The Villisca Iowa Axe Murders of 1912


Apr 11, 2001
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August 4th marked the anniversary (113th) of the Lizzie Borden Murders in Fall River, Mass. but 1912 would also be subjected to another brutal and unsolved crime in the heartland of America which, hard on the heels of the Titanic disaster, made the front pages of newspapers everywhere. Here is a great site, explaining the details, and a short 3 minute film well worth watching.
http://www.villisca.com/film.htm Click on The Film, then Screening Room, then Villisca Teaser for the short film.
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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Based on your recommendation I have just purchased a copy of the book they listed on their website.

Sounds fascinating! Thanks. I would love to see the documentary - perhaps they'll show it on Discovery or A&E sometime?

Kyrila
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Always hard to believe such gruesome things went on in the glorious Gilded Age-but human nature is the same, any decade. An excellent independent film company made a DVD about the infamous H.H. Holmes, America's first serial killer who ran his murder castle rooming house during the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition. http://www.hhholmesthefilm.com/ I bought the DVD (which can be found cheaper on Ebay) -and it is well done. Lots of material out there also on the infamous Stanford White murder at Madison Square Garden on 1906, and upon which the novel Ragtime is based. Here is the Crime Library version- hot stuff indeed, and a case of wealth having a few privileges, in true Gilded Age style. http://www.crimelibrary.com/classics/white/
 

Inger Sheil

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...but human nature is the same, any decade
Absolutely - as that haunting book and more recently doco, Death in Wisconsin, suggests. Set in the 1890s and derived from material in the Blackriver Falls newspaper archives, it documents callous murder, tragic insanity, eccentricity and madness among the townsfolk. It seems to suggest that we're not really more violent than we were in the past.

One of the worst accounts of a murder I ever came across was a trial summation in a Liverpool newspaper from the 1850s. I'd copied the broadsheet for another article, and was horrified by the details of the murder of a little girl. Gruesome and cruel, it was as terrible as anything you would read today.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Shelley: Order yourself a copy of Mistress of Murder Hill, the story of Belle Gunness- the lonely hearts serial killer of 1900/1908- for a look at another turn-of-the-20th case with a very contemporary feel to it. She operated in much the same way Holmes did, and there is a strong possibility that she got away with it. She looked rather like Bert Lahr wearing a pompadour wig, which makes her ability to lure in and captivate over a dozen men all the more puzzling- standards of beauty change, but even by ca 1905 standards she was a harsh looking being.

While researching the Lusitania in local newspapers, I've come across an as-of-yet unnamed serial killer who was preying on children and young adults in the northern suburbs of NYC in the Great War Years. The killings were gruesome (as, come to think of it, killings tend to be- that was an inane sentence) and word of mouth "on the street" was that Jack the Ripper was operating here. At one point an angry mob of mothers chased a suspect down, but he was not the killer. I suspect that Albert Fish, who lived locally and who in 1928 abducted and ate Grace Budd at a house in Worthington, and who admitted to havng been committing similar crimes nationwide since 1900, was behind the string of killings but have not, as of yet, found any reporters who covered Fish's trial in the 1930s who made the connection and investigated it.
 

Inger Sheil

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She looked rather like Bert Lahr wearing a pompadour wig, which makes her ability to lure in and captivate over a dozen men all the more puzzling- standards of beauty change, but even by ca 1905 standards she was a harsh looking being.
I've wondered about that myself, Jim! Her name seems singularly innapropriate. I imagine a few future victims who answered her advertisements were singularly unimpressed when they met her face to face.

So whatdayathink - did she perish in the fire (or beforehand) or not?
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Good one Jim, I missed this Belle gal, now to find a photo! I wonder if she had red hair like Lizzie? -\Got to be careful around those Redheads, plenty of determination, tenacity and fire.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Did she perish in the fire? That aspect of the story is so convoluted that I'll take the easy way out and say 'maybe.' Lamphere's stories make no sense, and although the body was supposedly 'much smaller' than Belle's it had also been through a fire and was severly damaged, so who can tell?

AXE MURDER ALERT: Shelley, here's a good one which never 'went national' that I found in the Bridgeport scrapbook. Back in the 1890s, a truly nasty old lady by the name of Susan Anderson lived on a farm located between what are now South Bald Hill Road and Cheesespring Road in New Canaan. No one had anything nice to say about her. One of her more endearing traits was to hire immigrants "fresh off the boat" work them for as long as she could without paying them, and then when they finally demanded their money she would beat them and then have them arrested for theft. Since she was a known 'local nut' the charges against her victims never stuck, but none of them ever pressed their luck by filing charges against HER after being released. One fine day in 1898, the Anderson residence was seen to be ablaze, and when the fire brigade arrived they discovered the latest handyman hanging from the big tree in the front yard (still extant BTW) and no sign of Susan. Susan, as it turned out, was found hidden under the hogpen with her throat cut and her head beaten in by an axe. The police and locals theorised that she tried her scam once too often and got killed by the new hire, who then committed suicide. Her extended family came to ID the body and noted that while Susan had long gray hair, the woman under the hogpen had long brown hair. They opined that it was not her. Susan's estranged daughter came up from NYC and said "it's her" and the authorities, glad to have an ID and also glad to be rid of the awful Susan, agreed that the dead woman was Mrs. Anderson and the case was wrapped up. One wishes that this story was better documented.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>> And Belle with a 37 inch waist, 54 inch hips and a 48 inch bosom<<

WHOA!!!! I was reading some of that and noticed that she tipped the scales at 280 pounds too. How she managed to even breathe with that corset that she was able to squeeze into is anybody's guess.

>>I love the murder -by falling-meat-grinder method of getting rid of a husband.<<

Sure saves on the burial expenses, doesn't it?

I wonder what the cause of that fire was that destroyed the Gunness household. She go her cumuppance I suppose, but it's a shame her three children made the trip with her into whatever afterlife they believed in.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>I wonder what the cause of that fire was that destroyed the Gunness household. She go her cumuppance I suppose, but it's a shame her three children made the trip with her into whatever afterlife they believed in.

She killed one of her foster children earlier, as well as her husband. Belle may have started the fire herself, after killing a woman new to the area to cover her tracks as she fled elsewhere with the money she took from her victims. Or, the handyman may actually have killed her and then burned the house over her and the children. Or, she may have killed the children and then the handyman killed her. It is all very convoluted. I think this is one of those rare cases where the most far fetched version of the story (Belle kills strange woman and burns the house down with her children in it) is the most likely to be true.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I think this is one of those rare cases where the most far fetched version of the story (Belle kills strange woman and burns the house down with her children in it) is the most likely to be true.<<

Wouldn't surprise me in the least if that turned out to be the case. What I've read of her points to a particularly ruthless individual, and law enforcement didn't have DNA technology back then to figure out if the body they had was the one they thought they had.
 

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