AUSTIN (KXAN) — While current Austin is known for its music scene and its cultural life, there is also some dark history.

In the 1880s, a killing spree ensued in Austin, according to an excerpt from the novel “The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer,” which was published in a 2016 Texas Monthly article.

A total of seven women were murdered and the boyfriend of one of the victims was attacked with knives, axes, bricks or iron rods, the article said.

The murders happened over the course of one year, beginning in December 1884.

The Austin Police Department at the time was “baffled” by the murders taking place and tried using different tactics to find evidence at each crime scene, according to a documentary about the murders on PBS.

But who were the victims, why were they murdered and why did these murders go unsolved? Numerous theories have circulated, according to the documentary.

Who were the victims?

Mollie Smith

On New Year’s Eve night in 1884, Mollie Smith was found murdered at her residence, located at approximately West Sixth Street and Bowie Street, the documentary said. Smith was struck in the head with an axe as she slept, was dragged into the backyard, raped and murdered, according to The Servant Girl Murders website.

The website said Smith’s boyfriend was also knocked unconscious.

Eliza Shelley

On May 7, 1885, Eliza Shelley was found murdered at her residence, located at East Third Street and San Jacinto Boulevard, the documentary said.

Shelley was found with a gaping wound over her right eye, which was more than likely done with a sharp instrument, like a hatchet, according to the documentary.

Irene Cross

On May 23, 1885, Irene Cross was found murdered at her residence, located at Linden Street and East Third Street, the documentary said.

According to the documentary, Cross was “terribly stabbed,” and a reporter with the Austin Daily Statesman said it looked like she had been scalped.

Mary Ramey

This is the case where anger and outrage began and the community took notice because this murder involved a child. Mary Ramey was only 11 years old at the time the murder occurred on Aug. 30, 1885, the documentary said. Mary was found dead at her residence, located at San Jacinto Boulevard and East Fourth Street.

Ramey was beaten about the head, raped and then murdered, the documentary said.

Gracie Vance/Orange Washington

On Sept. 28, 1885, Gracie Vance was found murdered at her residence, located at San Antonio Street and West 24th Street, the documentary said.

Vance was found in the backyard, and her face was “pulverized with a rock,” according to the servant girl murders website.

Susan Hancock and Eula Phillips

The last two murders occurred on Dec. 24, 1885, according to the documentary.

Susan Hancock was found murdered at her residence, located at Brazos Street and East Second Street, the documentary said.

Eula Phillips was found murdered at her residence, located at San Jacinto Boulevard near East Eighth Street.

Both Hancock and Phillips were murdered in a similar fashion to the other victims, which include being attacked in moonlight, getting struck with an axe while sleeping and, in most cases, being sexually assaulted, the documentary said.

Why were the victims targeted?

When the murders first began, many people from the community thought it was only Black women who were targeted, as five of the victim were Black, the documentary said. However, that theory changed after Hancock and Phillips were murdered, who were both white women.

Other theories were that the victims were women living with men out of wedlock and were considered to be living a sinful lifestyle, the documentary said. The killer could have targeted women for their way of life.

Why do the cases remain unsolved?

Law enforcement historian Doug Dukes told PBS in the documentary that police used older tactics, like using bloodhounds to track down bare footprint tracks found at the crime scenes.

At one of the scenes, police found a bloody footprint on a wooden floor, and police cut out that piece of wood to take as evidence, Dukes said, which was also considered an older tactic.

Furthermore, Dukes said police missed evidence and clues at murder scenes and were quick to blame the significant others of the victims murdered.

He said, as a police officer, he cringed thinking about all of the evidence that was missed when police would move the bodies of the victims at the scene.

According to the documentary, police called in outside detectives who turned to law enforcement techniques from the days of the “Old South.”

The police response was especially hard on Black men who were considered suspects, Dukes said. Police picked up the men and “herded them” into local jails.

Police also suspected crimes of passion in the last two cases with Hancock and Phillips, the documentary said.

Eula Phillips’ husband, Jimmy Phillips, was arrested for her murder and was later put on trial and found guilty of Eula’s murder, but he was acquitted a year later, according to the documentary.

Theories of who the killer was

While police did not have much evidence as to who the killer was in this series of murders, there was evidence not known to the public: the killer had a foot abnormality and was missing a toe.

According to a geographic profile in the documentary, the killer could have possibly been a Black man in his early 20s and more than likely worked in the area of Shoal Creek. He could have also lived on Congress Avenue.

Other theories were that the killer could have been killed, left town or was arrested.

Another theory is that a man named Nathan Elgin could have been the killer, the documentary said.

An article in the San Antonio Daily Express on Feb. 12, 1886, said Elgin attacked a woman in a saloon, and he was shot and killed by police, according to the documentary. An autopsy revealed Elgin had a toe missing from one of his feet.

Although the theories continue circulating, the cases remain unsolved.