The Cooper Brothers

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Analysis and Interview With "Texas Monthly" Executive Editor Skip Hollandsworth: Non-fiction Crime Book "Midnight Assassin" about the Austin 1885 Serial Murders.

Chris Rice Cooper 

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**The links along with the names of the persons and/or organizations are at the end of this piece in alphabetical order.  Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

***Excerpts from The Midnight Assassin:  Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer are highlighted this way.

Skip Hollandsworth’s
The Midnight Assassin: 
Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer
“The Community of Souls:  Social Responsibility In the Wake of Serial Killer Mayhem”

When Texas Monthly Executive Editor Skip Hollandsworth, 60, was a young teenager living in Wichita Falls, Texas he along with his friends would make the Friday night ritual of driving by the local mental hospital, North Texas State Hospital (Left), which he described in the June 2010 issue of Texas Monthly.  
       "For us, the state hospital, which nearly everyone referred to as LSU, or Lakeside University, because it was located across from Lake Wichita (Right attributed to Michael Barera), was our real-life haunted house. The fact that two thousand adults were being treated for 'insanity' out in those buildings, just past the city limits sign, simply tortured our imaginations." 
He switched seats from the truck to the actual hospital room where he would play the cello for the patients of North Texas State Hospital. (Left)   Soon he became a volunteer in every department of the hospital communicating with the patients in what he described as a “community of souls who had never been able to make it on the outside.”
       “I volunteered at the hospital, utterly curious about the patients who had crossed some invisible line into an unknown world.”  Hollandsworth said to CRC Blog in an email interview on December 8, 2017.
The patients made a huge impact on Hollandsworth and his career choice of becoming a journalist:  I realized that what I loved about my visits was that I got the chance to study people who went right up to the line of normal behavior—and then, inexplicably, stepped over it. I was captivated by the patients and tried to fathom what it felt like to be swept away by madness.”  Hollandsworth wrote in a Texas Monthly article.  Above Left Melancholia attributed to Albrecht Durer in 1514.
Hollandsworth received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Texas Christian University in 1979 and has been writing ever since:  screenplays, crime stories, celebrity features, but his most recent accolade is the crime nonfiction book Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt For America’s First Serial Killer, published by Henry Holt and Company in hardback and kindle on April 5, 2016; and paperback on April 11, 2017. The Midnight Assassin cover design is by David Shoemaker.

 From December 31, 1884 to December 24, 1885 the city of Austin, Texas was terrorized by America’s fist serial killer, christened the Midnight Assassin.  The Midnight Assassin ritualistically, barbarically, and viciously murdered seven women and one man with axes, knifes, rods, screwdrivers, clubs, and bricks.
The first of the eight murders occurred on December 31, 1884 when African American cook and maid Mollie Smith, 23, (in article on Left) was stabbed repeatedly in the chest and stomach, the stab wounds so deep they revealed her internal organs. She also had slash wounds to her legs and arms. Her head was almost chopped in two by an ax; on May 7, 1885 African
American woman Eliza Shelley, 31, (Right) had ax wounds and screwdriver wounds to her head and between her eyes in addition to stab wounds, some four inches deep, all over her body; on May 22, 1885
African American cook Irene Cross, 33, (Left) had an ax scalping head wound and her arm nearly severed; on August 29, 1885
African American girl

     Mary Ramey, 11, (Right) had a rod slammed through both of her ears and both sides of her brain; on September 28, 1885 African American cook Gracie Vance was
beaten to death with a brick and her boyfriend Orange Wash-
ington (detailed in article on left) was beaten to death with an ax; on December 24, 1885 prominent white woman Susan Hancock, (Below Right) 43, had a rod penetrating both ears to her brain;  and on that same night of December 24, 1885
prominent white Eula Phillips,17, (Below Left) had her head chopped in two by an ax; disturbingly, unlike the other murders, her body was placed in a crucifixion pose with three small pieces of wood across her chest and her stomach.
Hollandsworth, who has been writing for Texas Monthly since 1989, first heard of the Austin murders in 1988 when he met with Nicole Krizak, a Texas public high school teacher who happened to be working on her own novel based on the Austin murders. This spiked Holland-sworth’s interest and he began
his research almost immediately.  He and Krizak would compare notes and would meet to discuss the progress of their work:  "Nicole was wanting to write a novel about the murders, and I wanted to write a non-fiction book about the killings.  We discussed theories about the case,"  Hollandsworth (Above Right) said to CRC Blog in an email interview on December 7, 2017.

