300: UT librarian sheds light upon century-old murder mystery

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After presenting the 1880s “Servant Girl Murders” as a potential graduate research study topic, UT-Austin librarian James Galloway has spent years devoting his time to uncovering the truth. He now curates his own website where he posts details about the murders as he learns more. 

Photo Credit: Chase Karacostas | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: In 300 words or fewer, this series spotlights people in our community whose stories typically go untold. 

Austin’s moontowers are bright beacons in the nighttime skyline, but information tucked away in the Travis County archives reveals a dark history that UT-Austin librarian James Galloway is dead set on illuminating. 

The towers were erected in response to a murder spree that struck fear into the hearts of Austinites in the 1890s. Though one of the victims’ husbands was tried and convicted, his verdict was overturned. To this day, the identity of the serial killer remains unclear, but people such as Galloway have hunches.

“You really can’t get away with killing eight people in one space in that short of a time without leaving any traces behind,” Galloway said. 

Galloway’s interest in these murders was sparked when, as a graduate student in library science at UT, he drafted a research proposal on the topic.

“I was working with these pieces of journalism that were so colorfully written,” Galloway said. “They were very interesting to read because it was like a 19th century murder mystery.”

Years after he began this initial research, Galloway returned to this project and wrote a 2010 book whose title took the local name from the crimes: “The Servant Girl Murders.” 

Galloway said the digital age is making it easier to unlock the mystery; he curates a website where he posts new details about the killings as they’re uncovered.

“Research was really hard to do because it was before Google, but over the past few years new stuff has surfaced as it’s being digitized,” Galloway said.

Galloway believes the new information will help prove his theory that the killer was none other than Nathan Elgin, a cook who worked in a downtown Austin restaurant.

“As a research librarian,” Galloway said, “finding things is what I enjoy doing most.”

Correction: The original story read that the "towers were erected in response to a murder spree that struck fear into the hearts of Austinites in the 1890s." The murder spree actually took place in the 1880s. The Texan regrets this error.