Beautiful Austin, Texas is the home of the last functional moonlight towers on earth. Those towers are among the city’s most famous features, but one theory suggests they were installed for a very grim reason: to stop a serial killer.
Before we get into the gory details, let’s start with the basics.
For those that don’t know, a moonlight tower is a large lighting apparatus designed to illuminate the surrounding area at night. The 165-foot towers in Austin—the last of their kind—throw a glow “bright enough to read a watch by” over a 1,500-foot (460-meter) radius.
The city of Austin purchased its towers—a total of 31 of them—from Detroit, way back in the late 1800s. On the surface, the towers were an effective and cost-affective way to light the city at night. According to some theories, however, that’s not the only reason they were installed.
Ask the right Austinite about the towers, and you’ll be told they were installed to help slow the gruesome handiwork of a serial killer.
The serial killer in question was nicknamed the “Servant Girl Annihilator” by the local press, and after committing a series of grisly crimes against local women, he’d driven the entire city into a panic. Eventually, things got so bad that a citizens meeting was called with the singular goal of dealing with the terrifying problem at hand. The first order of business was boosting police presence in the city, yet it was also agreed that Austin would purchase some of Detroit’s moonlight towers to brighten the darkened streets at night.
Those towers didn’t make it to Austin until 1894, roughly a decade after the horrors caused the “Servant Girl Annihilator.” Interestingly, however, the killing stopped almost immediately after citizens met and decided to purchase the towers. The murderer was never found—some conspiracists believe he relocated to London and became “Jack the Ripper”—but the violence ceased.
Because it look so long for Austin’s moonlight towers to be installed, it’s certainly a stretch to suggest that they were what drove the Servant Girl Annihilator away. It is possible, however, that the murderer was scared off by the very thought of more police and brighter streets.
We’ll never know for sure, but there’s no denying that Austin’s moonlight towers—17 of which still stand proudly today—ultimately made the city a brighter, safer place.