While most people are familiar with London's Jack the Ripper, few are aware of the existence of his southern counterpart who matched him in stealth and carnage, and who had an entire city wracked with terror during the early 1900s. No one was certain who truly bore the Atlanta Ripper identity, but the appalling murder and mutilation of nearly 20 African American women hung heavy over everyone's head. Since much of the south was still gripped by racism and segregation, the killings weren't given the attention they deserved until the Ripper had already amassed a large number of victims and, finally, caused a city-wide panic that could no longer be ignored. The sad fact is that the culprit behind the unsolved Atlanta Ripper mystery fed off of the blatant disregard of the public to reap more victims and elude police.
The increased brutality of each slaying, the notes pinned to fireboxes across the city, and the befuddlement of justice all create a grisly and disturbing tapestry of Atlanta Ripper facts. Whether the Atlanta Ripper identity belonged to a conglomeration of different individuals or a single predator is still hotly contested, and over a century later the question still endures: Who was the Atlanta Ripper?
When Lena Sharpe failed to return home from a shopping trip one evening, her 20-year-old daughter, Emma Lou, panicked and began to search for her. Afraid of the Ripper who had been terrorizing the community, Emma Lou retraced her mother's steps to the market only to learn that her mother had never made it. While desperately searching the neighborhood, she encountered a man who she described to authorities as "tall, black, broad-shouldered, and wearing a broad-brimmed black hat." After he asked her how she was, a wary Emma Lou responded that she was well and attempted to skirt around the man who blocked her path.
"Don't be 'fraid," the stranger replied, "I never hurt girls like you." He then proceeded to stab her in the back. Emma Lou pulled away and ran screaming for help while the large man let out a laugh and fled down an adjoining alley. Emma Lou was unaware at the time that she had been only meters away from the corpse of her brutally slain mother, and that she had managed to survive an encounter with the devil of Atlanta.
After Emma Lou's fearful shouts drew a considerable crowd, a search party made up of several men dispatched and soon found the body of her slain mother. Found near the Seaboard railroad tracks, Lena Sharpe had a large gash across her throat and her head was resting in a pool of blood. The throat slashing was so brutal that she was nearly decapitated. A prominent Atlanta undertaker then posted a $25 reward for the capture of the maniac who slaughtered Lena Sharpe.
On Saturday, July 8, Mary Yedell, a cook for the W.M. Selcer household, was leaving work when she heard a sharp whistling coming from an alleyway. The 22-year-old then saw a tall, black stranger approaching her at a rapid pace and ran shrieking back to the home of her employer. Mr. Selcer quickly ran towards the alley, revolver in hand, and found the man lurking in the shadows. When Selcer confronted him, the stranger used the darkness of the passageway to slip away into the night. Upon thorough investigation of the surrounding area, police were not able to find a suspect or any clues. And Mary Yedell narrowly avoided becoming yet another name on the Atlanta Ripper's growing list.
Will Broglin was on his way to work when he noticed signs of a struggle in the loose dirt near his route. Following the signs of distress, Broglin stumbled upon the savagely executed corpse of Sadie Holley. Her throat had been slashed ear to ear and her head bashed in with a fist-sized rock that was later found discarded in a nearby field, smeared in blood. Any prints or trail that the killer had left disappeared not far from the vicinity, and Holley's shoes were never recovered. Despite falling in the middle of the Ripper's victim list, Holley was the first to be featured on the front page of The Atlanta Constitution.