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

3.44  ·  Rating details ·  4,167 ratings  ·  784 reviews
Using unprecedented, dramatically compelling sleuthing techniques, legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applies his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Je
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published September 19th 2017 by Scribner
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Average rating 3.44  · 
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 ·  4,167 ratings  ·  784 reviews

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Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James is a 2017 Scribner publication.

A most unorthodox approach to True Crime, but interesting and fascinating.

Right from the start, the author explains he mainly writes books about baseball. I know nothing about the sport or the statistics that Bill James writes about. But, whatever it is he writes about the sport, it obviously requires the ability to analyze, theorize, and puzzle out
Nancy Oakes
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book has a great premise, to be sure -- in a 2016 article in The New Yorker Mr. James notes that

"... a hundred and four years ago eight people are found dead, murdered with an axe, inside this locked house, in a quiet, small town in the southern part of Iowa. It's a famous crime, and the reason that it became famous is that at the time it was obvious that it was the latest in a series of similar attacks. I had the idea that I'll bet there are others like this which have not been tied to th
Tom Mathews
Years ago, I read on a website listing top unsolved murders a report of the 1911 murders of six people in two adjacent houses on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. These murders were of particular interest to me as I once lived on West Dale Street in Colorado Springs. Both families were apparently bludgeoned in their sleep in the middle of the night. Nothing was stolen and the houses were then closed up and the murder weapon, a bloody axe, was found leaning against the wall of one of the hous ...more
Feb 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
No room in the budget for an editor?
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
In the past, Freight trains thundered through most American communities, big and small, several times a day. I owned a home in a very small Kansas community in the 1990's. Coal trains would clatter through shaking the windows and making that easily recognizable, loud clack-clack whine and whistle. The trains and their noise became a regular, comforting part of life. When the trains became fewer and fewer, the lack of that sound seemed wrong and somehow disturbing. But it is also true that someti ...more
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
The subject matter was fascinating and the authors clearly did a lot of research. They make a convincing case for the crimes being committed by the same person and for their hypothesis about the identity of the killer. That being said, this book was bizarrely written and I found that the writing style took away from the effectiveness of the book.

I don't think that non-fiction needs to be dry and boring, and I have read non-fiction books that were both well written and humorous. This book, on th
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018, nonfiction
If you read about a crime in a small town, you will encounter frequently the comment that these people lived in the kind of quiet place where nothing very interesting ever happened. This is a despicable thing to say. It is a form of bigotry directed at the past, and bigotry directed at people who live in small towns – and worse yet, it's ignorant. Pardon my French, but it's an ignorant asshole comment, and if you ever say anything like that, you are revealing yourself to be an ignorant asshol
Rob Neyer
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a difficult book to put down, as Bill tells a great number of compelling stories without allowing the details to bog down the narrative. As the subtitle might suggest, one of the big selling points of the book is (presumably) that the co-authors have solved a "century old" mystery: Who was the axe murderer responsible for (probably) many dozens of murders in the early part of the 20th century? And the passage in the book on this serial killer's (presumed) identity is compelling, no ques ...more
I always used to wonder about all those axe murders which took place in the early 1900s in the rural areas of the United States. In fact, it seemed every time I read about 1899-1912, there was at least one murder of a Midwestern family with an axe. Very curious. I just assumed that was the murder weapon du jour for that era. It never occurred to me that the reason for so many like-minded killings was because one nutbucket was behind it all.

This book takes the concept of so many multiple murders
♥ Sandi ❣
3.75 stars Had this book not had such an effect on me I would probably have rated it higher.

This is the only book I can ever remember giving me nightmares! I had to read it almost one chapter at a time to get through it.

