“Sleep in Heavenly Pieces”

December 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

I am in a festive mood this Christmas Eve, so please enjoy with me this beloved, classic Austin Christmas Eve tale, as first told by the Austin Daily Statesman on Christmas morning.

December 25, 1885


Last Night’s Horrible Butchery.

The Demons Have Transferred Their Lust for Blood to White People.

Between 11 and 12 o’clock last night, while a Statesman reporter was engaged in conversation with City Marshal Lucy, at Martin’s shoe store corner, Private Watchman Wilkie came up very hurriedly and speaking to Captain Lucy said:

“A woman has been chopped to pieces down on East Water street. Go down there.”

Instantly, Marshal Lucy and the reporter took the first carriage at hand and were driven quickly to East Water street, where the foul and bloody assault had been committed. The victim of this murderous, diabolical, hellish attack, is a white lady, the wife of Mr. M.H. Hancock, an elderly man and a mechanic.

When the reporter entered the premises, he found doctors Burt and Graves dressing the ghastly wounds in the head of the unfortunate victim. The skull was fractured in two places, and blood was coming from both ears. Her groans of agony were piercing, and with what seemed to be her expiring breath, cupfuls of blood were emitted from her mouth.

The reporter questioned Mr. Hancock, and from him but a distracted, disconnected narration could be obtained. He said that his daughter had gone out to a Christmas eve party, somewhere in the neighborhood, and as they were not expected to be out late the doors were left unlocked.

Something woke him up, when he suddenly realized the fact that his house had been robbed. Feeling for his clothes, he discovered that his pants were gone. Getting up, he went to his wife’s room, in the east end of his humble cottage, which was lighted by the full glare of the moon; when he was almost paralyzed by the sight of clots of blood on the bed, and his wife no where to be seen. The room presented every appearance of a robbery having been committed. He went out at a back door and going to the rear of his premises, he saw his wife, lying prone upon the ground, weltering in a pool of blood.

Picking her up, he started back to the house, all the time calling his neighbor, Mr. Pereinger, for help.

Obeying the distressing summons, Mr. Pereinger hastily dressed himself and crossing his own yard into that of Mr. Hancock, he saw the old man lying across a wooden walk, with his bleeding and mangled wife in his arms. Mr. Pereinger assisted Mr. Hancock to carry the butchered wife and mother into the parlor, or sitting room, and in a few minutes afterwards, Dr. Burt arrived and was speedily followed by Dr. Graves.

Owing to the excited state of mind in which marshal Lucy and the reporter found the people who had assembled at Mr. Hancock’s premises, it was almost next to impossible to collect anything like detailed data.

With a coolness and precision that denote the courageous officer, Marshal Lucy gave his orders, and he himself at once set about trailing the murderous villains who had perpetrated the hellish deed. The city’s blood hounds were brought to the house and given a start in the direction in which Hancock said he saw two men jump the fence.

The dogs worked all right, for a short while, but not at all satisfactory to the officer (Uncle Dick) who handled them, when they were brought back and given another start, and when the reporter left the premises, they were apparently working well, taking a trail which led in a westerly direction, or up the river.

The weapon used was an old axe, which was taken by officer Johnson, and is now at the police station.

While still gathering notes, absolutely kneeling by the side of the evidently dying lady, a shrill voice from the street cried to the reporter that another murder had been committed in the second ward, on the premises of Mr. James Phillips. Quickly as possible, the reporter went there.

Terrible as was the murder of Mrs. Hancock, a still more appalling horror awaited the police officers. Mr. James Phillips, architect and builder, well known in this city, who resides at No. 312 W. Hickory street, near the heart of the city. The residence is a one-story house, with an L extending to the south and towards Hickory street. Between the L and the main building, which contains several rooms. There is a kind of platform or covered veranda connecting the two wings. A small room in the L was occupied by Mr. Phillips’ son, James Phillips, Jr., and his wife, Mrs. Eula Phillips. Last night Mr. Phillips and his wife and little child retired to bed as usual. Sometime past midnight the household was awakened and their attention was attracted by Mr. Phillips, Jr., in calling for someone. The door of the room, which opened out onto the covered veranda, was found open.

The pillows and bed clothes presented a horrid spectacle, being literally saturated with blood and the sheets reddened with gore. Phillips lay on his right side, with a deep wound just above the ear made with an ax which lay beside the bed. Mrs. Phillips was not there, but her child remained all besmeared with blood, but unharmed. Search was immediately initiated for the missing woman. A trail of blood, still fresh on the floor of the outside verandah, was followed out into the yard, and in the northern part of the enclosure, a few feet from the fence, and at the door of the water closet, Mrs. Phillips was found dead.

The body was entirely nude, and a piece of timber was laid across the bosoms and arms, and evidently used for the most hellish and damnable purpose. The hands were outstretched and a great pool of blood, still warm and scarcely coagulated, stood in a little trench, into which the life current had flowed down from the unfortunate victim.

The body had been dragged from the room, but whether Mrs. Phillips was killed in the room, or, as the elder Mr. Phillips thinks, she was awakened by the assault on her husband and attempted to escape, cannot be determined. It is believed, however, the assassins stifled her voice, and that she was still alive when dragged into the yard where she was outraged and then the last and fatal blow delivered.

The position of the body indicated that the devilish act was perpetrated with the assistance of a second party, as both hands were held down by pieces of wood, in which position the fiends left their victim and in which she must have died.

The elder Phillips stated that while this most horrible crime was being committed everything was as silent as usual. No cutury seems to have been heard, so skillfully did the inhuman butcher or butchers carry out a crime worthy of the imps of hell.

Phillips, the wounded man, was seen a short time after this awful and infernal crime. A physician was present and had given him a soothing potion, but stated he had not investigated the wound and could not say whether the skull was fractured or not. When asked if he knew who struck him, Mr. Phillips deeply groaned, and said he did not. It is believed his wound is serious, if not fatal. The wound of his dead wife was also to the head, and evidently with the same axe with which he had been struck. At the late hour at which this is written it is impossible to give the full details of this appalling assassination.

P.S., you can visit Susan Hancock’s grave in Oakwood Cemetery. It’s easy to find, somewhere in the middle, south side. Eula is buried in the family plot in the oldest section of the cemetery, the location of which has been lost with time. The other 1885 victims rest in unmarked graves.

So, may all you sleep in heavenly peace. And maybe tomorrow I will tell the tale of Austin’s greatest Christmas Night murder of all. Maybe.


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