician and true crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern. Applying the same know-how he brings to his legendary baseball analysis, he empirically determined which crimes were committed by the same person. Then after sifting through thousands of local newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he and his daughter Rachel made an astonishing discovery: they learned the true identity of this monstrous criminal. In turn, they uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America. Riveting and immersive, with writing as sharp as the cold side of an axe, The Man from the Train paints a vivid, psychologically perceptive portrait of America at the dawn of the twentieth century, when crime was regarded as a local problem, and opportunistic private detectives exploited a dysfunctional judicial system. James shows how these cultural factors enabled such an unspeakable series of crimes to occur, and his groundbreaking approach to true crime will convince skeptics, amaze aficionados, and change the way we view criminal history.


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Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history. Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Je Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history. Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national attention. But few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station. When celebrated baseball statistician and true crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern. Applying the same know-how he brings to his legendary baseball analysis, he empirically determined which crimes were committed by the same person. Then after sifting through thousands of local newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he and his daughter Rachel made an astonishing discovery: they learned the true identity of this monstrous criminal. In turn, they uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America. Riveting and immersive, with writing as sharp as the cold side of an axe, The Man from the Train paints a vivid, psychologically perceptive portrait of America at the dawn of the twentieth century, when crime was regarded as a local problem, and opportunistic private detectives exploited a dysfunctional judicial system. James shows how these cultural factors enabled such an unspeakable series of crimes to occur, and his groundbreaking approach to true crime will convince skeptics, amaze aficionados, and change the way we view criminal history.

30 review for The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    This book has a great premise, to be sure -- in a 2016 article in The New Yorker Mr. James notes that "... a hundred and four years ago eight people are found dead, murdered with an axe, inside this locked house, in a quiet, small town in the southern part of Iowa. It's a famous crime, and the reason that it became famous is that at the time it was obvious that it was the latest in a series of similar attacks. I had the idea that I'll bet there are others like this which have not been tied to th This book has a great premise, to be sure -- in a 2016 article in The New Yorker Mr. James notes that "... a hundred and four years ago eight people are found dead, murdered with an axe, inside this locked house, in a quiet, small town in the southern part of Iowa. It's a famous crime, and the reason that it became famous is that at the time it was obvious that it was the latest in a series of similar attacks. I had the idea that I'll bet there are others like this which have not been tied to the same murderer, because at the time they didn't have the methods you have now to connect the dots between unrelated events. So I started looking for them, and I found several."" He also claims to have discovered the identity of the murderer who had eluded justice for years, with crimes going back to 1898. However, rather than being the "compelling" or "dramatic" book promised by the dustjacket blurb, this has to have been one of the most frustrating, amateurish and utterly confusing true-crime accounts I've ever read. Why this is the case you can discover here at my reading journal; otherwise, I'll just give a summary here. First, the lack of any sort of bibliography or footnotes is just wrong when someone is writing an historical account. While he does say that "it is inadequate to acknowledge in a footnote those whose work you use," and that he feels that "sources should be directly acknowledged in the text," and that he "tried to do this throughout the book," that's just not always true. Another issue: the author makes assumptions about the killer that have absolutely no factual basis; not only that, but then after he's made one statement, he contradicts himself later. In one huge example, he notes that the murderer "likely" lived around Marianna, Florida between 1901 and 1903 but then fails to elaborate any further. Third, when in some cases he's decided that The Man From the Train was responsible for a particular crime but it doesn't fit into the author's pattern, he makes it fit. As just one example he tries to justify including a murder in North Carolina in 1906 where the killer left people alive (which he hadn't done before) he says that the killer "heard a train coming." Not "may have heard a train coming," or "probably heard a train coming," but "heard a train coming" and therefore decided to catch it, implying that he was in a hurry to get out of town. And then there's the fact that after he's taken us through a whopping 121 murders, some in chapters that could have been left completely out of the book, he tells us that while "the authors do not believe that all 121 murders were committed by the same man," they do believe that a "substantial number" can be attributed to him; that gets narrowed down on page 336 to " "perhaps fourteen crimes about which we have enough information to be certain they were committed by the same man." So why write about all 121 and not focus just on the fourteen? That makes no sense at all and fills the book with a lot of unnecessary details and way more conjecture than fact. Finally, the writing style and I did NOT get along, but I will say that when his daughter takes the reins in the last few chapters, it was like a breath of fresh air after sitting through a thoroughly disorganized, meandering, not-so-well written rest of the book by her father. I was so disappointed here because of the premise and I'd been looking forward to this one for a long time. It is getting some wonderful ratings and reviews, but in this case, not from me. It's one where you'll have to decide for yourself, I suppose.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James is a 2017 Scribner publication. A most unorthodox approach to True Crime, but interesting and fascinating. Right from the start, the author explains he mainly writes books about baseball. I know nothing about the sport or the statistics that Bill James writes about. But, whatever it is he writes about the sport, it obviously requires the ability to analyze, theorize, and puzzle out The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James is a 2017 Scribner publication. A most unorthodox approach to True Crime, but interesting and fascinating. Right from the start, the author explains he mainly writes books about baseball. I know nothing about the sport or the statistics that Bill James writes about. But, whatever it is he writes about the sport, it obviously requires the ability to analyze, theorize, and puzzle out various probable outcomes. For some his name is very recognizable, but this is my introduction to his writing. When Bill stumbled across ‘the first crime’, his natural instincts prompted him to scratch beneath the surface and do a little digging. Before long he had found several other similar crimes, and so he commissioned his daughter, Rachel, to help him with the research. This book is the result of what looks like a great deal of painstaking and time consuming exploration. The sheer volume of crimes is shocking. We are talking about WHOLE FAMILIES that were slaughtered!! But, uncovering similar crimes was only the beginning. The authors attempt to connect the dots and find commonalities between these ghastly killings hoping to find a pattern that would link the crimes, which would hopefully lead to pinpointing whom ‘the man from the train’ might be. True Crime enthusiast might be taken aback by the writing style or approach the author chose to employ. He speaks to the reader as though is expects them to be highly skeptical, imploring them to just hear him out, to try out his theory, to look at what facts are available, to take into consideration the approach to crime solving nearly a century ago, to see if maybe he might be on to something after all. Sometimes, it felt as though he were speaking to me directly, which was effective in that I found myself paying rapt attention to his narrative, almost as though I were a student and he a professor. I think I absorbed more details that way, but I also felt like he was trying too hard sometimes, or trying to sell me snake oil on a few occasions. But, I enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to exercise my critical thinking skills. However, there were times he mentioned a random event or crime, then told me he had no intention of delving into that situation, or he would get back to it later, or that it had nothing to do with these crimes, which was very distracting, and I wondered why he even brought it up in the first place. But, I did find myself caught up in his enthusiasm, and was determined to keep an open mind. It is obvious that besides the research, that much thought went into how these crimes were connected- or not- in some cases. He explains why those arrested or suspected were probably innocent, and proceeds to lay out a case for the defense or prosecution, as the case may be. As the title of the book suggests, Bill believes the killer traveled by train, chose victims close to a train depot, perhaps to put distance between himself and his crimes once they had been committed. Law enforcement typically looked inward at those living nearby, or connected to the community in some way, and often pinned the crimes on the uneducated, the poor, or minorities. Some suspects were convicted without due process and some were released due to lack of evidence. The murders do have a few striking similarities- an ax was always the murder weapon, no valuables were stolen, and the victims lived close to a railway track or depot, just to name a few. The author laid out each instance of mass murder, the towns in which they lived, the suspects, and if they believed the murders were linked or not. It is an amazing and surreal connection of dots, but sadly, there is not on shred of actual concrete proof, forensics, witnesses, etc. If this case were indeed brought into a court of law and presented before a jury, it would all be circumstantial conjecture. The authors do eventually present their prime suspect, then proceeded to apply a unique mathematical percentage method to measure the probability their guy could have committed each individual set of murders, how he may have selected each family, how he escaped, and how he remained at large, and if or why he may have stopped killing. The one downside, is that the title is just a bit misleading, since it is really up to you, the reader, to decide to convict based on the information presented. You may or may not believe the case is solved. Overall, this was a very fascinating read, with a fresh approach and presentation. It is nearly impossible to know for certain if they have guessed the real identity of the ‘man on the train’, or if these mostly forgotten crimes are indeed the work of one killer, but I think the authors did an amazing job of collecting evidence and researching police procedures of the era in question. I’m on the fence about how much stock I put into the some of the author’s theories , but overall, I believe they make a compelling case. 3.5 stars rounded up

