TexasEscapes.com  
HOME : : NEW : : TEXAS TOWNS : : GHOST TOWNS : : TEXAS HOTELS : : FEATURES : : COLUMNS : : BUILDINGS : : IMAGES : : ARCHIVE : : SITE MAP
PEOPLE : : PLACES : : THINGS : : HOTELS : : VACATION PACKAGES
TEXAS TOWNS
Texas Escapes
Online Magazine
Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Austin Mystery Murders

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Only a village with a few hundred residents in 1841, Austin experienced at least a couple of homicides that year that by today’s standards read more like big-city whodunits.

The qualifier “at least” has to be used here because official records from back then are sketchy. And it would be well into the 20th century before the federal government via J. Edgar Hoover’s nascent FBI would begin keeping crime statistics for cities and counties. No matter the paucity of government records from the Republic of Texas era, even two murders in a community that did not break the 1,000 population mark until well into the 1850s amounts to a serious level of violent crime.

The outbreak in the capital city came that spring, the first homicide discovered on the morning of April 7, when someone came across a dead bodyon East Avenue – the street that would more than a century later would become I-35.

As the Austin City Gazette reported, “much excitement prevailed” following the discovery of the “horridly managed” corpse. Someone recognized the victim, who appeared to have been shot to death, as one Henry Zeutz.

The city’s recorder, an office akin to a municipal judge, was called to the scene of the crime and in the absense of a justice of the peace, summoned a group of male citizens to act as a coroner’s jury to investigate the death.

In the verdict published by the Gazette, the jury concluded that Zeutz “was killed by the discharge of a gun or guns, loaded with ball and buckshot, which, when discharged must have been held close to the head of the deceased.” (The jury proceeded to describe the results of that wound in clinical detail.)

But whoever killed Zeutz did more than shoot him. “We further find,” the jury noted, “that a sharp instrument was used on the deceased, such as a knife; that a portion of the skin of the back part of his head had been cut off and was not to be found.”

In other words, someone shot the man and then scalped him.

Could it have been an Indian? Hostile Indians killed numerous Travis County residents during the 1840s, but the newspaper story makes no mention of Indians. The jury concluded, “We are of the opinion that it was the act of a malicious desperado and murderer.”

The newspaper did not note whether local law enforcement (which back then basically amounted to an elected sheriff) made any progress in locating the killer or killers. Chances are, no one ever knew who killed Zeutz or why.

A month and a half later, the Austin Gazette had another local murder to report. Word of the crime reached the newspaper just as the printer had begun working the lever to make impressions of that week’s issue.

“We stop the press to announce a mysterious murder, which took place early this morning,” the story began.

Jose Merida, a man employed to watch some horses penned in a lot had been sleeping near the entrance when suddenly awakened by someone who “roughly seized” him. Jumping to his feet, the man saw three men and “demanded [to know] who they were and what they wanted.”

The story continued: “They made no answer, but one of them placed the muzzle of a pistol close to his back and shot him down.”

The wound did not prove immediately fatal and after Merida was found, a doctor was summoned. The physician realized he could do nothing for the man, but he lived long enough to report what had happened to him. He did not know the men, but according to the newspaper, he said that the men “were Americans.”

“No motive can be given for the murder,” the newspaper concluded, “as none of the horses were taken.”

From what little information the newspaper provided on these two cases, from this distant perspective, it does not seem like they were related. The “Americans” probably had intended to steal the horses, but must have given up on the idea after shooting Merida. The motive for Zeutz’ killing is less clear, since a robber would not have bothered to scalp him. As any armchair sleuth could devine, scalping is an act of hatred, not the earmark of an armed thief.

Whatever the circumstances of these two murders, they make it clear that residents and visitors to frontier-era Austin had to keep their guard up to stay safe.



© Mike Cox - November 21, 2012 column

More "Texas Tales"
Related Topics:
People | Texas Murders |
Texas Small Town Sagas |
Columns | Texas Towns | Texas |

Custom Search
TEXAS ESCAPES CONTENTS
HOME | TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE | HOTELS | SEARCH SITE
TEXAS TOWN LIST | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS | TEXAS COUNTIES

Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
TRIPS | STATES PARKS | RIVERS | LAKES | DRIVES | FORTS | MAPS

Texas Attractions
TEXAS FEATURES
People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
Vintage Photos

TRAVEL RESERVATIONS | USA | MEXICO

Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes. All Rights Reserved