The Villisca Axe Murder:
Page - 4
July 1916 Wilkerson arrested Mansfield at the Cochran Packing Plant in Kansas City,
Kansas. He was interrogated in Kansas City, then extradited from Kansas to face a
Montgomery County Grand Jury. That jury deliberated a week, and local opinion
anticipated Mansfield would be bound over for trial. Instead, the jury returned no
true bill and Mansfield was released.
This suit was argued in November and December of 1916. It was one of the most sensational in Iowa history. The suit quickly became a trial of Jones for murder rather than Wilkerson for slander because Wilkerson admitted saying what he was accused of, but claimed his accusations were true and you cant slander a man with the truth. The judges failure to control the huge crowd that filled the courtroom beyond capacity added to the trials raucous atmosphere.
Wilkersons case revolved around a series of eye witnesses, most of whom had not come forward until now. First was Vina Tompkins, who in 1916 was living in Marshalltown, but in 1911 had been camping outside of Villisca while her husband worked on the brick paving of Third Avenue. She claimed to have overheard three men talking about money behind the old slaughterhouse just southeast of Villisca during the fall of 1911. She thought one of the men resembled Frank Jones, but she could not swear it was him.
The next star witness was Alice Willard. Alice was divorced and living with her father, Mr. Holland, just a block south of Joe Moores house in 1912. On Saturday morning, June 8, she saw two strangers walk by the Moore house, then turn south at the corner and come by her house. They frightened her, so she looked at them carefully. Later that night, she claimed to be walking behind the Moore house with a traveling salesman, Ed McCrae, when she saw three men approaching from the south. To hide themselves, she and Ed crouched down in a plum thicket. As the men approached, Alice recognized two as the Saturday morning strangers. They were met by two other men coming from the west. Alice identified these two as Frank Jones and Bert McCaull. Alice first claimed one of these two was Albert Jones, but changed her story to identify Frank Jones. That change led to the conviction of Wilkerson for contempt of court and the trial of Iowa Attorney General Horace Havner for oppressing a witness. But that is another tale for another day. The five men met just in front of the plum thicket. Alice couldnt hear what they were planning, but she did hear the phrase, Get Joe first and the rest will be easy. Alice claimed Ed McCrae was dead by 1916, but authorities failed to locate any record of him, either dead or alive.
third witness was Ed Landers, a Shenandoah insurance salesman. Ed and his family
were staying with his mother just across the street east and up the block north from the
murder home in June of 1912. Even though he had testified to the coroners
inquest that nothing unusual had happened the Sunday night of the murder, he now insisted
that as he and his wife walked passed Joes house about 8:15 Sunday night, a man,
just a few steps ahead of them, turned and walked right in Joes house.
Ed identified the man as Albert Jones.
was elected and the new grand jury was convened in March of 1917. By now the case
had statewide implications, so Iowa Attorney General Horace Havner of Marengo took
charge. He brought in Fred F. Faville of Storm Lake as a special prosecutor.
Wilkerson was also on the team and provided a one-hundred-fifty page documentthe
Dope Sheetwhich identified who should be called as witnesses and
summarized what they would say.
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