One of the main characters in my third novel is a serial killer named William Estes McGill. A charming, intelligent man, his personality is based on research that I’ve done on some real life murderers, or mankillers as they were called in the 19th century. And there were plenty of examples of psychopaths and violent men to choose from following the chaos and lawlessness of the Civil War.
An example of a true mankiller was Wild Bill Longley, a native Texan pictured here. At the time of his death by hanging in 1877, he had killed 32 men. A practiced marksmen, it was said that he could shoot left or right-handed, and held a particular hatred for the black state policmen who were given the almost impossible task of keeping law and order in mostly white towns and cities during the Restoration. He was arrested several times and escaped jail, and was even hanged by a posse of lawmen, but the rope frayed and he fell from the hanging tree and survived.
The crime that finally led to his second, and fatal, hanging was the callous shooting of man whom Longley suspected of killing his cousin. He accosted the man plowing in his field and gut shot the farmer. When the mortally wounded man asked why he’d been shot, Longley replied, “Just for luck.”
Four thousand people gathered to watch Longley hang. Shortly before his death he wrote an open letter from the Giddings jail, saying, “And now, boys, remember the road Bill Longley had travelled in disobeying his parents, and when you start to do wrong remember that a very small wrong always leads to still greater ones…My first step was disobedience, next whiskey drinking, next carrying pistols, next gambling and then murder, and I suppose the next will be the gallows.”
It was reported that he smoked a cigar on the scaffold and commented to the sheriff that the gallows’ stairs seemed unsteady. One of his last comments was, “Look out, the steps are falling. I don’t want to get crippled.” Then he laughed.
Next week, I’ll post on one of his partners in crime, and fellow mankiller, Cullen Baker.
Scroll down for earlier posts.