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

Reportedly, he had been at the Children’s Day festivities. He was also a guest at another home not far from the Moore house. He then left very early in the morning, standing at the train station when the commotion at the Moore home suddenly reached a loud enough level to be heard by those waiting for a train. When someone asked what the commotion was about a witness reported that Kelly stated a murder had been discovered. Of course, at that point, no one outside of Villisca or even far from the Moore home would have known that.

In 1917 Kelly was eventually found and arrested for one of the Villisca murders. However, his supposed confession has since been used as evidence about how bad law enforcement protocol was back at the turn of the century. He was reportedly beaten and tortured by police into confessing to the crime. It was such a blatant travesty that, even at the time, it was thrown out before his trial.

Kelly underwent two trials. The first trial ended in a hung jury. The prosecutors tried again and the second trial ended in an acquittal. According to some records Kelly eventually moved to Kansas City, Connecticut and then New York. At that point he vanishes from history.

There were others at the time who thought the murders were the act a serial killer. Of course, the term “serial killer” would not enter the English language until decades later. However, in 1913 a detective named M.W. McClaughry stated that he had not only solved the murders in Villisca but the unsolved murders of 22 other people in the Midwest around the same time. The name of the man he felt had committed this crime was Henry Moore.

Moore was not related, in any way, to the Moore family that had been killed. He was eventually convicted of the murder of his own mother and his grandmother in Missouri. These murders happened just months after the Villisca murders and they had been brutally murdered with an ax to boot.

Henry Moore was born in 1874 in Missouri. In 1900 Henry was living with a family in Iowa and he was working with them as a farmhand. It is believed he may have fathered a child with the youngest daughter of the farmer. He was sent to prison for a forgery charge and then released in April of 1911. That same year, in Colorado Springs, there were suspicious murders that were never solved.

Although evidence of the Colorado Springs murder was brought to his trial for the murder of his mother and grandmother, he was only convicted of those two murders. He was sent to prison and served 36 years of a life sentence. He was paroled on December 2, 1949. What happened to him after that is now known.

Other ax murders were reported around the same time as the Villisca killings. Various theories about them and those who committed them were thrown about but, again, no one was ever brought to trial or convicted.

A man named Andy Sawyer was questioned by police. He was a hobo who was in the area during the time of the murders. People who had spoken to him claimed he was very interested in the murders and that he was extremely nervous all the time. He told others he had been in the town of Villisca during the night of the murders and was afraid he might be considered a suspect, so he had fled town.

According to those he was working with at the time Sawyer was prone to mumbling and the things he mumbled were disturbing. For example, one co-worker reported coming up behind Sawyer and hearing him mutter, as he was rubbing his head with his hands, “I will cut your god damn heads off.” At the same time he made striking motions with an ax he had in his hands against piles of wood in front of him.

Although he was questioned there was evidently no evidence to hold Sawyer. He was dismissed as a suspect and released. He was also able to provide proof that he was actually in Osceola, Iowa, the night of the murders.

Another early suspect was a man named Joe Ricks. He was arrested in Monmouth, Illinois, when he got off a train and someone noticed he had blood on his shoes. Witnesses reported seeing him asking for directions in the town of Villisca the day before the Moores were found dead. Again, nothing was ever proven and he was not convicted or considered a serious suspect.

Over the years there have been many suspects. There have been those who have confessed to the crime. However, no one has ever been convicted. To this day, the crime remains unsolved and there are many who feel it never will be as any evidence that might have been collected is long gone.

The other victim of the murders was nearly the town of Villisca itself. Although the city was booming, or close to booming, at the time of the murders, the publicity put an end to that. The city sank into an economic decline that it has never truly recovered from. There were many who felt that the town was cursed after that day. Villisca is still there, but it is still a fraction of what it was predicted to be when that fateful day arrived.

The house it still standing. It has had many owners over the years, but these days the owners have decided to cash in on the reputation rather than ignore it. The house has been restored, with exacting standards, to the way it was the day the bodies were found. Regular tours are given throughout the house. Sometimes those who are willing to pay a little extra and spend the night in a house with no running water or electricity, can spend the night. Reportedly the house is haunted and one of the most haunted houses in the country.

The town now has a museum dedicated to the murders located in downtown Villisca. The tours then take tourists to the cemetery to view the burial places of the people who were brutally and horribly murdered on that day. Then the tours take them to the house. It is reported that cameras and electronic devices stop working near the house.

Whether or not the house is haunted doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the murders were never solved. Eight people were murdered in their sleep, coldly, calculated and brutally. Most of them were children. Their killer never was caught or brought to justice and, for much of the country, this case has faded into obscurity.

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