 Hollandsworth spent almost twenty-five years researching and writing Midnight Assassin until its final completion in 2013.  In the an interview with Heather Seggel (Left) of Book Page Hollandsworth stated:
“Throughout the writing of the book, I would wonder, Could it be this man? (Jack the Ripper aka James Maybrick Right) Or that man? (“four-toed Negro” Nathan Elgin)  Is the killer a barefoot chicken thief? (Oliver Townsend) Or is he a famous politician? (John Hancock Below Left) Is he a Malaysian cookwho disappeared suddenly just after the last set of killings? (Alaska or Maurice) Or
is he well-known young doctor who worked at the state lunatic asylum? (Dr. James P. Given Below Right) The answer has got to be out there somewhere—in an old musty record in a police department filing cabinet, or in a letter hidden away in someone’s
attic. Maybe this book will lead to the answer. But then again, maybe not. After all, this killer was unlike anyone ever before seen—a brilliant, cunning monster who set off a citywide panic, and then disappeared forever.”
Hollandsworth had no difficulty finding a publisher, Henry Holt and Company, (1904 Logo Left) for his non-fiction book, which is surprising to me since the book truly has no ending – the America’s first serial killer remains unknown to this day. 

Why then could I not put Hollandsworth’s Midnight Assassin down?  Perhaps because what makes this nonfiction book connect with its readership is that finally we have a nonfiction work not completely focused on the serial killer but on the victims, their family, and their community.  Every aspect of the community from the housewife, the local storeowner to the mayor to the police chief and even to the state governor is affected and in someway scarred by the year of carnage the Midnight Assassin left.  (Above Right Illustration by David Palumbo for Texas Monthly.  Copyright granted by David Palumbo) 
But the victimization continued – and not by the Midnight Assassin but by all of Austin (Left in 1888), which Hollandsworth described as his most interesting character.   
There were the white employers of the first five victims.  Why were these employers not held accountable for not providing a safe environment for their workers?  Why were the upper class and wealthy more concerned with greed and what attire to wear instead of finding the truth?  Why were the politicians in Austin more concerned with power, winning the next election, and their public persona instead of finding the truth?  Why were the defense attorneys and the District Attorney focused on winning the next court case instead of finding the truth? 

There is also the issue of police brutality – the same issue that greets us even today; but back then it was more prevalent and more acceptable especially if the person who was under arrest was of the lighter skin shade. (Right Austin Police on March 21, 1885)
It’s pretty obvious and clear to me that the white society, particularly the upper crust white society, did not panic at the thought of the first five murders – the victims after all were only black  – but all that changed when two prominent white women were murdered in much the same way. (Above Left Moses Hancock - Susan Hancock's Husband) 
There are numerous questions about politics, race economics, and prejudice that are asked in this book that we should ask today.  For the same things that happened in Austin in 1885 are happening in today’s culture.  Are we doing all we can do to prevent Austin 1885 from happening, again?  (Above Right Jimmy Phillips- Eula Phillips's husband)
Finally we have a seasoned writer who is brave enough to ask ALL the right questions – not only who the killer is?  Who the victims are?  And who the community is?  But what we as a community are responsible for – especially for individuals who are marginalized? (Above Left Skip Hollandsworth)
       One of the many good solid reasons why Midnight Assassin is a work of art, reliable research and superb story telling is because Hollandsworth had the same goal as Truman Capote (Right)– not to write the non-fiction novel; but to make sure this historical non-fiction book had the same story-telling elements of the fiction novel.
“I tried to make the scenes novelistic, but I wrote it as a straight-forward, documented history.” Hollandsworth told CRC blog.  Hollandsworth gave Talia Lavin (Above Left) of the New Yorker, a more detailed answer on June 20, 2016 issue below right:  “Serial killers create better
chronological narrative.  You have a killing; you have a break. You have a second killing; you have a break. It gives you a chance to watch the panic begin to build, watch the fear rise, slowly and slowly.  The structure lends itself to drama.  The building of suspense leads to a spectacular dénouement, in which the killer is either caught or commits a final atrocity before evading justice.”
I asked Hollandsworth if the same North State Texas Hospital that influenced his decision on being a journalist influenced the writing of Midnight Assassin.  His response was no.  I found his response surprising especially since he has a fascination with the patients of the mental state hospital and has a mission of focusing on the victims, especially those who are marginalized.  And perhaps the most marginalized victims of all would be those who are confined in a mental facility. (Above Right Portrait of the Insane attributed to Theodore Gericault in 1822)
And that mental facility in Midnight Assassin is the State Lunatic Asylum, which is supervised by superintendent Dr. Ashley Denton. (Right)  Dr. Denton, 48, is a member of the upper crust white society but unlike most of his counterparts, Dr. Denton was compassionate and treated his 550 patients as valued human beings.
Dr. Denton received $200,000 from the legislature and spent the funds on landscaping the grounds with lily ponds, gazebos, benches, green grass, flowers, shrubbery, statues, and curvy dirt paths.   Dr. Benton had the ten-foot-high picket fence surrounding the hospital and its grounds torn down and replaced it with a four-foot high fence.

