review by Patrick H. Moore

I get asked to read a fair number of true crime books. The writers, like writers everywhere, are working hard to promote their creations and are eager for exposure. I hate to say “no” to these requests, but inwardly I sometimes groan as in, “How in the world am I going to find time to read, much less review, another crime book?”

Thus, it was with considerable pleasure and more than a little relief that I discovered that COLD SERIAL: The Jack the Stranglers Murders, by Brain Forschner, provides a fascinating extended snapshot of a string of unprovoked rapes and murders committed in or around Dayton, Ohio between 1900 and 1909. Based on the modus operandi of the killer, the reader comes to the unavoidable conclusion that the murders are the work of a single cold-hearted killer, what today we would term a serial killer.

bri5Edgar Allan Poe once stated “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world,” and in COLD SERIAL the victims are all beautiful (or at least attractive) young females. However, these females are not quite women, rather they are girls – girls who although varying somewhat in temperament and age (11 to 19) are similar in that they all appear to be very decent individuals who are hardworking, full of life and eager to please (in the best sense of the phrase) the world in which they find themselves.

Ada Lantz

Ada Lantz

The five victims (with the exception of victim #1 who is only 11 years old) share a normal, healthy interest in the opposite sex, despite the fact that they live in rather restrictive times where girls are expected to maintain virtuous decorum at all times. Because victims #2 through 5 are pretty young ladies, they have no dearth of suitors, and the reader gets the impression that they are quite willing to share passionate kisses, or in some cases a bit more, with their boyfriends.

It is not their boyfriends they need to fear, however, as becomes increasingly clear as this tragic true tale progresses. Rather, they should be terrified of the serial rapist/murderer who is shadowing their movements as they go about their business, a fact they only learn when it is already too late.

Anna Markowitz

Anna Markowitz

The killer’s technique bears little in common with the flamboyant serial killers of the modern era. No torture, no anal sex, no oral-genital contact, no dismemberment, no skinning, and no freezing and eventual eating of body parts. Rather, our serial killer is an eminently practical man. He accosts his victims, overpowers them, strangles them, rapes them and then disposes of their bodies. Though, for the sake of accuracy, it should be pointed out that the killer does display a penchant for necrophilia. This characteristic, however, would appear to be more of a practical measure than an indication of kinky desires; i.e., it’s much easier to rape someone who is not moving than a reluctant victim fighting hard for her life. It should also be noted that the killer does appear to be a fetishist, certain items belonging to the victims are invariably missing when their bodies are discovered.

Mary Forschner and Dona Gilman

Mary Forschner and Dona Gilman

The author, Brian Forschner, became interested in this story when he was researching his family tree and discovered a relative named Mary Forschner, from the early 1900s, whom he had never heard of and who had apparently died inexplicably at the age of 15. Mr. Forschner began to research Mary’s life and soon discovered that she was the fourth of five young girls to meet a horrific and agonizing fate in the same Dayton neighborhood within the short span of a few years. From this point on, his research expanded ultimately resulting in COLD SERIAL.

The book is divided into six discrete parts. Chapters One through Five chart the cruel fates of the five luckless victims. Chapter Six – well, I don’t want to talk about Chapter Six because I don’t want to spoil things. Let me just say that Chapter Six provides a satisfying, and perhaps unexpected conclusion.

Map linking the five murders

Map linking the five murders

Along the way, the reader is treated to a vivid depiction of American life in heartland during the first decade of the 20th Century. Hardworking, well-meaning teenage girls go to work in factories at around the age of 15 to help put food on the table. Sometimes, they read romantic poetry during their lunch breaks or while taking the trolley car to and from work. All too often, they are raped and murdered.

100 years ago the good citizens of mid-America were less likely than they are today to sit back and let law enforcement work unilaterally to solve high profile murders. In fact, many of the good folk of Dayton and its environs want nothing more than to catch the perpetrator and lynch the bastard. Law enforcement, however, prides itself on avoiding lynchings at all costs and does a good job of protecting its suspects. Its suspects, on the other hand, should probably never have been suspects in the first place, as you will see when you read Mr. Forschner’s gripping tale.

Elizabeth Fulhart

Elizabeth Fulhart

The five victims of Jack the Strangler are Ada Lantz (died at age 11); Dona Gilman (died at age 19); Anna Markowitz (died at age 18); Mary Forschner (died at age 15); and Elizabeth Fulhart (died at age 18).

COLD SERIAL profits from excellent editing. It is vivid, succinct and quite captivating. Not a word is wasted. A vivid portrait of mid-America circa 1900 is provided. I strongly recommend this book to any true crime fan interested in adding to his or her knowledge of both the history of serial killers in America and the curious manner in which the “ways and means” of at least one early 20th century serial killer differed strikingly from the appalling methods of certain of our modern breed.


briBrian E. Forschner, PhD, has a unique voice that has been shaped by many different experiences in his life, including seminary training, the operation of halfway houses, and university teaching. More recently, Brian has been involved in the building and operation of affordable housing for families and elderly Americans, retirement and nursing homes, home health, and post-acute services for a major health system. During his career his role has spanned from one of minister, teacher, writer, counselor, and consultant, to CEO. His passion is social justice. Today, Brian lives in Cincinnati, OH.


11 Responses to “COLD SERIAL: The Jack the Strangler Murders” Come Alive in Brian Forschner’s Gripping True Crime Saga

  1. Pam Harper-Smith says:

    I will certainly read this book. I did not know about Jack the Strangler. Horrific, researching one’s family tree & making such a discovery. My family tree seems to be rather dull. Although, I do know of a few outlaws back in the day.
    I presume this is his first published crime book. Thanks for your in depth review.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      Hi Pam. Yes, it’s Brian Forschner’s first true crime book and is, in my opinion, well worth reading.

      Family trees are a funny business. There’s usually a skeleton lurking here or there but generally not due to a murder.

  2. I have written for journals but this is my first book. I grew up with my grandfather and Mary was his sister, my great aunt. He never mentioned her. I thought there was a mistake at the cemetery where I first discovered a 15 yr old buried next to my great grandfather. Three years of research have left me with 100s of digital photos of newspapers. Happy to share.

  3. Jo-Anne says:

    Sounds bloody well great

    • Hey Jo-anne,
      I began this journey with the desire to do justice to these women. Telling the story is doing the work of justice. I’ll be curious to hear whether you agree. For example, has the view of rape changed since 1909? Are we still blaming the victim?

  4. Victor says:

    Tonight is my very first visit to this blog, and I have just made my second in my life purchase of a true crime book. I got the Kindle edition and will review it on Amazon and my LibraryThing page when done. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Ginny says:

    I bought the Kindle edition from Amazon.

    I saw that you were going to be at the Vandalia library in November.

    It would be nice to see a map/maps of the areas where the families lived.

    The book was very interesting, and I would recommend it to my friends.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      I agree that COLD SERIAL is a very well-written book!

      While reading it, I did try to visualize how all the streets, buildings and houses fit together.

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