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    Years ago, I read on a website listing top unsolved murders a report of the 1911 murders of six people in two adjacent houses on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. These murders were of particular interest to me as I once lived on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. Both families were apparently bludgeoned in their sleep in the middle of the night. Nothing was stolen and the houses were then closed up and the murder weapon, a bloody axe, was found leaning against the wall of one of the hous Years ago, I read on a website listing top unsolved murders a report of the 1911 murders of six people in two adjacent houses on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. These murders were of particular interest to me as I once lived on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. Both families were apparently bludgeoned in their sleep in the middle of the night. Nothing was stolen and the houses were then closed up and the murder weapon, a bloody axe, was found leaning against the wall of one of the houses. Pretty hairy stuff to have happened just down the street from your house, even if it was seventy-odd years earlier. So when Scribner announced recently that a book was soon to be released about a string of serial killings that occurred mostly between the years 1910 and 1912 in which an unknown person used an axe or similar item found at the scene to murder families in their beds in houses near railroad tracks (the 300 block of West Dale is less than three blocks from the D&RGW tracks), I knew this was a book I had to read. Thank god I waited until a library copy was available. While the book contains a lot of fascinating information about a truly horrific series of murders, the writing is wretched beyond words. Author Bill James began his career by self-publishing books on the statistical analytics of baseball, a springboard which secured him a job with the Boston Red Sox and a reputation that was said to influence Nate Silvers Fivethirtyeight.com and The Upshot at the New York Times. In 2011, though, he decided to change course and published Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, a disjointed mishmash about a wide variety of notorious criminal cases. He does not shy away from unlikely theories, as indicated by his assertion that President Kennedy was killed by the accidental discharge of a Secret Service officer’s weapon. James’ conversational tone may work well in writing about baseball games but when talking about murderers, or more importantly, their victims, folksy banter comes off as disrespectful and just plain weird. “After their marriage they moved to Centerville, Ohio, where they boarded with Mr. and Mrs. George W. Coe. (We might say they coe-habited with them [you might, but you shouldn’t]...Anna's maiden name was—"Axxe"really—but we're going to let that pass without comment.”[You should have, but didn’t]) In other cases James’ tone is almost conspiratorial which make me feel in need of a shower. Something in the room would later cause the chief detective to describe the perpetrator as a “moral pervert”; what that was was never revealed, but you and I know.Shudder! In one chapter he lists four reasons why a particular set of killings should not be considered as one of this series with the first reason being that there was insufficient information to include it. Then he immediately offers ten reasons why it should be included ending with "The absence of any factor that would make us think that it isn’t him." In short, he has two contradictory lists that each say that there is no data belonging in the other list. Go figure. Bottom line: I’m torn on how to rank this as I’d like to give it five stars for the material but only one star for the writing which is abominable. The only thing that is keeping me reading it is the desire to find out what happens but the author's history of favoring unlikely conspiracy theories makes me wonder if I will be able to trust his conclusions. Additionally, the book is lacking an index, footnotes, pictures, or much in the way of maps that would help readers gain a better understanding of the case. While the material in this book is very interesting, the author makes enjoying the book all but impossible. The writing is disjointed. He regularly refers to cases which have yet to be mentioned in the book. At one point he admitted that newspaper accounts of a certain murder exist but admitted that he hadn’t bothered to read them. I can’t be sure what research he actually did and what material he lifted from the research of others. Sometimes I wonder why I keep reading this, and yet I do. It's like watching a car wreck. I can't turn away. FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements: *5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. *4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is. *3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or even memorable. *2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending. *1 Star – The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.

  4. 4 out of 5

    L

    No room in the budget for an editor?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Juli

