Dr. Edgar V. Epperly has researched the 1912 Villisca, Iowa axe murders of the six-member Joe Moore family and two overnight guests, Lena and Ina Stillinger, for over 55 years. He is considered the authority on the unsolved murder mystery. He was the primary historical consultant on Kelly and Tammy Rundle's award-winning documentary VILLISCA: LIVING WITH A MYSTERY, and is currently finishing a book on the case.
A Villisca case fan submitted the following question to ASK ED:
Who was Albert Davie and what was his connection to the Villisca axe murder story?
In the late fall of 1911, you would often find Albert F. Davie in Honeyman's Drug Store. He did not leave the hot Indian summer street for the cool soda fountain, but instead had been attracted by Honeyman's public telephone. As an up and coming young real estate and insurance salesman, it evoked no suspicions for him to use the telephone. Neither would the druggist be surprised if Albert spoke in a low and conspiratorial tone; business no doubt. Business sometimes, but often not! Instead many of his calls were to Albert Jones' house and directed to Dona, Albert's wife. Made during the afternoon, these calls were to see if "the coast was clear" for an evening visit. Made when husband Albert was known to be out of town or working late, they constituted a grave breach of community mores.
Secret though they may have been intended, everyone in Villisca overheard those telephone conversations. That was because the telephone system was not automated in 1911. Instead, each call was routed by an operator. This young woman could listen to any and all conversations. When she connected Albert Davie to Albert Jones' house curiosity compelled her to listen to that conversation. Just as curiosity compelled her to listen, human nature compelled her to share such juicy gossip with friends. Consequently in a few hours virtually everyone in Villisca knew that Albert Davie had arranged a visit with Dona Jones when her husband Albert wasn't at home.
Had Albert Davie been Dona's only caller, their trysts would have been lost to history. But he was only the first of her callers. A few weeks after Albert discovered Dona to be a willing conversationalist, Joe Moore, twenty years her senior started to call. Through the winter of 1911-12 up to a few days before his murder, Joe called with great success. Davie continued to call, but Joe's overtures most often met with Dona's blessing. He called in the evening around eight o'clock, always with a request to come to her house. Occasionally Albert, her husband would answer and Joe would hurriedly say he had the wrong number.
These secret meetings with their strong sexual overtones were a "smoking gun" motive in the eyes of the community. Dona's father-in-law F.F. Jones was an irascible fellow and everyone in town knew he resented Joe Moore for opening a competing implement store, but no one thought he would kill for such a motive. Having his son cuckolded and the family name besmirched by a promiscuous daughter-in-law was a different matter. So proud and arrogant a man as F. F. Jones might well decide that Joe should be taught a lesson for participating in such a sordid affair. Such reasoning does little to explain the need for murdering the entire family including the visiting Stillinger girls. Nor does it address the sexual and ritual aspects of the murder scene, but to those citizens desperate to find the killer, a vengeful F. F. Jones seemed a logical suspect.
Albert Davie apparently was too daft to realize that his shenanigans with Dona might put him at risk. Perhaps he did not share the widely held local suspicion that the Jones family was behind the murder. For whatever reason, he continued to find the seductive Dona irresistible. Friday, October 18, 1912, some four months after the murder found Albert again visiting Dona Jones when he thought her husband was not at home. Unfortunately, the cuckolded husband appeared unexpectedly. No one knows what Albert Jones discovered but the scene was sufficiently compromising that a fight broke out. Albert and Albert's tussle was vigorous enough to knock the telephone off its hook. This caused a light to appear on the telephone exchange board and the alert operator made the connection. That connection gave her a ring-side seat to the "Friday night fights." Both Alberts were somewhat overweight and not used to hard manual labor; but probably evenly matched. As often happens, the fight escalated until Albert Jones drew a pistol. The telephone operator heard a shot and the fight ended. Happily, the portly Jones was no better with a pistol than he was at manual labor so his shot only lacerated Davie's thumb.
Needless to say, this story made the gossip hit parade. The central girls were all abuzz the next day and their gossip was confirmed by Albert Davie's elaborately bandaged thumb, which was supported by a sling. Not that Albert didn't have a cover story. The next issue of the Villisca Review carried an explanation that Albert's thumb had been injured by a horse. While visiting his brother Will's farm, he had tried to handle a team and a young saddle horse at the same time. Albert had wrapped it's harness around his thumb. When the horse reared Albert's thumb had been nearly torn off.
Consequently both sling and bandaged thumb was explained by a fractious horse.
No one in town believed so mundane an explanation when everyone knew someone who knew a central girl. The gossip got so bad that Albert confronted the telephone operators directly. He came to the exchange and "was about to take our heads off because he said he wasn't there (Albert Jones' house); it wasn't anybody's business if he had been there, and he wasn't there."
Since the shooting incident took place four months after the murder, Dona seemingly had not seen her promiscuous behavior as a motive for murder. Apparently the Albert vs. Albert fight convinced her to change her ways. No more telephone calls between Dona and men in the community were reported by the central girls. No more visits took place when husband Albert was out of town. In fact, between October, 1912, and Albert Jones' death in 1935, not a hint of scandal touched Dona, or Albert Davie for that matter.
Albert married a local school teacher in 1914 and apparently lived happily ever after. He continued to sell real estate and insurance, raised a family and prospered. He was a good singer, being a charter member of the Villisca male chorus which was formed in 1930.
Nether did there seem to be any lasting animosity between Davie and the Jones family. Like the Two Gentlemen from Verona, neither of the two Alberts apparently felt a woman, even as alluring a woman as Dona, should come between a good friendship. Consequently, when Albert Jones died in 1935, his friend Albert Davie sang at his funeral. As further evidence that the Joneses were a forgiving lot when the patriarch Frank F. Jones died in 1941, Albert F. Davie was one of his pallbearers.
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