He also had the asylum’s cemetery, where unclaimed lunatics were buried, moved from its spot next to the main building to a plot of land over a hill so that his patients would not have to see it and be overcome with morbid thoughts.

He had the walls of the hospital painted a sparkling cheerful white, purchased new beds for the patients’ rooms, and decorated the hallways with fresh flowers. In addition he also allowed cats and dogs to wonder the asylum grounds, which uplifted the patients’ spirits.
He also allowed the patients to wear the clothing of their choice, which was normally their own personal clothing, which boosted the patients’ morale. (Patients and visitors Left)

He also set up a daily schedule for the patients in which they were awakened before dawn, given a bountiful breakfast (a leading theory of the day was that much of insanity was due to a lack of proper nutrition), sent off to work (most of them labored on the asylum’s 120-acre farm or its 15-acre orchard) and then encouraged at the end of the day to develop what Denton called “their gray cellular material” by reading books and newspapers in the day rooms, singing patriotic songs around a piano, playing cards, chess, or billiards, or bowling on the single ten-pin lane in the asylum basement.

On February 12, 1886 Dr. Denton’s daughter Ella was to be married to Dr. James P Given, the asylum’s assistant superintendent.  Dr. Denton chose the wedding day to introduce his version of the asylum to the Austin middle, wealthy and upper crust whites.  Dr. Denton made sure the wedding guests knew what the emergency bell was used for (to sound in case a patient escape) and that it had been silent for the past several months.

His patients had no desire to run away, Denton said.  For them the asylum was a rural paradise, a peaceful refuge, an Eden-like outpost far away from the unbearable rigors of civilization.

Unfortunately that civilization at the time was Austin 1885 where an unknown but clever serial killer was on the loose and all aspects of the community were affected.  The sadness of the story, other than the carnage of what the Midnight Assassin did and left behind, is that the community as a whole did not try their utmost best to find out the truth; or perhaps at the very least their motives were never pure and in fact self-motivating.
Perhaps that is the horror of this story – a horror that is repeated even today.

*Read an excerpt from Midnight Assassin by clicking on the link below:

WEB LINKS in alphabetic order

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Guest Blog Post By Australian Poet Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke

Chris Rice Cooper 

*The images in this specific   piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**The links along with the names of the persons and/or organizations are at the end of the piece in alphabetical order.  Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

Guest Blogger
Australian Poet Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke
The Jesus Suite


and immediately all the doors were 
opened and everyone’s chains were 
Acts Ch. 16 v 26

Percy Bysshe Shelley (left) 

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Necessity of Atheism knocked
on my sterile nineteen-year-old mind.  Heaven some sort of 
irrelevant stalagmite some sort of dark object passing 
beyond consciousness—stalled years morphed into nothing 
an orbit bleating as consequence as colours of perception 
contract then flower then move to a now shared in coming 
from something—I am miles away from supper—need is a
quality of still point of poetry sudden in discourse.  This
Age is early, a brilliant cornucopia yet souls flap uselessly
as days form, unform kiss the sensate veil, let wholeness be
under longing each fey mountain of belief


King Solomon 

So I turned to consider wisdom and 
madness and folly
Ecclesiastes, Ch. 2 v 12

                    Vanitas attributed to Pieter Claeszoon

Inspire each rise, let life be pure imagination borne by
smoke vague and calling my heart the blood ever coursing
a few steps ahead.  Wise man, why can’t I bottle joy why
must I build with sticks as I kiss each beautiful leaf each
silent friend baring their past handfuls of time white rose
petals a sixfold music peppermint-flavoured bitten from
difficult knotted wings—this system flawed and beautiful
buried somewhere in clouds, each gentle molecule aware. 
I am a creature of skin of erect edges of folded, old
beginnings.  The sun is old its dreams are older than GOD.
Nothing coheres quickly.