    In the past, Freight trains thundered through most American communities, big and small, several times a day. I owned a home in a very small Kansas community in the 1990's. Coal trains would clatter through shaking the windows and making that easily recognizable, loud clack-clack whine and whistle. The trains and their noise became a regular, comforting part of life. When the trains became fewer and fewer, the lack of that sound seemed wrong and somehow disturbing. But it is also true that someti In the past, Freight trains thundered through most American communities, big and small, several times a day. I owned a home in a very small Kansas community in the 1990's. Coal trains would clatter through shaking the windows and making that easily recognizable, loud clack-clack whine and whistle. The trains and their noise became a regular, comforting part of life. When the trains became fewer and fewer, the lack of that sound seemed wrong and somehow disturbing. But it is also true that sometimes drifters and criminals rode the trains, jumping off to cause problems in the town and nearby farms. At times they were just travelers, modern day hobos....but at other times they were looking to do harm or steal. The front cover of this book caught my eye immediately. It's a sight that is disappearing in many towns.....railroad tracks going off into the distance. In Western NC, the county I live in has re-purposed most of its train routes into paved fitness rail-trails with the real train traffic going through the more rural, smaller towns. It isn't like in decades past where livestock and freight trains were essential for all communities across the country. In the early 1900s, trains were the lifeblood of most communities. But, someone evil rode the rails. Not just another hobo, freely riding, strumming a guitar like in all those country songs. But a killer. A serial killer who murdered from one end of America to the other. He was never caught. Nobody ever noticed the massive scope of his killing streak until now. Bill James and his daughter, Rachel researched and found the killer's trail 100 years after the fact. The Man From the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery presents the facts and their conclusions. It's a tale of a murder and unprepared small town law enforcement and justice systems. The story makes me incredibly appreciative of modern forensic science and investigation techniques. The murders were never linked or properly investigated because of communication and investigation problems, plus lack of modern scientific processes. Plus, by the time the bodies were discovered, the murderer was long gone, riding the rails to another town and other potential victims. The first section of the book focuses on details and background of crimes that the authors believe were perpetrated by the same man. The second section shares details about law enforcement procedures in the early 1900s and the limitations of forensic testing at the time,and more details of crimes the authors believed can be traced to The Man From the Train. In the last section, the authors reveal their conclusion and present a suspect that they believe was The Man on the Train. The man who killed multiple families in the middle of the night, in their own homes over several years in the early 1900s. This book is very different from most true crime books. The information presented combines researched factual accounts of crimes mixed with added conjecture based on the authors' research and opinion. There is no way to jet back more than 100 years in time and put the research and theories to the test, so in the end, readers are left to form their own opinions. The writing style is an interesting mix of factual reporting, humor and conversational tone. I didn't mind the mix, as a former reporter I fully understand that humor makes it possible to more easily discuss horrible details. Plus, the conversational tone and occasional jokes make this a much more readable book. It pulled me in and made me feel more engaged with the writers...like they were sharing their information with me rather than formally presenting bare evidence. I wouldn't have enjoyed 450 pages of dry facts about 100+ year old axe murders. But I enjoyed this book immensely. If this were a book about a more recent crime spree where evidence, documentation and witnesses were still available to interview, then this writing style might be inappropriate. But, given the passage of time, the subsequent limitations on research, and the fact that guessing is pretty much required in this case, the more relaxed style works. The authors make a lot of assumptions about the researched data, but I enjoyed reading about their theory and the potential suspect. All in all, an enjoyable read that will have me pondering for days, wondering if they got it right. Especially when I'm walking, alone at night, on the rail-trail.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    The subject matter was fascinating and the authors clearly did a lot of research. They make a convincing case for the crimes being committed by the same person and for their hypothesis about the identity of the killer. That being said, this book was bizarrely written and I found that the writing style took away from the effectiveness of the book. I don't think that non-fiction needs to be dry and boring, and I have read non-fiction books that were both well written and humorous. This book, on th The subject matter was fascinating and the authors clearly did a lot of research. They make a convincing case for the crimes being committed by the same person and for their hypothesis about the identity of the killer. That being said, this book was bizarrely written and I found that the writing style took away from the effectiveness of the book. I don't think that non-fiction needs to be dry and boring, and I have read non-fiction books that were both well written and humorous. This book, on the other hand, tries to be funny and conversational but it's just jarring. For instance, the authors quote a contemporary newspaper account of one of the crimes, then follow it with a "Ho-kay" to show that they don't find it believable. I just don't need the authors of my axe murder books saying "ho-kay." The writing is choppy, with random tangents thrown in for good measure. There are many, many passages which would have been better as end notes or edited out altogether. I post-it note flagged one of the more egregious: the authors are talking about the Villisca axe murders and discussing various non-fiction books that have been written about the case. Then for some reason, this sentence is included: "There is another book about the case, Morning Ran Red, by Stephen Bowman, but that's a fictionalization, so I haven't read it and don't know anything about it." To quote this book, ho-kay. I would have no problem if this were in the notes section of the book, but there are no notes. There is also no index or bibliography. In Bill James' acknowledgments at the end of the book, he states that he prefers acknowledging the work of other authors directly in the text, rather than relegating them to a mere footnote. That's great, but I still find the absence of notes, bibliography, etc. to be problematic in a book that is as heavily dependent on historical research as this one. The quote about the Stephen Bowman book also illustrates another issue with the text, which is the seemingly arbitrary switching between "we" and "I" throughout. I understand it was written by two people who may not have agreed on everything, but it was just weird to read. The timeline for the murders was also presented in a choppy and confusing way. I suppose it had to be presented somewhat out of order so that the reveal of the killer and the linking of the cases could have some drama and tension, but it was perhaps too out of order. There were many, many points where the authors would mention something in passing and say "we'll tell you more about this in a later chapter." That chapter would be so much later that I would have usually forgotten the first mention by the time they got around to circling back. The jumping around in time and location was all the more difficult to follow due to the lack of any sort of list, map, or appendix that would give a quick reference to what happened when and where. However, they did see fit to include a cartoon of a man talking to a mule. That said, it was still an interesting book and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in axe murderers. Just don't expect a normal non-fiction book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    If you read about a crime in a small town, you will encounter frequently the comment that these people lived in the kind of quiet place where nothing very interesting ever happened. This is a despicable thing to say. It is a form of bigotry directed at the past, and bigotry directed at people who live in small towns – and worse yet, it's ignorant. Pardon my French, but it's an ignorant asshole comment, and if you ever say anything like that, you are revealing yourself to be an ignorant asshol If you read about a crime in a small town, you will encounter frequently the comment that these people lived in the kind of quiet place where nothing very interesting ever happened. This is a despicable thing to say. It is a form of bigotry directed at the past, and bigotry directed at people who live in small towns – and worse yet, it's ignorant. Pardon my French, but it's an ignorant asshole comment, and if you ever say anything like that, you are revealing yourself to be an ignorant asshole. The Man from the Train just may be one of the most poorly written books I've ever read. I should really keep track of what prompts me to seek out a book – something made me put this book on hold at the library – but whatever it was in this case, I was led astray. I had a vague idea that this was written by someone who is well known for his many books on baseball stat analysis (the fault is mine that I conflated author Bill James with Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame) and it seemed like an interesting concept that he used his statistical modelling to track down an unsolved, hundred-year-old serial killer cold case; in many instances linking a murder in one part of the country to another very far away for the first time. When I noted that this book was co-written with Bill's daughter Rachel McCarthy James – who studied creative writing at Hollins University – I reckoned this would be at least readable. But it's really not – dull when it's not hectoring the reader (that's a nice, authorly quote I opened with, eh?), The Man from the Train could have easily been cut down to article length to share what the Jameses ultimately put together and saved me many eyerolling hours. I will assume that between the Jameses, they competently scoured the records and were able to trace their serial killer, making a reasonable case for the murders they say he committed between the years of 1898 and 1912; they are even able to give him a name in the end, and I have no reason to distrust their conclusions. But it seems like their book was written as an antagonistic rebuttal to an argument that I wasn't aware of. They quote other researchers into these crimes and let us know which sources are partially correct, which are laughable, and which “pollute” the field. They preemptively accuse the readers of “irrational skepticism” if they refuse to follow their logic, and I kept getting the feeling that they were speaking to specific imagined readers with bits like: Late in the day on February 17, Big Bill Haywood was arrested in Idaho in connection with the murder of former governor Steunenberg. I know the Man from the Train did not kill Steunenberg; I am just trying to help those of you whose knowledge of history is mostly from crime books keep track of where we are in time. I wasn't personally offended as my imperfect knowledge of history is not “mostly from crime books”, but who do the authors think they're “helping” with shade like that? So, I don't want to trace their logic or conclusions, because I somehow don't think I was the primary intended audience, but do mean to demonstrate what I think of as bad writing. This bit comes rather early: The nickname “Billy the Ax Man” has been picked up in the twenty-first century and is sometimes used to refer to our criminal. But while we have tried to minimize the gore, we are dealing here with perhaps the most despicable criminal in American history, a truly ghastly felon who enjoyed hitting small children in the head with an axe, and who may have killed around a hundred people. Giving him a cutesy nickname that sounds like it came from a kid's cartoon seems to us not fitting, and there will be no further reference to that nickname in this book. Again, the Jameses seems to be scolding other true crime researchers/readers who would desecrate the memories of the killer's many victims by employing this “cutesy nickname”, but they are not above using questionable humour in their narrative. In writing about the murder of the Pfanschmidt family in Illinois in 1912, they note that the surviving grown son, Ray Pfanschmidt, attracted police attention and write, “When the Schmidt hit the Pfan...”. That line is not clever or funny enough to warrant its inclusion, and neither is either of the following: After their marriage they moved to Centerville, Ohio, where they boarded with Mr. and Mrs. George W. Coe. (We might say they coe-habited with them; it's a very dark story and we're desperate for relief. Anna's maiden name was “Axxe” – really – but we're going to let that pass without comment.) A man named George Wilson, a neighbor of the Cobles, confessed to murdering them, sort of. Wilson was not of sound mind (no Dennis the Menace jokes, please). Despite maintaining that they, and they alone, have finally cracked the century old mystery, the Jameses, bizarrely, make this offhand statement about crimes that they insist couldn't have been committed by the Man from the Train: So what happened in this era, and who killed all of those families in Texas in 1912? We don't know. We're not sociologists or psychologists or criminologists or detectives. We're not even real historians. We're just writers. These are just the facts as best as we can tell. But just in case that might make you think that the Jameses are humble in their conclusions (they are not experts, after all), this back-handed statement near the end should put you to right: 1. What could have been done to stop him? 2. How many people did he kill? and 3. What happened to him? We don't absolutely know the answers to any of those questions, but we have thought about them a lot more than you have or will, so we'll share our thoughts with you; take them for whatever you think they're worth. I can 100% concede that the authors have thought about these key questions more than I have or will, but again, I get the feeling that they are speaking directly to other readers who have devoted a lot of time and research to these matters; and that's some aggressive condescension to throw at them. The bottom line: The Jameses make a convincing case (to me, anyway) as to who the killer was, how he operated, and which murders can be attributed to him. Because they seem to be speaking to readers who have some preconceived ideas about these theories, the authors tell the stories of many murders that seem linked, but in their minds, are only similar: the inclusion of these ultimately unrelated cases made a too-long book too-much-longer. And because the authors deemed themselves to be (for whatever reason) in aggressive rebuttal mode, their antagonism for the reader is palpable and off-putting. Not for me; probably not for you.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rob Neyer

