Your One-Stop Guide to Vilisca Axe Murder Fact & Fancy

Wild unsubstantiated rumors regarding the Villisca axe murders have been flying fast and furious since Monday morning, June 10 1912 just after the crime was discovered.  Some have been told and retold so many times that unmitigated fancy is regarded as irrefutable fact.

Other sensational stories have evolved into folklore.  They are repeated to unsuspecting students of the crime for entertainment purposes and their telling should be punctuated with a knowing wink. ;)

Sometimes a tale sounds so outlandish that it couldn't possibly be true...and it is!

We operate on the assumption that inquisitive people want to know what really happened.  They want to respond to the facts...the truth, and not to what people said or believed happened.  Hit & Myth will separate the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the milk, and established fact from flights of fancy.

Have you heard something strange about the Villisca axe murders?  Click on the e.mail link below and we'll submit your query to our panel of historical experts and post their response.  We promise to tell you the truth.  And if we can't determine the veracity of a particular claim, we'll admit it!

Josiah B. Moore home located at 508 East 2nd Street, Villisca, Iowa

Story: Partially burned "papers" were found in the victim's wood-burning stove.

Hit or Myth: Myth!

Source: a newspaper account; the telling of this tale is meant to implicate that Moore had evidence incriminating then State Representative F. F. Jones

Updated: 03 Nov 2004

The first people who investigated 508 East 2nd Street in Villisca, Iowa did not report anything unusual about the wood stove or its contents.   In 1912, it was not uncommon for a reporter to add sensational details to submitted stories.  There was disagreement in grand jury testimony about whether a basin discovered in the kitchen contained dirty or bloody water.  The suggestion was that the killer may have washed his hands after the crime.

Story: The axe once displayed in Villisca's City Hall is not the actual murder weapon.

Hit or Myth: Myth!

Source: local yarn meant to support claims that another axe is the murder weapon

Updated: 03 Nov 2004

The Villisca axe was found in the downstairs bedroom leaning up against the south wall.  Charles Moore, the murdered man's brother identified it by a chip on its dull blade, as an axe that belonged to victim Joe Moore.   He said it was used to break up coal and was usually located in the coal shed behind the house.  It was collected as evidence and photographed along with a lamp also found in the house.  The Villisca axe can be easily compared to this photo for identification, but the axe also has an exhibit number from the Kelly trial clearly visible on the handle.

Exhibit mark on the axe.

Story: The killer or killers hid in a closet and emerged to murder the Moores and Stillingers.

Hit or Myth: Myth!

Source: a newspaper account

Updated: 03 Nov 2004

A reporter for the Kansas City Post named Hobin saw the crime scene and thought an impression in a box of cotton ticking in one of the closets indicated that the killer sat there and waited for the house to grow quiet.   Authorities read the story and found that the box was sitting on top of several empty suit boxes and they certainly would have been completely crushed if anyone sat on them.  Aside from that detail, the Moore's closets were full and the notion that the killer moved these things, entered the closet, pulled the contents in behind him, and then somehow reversed the process seems very remote.  The closets were so full that the Moores hung clothing along the sides of the stairway.

Story: A slab of bacon was found on the piano in the parlor and the killer used the bacon to confuse the bloodhounds.

Hit or Myth: Myth!

Source: local yarn meant to explain an unusual crime scene element

Updated: 03 Nov 2004

According to detailed grand jury testimony, a four-pound slab of unsliced bacon was found on the floor in the downstairs bedroom wrapped in cheese cloth or a dish towel.  Marshall Horton said he thought it had been cut from a similar-sized piece found in the ice box (though he never held them together for a match).  Meat is often used in the training of bloodhounds, so rubbing the bacon on the killer's feet or legs would have made it easier for the bloodhounds to track the killer...not more difficult.

Story: A piece of Joe Moore's skull was taken from the crime scene.

Hit or Myth: Hit!

Source: 1917 grand jury testimony

Updated: 03 Nov 2004

When local officials lost control of the crime scene, dozens of onlookers entered the home and walked through its rooms.  Bert McCaull, a local pool hall operator, was among the crowd and apparently removed a piece of Joe Moore's skull, wrapped it in yellow paper, and placed it in a box behind a counter in his place of business.  Detective Wilkerson implied that Bert was involved in a conspiracy and had collected the bit of bone to prove to F. F. Jones that the job had been done (as if the discovery of eight murders the next day would not be sufficient proof).

Story: Joe Moore was the only victim struck with the sharp side of the axe.

Hit or Myth: Myth!

Source: local yarn meant to show that Joe was the primary victim and that his family and that the Stillinger girls were just "collateral damage"

Updated: 03 Nov 2004

Grand jury testimony detailing the crime scene indicates that exactly the opposite is true.  Doctors and undertakers said that only Sara Moore was struck with the sharp side of the axe.  Joe Moore and the children appeared to have been struck with the back and/or side of the axe blade.

Story: A man named Harry Whipple murdered or was an accomplice in the murder of the Moores and Stillingers in Villisca.

Hit or Myth: Myth!

Source: "psychics"

Updated: 03 Nov 2004

"Psychics" have recently dragged the name of Harry Whipple into the axe murder fray...again.  They have described him as a slender man with reddish-blond hair, a long face, a long nose, freckles, and glasses.  You can decide for yourself if the man on the right matches that description.

In his "Photographic Archive of the Villisca Axe Murder" Dr. Edgar Epperly wrote:

Harry Whipple is the dapper gentleman seated in this photograph.  Harry was a big raw-boned fellow, a sometime coal miner from Carbon, Iowa.  Harry was poor, but a rugged chap who was Carbon's wrestling champ during these years.  Harry seemed a bit bewildered by all the accusations against him.   (Detective) Wilkerson brought people to Carbon and would drive by to see if they could place Harry in Villisca on the murder weekend.  Harry also came in on some of the court actions, but he was never placed on the stand.  His coal mining buddy Cloyd Smith was sure he was not the killer because when they were hunting rabbits, Harry inadvertantly shot and killed his little terrier dog.  Cloyd said, "He cried like a baby, and I don't think anyone who was so upset by killing a dog could have killed all those children.  He contracted intestinal cancer in 1918 and went to Creston for surgery.  The Wilkerson crowd, ever hoping for a death bed confession, put a fake patient in the ward with him.  Harry figured out what was going on so he packed up and left the hospital to die at home, which he soon did.

Harry had a reasonable alibi and was never considered to be a serious suspect by law enforcement.

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Whipple







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