6 Little Known Serial Killers from the Old West
Some might argue that the complicated stresses and violence of today are the cause of serial killers. But they have been around for thousands of years.
Each generation had its own complications and mental illnesses. As a result, they had their own share of serial killers as well. Perhaps since news in the Old West traveled only as fast as the pony express or even the telegraph, their stories weren’t told as often as today’s killers.
Imagine in the Old West, where gunfighters became instant heroes after racking up a body count. In such an atmosphere, it is only logical that drifters with no life or prospects would be willing to take a chance on becoming a legend.
From such an environment, it is no surprise that serial killers were also created. Let us examine six of these serial killers from the days of the Old West that are not very well known.
A mountain man named John Jeremiah Garrison Johnston was so vicious that he was called Liver-Eating Johnson. Legend surrounds his life, but the biggest one is how he got his nickname.
Sources claim that when his wife was murdered by a Crow Native American, John held a lifelong vendetta against their entire tribe. Supposedly he slaughtered over 300 Crow natives and then ate their livers after scalping them. Customs of the Crow tribe considered this blasphemous as their livers were necessary for travel into the afterlife.
Some claim that Johnston probably never ate those livers; supposedly, it was a rumor that spread like wildfire. But he did kill scores of Crow to avenge his wife.
John Jeremiah Garrison Johnston died penniless in 1900.
The Servant Girl Killer
A serial killer known as the Servant Girl Killer murdered seven women and one man. These killings occurred in 1884 and 1885 in Austin, Texas. But that was not all; he also maimed six other women and two men.
Sources believe that these murders could have been motivated by racism, as many of his victims were black. The Servant Girl Killer would viciously attack victims as they slept and then drag their bodies outside.
Law authorities were forever provided with conflicting statements on exactly what this serial killer looked like — they couldn’t even determine if he was black or white. Some 400 men got arrested for some alleged connection to the murders, but no charges ever stuck.
To this day, no one knows who this Servant Girl Killer really was.
Another mountain man named Charles Kennedy was living around Eagle Nest, New Mexico. In 1870, his wife ran into a local saloon crying. She tearfully confessed to onlookers what she had just witnessed.
Her husband had been luring travelers into their home and would then murder them and take their money.
It seems that on the previous night, Kennedy had persuaded a traveler to his house. The traveling guest had asked Kennedy’s son whether there were many ‘Indians’ around, and the son replied, “Can’t you smell the one Papa put under the floor?”
Kennedy became enraged and killed both his son and the traveler. He also locked his wife in the house. She waited for her husband to pass out from his whiskey before escaping through a chimney.
The men in the saloon captured Kennedy and placed him in a jail cell. After hearing rumors that Kennedy’s lawyer was going to get the charges dropped, the townspeople took matters into their own hands. They took the killer from his cell and put a noose around his neck. Then they dragged him with a horse until he was strangled to death.
Bill Longley was a known psychopath to anyone who knew him. By the age of 20, he had already murdered several people. Longley was notorious for murdering anybody that aggravated him in any way. He was a hardcore racist, so Mexicans and black people were often targets of his violence.
Longley and his gang came upon three black men named Pryer Evans, Green Evans, and Ned. They were former slaves that had been freed and were on their way to visit friends. Longley and his cohorts held them up at gunpoint. When the men panicked and attempted to escape, Green Evans was murdered.
Longley’s last murder was the killing of a childhood friend named Wilson Anderson. He was already a wanted man, but there were now new bounties placed on his head. Many vigilante groups were pursuing him.
He was finally caught and convicted. Bill Longley got hanged, but his death was anything but quick and painless. The rope was initially too slack, so his knees hit the ground. After the rope was properly tightened, he suffocated very slowly. It took some 11 minutes of strangulation before Longley finally died.
James Miller, aka Deacon Killer, was actually a contract killer. He was called Deacon Miller because of his tendency to attend church and didn’t smoke or drink. In spite of his pious conduct in public, Miller lived a very dark private life.
Miller was known to kill people he didn’t like. After his sister got engaged to a fellow that Miller detested, the fiancée was murdered mysteriously. He was ultimately arrested and convicted for the murder, but the charge was dropped on a technicality.
After this was when James turned his passion for killing into his profession, he charged big sums of money to have people executed.
Since Miller gave the appearance of a law-abiding citizen, no one in his local community had any clue of his murderous activities. He even briefly served as a lawman. But his undoing occurred when he assassinated a former deputy US marshal. An enraged lynch mob ensured that justice was claimed in the end as they hung Miller for this crime.
John Wesley Hardin
No one would have guessed that John Wesley Hardin would ever become a vicious outlaw. His father was a preacher and tried to raise him properly, but it didn’t stop Hardin from a life of crime.
He first murdered a man at the young age of 15 and never looked back. Legend has it that he went on to murder 42 men.
Hardin’s ill-temper was very well-known, and he wouldn’t hesitate to kill anybody who got on his nerves. It wasn’t just outlaws and drifters who suffered from his fury. It was very common for him to kill ordinary people just to rob them.
Hardin did finally go to prison for his crimes, which was pretty rare in those days. After serving 17 years in prison, he lived in El Paso, Texas.
Hardin was not very well-liked, to no one's surprise, his end came at the hands of vigilante justice. This occurred after getting into a heated argument with a man named John Selman. Shortly afterward, Selman came up behind Hardin and shot him in the head.
: Kathy Weiser-Alexander. (September 2020). John “Liver Eating” Johnson — Mountain Man and Lawman. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/liver-eating-johnston/.
: PBS.org. Texas Servant Girl Murders. http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/investigation/texas-servant-girl-murders/.
: Kathy Weiser. (May 2020). Charles Kennedy — Old West Serial Killer. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-charleskennedy/.
: Rick Miller. (February 2002). Boastful Bill Longley: Cold-blooded Texas Killer. https://www.historynet.com/boastful-bill-longley-cold-blooded-texas-killer.htm.
: Marshall Trimble. (June 15, 2016). Killin’ Jim Miller. https://truewestmagazine.com/killin-jim-miller-2/.
: History.com Editors. (August 19, 2020). John Wesley Hardin killed in Texas. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/john-wesley-hardin-killed-in-texas.