    This was a difficult book to put down, as Bill tells a great number of compelling stories without allowing the details to bog down the narrative. As the subtitle might suggest, one of the big selling points of the book is (presumably) that the co-authors have solved a "century old" mystery: Who was the axe murderer responsible for (probably) many dozens of murders in the early part of the 20th century? And the passage in the book on this serial killer's (presumed) identity is compelling, no ques This was a difficult book to put down, as Bill tells a great number of compelling stories without allowing the details to bog down the narrative. As the subtitle might suggest, one of the big selling points of the book is (presumably) that the co-authors have solved a "century old" mystery: Who was the axe murderer responsible for (probably) many dozens of murders in the early part of the 20th century? And the passage in the book on this serial killer's (presumed) identity is compelling, no question. But that passage is also largely beside the point of the book, which is filled with small insights and observations of life, in that time and place, that will stay with you for a long time. p.s. Full Disclosure: I once worked for (and later, with) Bill James, and still consider him a friend. Still, I believe this is the best writing he's ever done. Which is saying something.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    This book was awful. It seemed to go on forever. I was listening to the Audible book which meant I couldn’t skip ahead. The author took tangents that had nothing to do with the main murders and went on for chapters. This book needed a strong editor. At times the author tried for a folksy tone that fell flat. I hated this book and wish I had not wasted my time listening to it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This is the first review I've typed out. I cannot overstate how much I hate this book. It's repetitive, it's incredibly boring, and there's no substance to connect us with HOW James actually found out about the murders or how he figured it out. It's just 445 pages of the people Train Man killed, why they're ALL the same, and if the people of 1899-1912 lived today, they TOTALLY would have seen the similarities between the murders. But they didn't, so, no connections were made. Those dumb fucks. Th This is the first review I've typed out. I cannot overstate how much I hate this book. It's repetitive, it's incredibly boring, and there's no substance to connect us with HOW James actually found out about the murders or how he figured it out. It's just 445 pages of the people Train Man killed, why they're ALL the same, and if the people of 1899-1912 lived today, they TOTALLY would have seen the similarities between the murders. But they didn't, so, no connections were made. Those dumb fucks. The ONLY reason I made it through this book is so I had something to talk about for book club and I can bring and eat yummy snacks for 4 hours. Fuck this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    GoldGato