Book of Job 

He does great things and unsearchable, marvelous 
things without number
Job, Ch. 5 v 9

Begotten in word and style, an alphabet curved into water
three times drunk as art and sun play as carnival—pass
under future history replete with cirrus clouds and the
festivity of the colour yellow, each mask lengthens with
sunset, lakes in eclipse cleanse an urge to Heaven
belonging to a ladder in a world touching silent scars a
birth with stars growing in space elegant with search and
number—missing from September’s guise perfect wise
allies soak their sails under bridges and I am covered by
foam, to emerge as poetry pink in spiritual heat, intricate 
as prophecy that lets my surfaces syncopate in form


Painting attributed to Margaretta Angelica Peale 

Sustain me with raisins
The Song of Solomon, Ch. 2 v 5

Left: attributed to Salvador Dali; Right:  Joan Keats attributed to William Hilton

Be a poem that erodes swiftly, let dust never be rock, else
day not erode into sound  Percy Bysshe Shelley loved
raisins, almost super sensually—a Red Sea moment parted
his ink, it rose in beauty in mystery as deep as forming a
universal heart chaste with song  Give otherworldly songs
air—each star is invention high, implied & sacred.  Be shy,
each soul recovers their promises blown into skin, and yes,
time mystical and exotic direction.  Let us drink the cup
of John Keats, it is all we knew, and as heaven offers
birth, the pieces contend for a quilt of light to adorn
a mild spirituality replacing objects for words


1896 image of David praying

Turn, O LORD, save my life; 
deliver me for the sake of
your steadfast love
Psalm 6 v 4

Left Weeping Coconuts or Coconut Tears attributed to Frida Kahlo; Right Moses on the Knesset Menorah 

Time is perfected in wayward sway, muscular galaxies
completing their poetries weave & explosion, dark with
extent to claim the sky—below the future personality
muddied by etiquette offering repose in its fruits felt as
tears, a style, a class of taunt thousands of years said—let
us ask sleep, else we dream invisible pyramids made with
broken stones.  Is that you coughing Moses.  Was the
sunshine too sweet.  Manna and cranberry juice forty
years delicate music within the trek of breezes  It’s hot
in pink places, style a language of taken breath, vegetables
of our youth that decorated water with light, & burden


None of my words will be delayed any longer, but the
word that I speak will be fulfilled
Ezekiel, Ch. 12 v 28

Fruits and Strawberries attributed to Salvador Dali 

GOD, toss your three-sided magical coin—I claim your
Antarctic strawberry magic as a certainty flowering in
angelic history that shuffles from art to cure, from answer
to a hymn of skies in another somewhere usually clothed in
another way, vows making butterfly wings stronger than
guns.  It benefits a view of being—let us visit idea in our
soul’s essence, as several phantasms from decades ago 
sew themselves black cloaks in time.  Barely has belief 
registered any wandering sensation—let us shoot our 
great-grandfathers’ yellow sense of time as the tide ebbs 
again, as magic seizes the new reflections once lost


Encampment of Isrealites on Mount Sina 
1836 Intaglio print attributed coo J.M. W. Turner 

all Israelites shall retain the inheritance of their 
ancestral tribes
Numbers, Ch. 36 v 7

A crisis.  Six copies of The Necessity of Atheism are extant. 
I love Percy Bysshe Shelley, but he is not my saviour.  A
solution in the heart of a tree—echoes, the fragrance that
colours persistent fire.  The saints of five hundred years ago
are friends of woolly soul.  Let us fall sweetly, with
coincidence and skin, with writing a place where hope
is waterproof, and nourishes the roots of trees, transmutes
them through air—listen as wombs hold love and other
decorations won from patterns.  There is no stopping. 
There is a potential death.  And another believes in
souvenirs & south-westerlies



I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, 
who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty
The Revelation to John, Ch. 1 v 8

Jesus Christ was my personal saviour, oh but that I had
known my insane mind was His.  I was an atheist, loving
nothing but my spiritual blindness—and His holy delight
someness excited my soul even whilst the sun, delicately
poised, agrees to winter.  The cost is between us.  Let us
sail into seasons evolved into smoke toked by monks and
thieves.  Let us steal geometry put it into a canvas bag,
destined for Russia’s clumsy perhaps.  Oh, purpose, as
Christ bursts my heart.  I was mute, overcome.  My
juice slaked my shallow courtesy and fruits and flour
and halva were a halo


I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the
beginning and the end
The Revelation to John, Ch. 22 v 13

Fitzgerald-Clarke's handwritten notes of Jesus Suites

Auditioning for death each day, Jesus Christ will be my
personal saviour, I just don’t know it as days offer their
marrow as air troubles a music disturbing thought.  For
each cloudy, quivering soul night raises quiet with, Jesus
is more than psychological truth as his steps pen a
manuscript of starry light that travels from heart to heart. 
A complete and immense beauty of purpose.  A love an
unrestrained vastity.  And no words find me alone—the
streets of the city might be unforgiving, so let us sing
resurrection, let us fly to a oneness of perpetual blossoms,
where faith given fruit a moment to be generous.


