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

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

Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James. Scribner, $28 (480p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9625-3

Pioneering baseball analyst Bill James (he created the Sabermetrics statistical analysis system) successfully transfers his detail-oriented mind-set to true crime in this suspenseful historical account, cowritten with his daughter, Rachel McCarthy James. The authors’ focus is a series of murders, perhaps as many as 100, committed by a killer they call “the man from the train,” who slaughtered entire households, mostly in the Midwest, during the first two decades of the 20th century. Beginning with the best known of the crimes—the massacre of the Moore family in Villisca, Iowa, in 1912—the Jameses identify the signature elements of the crimes: the murderer struck near train tracks, used the blunt side of an axe, left valuables behind, covered his victims’ heads with cloth, and displayed a sexual interest in prepubescent females. The authors, who culled data from hundreds of thousands of small-town newspapers of the era to identify crimes not initially thought connected, build their case with an innovative mix of statistical analysis and primary sources. They conclude with a plausible identification of the culprit, but the strength of the book hangs on their diligent research and analysis connecting crimes into the closing years of the 19th century. Even those skeptical at the outset that one man was responsible for so much bloodshed are likely to be convinced. [em](Aug.) [/em]