    I always used to wonder about all those axe murders which took place in the early 1900s in the rural areas of the United States. In fact, it seemed every time I read about 1899-1912, there was at least one murder of a Midwestern family with an axe. Very curious. I just assumed that was the murder weapon du jour for that era. It never occurred to me that the reason for so many like-minded killings was because one nutbucket was behind it all. This book takes the concept of so many multiple murders I always used to wonder about all those axe murders which took place in the early 1900s in the rural areas of the United States. In fact, it seemed every time I read about 1899-1912, there was at least one murder of a Midwestern family with an axe. Very curious. I just assumed that was the murder weapon du jour for that era. It never occurred to me that the reason for so many like-minded killings was because one nutbucket was behind it all. This book takes the concept of so many multiple murders (always families, not individuals) and ties it all together by introducing the idea of a train-hopping serial killer. Very interesting. The research is presented, showing a thread of cross-country killings, all done with the blunt portion of an axe, in rural communities near train tracks. I certainly believe the evidence presented, which means the psycho who did it all would, theoretically, be the greatest serial killer of all time. So the subject was interesting, but I had one heck of a time trying to enjoy the book. The tone is very snarky, which I didn't like. There was also a constant "we'll get to this point later", which drove me crazy. As a reader, I feel it's the author's job to keep everything together, not ask me to remember what to remember when it should be remembered several pages later. Urggh. The author also names the suspect, which is fairly amazing, as it's been more than a 100 years since the events took place. The book ends with another similar murder in another country, showing a possible trail for the named killer. Overall, a very interesting subject, but I read quickly to get past the sarcasm and the overall yuckiness of the deaths of so many innocent people (including those mistakenly lynched and executed). Book Season = Autumn (the season for nutbuckets)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kirsti

    Enthralling. If you don't like true-crime books, I doubt this one will convince you, but if you think reading about a horrific series of axe murders is a pleasant way to spend a rainy Sunday, HOLD ON TO YOUR EFFING HAT. Bill James puts his laser focus and his quirky writing style to work answering the question: "Were there serial killers in the olden days?" Along the way, I learned a lot about the early 1900s in the United States, including law enforcement, media coverage, prejudice, con artists Enthralling. If you don't like true-crime books, I doubt this one will convince you, but if you think reading about a horrific series of axe murders is a pleasant way to spend a rainy Sunday, HOLD ON TO YOUR EFFING HAT. Bill James puts his laser focus and his quirky writing style to work answering the question: "Were there serial killers in the olden days?" Along the way, I learned a lot about the early 1900s in the United States, including law enforcement, media coverage, prejudice, con artists, social mores, and rural life. Thank you, Rob, for telling me about this one!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Scott Hitchcock

    An interesting story that required a lot of research. James being a statistician just kills me at times with his pedantic repetition citing the list of the commonality between crime scenes ad nauseam. I get the need to establish the pattern but after a while you want to scream OK Bill I get it. It's also hard to remember this is such a brutal set of crimes because the telling is often detached, analytical and clinical. Still overall very informative. An interesting story that required a lot of research. James being a statistician just kills me at times with his pedantic repetition citing the list of the commonality between crime scenes ad nauseam. I get the need to establish the pattern but after a while you want to scream OK Bill I get it. It's also hard to remember this is such a brutal set of crimes because the telling is often detached, analytical and clinical. Still overall very informative.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Merryl

    I think a writer, who says about the slaughter of a family by the name of Pfanschmidt, that the "schmidt had hit the pfan" says it all about this book........... I think a writer, who says about the slaughter of a family by the name of Pfanschmidt, that the "schmidt had hit the pfan" says it all about this book...........

  15. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    3.75 stars Had this book not had such an effect on me I would probably have rated it higher. This is the only book I can ever remember giving me nightmares! I had to read it almost one chapter at a time to get through it. I finally finished this book. Many times I thought I would just quit reading it. I am far from the flighty, scaredy-cat type, however this book had me leaving on lights at night and double locking my doors. Never before has a book had such a visceral effect on me. Intellectuall 3.75 stars Had this book not had such an effect on me I would probably have rated it higher. This is the only book I can ever remember giving me nightmares! I had to read it almost one chapter at a time to get through it. I finally finished this book. Many times I thought I would just quit reading it. I am far from the flighty, scaredy-cat type, however this book had me leaving on lights at night and double locking my doors. Never before has a book had such a visceral effect on me. Intellectually I knew that it was impossible for the Man from the train to be still be killing people, but that knowledge did not prevent me from laying awake at night and seeing shadows move. From the late 1800's to 1912 a multitude of families were bludgeoned to death in the night as they slept. Most were hit in the head with the blunt end of an axe. This crime spread across the country from Florida to Maine and from the Carolina's to Colorado. This was a time when law enforcement was very lax at sharing information and felt that each crime committed was single to their own community. Forensics were almost none existent and many crime scenes were opened for the public to freely walk through. This was a century old unsolved crime spree. No one, until the author, had actually traced these crimes through the 20 year or so period to really determine if there was one serial killer or if each crime was singular as was thought at the time. In a few instances two crimes were linked together, but that was not until almost the end of the crimes, once newspapers were more broadly distributed. This book shifts through many many crimes, some in no way related, some possibly related and then those crimes that are unmistakably committed by the man from the train. Some of similarities of this mans killing spree were that they occurred very close to a train track intersection, they were in small towns and in a house often just yards from the rails. The victims were killed using the blunt end of an axe, in the early morning hours. Some had their faces covered, there was usually a young female in the home, and everyone, regardless of age was slain. The axe was left in the home. Nothing, in the way of money or jewels, was ever taken from the home, and the house was closed up, windows covered and locked from inside and the doors were either locked from inside or jammed shut. This, in small towns, where everyone left their homes unlocked. Many people went to their death being accused and convicted of these crimes. Some people were lynched without benefit of a trail. Some crimes just went unsolved with the small towns not having the manpower or the funds to chase what leads they had. Most crime scenes were soiled, not only by the police but by the public. Checking with surrounding towns and villages for similar crimes was unheard of at that time. In total over 1000 people lost their lives, either being murdered or accused of the murders. The story itself told of many more similar crimes committed during this period of time, then concluded with facts, as to why they were not murders of the man from the train. The probability of each crime was given a percentage. I understand the reasoning for adding in the additional crimes, but over time they did seem to overwhelm the story. They made the criteria the man from the train used stand out more significantly, but I felt the additions slowed the story quite a bit. In the end the authors did finally give the name of the man from the train. They then explained how they believed he was the one. With months of hours doing research on this pattern of murders, then tracing routes, and analyzing newspaper accounts, trial records, arrest and public records, his identity became clear. A once unsolved century old crime spree was finally solved.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    One and a half stars. This book gets two stars only because the concept of the Man on the Train and the connection between these crimes is fascinating. This book is so poorly written. Grammatically, fine. But the tone and overall organization leads me to highly “un-recommend” this title to anyone. James write in a conversation tone, using ellipses, asking the reader questions, and saying the reader is “off the reservation” if s/he doesn’t agree. Not just unprofessional but strange. The organization One and a half stars. This book gets two stars only because the concept of the Man on the Train and the connection between these crimes is fascinating. This book is so poorly written. Grammatically, fine. But the tone and overall organization leads me to highly “un-recommend” this title to anyone. James write in a conversation tone, using ellipses, asking the reader questions, and saying the reader is “off the reservation” if s/he doesn’t agree. Not just unprofessional but strange. The organization of this book is like someone had a few too many drinks and decided to talk at a dinner party about the Man on the Train. James thinks he is making sense but he isn’t. James thinks he outlining the crimes but he isn’t. He jumps around in time and (more times that I can count) tells the reader he’ll explain something “later.” I do not think I could even begin to count the number of times he says he'll explain something "later." If this book was written in chronological form, it would be a HUGE improvement. This book must have had a weak editor to not suggest such a simple but critical improvement. Also, to nitpick, why does use chapter numbers in roman numerals--is this supposed to be witty? One of my favorite examples is the tables he includes at the end of each section to note the victims from a specific period of time (defined by James, completely not chronically and in a way that makes little sense to the reader). These tables are supposed to, I think, list the victims of the Man on the Train. A great quote that highlights this book (page 330): “We believe that a substantial number of the murders were committed by the same man, and that any of the murders on this list might possibly have been his work.” Hmmmm “might possibly.” Wow. This book “might possibly” be a train wreck disguised as strongly written true crime. Cannot believe this book was nominated for an Edgar. Do not recommend.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Casey Wheeler

