By JANIE JONES
On a warm, rose-scented night in May 1912, Mrs. M. M. Hankins was awakened by something moving across her forehead. Drowsily, she thought it was a fly or mosquito and brushed it aside. Momentarily, she felt the same sensation and reacted as before. This time she touched a man’s hand. Her scream woke her husband, who had been asleep beside her. The intruder grabbed Mrs. Hankins and said, “You’re coming with me.” He pointed a revolver at the terrified victim.
“You’re not taking her anywhere,” Mr. Hankins said, as he leapt to his feet and grabbed a pistol from a dresser drawer.
The prowler shot at Hankins who returned fire. Both men missed their targets, and the shadowy figure escaped through a window.
The Hankins incident was among more than two dozen burglaries and assaults committed by a man who came to be known in Little Rock as “Jack the Shooter.” While such a quaint moniker may elicit chuckles and giggles from society today, Jack the Shooter was nobody to laugh at in his time. For months he entered homes with the stealth of a scorpion, but when he was interrupted by a member of the household, he didn’t hesitate to use violence. In the pre-dawn hours of one Sunday alone, Jack wounded a young girl, shot at an elderly woman and set fire to a house.
Police heightened their presence in Jack’s hunting territory, which included what is known now as the Quapaw Quarter.
Chief of Police Fred Cogswell told reporters, “He knows Little Rock like a book … he slips in and out of a block without ever attracting attention of patrolmen.”
No one had been able to give a clear description of Jack. One injured party depicted him as “a slim, well-dressed man.” Another witness said he was soft-spoken, smooth-shaven, and dressed in dark clothes with a hat pulled down over his eyes.
Because Jack seemed to prefer homes where women lived, the police called him a “pervert.” They believed his pilfering was incidental to sexual motives, and such a lascivious inclination was later thought to be his intent when he entered the house of Mr. and Mrs. D.P. Coulter at 2 a.m. on May 19th. Mrs. Coulter was sharing her bed with Miss Marion Smith, and nine-month-old Paul Coulter was lying between them. Mr. Coulter was asleep in an adjacent room with the couple’s other children. Mrs. Coulter was startled awake when Jack placed a hand on her. Her outcry rattled Jack, and he fired two shots in the unlit room before escaping out the back door. Mrs. Coulter and Miss Smith felt a shower of something warm, like droplets of rain. When Mr. Coulter rushed in and turned on the light, they were met with an unspeakable sight. Two bullets had torn through the infant’s tiny body, killing him instantly.
With his wife’s lamentations of “My baby! My baby!” echoing in his ears, Mr. Coulter ran barefoot down Capitol Avenue. Half-crazed with grief and shock, he summoned the police. In less than thirty minutes, a posse of officers put a pack of bloodhounds on the trail. The dogs quickly picked up the scent at the Coulter house and then led lawmen to the Rock Island Bridge and crossed over it. The searchers went into Argenta (once the name for North Little Rock), but somewhere near the Catholic orphanage, the killer backtracked. He was going in circles, and eventually, the bloodhounds became too confused to go any farther.
Meanwhile, the bold burglar continued his nocturnal marauding. On the same night he killed the baby, Jack dared to sneak into the house of Mr. and Mrs. P. H. Miller. He entered their bedroom, and without disturbing them, he stole a gold watch, a pair of trousers and fifty-two dollars. After the Millers discovered the theft, they told authorities they thought Jack had used some sort of anesthetic on them because they were in a semi-stupor upon awakening. During one of his earlier depredations, he had chloroformed two young children before he slashed their mother’s throat. She survived.
City and state law enforcement agencies offered rewards for the capture of Jack “dead or alive.” Gov. George Donaghey called on the legislature to appropriate $500 for the arrest and conviction of the murderous fiend. Business leaders and private citizens also contributed until the reward money totaled $975.
The local constabulary walked the streets, with bloodhounds at the ready. Neighborhood watch groups guarded every residential district in the city. Homeowners armed themselves to the teeth and were jumpy. One night around 8 p.m., a crowd of people descended upon Trotty’s Store at 214 Main Street in response to the sound of a gunshot there. The people expected and hoped to see Jack the Shooter dead at last. Instead, they found the proprietor, Mr. Trotty, aiming his revolver at a large rat he had cornered in the store. A newspaper reported, “The rat died as a result of the attack.”
Then, one Thursday in mid-June at 3 a.m., Jack’s luck turned. He crept up to the back of a house on West Tenth Street. As he was raising a window, the porch light came on, and he was caught in its glare. Before he had time to pull out his own weapon, the owner of the house, Sam Collins, threw the screened door open and stepped outside. Brandishing his hunting rifle, Collins shot Jack as the intruder attempted to flee into the darkness. Jack must have felt a searing pain in his back, his feet becoming heavy and plodding, as his life’s blood flowed from his body. He heard bloodhounds coming in his direction, but falling against a briar-covered fence, he was dead before the dogs and posse got to him.
The public rejoiced as news spread about Jack the Shooter’s demise. The coroner’s inquest was held Friday morning, and all the evidence of the identity of the dead man seemed conclusive. Before he became Jack the Shooter, he was James Brown, and he had moved to Little Rock about two years prior to his violent crime wave. In his pockets, investigators found numerous clippings from newspapers giving accounts of his wicked wrongdoings. This convinced the officers that no mistake had been made and that Jack the Shooter was dead.
Sam Collins, a well-respected man in the community, was exonerated of any charges as a result of the shooting, and in fact, he was quite the hero for putting an end to the fear that had gripped Little Rock for months. All of the reward money went to him.
Even though Brown’s identity was fully established in the courts, thousands of people went to see his body in repose at the funeral home, just to be sure that Jack the Shooter had paid the ultimate price for his villainy and would be troubling them no more. Many of those whose homes had been broken into viewed the corpse, and as one newspaper said, “It is almost the universal opinion of his victims that he was Jack the Shooter.” As the coroner of Munchkinland would have put it, “He’s not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead.”