I finally finished this book. Many times I thought I would just quit reading it. I am far from the flighty, scaredy-cat type, however this book had me leaving on lights at night and double locking my doors. Never before has a book had such a visceral effect on me. Intellectuall
Enthralling. If you don't like true-crime books, I doubt this one will convince you, but if you think reading about a horrific series of axe murders is a pleasant way to spend a rainy Sunday, HOLD ON TO YOUR EFFING HAT. Bill James puts his laser focus and his quirky writing style to work answering the question: "Were there serial killers in the olden days?" Along the way, I learned a lot about the early 1900s in the United States, including law enforcement, media coverage, prejudice, con artists ...more
Scott  Hitchcock
An interesting story that required a lot of research. James being a statistician just kills me at times with his pedantic repetition citing the list of the commonality between crime scenes ad nauseam. I get the need to establish the pattern but after a while you want to scream OK Bill I get it.

It's also hard to remember this is such a brutal set of crimes because the telling is often detached, analytical and clinical. Still overall very informative.
Jan 18, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book was awful. It seemed to go on forever. I was listening to the Audible book which meant I couldn’t skip ahead. The author took tangents that had nothing to do with the main murders and went on for chapters. This book needed a strong editor. At times the author tried for a folksy tone that fell flat.

I hated this book and wish I had not wasted my time listening to it.
Erin Clemence
In the beginning of the twentieth century, entire families were being brutally murdered in their sleep. Men, women and children were viciously killed by an axe, and left to die. Famed sportswriter, Bill James, and his daughter, Rachel McCarthy James, take the investigation into the twenty-first century. The pair examine the murders that shocked the small towns they happened in, and answered the questions the police at the time couldn’t. All of the crimes seemed to take place in small towns with ...more
Casey Wheeler
I received a free Kindle copy of The Man from the Train by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James courtesy of Net Galley and Scribner,  the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review to Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my history book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus pages.

I requested this book as the description sounded very interesting. It is the first book by the authors that I have read.

The subtitle, The
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
One and a half stars.

This book gets two stars only because the concept of the Man on the Train and the connection between these crimes is fascinating.

This book is so poorly written. Grammatically, fine. But the tone and overall organization leads me to highly “un-recommend” this title to anyone. James write in a conversation tone, using ellipses, asking the reader questions, and saying the reader is “off the reservation” if s/he doesn’t agree. Not just unprofessional but strange.

The organization
Stephen Newman
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book was a marathon, not a sprint. As others have said, the premise is a good one - solving a hundred years old serial murder. And their conclusion about his identification is a logical one. It just took so long to get there.

After awhile the case by case recounting became tedious. The authors sometimes seemed to reach in their conclusions that one man is likely responsible for the majority of these murders, perhaps due to their own confirmation bias.

Also as others have also noted, the two
Valerity (Val)
This is quite an amazing dig into a long series of killings that include the Villisca murders, along with a whole lot of others that appear to be connected going both before and after that time. Bill James and his daughter Rachel did great research and this book is the bloody and frightening result. Read it and see what you think. Did "The Man From The Train" commit this series of twisted killings with such a distinct pattern to most of them? True crime, mystery and history lovers will be intrig ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: never-finished
At 48%, I'm letting this one go. It is not well-written at all, disjointed and repetitive. And worst for me? Some not very progressive references to mental health. Using the word crazy, okay sure sure. But referring to a serial killer as nutty is just plain ignorant and old. And Iet's be very clear that while the authors might have looked up some newspaper articles, they did very little research into serial killers, mental health, or anything remotely resembling crime behavior.

Just not good.
Interesting book about a serial killer who killed families close to railroads at the turn of the 20th century quite a detailed book and gives insights into detective methods which on the whole were poor.
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it

Really enjoyed this one -- the author has a very conversational tone that I found engaging. He does tend to be a little repetitive, but I didn't find that overly distracting. As a reader of history and true crime, I found the book to be especially interesting, and it presented many details of life in the early 1900s that were fascinating. I've seen people comment that the author's tone seemed disrespectful to those who were killed, but I didn't find it to be so -- I felt James was extremely symp
Jan 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
This is the first review I've typed out. I cannot overstate how much I hate this book. It's repetitive, it's incredibly boring, and there's no substance to connect us with HOW James actually found out about the murders or how he figured it out. It's just 445 pages of the people Train Man killed, why they're ALL the same, and if the people of 1899-1912 lived today, they TOTALLY would have seen the similarities between the murders. But they didn't, so, no connections were made. Those dumb fucks.

