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

Bill James is a savant of baseball statistics and probabilities. When he stumbled upon the unsolved 1912 axe killing of a Villasca, Iowa, family of eight, the lifelong Kansan began to comb newspaper archives for similar crimes in the southern Midwest. One unsolved grisly murder led to another until James put aside baseball to enlist his daughter's help to research every remotely similar case.

The Man from the Train is the story of their work mapping historical crimes and logging the key repeating elements of the murders. Working backward in time from 1912, they uncovered almost 100 killings that fit the pattern. They statistically categorized and tracked the incidents from Texas to Nova Scotia, convinced that the slaughters were the work of one man who traveled by local trains to and from the scenes. And they were confident that modern tools of forensics, coupled with the Internet's deep data, statistical analysis and their persistence would turn up the identity of the serial killer. Remarkably, they were right.

As one might expect from someone who has built a career out of replacing anecdotal baseball scripture with statistical analysis, James chronicles crime scene after crime scene with a methodical storytelling flair. As he ends an early chapter, "I will explain what I believe happened and why I believe that, and you can decide whether you agree or disagree. Perhaps, until then, you will be kind enough to suspend judgment? Appreciate it." As readers follow along with the authors' true-crime sleuthing, they're apt to become convinced. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Powered by: Xtenit