Heart Illustration with circulatory system attributed to Bryan Brandenburg 

my heart stands in awe of your words
Psalm 119 v 161

Is there half a gate.  Is there a three-sided coin.  A journey
of will missing a wayfarer, be equipped with a thermometer
and a femininity of mind.  Let us love endlessly unsettled
between act and falling.  The knowledge sleeps through
many weathers chipped with unusual dust  Priests of the
secular dream change your money invest in pomiculture
and marry the piercing wind purveying opposites—let the
Age meander away from urgency to the forever ambivalent
landscape a few words cannot form.  Please learn the ethics
of gruel, as a jazz riffs mythic lines noctilucent in Mary’s
womb.  Peer into the insides of sight, grip and hold passing


St. John the Evangelist by Domenico Zampieri 1620

And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent 
his Son as the Saviour of the world
The First Letter of John, Ch. 4 v 14

The Red List attributed to Marc Chagall

A pleasant poetry is not enough.  I take my soul in my hands,
and fling it into Jesus author of flowers and heart dancers and
the gamble of skies.  Let us hug time, call its husk an escape
from confusion, the genes of a bird made from air imagined
and led through cloud.  Jesus, this clumsy nothing is young
with prophecy flowing into its past.  A design thin with
intimate instances of heaven, the opportunity to be steadfast,
and other.  Immersed in truth, yet terrible, narrow warfare
remains difficult—sour wine in a coffee cup, a bird pecking
at a sacred cake.  Let us taste butter straight from the churn
as we reminisce, and cherish eternity


The first page of Colossians

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the 
universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the 
The Letter of Paul to the Colossians, Ch. 2 v 20

Attributed to Salvador Dali 

Ah, the airy murk about the tree of blood.  Rest in fallibility smeared between women and men equal in inner pink as seas mutate, clasp fingers, see innascibility as both divine and new syrups from names floating near hurricanes.  Let us skirt ancient continents, and follow string theory incanted in candlelight.  Let us open windows, trace curlicues in the ways to holiness.  Let us number affections forcing equivalence from air to soul to the New Testament of the Holy Bible—sing our humanity, its sweet currents layers of Paradise.  Meanwhile  Christ becomes word becomes earth becomes mountain—love becomes infinite contraction, awakening.


30 AD Greek papyrus of Gospel Luke 

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh
The Gospel According to Luke, Ch. 6 v 21

The Magpie attributed to Claud Monet 

How many saviours does it take to make paint dry.  I’m in
detox. Soon I will be able to fly again, when I stich my 
velour wings. Look up the cashed-up fish then windsurf 
the nearest lake.  Jesus, the breezes animate being 
gooseberry green—the RHS raw with heat until coincidence 
wings overhead toward the glassy moon—oh, cold thought, 
Antarctica is the promised land, raise another solution 
teacher watch it become a stubborn number longing to 
leave Earth.  Happy are the honeybees drinking from hollow
time.  Jesus, plant extempore apple trees, secures the 
language of fruit.  And holy numbers as sheep as doves 
in drizzle


Is A House Full Enough attributed to Hyatt Moore
Copyright granted by Hyatt Moore

If any want to become my followers, let them deny 
themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me
The Gospel According to Luke, Ch. 9 v 23

Yes, in the Townsville quiet, Jesus Christ is my personal
saviour. Yes, the quiet music of the solar system bequeathed
by GOD is corporeal prayer.  And ideas sing, there is no 
ending as true as the corporeal poetry of Jesus, the faces, 
the breath kissing absence.  Yes, I have prayed the protection 
of the blood of Christ shed on the cross, and in the 
sumptuous spontaneity of this moment the sound of the 
wind through the trees intimates the one tree most alive.  
A sudden shock. A voice writing love.  And beyond a 
universe-sized miracle, a universe surpassing miracle 
languid and perfect.  Thanks Jesus.  Faith is washing me.  
I’m ready