    I received a free Kindle copy of The Man from the Train by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James courtesy of Net Galley and Scribner,  the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review to Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my history book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus pages. I requested this book as the description sounded very interesting. It is the first book by the authors that I have read. The subtitle, The I received a free Kindle copy of The Man from the Train by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James courtesy of Net Galley and Scribner,  the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review to Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my history book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus pages. I requested this book as the description sounded very interesting. It is the first book by the authors that I have read. The subtitle, The Solving of a Century Old Serical Killer Mystery, is an adequate description of the book. It is a rather dull read due to the writing approach of the authors presenting the material in an almost "Joe Friday" format from the Dragnet television series (I know I am showing my age). Another slightly annoying detail is the authors briefly discussing a crime and then telling the reader that it will be covered in more detail in chapter xxx. They also included murders that were not part of the pattern or associated with individual that they identified as the serial killer. Again, I ask why include it other than fill pages. In summary, this book just did not grab me or engage me. It is unfortunate becaus I had high hopes for the book. I will say that others have given it rave reviews on Goodreads so they must have found value in the book that I did not.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rana

    At 48%, I'm letting this one go. It is not well-written at all, disjointed and repetitive. And worst for me? Some not very progressive references to mental health. Using the word crazy, okay sure sure. But referring to a serial killer as nutty is just plain ignorant and old. And Iet's be very clear that while the authors might have looked up some newspaper articles, they did very little research into serial killers, mental health, or anything remotely resembling crime behavior. Just not good. At 48%, I'm letting this one go. It is not well-written at all, disjointed and repetitive. And worst for me? Some not very progressive references to mental health. Using the word crazy, okay sure sure. But referring to a serial killer as nutty is just plain ignorant and old. And Iet's be very clear that while the authors might have looked up some newspaper articles, they did very little research into serial killers, mental health, or anything remotely resembling crime behavior. Just not good.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Taranee Anne

    This book was awful. It's so bad, I'm going to apologize in advance for what will likely read as a emotional outpouring of hatred for this book, because it is. It's terribly written. I hate when authors talk to you colloquially in the text, like they're telling you the story over a shitty beer in a dank local tavern (and I love dank taverns). It's unprofessional, amateurish, and in this book, falls absolutely flat. For example: (pg 15, regarding the story of Howard Little) "I believe Howard Littl This book was awful. It's so bad, I'm going to apologize in advance for what will likely read as a emotional outpouring of hatred for this book, because it is. It's terribly written. I hate when authors talk to you colloquially in the text, like they're telling you the story over a shitty beer in a dank local tavern (and I love dank taverns). It's unprofessional, amateurish, and in this book, falls absolutely flat. For example: (pg 15, regarding the story of Howard Little) "I believe Howard Little to have been an innocent man, although I can't explain to you *now* why I believe that. Much later in our book, in chapter XXXV, we will return to the [...] murders [...]. When we return to the story I will explain what I believe happened, and why I believe that, and you can decide then whether you agree or disagree. Perhaps, until then, you will be kind enough to suspend judgment? Appreciate it." PLEASE. I picked up this book to learn about how you and your daughter figured out this hundred year old mystery, which is quite an achievement and genuinely interesting, but instead you give me this fake-fireside-chat attempt at writing. It's terrible, and honestly it creeps me out. He doesn't stop with it either: Later when he insinuates that the killer masturbated over the dead bodies of his juvenile victims, he then continues the creepy vibe he has already developed between himself (the investigator/narrator) and us (the unsuspecting reader): (pg 83) "Something in the room would later cause the chief detective in the case to describe the perpetrator as a 'moral pervert'; what that was was never revealed, but you and I know." GROSS. Get your hand off my shoulder. But I kept reading to see if it got better. I try to give books at least a hundred pages before I give it up in despair. Sadly, my perseverance was not rewarded. The book continued on with no structure. He spent the ensuing chapters and chapters telling us about random towns all over the US where this axe murder took place, and that axe murder took place, and here's another axe murder that is *not* part of the serial killer's body count, but it added confusion to those who were investigating at the time, so let's talk about it too. Case in point: (pg 43, the one page chapter entitled "Chapter VI - Which is Not Really a Chapter") [First two paragraphs briefly detail two unsolved murders, promising to go into greater detail later in the book] [Last and final paragraph of the chapter] "... There are several things about the crime[s] that suggest the possibility that it could be part of our series, but the best evidence is that it is not. You will be better equipped to decide what you think about that after you know more [...] so we will hold off for now [until] chapter XXXVII. AND THAT IS THE WHOLE CHAPTER. Three stupid paragraphs (on one page) in which you just told us something that ultimately has nothing to do with the serial killer the book is written about, and you can't even tell us why for another 30 chapters. And this crap only gets worse. He makes specious assumptions, and terrible leaps of logic. See just one example of what passes for the author's "logic" below, regarding a bucket of beer found at the scene of one of the murders: (pg 64) "By far the most likely explanation for the bucket of beer is that it was simply a mistake. [...] How likely is it that a man who does not drink, and who had to be at work at seven o'clock the next morning, would go and buy a bucket of beer at eleven o'clock at night, even if he was expecting a houseguest? It doesn't make sense. It never happened. Either the saloon keeper confused the date of the purchase, or - more probably - he confused Casaway with somebody else." HOW DID YOU COME TO THIS CONCLUSION? What facts, if ANY, do you have to support this assumption? How is this supposed to be a feat of investigative journalism if you can't even string together a coherent, factual thought? There continues to be no organization to the story he is attempting to tell us, just chapter after chapter of murders with a connection to the serial killer and murders with no connection at all. No footnotes. No references. No evidence at all of his research. This is basically the journalistic equivalent of that conspiracy theorist that hangs out at your local dive bar. I realize my rambling diatribe against this book may bring echoes of pot-calling-the-kettle-black, but firstly I know that I'm doing it, and second I am still just that mad at wasting my time with this book. Please, spare yourself and vehemently skip this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erin Clemence

