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

Several hours after the discovery of the body the county coroner, Dr. Linquist, showed up in the town of Villisca. Already the rumors of Frank Jones was starting to spread. He viewed the crime scene, which had been left as it was despite the people who had tromped through the house the day the bodies had been discovered. He then began reviewing the evidence that had been collected and spoke with the law enforcement officials in town. Then he convened a coroner’s jury to start reviewing evidence. The bodies were finally removed from the house at about 2 a.m.

The first person called was the first person to realize something was wrong. Mary Peckham testified that she lived next door to the Moores and had last seen them the night before when they had left for church on Sunday evening. She stated she had not seen them come home because she had gone to bed at about 8 p.m. She stated she had not heard anything or seen anything out of the ordinary that would lead her to believe anything was wrong until the following morning when she noticed the chickens had not been let out.

The second witness was Ed Selley, an employee of Josiah Moore. He testified that on Monday morning he had opened the store as always. Much to his surprise he had received a phone call from Josiah’s brother to find out if he had visited the Moore home or knew where Josiah or the family might be. He stated he had not been there, having been at the store all morning. He also testified that it was Ross Moore and Mary Peckham who had gone into the house first.

The third witness was the first doctor who had entered the home. His name was Dr. J. Clark Cooper. He stated that he had received a call at about 8:15 and had been asked to come to the Moore home. By that time members of law enforcement had been called. One of the law enforcement officials had entered his doctor’s office and told him to come with. When he asked why he was met with nervousness and silence. The group entered the home and he found the bodies and the horrible scene inside the house. Cooper said he did not touch the bodies but that he was able to determine that they were definitely dead.

From that point forward more witnesses stepped forward. They all testified as to when they were informed of the horror waiting for them at the Moore home. They testified as to what evidence was there for them to see. They claimed they saw no bloody footprints or anything that would indicate who had been there. They testified as to the horrible disfigurements that the bodies receives, making them almost impossible to recognize. They testified that no livestock or anything obvious was missing from the home. None of them offered any insight as to whom they felt might have been responsible and all claimed to know nothing about Josiah’s business or any of his business dealings.

The investigation was rapidly running into a wall. There were rumors but the scene had been so crowded by so many people that what evidence might have been from the murderer and what might have been dragged in by bystanders was now impossible to determine. What evidence might have been taken from the scene and by whom was impossible to determine. Eventually detectives from outside Villisca were hired. The headlines spread across the country and people began to demand a solution to this horrific case. It would go on for years, but eventually a list of suspects would form. However, no one would be convicted.

The first person was, of course, Frank Jones. However, it soon became evident from many that he was not there and could not have committed the murders himself. So, the investigation soon shifted to those around him. Had Frank Jones hired someone to murder the Moores? That was the favorite theory of the Burns Detective Agency of Kansas City. In fact, their sites were soon set on William Mansfield as the axe-man.

Mansfield was a man with two names. He was known to some as George Worley and Jack Turnbaugh. He was also known to some as being addicted to cocaine and he was eventually discovered to be an ax murderer. He eventually killed his own wife, child, father-in-law and mother-in-law in Blue Island, Illinois in 1914. There was also evidence that he might have killed more people using an ax four days before the Villisca murders and may have murdered a woman named Jennie Peterson and Jennie Miller in Colorado.

According to those who favor Mansfield as the killer in Villisca the other ax murders were committed in exactly the same way as in Villisca. Detectives from the Burns agency stated they had proof he had been in each of the locations where the murders had happened, including Villisca. In each case the victims had been hacked to death with the ax and the mirrors in the home had been covered. Also, the telltale oil lamps with the missing chimneys were also found near the foot of the beds of the victims. No fingerprints were found in any of the locations.

Photo by Tracy Williams

Ultimately, in 1916, Mansfield was brought before the Montgomery County Court in Kansas City. When the defense presented their side they were able to provide payroll records that showed Mansfield had an alibi during the time of the Villisca murders. He was eventually released for lack of evidence and even won a lawsuit claiming he had been unlawfully prosecuted.

The only man that was ever close to being convicted for the murders was a very strange character and one that is still a favorite for the murderer among those who follow this case. His name was Reverend George Jacklin Kelly. He was a short man, very skinny, and a traveling preacher. He was known for giving such vehement and loud sermons that he would foam at the mouth, sending spittle into the crowd. He was also fond of quoting from an obscure Bible verse that said people were to “slay and slay utterly.” He was also reportedly not fond of children.

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