Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mass Murder Reports Are All Depressing. Some Generate a WTF

Villisca, Ia. (1912)
Jun. 9, 1912, Joseph Moore, his wife Sarah, their four children and two visiting children were murdered “by a fiend who crushed their skulls with an ax.”  An “itinerant minister” was charged.  The Iowa Attorney-General “sought to commit” the minister “to an insane asylum, a step which would bar the prosecution of any other person suspected of the crime.”  Relatives of the victims claimed that the wrong person was being tried; in response, the Iowa legislature passed a law prohibiting public discussion of the crime, leading to an “injunction against J.N. Wilkerson, a detective, whose four years’ investigation of the murders cast suspicion on a prominent state senator.”  The public meeting by Villisca residents took place in Omaha, Neb., instead.
Category: family?
Suicide: no.
Cause: unknown
Weapon: ax.[1]

[1] “Villisca Ax Murders to Be Discussed in Mass Meeting,” Omaha Daily Bee, Jul. 6, 1917, 1.


  1. "... a law prohibiting public discussion of the crime..."

    Which should have blown up instantly on 1st Amendment grounds. Perhaps no one challenged it effectively.

    Presumably the law in question would be found in the statutes of Iowa for the time; was it ever repealed? (It seems like the sort of thing that would be just left on the books and forgotten.)

  2. First Amendment did not yet restrict states.

  3. There's a very interesting book out that covers aspects of this mass murder...

    The Man From the Train, written by Bill James. In it, he lays out a series of similar crimes from the same period, covering most of the US, and a reasonable theory of the crime. His conjecture even ties in that mysterious killing in Germany, where the family was found murdered in their barn after the maid reported strange goings-on and quit...

    It's a good read, and thought-provoking. I agree with the likelihood of those crimes being connected, and his work in identifying the killer. Maybe. It could be mere conjecture and shallow research, but I think it's pretty solid.