    In the beginning of the twentieth century, entire families were being brutally murdered in their sleep. Men, women and children were viciously killed by an axe, and left to die. Famed sportswriter, Bill James, and his daughter, Rachel McCarthy James, take the investigation into the twenty-first century. The pair examine the murders that shocked the small towns they happened in, and answered the questions the police at the time couldn’t. All of the crimes seemed to take place in small towns with In the beginning of the twentieth century, entire families were being brutally murdered in their sleep. Men, women and children were viciously killed by an axe, and left to die. Famed sportswriter, Bill James, and his daughter, Rachel McCarthy James, take the investigation into the twenty-first century. The pair examine the murders that shocked the small towns they happened in, and answered the questions the police at the time couldn’t. All of the crimes seemed to take place in small towns within miles of a train crossing, so the original axe murderer was soon deemed “The Man on the Train”. The James’ examine the different beliefs throughout the era about possible suspects, and dismiss all of the false claims from the media of the time. As mentioned, Bill James is known for his sports writing. In “The Man on the Train”, he does most of the writing, and his sports experience is evident, as he tends to write as if he is carrying on a conversation (for example, he will say things like- “Not sure you believe me? Well let’s see what happens next”) . The writing style wasn’t exactly off-putting, it was just unusual for an avid reader like myself. He also really, really seems to like bullet points, as he uses them regularly. “The Man on the Train” is more police procedural than serial killer study. The James’ compare and contrast police methods from the time, and analyze the crime scenes, exploring the clues from a historical perspective. Although it was interesting to hear about the practice of police work from the early twentieth century, I wanted to know more about the thinking and behaviours of the supposed train-traveling-axe-murderer. But of course, as this crime to this day remains unsolved, it is difficult to explore the psyche of an unknown subject. The novel has a choppy flow, which made it a little difficult to follow. The authors started by introducing a little bit of all of the murders, then would go back and discuss the murders in further detail. I am a stickler for good flow, and I would’ve enjoyed it more had the authors started at the beginning and carried through to the end, instead of stopping and re-starting the plot. There are some interesting things to be learned in this novel for sure, and the comparisons made between police work then and now will definitely give you pause (how have we changed? How, sadly, has society stayed the same?) . The crimes of the “original axe murderer” are grisly and heartbreaking, to be sure, and the ease with which the murderer seemed to go undetected for years is absolutely terrifying. “The Man on the Train” is definitely a novel for those who are interested in 20th century police procedures, and the way society functioned before the era of DNA and crime scene analysis. But if you are looking for an in-depth serial killer examination, you will not find what you are looking for.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Valerity (Val)

    This is quite an amazing dig into a long series of killings that include the Villisca murders, along with a whole lot of others that appear to be connected going both before and after that time. Bill James and his daughter Rachel did great research and this book is the bloody and frightening result. Read it and see what you think. Did "The Man From The Train" commit this series of twisted killings with such a distinct pattern to most of them? True crime, mystery and history lovers will be intrig This is quite an amazing dig into a long series of killings that include the Villisca murders, along with a whole lot of others that appear to be connected going both before and after that time. Bill James and his daughter Rachel did great research and this book is the bloody and frightening result. Read it and see what you think. Did "The Man From The Train" commit this series of twisted killings with such a distinct pattern to most of them? True crime, mystery and history lovers will be intrigued by this. My thanks to NetGalley, Scribner, and the authors, for providing me with a Kindle ARC for review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Newman

    This book was a marathon, not a sprint. As others have said, the premise is a good one - solving a hundred years old serial murder. And their conclusion about his identification is a logical one. It just took so long to get there. After awhile the case by case recounting became tedious. The authors sometimes seemed to reach in their conclusions that one man is likely responsible for the majority of these murders, perhaps due to their own confirmation bias. Also as others have also noted, the two This book was a marathon, not a sprint. As others have said, the premise is a good one - solving a hundred years old serial murder. And their conclusion about his identification is a logical one. It just took so long to get there. After awhile the case by case recounting became tedious. The authors sometimes seemed to reach in their conclusions that one man is likely responsible for the majority of these murders, perhaps due to their own confirmation bias. Also as others have also noted, the two distinct styles of the authors is obvious and noticeable. The book suddenly becomes more readable as you get closer to the end, while still complicated by their stubborn and distracting insistence to avoid end noting or footnoting by inserting all references directly in the text. Finally, some illustrations or at least a map would have added greatly to the telling of this story as the killer moves by train from town to town.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Interesting book about a serial killer who killed families close to railroads at the turn of the 20th century quite a detailed book and gives insights into detective methods which on the whole were poor.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    Really enjoyed this one -- the author has a very conversational tone that I found engaging. He does tend to be a little repetitive, but I didn't find that overly distracting. As a reader of history and true crime, I found the book to be especially interesting, and it presented many details of life in the early 1900s that were fascinating. I've seen people comment that the author's tone seemed disrespectful to those who were killed, but I didn't find it to be so -- I felt James was extremely symp Really enjoyed this one -- the author has a very conversational tone that I found engaging. He does tend to be a little repetitive, but I didn't find that overly distracting. As a reader of history and true crime, I found the book to be especially interesting, and it presented many details of life in the early 1900s that were fascinating. I've seen people comment that the author's tone seemed disrespectful to those who were killed, but I didn't find it to be so -- I felt James was extremely sympathetic, not only to the victims, but also to those who were (almost certainly wrongly) accused of the crimes. He also includes these people as peripheral victims of this killer. Some of the most chilling moments in this story are those detailing the lynchings of several innocent people who were accused of the killings -- the tension in the book rises as we are told the details leading up to these murders. The authors close the book with some intriguing theories that I found surprising and very interesting. Recommend, especially for fans of true crime.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katya

    Okay, I give up. I'm about 20% in and I just cannot get through this. We've hit the point where the tautological arguments are making my eyelid twitch, and that's never a good sign. Also, harping on all the amateur detectives who set themselves up as experts and interfered at the time with no idea what they were doing in a book by an amateur detective who is setting himself up as an expert but who clearly has no idea what he's doing is...something. James does a lot of cherry-picking from the ream Okay, I give up. I'm about 20% in and I just cannot get through this. We've hit the point where the tautological arguments are making my eyelid twitch, and that's never a good sign. Also, harping on all the amateur detectives who set themselves up as experts and interfered at the time with no idea what they were doing in a book by an amateur detective who is setting himself up as an expert but who clearly has no idea what he's doing is...something. James does a lot of cherry-picking from the reams of psychological data we now have on serial killers, selecting items that support his arguments and ignoring anything that doesn't, which is just bad rhetoric.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    This book made me rue my inability to not finish books.

