Dr. Hall of Benson, Intimate Friend of Moores, Discusses Crime: Certain It Was Not a Relative or Business Enemy.
excerpt from Omaha World Herald, June 12, 1912
No relative killed the Moores and the two Stillinger girls according to Dr. Bryon Hall of Benson. Dr. Hall was intimately acquainted with the Moores and is a personal friend of the Stillingers. Because of this fact, he is in a position to speak with considerable authority. Moore was a particularly jovial and good-natured man the doctor asserts and his family was religious. The children were being raised in the church he says and so were the two Stillinger girls.
Carefully going over the ground and summing up all the tangible clues he has been able to find, Dr. Hall says he is unable to arrive at a plausible reason for the crime. It could not possibly have been a relative of the family he insists.
What you are about to read deals in part with the 1912 Villisca Axe Murders. I tell you this in the event you want to stop reading at this point.
Recently I had a long conversation with a former Villisca resident, now 86 years of age, and residing in a city some distance from Villisca. In the course of our conversation, the axe murders became part of our discussion and this lady seemed to know things that I had never heard.
She had relatives living across the street from the J.B. Moore home and herself lived within a block of the house. This, of course does not give her more knowledge than the others but was just a part of our conversation. For the sake of identification, I'll call her "Mrs. Z". I'm sure she wouldn't mind me using her name but during our talk I never told her that I might write about it; in fact, I never intended to use the story until just a few days ago.
The tale begins in late 1911 when the son of a prominent Villisca family was killed in a race riot in Oklahoma. He wasn't a part of the riot but was caught in the crossfire and shot to death. The body was returned to Villisca for burial, accompanied by his widow. Apparently there was some animosity between the parents and the wife because, as Mrs. Z recalls the story, the wife was not to be allowed to attend the funeral services in the family home here in Villisca.
Word of this reached a prominent Villisca businessman who instructed the funeral director to hold open two seats at the front of the room. Minutes before the service was to begin, said businessman escorted the widow to the seats. As the funeral procession formed to go to the cemetery, the widow was told she was not welcome at the graveside.
Again, the businessman came to the rescue and drove the widow to the cemetery in his buggy. Immediately following the service, the wife left for her home. Whether she ever returned to Villisca is unknown, but it was known that she departed with some ill will toward her late husband's family.
In June 1912, the axe murders took place. As has been reported, the investigation of the crime left much to be desired. We've all read of clues, people and incidents which were supposedly uncovered. Unfortunately, none proved sufficiently accurate to bring the murderer to trial.
One bit of evidence which Mrs. Z recalls were footprints at the end of the porch--footprints which would indicate that the person jumped from the porch and, secondly that the person was wearing moccasins. She did not remember that anything ever came of the clues although many, many leads were run down during the investigation to no avail. Those who knew about the footprints had a theory: the widow of the man shot in Oklahoma sent an Indian to Villisca to avenge the wrong done to her at her late husband's funeral.
If that was the case, why then was the Moore family and the two little Stillinger girls the ones who were murdered? Still conjecture, but those who were familiar with the earlier incident believed that the Moore house was accidentally singled out.. that the murderer was actually seeking the house of the other family.
How then, did it happen? The Presbyterian Church was given the perpetrator as the landmark and a certain number of homes from there as the place the killings were to take place. Mrs. Z said the Moore house was 11 houses East of the Presbyterian Church. The home of the other family was 11 houses north of the Church. Could a mix-up in directions have saved the lives of one family and taken the lives of another? This lady is sound of mind and related this story without hesitation or pauses in recollection. We'll never know if it's true.
Omaha, Neb., June 15, 1912 -- Mrs. Retta Johnson of this city, who accompanied Miss Minnie Moore, a sister of the murdered Joseph Moore, to Villisca Monday, has returned from that place. "Had Mr. Moore or Mrs. Moore looked into a closet, off from the room where the Stillinger girls slept, they would have seen the murderer, and probably have prevented the crime," said Mrs. Johnson. "Several bags of cotton batting found in the closet showed the marks of a man having sat and stood upon them."
Mrs. Johnson says that the identity of the murderer may be determined by a piece of a watch chain which was found in the bed where the Stillinger girls were killed. It had been broken loose, and is believed to have been torn by the larger of the girls, who is thought to have struggled with her slayer. "No one can explain why an unoccupied bed in the front room had been made by Mrs. Moore, and yet never occupied," continued Mrs. Johnson. "One theory is that they had expected another party to stay all night with them, but friends say that is not true." Miss Moore, the sister, will return to Omaha Saturday. She attended the funeral Wednesday.
Council Bluffs, Ia., Aug. 21, 1912 -- C.M. Brown of Villisca, Ia., who is in this city, declares that the detectives at Villisca, working to solve the mystery in the recent murder of eight persons in Villisca have obtained a photograph of the murderer from the retina of the eye of one of the Stillinger sisters. The girl, circumstances at the time indicated, was the only one of the eight, all of whom were killed with a hatchet, who had awakened during the attack.