The Story of the Villisca Axe Murder House (Part One)

It was June 10th, 1912, and the sun had just barely begun to peak over the horizon. Mary Peckham stepped out onto the back porch of her home in tiny Villisca, Iowa. She had chores to do. This was common in small towns such as Villisca where the rural and the town life were still mixed in strange ways. There were animals to feed and laundry to hang. Mary had a basket full of laundry that needed to be hung on a line in the back yard.

She began hanging her laundry, engrossed in her work, and she did not notice that her next door neighbors, the Moore family, had yet to step outside. Mary worked until about 7 a.m. that morning before realizing that something was very strange about the Moore house. The house was dark and still which was very unlike the Moore family. The Moore family had chickens to feed and who needed to be let out of their coop to feed.

Sometime between the hours of seven and eight in the morning Mary Peckham decided that something was very wrong with the Moore house. It was still silent. This was completely unlike them no matter how late they had stayed out the night before. So, Mary approached the silent home. She knocked on the door, climbing the small front porch to do so. There was no response except for the silence of the morning and the slowly awakening town of Villisca. She tried the door and, surprisingly, it was locked. In the tiny town of Villisca, a locked door was a rarity and she was puzzled.

Mary walked around to the side of the Moore home and she let out their chickens. As the birds began pecking around in the yard Mary wondered what was happening inside the house of her neighbors. She studied the silent house for a bit longer and then the sinking feeling in her stomach got the best of her. She placed a call to Ross Moore, the brother of Josiah Moore, her neighbor. It was the call that would start the wheel spinning on one of the most horrific crimes Iowa would ever see and one of the strangest investigations in twentieth century history.

Ross Moore arrived not long after the call was placed. He too thought the silence of the home was strange an unlike his brother. He knew that the family had participated in the Children’s Day Exercise the night before at the local church. However, he still expected the family to be awake and out doing their chores. His brother should have been at work at the store he owned and operated in town.

Ross approached the house and began peering into the windows of the bedrooms. He knocked on the door just like Mary had. There was no answer. He opened his mouth and shouted for his brother and his family. Again, there was no response and the silence was disturbing to him. He finally fished out his keys and began trying them in the front door. In his fear and nervousness he wasn’t even sure he had a key that would open the door. Finally, one fit into the slot and he turned the key, slowly opening the door. The house had a thick coppery smell and it hovered over the rooms.

As Mary Peckham stood behind him, Ross stepped into the front parlor. Mary stood on the porch, standing on her toes and peering into the silent house. Ross made it as far as the middle of the front parlor which gave him a clear view into the small bedroom on the first floor, just off the parlor. He stepped up to the doorway into the bedroom and what he saw there sent him out of the house quickly.

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3 Responses to The Story of the Villisca Axe Murder House (Part One)

  1. Kelly Rundle says:

    I enjoyed reading your summary of the prelude to the discovery of the 1912 Villisca, Iowa axe murders. Where did you get the detail about a smell in the house? I have read the 1912 Coroner’s Inquest and the 1917 grand jury testimony, and none of the witnesses reported a smell in the house. Some were asked if they smelled chloroform. None did. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

  2. Kelly Rundle says:

    I forgot to mention that the date the crime was discovered was Monday, June 10, 1912, not the 19th of June.

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