  27. 5 out of 5

    McKenzie

    Imagine sitting down in a cozy diner booth and talking for hours about murder. Not just any murder, but the murder of entire families across America by a train-hopping, axe-wielding deviant. Sounds dark, but when you do it with Bill James—brilliant, folksy, and sincere—you never want to leave! The Man From the Train is an absolutely addictive trip though old America, following the bloody footprints of what must be one of the most prolific serial killers in history. Charming, creepy, and almost a Imagine sitting down in a cozy diner booth and talking for hours about murder. Not just any murder, but the murder of entire families across America by a train-hopping, axe-wielding deviant. Sounds dark, but when you do it with Bill James—brilliant, folksy, and sincere—you never want to leave! The Man From the Train is an absolutely addictive trip though old America, following the bloody footprints of what must be one of the most prolific serial killers in history. Charming, creepy, and almost academic in tone, true crime fans simply must read this!

  28. 4 out of 5

    BAM Endlessly Booked

    Not a fan of the format at all

  29. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Chung

    Ashley and I just finished our first round of themed reading where we pick a theme and read books from YA, Adult and Non-Fiction categories. Our theme if you can guess was serial killers. With that being said this book 'The Man from the Train' was definitely and interesting look on serial killer/killers in the late 1800's- early 1900's. This is a chunky monkey of a book so let me tell you the basics. Between the years 1900-1912 there were a ton of murders by axe. Every era has their "thing". This Ashley and I just finished our first round of themed reading where we pick a theme and read books from YA, Adult and Non-Fiction categories. Our theme if you can guess was serial killers. With that being said this book 'The Man from the Train' was definitely and interesting look on serial killer/killers in the late 1800's- early 1900's. This is a chunky monkey of a book so let me tell you the basics. Between the years 1900-1912 there were a ton of murders by axe. Every era has their "thing". This is also the second non-fiction about serial killers that I read in the last few months and so I'll be comparing 'I'll Be Gone in the Dark' to 'The Man from the Train', not by writing style or length or even by similarity of murder, but by the way the press and police handled the murders. The Man from the Train was never caught. That's why this book is a mystery. We have evidence that a lot of murders that took place during these 12 years had a lot of similarities. The main similarity is killing people with an axe. What is not always similar is which side of the axe was used to kill the victims. Now, during this 12 year period, newspapers at the time were talking about an axe murderer. People were hearing about axe murders and that enticed other murderers to use an axe. Just like in 'Ill Be Gone in the Dark' there were a lot of peeping toms and rape killings. It was a thing that got popular in the "killing community", sorry that sounds awful, but it's true. With that being said, all of the axe murders that took place during 1900-1912 couldn't have been only from The Man from the Train, just like all of the rape killings weren't only done by The Golden State Killer. Another similarity between books is the way the cops went about their investigations. In 1910, the police wasn't a strong force. Mainly people in small towns or unincorporated areas dealt with crime within their communities themselves. Occasionally the police would try to help out. But people back then, just like people now tend to ignore facts when they seem impossible. In 1910 the police couldn't fathom that a stranger riding the railways would hop on and off and murder families for no reason. That kind of evil is just not real right? The police in California in 1970 did the same thing. They couldn't believe a random stranger was selecting victims and killing them for no other reason then they wanted to. In 1910, the police in different jurisdictions, towns, states, etc., didn't' talk to each other. They never made the connection between murders. They same thing happened in 1970 with The Golden State Killer, the police wouldn't swap notes and connect the dots. We don't want to believe as a society that these kinds of evil people exist. With those two points out of the way, what was this book about? It's about an elusive serial killer. One that road the railroads searching for his next victims. It's about the inability of the police to see a connection and catch the killer before he disappeared. It's also about blaming people within the community because of irrational skepticism. A lot of innocent people are prosecuted because of this. In 1910 the innocently convicted were put to death by jury or by lynching from mob mentality. A lot of innocent Black people were charged for these crimes because of the color of their skin. This book is long at 466 pages. It could definitely have been condensed by about 100 pages. The author although entertaining and informative was very repetitious. There are a lot of families murdered in this book and I had to take copious notes in order to keep them straight. There are 3 sections to this book and at the end of a section the author would grace us with a timeline of the murders. I think it would have been better suited for those timelines to be at the beginning of the chapter. Don't worry about spoiling us...this is a non-fiction. The author really beats the reader over the head about his theory on who the man on the train was and which murders he probably committed. I have to agree with the majority, but it really is all speculation because there is no proof. If you are interested in serial killers, I'd definitely pick up this book and make your own conclusions based on the small amount of evidence that could be taken from the past. Do you think these killings were all apart of the same series of murders? Was it the same person or a copy cat? Was killing with an axe just the "thing" to do because axes were so readily available before central heating? Definitely fun to ponder.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Small

    My thanks to NetGalley, Bill James and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The Man From the Train reads like an investigative record....because it is! The research of homicides at the turn of the last century is extraordinary. It is interesting to note how a crime is "solved" without ballistic testing or forensic work: hearsay, unreliable witnesses, gut instincts of the accusers. Lynchings were common. Guilt by loose association, and definitely guilt unless one My thanks to NetGalley, Bill James and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The Man From the Train reads like an investigative record....because it is! The research of homicides at the turn of the last century is extraordinary. It is interesting to note how a crime is "solved" without ballistic testing or forensic work: hearsay, unreliable witnesses, gut instincts of the accusers. Lynchings were common. Guilt by loose association, and definitely guilt unless one could prove their innocence. Fascinating and enlightening! It is a factual accounting of an undetected serial killer that recent research has exposed.. If you like reading a fact-based litany of the research into true crime and murders, then this book is for you. It is a laborious read due to the technical aspect. A LOT of information and details are thrown at the reader, and it is difficult to absorb it all. Furthermore, there are so many people mentioned ( some that are completely irrelevant to this book) that is becomes overwhelming and somewhat confusing. I believe I prefer historical fiction rather than textbook-like facts that slowly and methodically build a serial killer case. Again, it was very informative and enlightening!

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