Sunday, January 3, 2010
The Atlanta Ripper-Who was the serial killer stalking the African American Community in Atlanta in the early 1900s?
For four years in Atlanta, beginning in 1911, someone terrorized the African American community and became known as the Atlanta Ripper, a play off the name of the famous London killer in the Whitechapel district in the late 1800s known as "Jack the Ripper." For those four years, an unknown killer, or as some put it, killers, roamed the dark streets of Atlanta, preying upon young African American women, as well as some of mixed race. The list of victims swelled to over 20 people, as the city was in the grips of fear over where and against whom the fiend would strike next.
The Atlanta Ripper claimed his first victim in January 1911 with the murder of Rosa Trice. Trice's body was found near Gardner Street, and it was in a severe state. Her head was crushed and her throat was cut, some saying it was slashed from ear to ear. Other victims were found in the Grant Park area, and by the spring of 1911, the killing spree had grown. Other victims included Belle Walker, Addie Watts, Lena Sharpe, Sadie Holley, as well as others. Perhaps the most frightening encounter came with Emma Lou Sharpe, a young woman that many think came face to face with the Atlanta Ripper AFTER he had killed her mother.
On July 1, 1911, Emma Lou Sharpe, at home on Hanover Street, was awaiting the return of her mother, Lena Sharpe, who had gone shopping for groceries. Realizing that it was dangerous out on the streets because of all the murders, Emma Lou became worried about her mother after she had been gone for over an hour. Knowing it was not the better part of wisdom to go looking for her, Emma Lou decided against her best judgement and went out on the streets. She left home and went to the market in search of her mother. She was terrified to find that her mother had never gotten there. While she was returning home, she came upon a stranger, a tall black man with broad shoulders and donning a broad-brimmed black hat, according to Corrina Underwood in her book Murder and Mystery in Atlanta. The man spoke to Emma Lou, asking her how she was feeling. She replied that she was fine, after which she began to walk away. The man stood in her way and told her not to be afraid. He further commented that he never hurt "girls like you." He was definitely lying, as seconds after he spoke those words, he pulled a knife out and stabbed Emma Lou in the back. Luckily, Emma made it to safety, as she ran screaming from the scene. A crowd of neighbors heard her cries and came running. The stranger was nowhere to be found, but at least Emma was okay. The same could not be said for her poor mother. Her body was found later, and it was deduced she was dead by the time Emma Lou was out on the streets in the midst of her encounter with what most definitely must have been the Atlanta Ripper.
Another young woman had an encounter with the Atlanta Ripper and lived to tell about it. Her name was Mary Yedell, and she was a 22 year old cook in the employ of W.M. Selcer. When leaving for home on Saturday, July 8, 1911, she encountered a stranger who she described as tall and black. She was so frightened that she ran screaming back to the Selcer home and alerted her boss. He ran in to the alley where he found the stranger and confronted him. The man disappeared in to the darkness and was not seen afterwards by anyone involved in the incident. Young Mary Yedell had fortunately escaped with her life. That was not the case with over two dozen other young African American women on the streets of Atlanta.
There were several arrests made including Todd Henderson, Henry Huff, John Daniel, Henry Brown, and Charlie Owens. However, Todd Henderson and Henry Huff were brought to trial and found not guilty; after the arrest and incarceration of John Daniel, murders continued casting the shadow of doubt on Daniel as the murderer or at least making it appear that he did not work alone; Henry Brown was acquitted after it was revealed that the Atlanta police had beaten a confession out of him, and Charlie Owens was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for one of the murders. Many doubt that Owens was guilty, and others point to the fact that after Owens was put in jail, the murders continued.
So was Owens the only Atlanta Ripper? Was he one at all? Was there more than one, or was there only one, and the police never knabbed the right person? The killings did not stop until 1914 with the death of Laura Smith. Henry Harper was arrested as a suspect. However, there was never a definitive answer as to whether or not the men who were arrested and convicted worked alone, or if they were just copycat killers and the real Atlanta Ripper was still at large and was not responsible for ALL the murders. It was quite possible that there was more than one, and that they worked together, but most criminologists say that serial killers work alone. Was this the case with the Atlanta Ripper? In an interesting turn of events, according to Underwood in her book, during the trial of Leo Frank who was accused of the murder of Mary Phagan, it was said that Jim Conley, also a tall African American man, was involved in Phagan's murder. Detective W.J. Burns even went so far as to say that not only was Conley guilty of killing Phagan, but that Conley was also the Atlanta Ripper. As Underwood points out, nothing ever came of this and Conley has never been blamed for those crimes other than by Burns. The fact remains that the Atlanta Ripper murders are a mystery. Was it the work of one serial killer? If so, was he inspired (terrible choice of words I know, but need to make a point) by what he read of Jack the Ripper some decades earlier in London? Or were some of these killings the work of a copycat killer(s)???? This is a very interesting true crime story from right here in Georgia.