A Timeline Detailing the Day the Villisca Axe Murders were Discovered - Part Three
By Tammy Rundle
Villisca, Iowa Marshall Hank Horton exits the Josiah B. Moore house and locks the door behind him. He says to Joe Moore's brother Ross, "There's somebody dead in every bed," and leaves the scene for Doctor Clark Cooper's office downtown.
The Presbyterian minister Reverend Ewing (the Moore family's pastor) meets Dr. Hough at Mary Peckham's home. Ewing says that Mrs. Ewing overheard that Lena and Ina Stillinger planned to stay overnight at the Moore house.
On his way to get Dr. Cooper, Horton stops and tells city clerk George Sexton about the murders and tells him to phone the Montgomery County Sheriff, the coroner, the county attorney, and to "get busy" with the wire [telegraph].
Night watchman Mike Overman is passing in front of Means Hardware Store when Hank Horton approaches and says, "Joe Moore's murdered and I am after the doctor." Overman walks over to the Moore home.
Marshall Horton arrives at Doctor Cooper's office and asks him to come to the Moore home. They drive back to the house in Cooper's car.
Horton borrows Ross Moore's keys and Dr. Cooper, Dr. Hough, and Rev. Ewing follow the Marshall into the murder house. They view the two strangers' bodies in the sewing room and then climb the stairs. Hank sees a lamp without a chimney sitting at the top of the stairs and moves it out of the way. They observe the Moore family victims, all murdered as they slept. The bloody bedding is stiff at the head and all curtains and blinds are down.
Cooper exits the house as G. L. Bloodgood approaches. Cooper tells him he shouldn't go inside.
Mike Overman arrives at the house. "Keep the crowd back," Cooper says to Overman. People are pushing and trying to get into the house. Cooper says, "Boys, my God, don't come in here!"
Ed Selley returns to the Moore implement store and calls the John Deere company to find out what to do about the store in Joe Moore's absence.
Dr. Williams meets Selley one block west of 1st National Bank and learns of the murders.
Mary Baker, a telephone operator in Nodaway, is contacted by an operator in Villisca regarding the murders. "They told me not to tell anybody until they knew more about it," said Baker.
Between 8:30 am and 9:00 am:
Dr. Williams enters the Moore house with Horton. He goes upstairs first and examines Joe and Sara. He checked for rigor mortis and estimates they have been dead five or six hours. Joe is lying on the south side of the bed and Sara on the north. Then he examines the Moore children: Herman, Katherine, Paul, and Boyd. Then he goes back downstairs to examine the two unknown victims. The oldest girl was on the east side of the bed, one third of the way down, and mutilated above the shoulders. The smaller girl was on the west side of the bed. He checked the oldest victim but found no evidence of rape or intercourse. He saw no footprints.
Ethel Landers is doing the wash on the back porch of her mother's home when she looks up and sees a crowd gathering at Joe Moore's house.
Back in the Moore house Horton observes a little blood on the inside of the oldest girl's leg, as if the killer had touched or moved her. Her head was down toward the bottom of the pillow and her underwear had been removed. Hank found the underwear under the bed. Horton says that it appears she had been struck on the side of the head. The younger girl is on her back. He thinks they were struck with the poll [blunt side] of the axe. The bloody bed clothing is dried and sticks to their faces. Horton sees no blood on the poll or the sides of the axe blade. It looks as if it has been wiped clean. He also sees blood about halfway up the axe handle.
Joe and Sara's faces were covered, apparently by the killer, with a skirt. Joe's eyebrows were left, but his teeth and the rest of his face is beaten in. Sara is still recognizable. Her arm hangs out from under the bed sheets and her wedding ring is still on her finger. Both are laying flat on their backs, with legs straight. Joe appears to have been struck with the back side of the axe while Sara was struck with both the back and the sharp side.
Bruce Stillians is picking up mail on the south side of the square when Tom Tice drives up in his automobile and says that Joe Moore and his family have been murdered. Stillians hops in Tice's car and they drive to the crime scene. Stillians and Tice enter the house as Dr. Cooper is leaving.
Montgomery County Coroner A. L. Lindquist, of Stanton, Iowa, arrives at the Moore house in his automobile. He heard about the murders by telephone. He did not take written notes as he examined the scene. Undertaker J. L. Smith toured the house with Lindquist. They entered through the south door and observed a number of other people going through the house, at least 25, and a lot of excitement.
J. L. Smith observes that the two glass doors on the front of the house were covered with a old black skirt. He says the couch on the west side of the parlor looks like someone had slept on it.
They see children's toys and other things lying about. The wash basin in the kitchen has dirty water in it, but no blood. Lindquist sees a running watch on the dresser in the sewing room. The chairs in the sewing room area are covered with the girls' clothing. They also see clothing on the floor at the foot of the bed where the murder weapon is leaning up against the wall.
Near the axe Lindquist sees a 6" x 12" section of unsliced bacon wrapped in what he thought might have been flour sack cloth. He finds another larger piece of bacon in the ice box in the kitchen and thinks the piece in the sewing room may have been cut from it.
Lindquist also notes that the dresser mirror on the east side of the sewing room is covered with a blue skirt. He finds a 7" piece of key chain on the floor near the sewing room doorway.
Lindquist pushes a reddish curtain aside to peer in the closet under the stairs in the sewing room. It's full of clothing, papers and piles of magazines.
He examines door knobs for blood, but finds none. He also sees no trail of blood leading from one place to another. He sees that the back door is locked with a skeleton key on the inside and the screen door on the porch fastened on the inside with a hook.
Smith, finds Joe's coin purse in trousers draped over a post at the foot of the Moore's bed. It contains less than two dollars in coins.
Smith notes that the only blood they see away from any of the beds is one drop of blood on the floor in the childrens' room upstairs. "Just a drop, about as big as the end of a finger," says Smith. And, there is blood spattered on the walls around the beds.
Smith is called out of the house and informed that he and Mr. C. N. Fessler, another undertaker, are to take charge of the bodies, but not to remove them...yet.