Aug 09, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I think a writer, who says about the slaughter of a family by the name of Pfanschmidt, that the "schmidt had hit the pfan" says it all about this book...........
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Imagine sitting down in a cozy diner booth and talking for hours about murder. Not just any murder, but the murder of entire families across America by a train-hopping, axe-wielding deviant. Sounds dark, but when you do it with Bill James—brilliant, folksy, and sincere—you never want to leave! The Man From the Train is an absolutely addictive trip though old America, following the bloody footprints of what must be one of the most prolific serial killers in history. Charming, creepy, and almost a ...more
BAM The Bibliomaniac
Not a fan of the format at all
Pamela Small
Aug 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical-nf
My thanks to NetGalley, Bill James and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Man From the Train reads like an investigative record....because it is! The research of homicides at the turn of the last century is extraordinary. It is interesting to note how a crime is "solved" without ballistic testing or forensic work: hearsay, unreliable witnesses, gut instincts of the accusers. Lynchings were common. Guilt by loose association, and definitely guilt unless one
Mar 05, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Okay, I give up. I'm about 20% in and I just cannot get through this.

We've hit the point where the tautological arguments are making my eyelid twitch, and that's never a good sign. Also, harping on all the amateur detectives who set themselves up as experts and interfered at the time with no idea what they were doing in a book by an amateur detective who is setting himself up as an expert but who clearly has no idea what he's doing is...something.

James does a lot of cherry-picking from the ream
May 20, 2020 rated it it was ok
Alright guys, I had to wave my white flag at this one. At 60 pages in I knew I wasn't going to enjoy this book, but at 160 I just can't waste anymore of my time.

This non-fiction novel about a serial killer who murders people with the blunt end of an axe, over the course of 30 years.. feels like it was written for a 7 year old child. Even as the Author writes his words he doesn't seem convinced by them, if you can't convince yourself how the hell are you going to convince me?

Bill James is norma
Taranee Anne
Aug 27, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book was awful. It's so bad, I'm going to apologize in advance for what will likely read as a emotional outpouring of hatred for this book, because it is.

It's terribly written. I hate when authors talk to you colloquially in the text, like they're telling you the story over a shitty beer in a dank local tavern (and I love dank taverns). It's unprofessional, amateurish, and in this book, falls absolutely flat. For example:

(pg 15, regarding the story of Howard Little)
"I believe Howard Littl
Trigger warnings: an absolute shit-ton of very violent and graphic murder, rape, fire, violence, lynchings, wrongful incarceration, wrongful conviction.

So here's the thing: this sounds AMAZING. And while I found it incredibly compelling and the authors make a convincing argument for many of the crimes being committed by the same man, there was a truly overwhelming amount of information in here. And a lot of speculation.

Basically, this covers dozens of crimes over half a dozen years. And at eac
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George William “Bill” James (born October 5, 1949, in Holton, Kansas) is a baseball writer, historian, and statistician whose work has been widely influential. Since 1977, James has written more than two dozen books devoted to baseball history and statistics. His approach, which he termed sabermetrics in reference to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), scientifically analyzes and st ...more

Articles featuring this book

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are the cohosts of the wildly popular true-crime podcast My Favorite Murder. This spring they'll...
102 likes · 42 comments
“And then you come to the 1910 to 1912 era, and . . . Jesus H. Christ, what is happening here? Axe murders start appearing like dandelions. Murdering your neighbors with an axe became the nation’s fourth-largest sport.” 2 likes
“What happens in many of these cases is that, in the absence of evidence, the crime is pinned on a person of low social standing who is known to be in the vicinity of the crime. We have seen this repeatedly.” 1 likes
More quotes…