The old adage “A strong father begets a weak son” certainly fit the relationship between F. F. Jones and his son Albert. F. F. was far above the average Villisca citizen on about any measure you might choose. In contrast, his son Albert was very ordinary in all respects.
Albert was of modest intellect, lethargic and financially successful only because his father’s position of power gave him a head start in the business world. Certainly his marriage to Dona Bentley would not have happened had he been a laborer’s son rather than the scion of a banker.
Dona Bentley Jones (Fourth Wall Films--All rights reserved)
When the Villisca murder was discovered, everyone in town asked themselves, who could have done this awful thing? All in town knew of Dona’s indiscretions with Joe Moore, so Albert, the cuckolded husband became an immediate suspect.
Most local citizens had their doubts that Albert could have conceived of the murder, hired a professional killer and planned the getaway. Therefore they felt F. F. had intervened once more to pull his son’s chestnuts out of the fire.
With both father and son permanently tied to the Villisca Axe Murders, their lives went on in a distorted fashion of normal. So normal in fact that by the early 1930’s Albert and Dona’s role in their family life had been reversed. After her year of promiscuous infidelity, Dona lived out her life as a upstanding, moral woman. Meanwhile in his middle age Albert developed a wandering eye which fixed on a woman in Omaha.
In the midst of this peccadillo, Albert’s life style caught up with him. Not given to hard work or exercise and attracted to good food, the portly Albert was struck down by a massive stroke in 1934. Paralyzed, and left with little speech he lay helpless for over a year until death arrived in 1935.
During this year of dying he was occasionally driven downtown, but had minimum communication with anybody except family members. Certainly, his lady love from Omaha never visited, and if she wrote it would have been Dona not Albert who opened and read the letters. In a final ironic twist the singer at his funeral was Albert Davies who in 1911 through 1912 had been one of Dona’s paramours.
Albert’s sad tale does not end with his death. Years later a couple bought the house where Albert died. Energy was now dear so they decided to insulate the attic. They were hardly started when they found a cache of letters behind a loose sheeting board. Tied with a pink ribbon, they were love letters sent to Albert by his Omaha doxy. Bound to his bed by his failed body, Albert certainly realized he would never again climb the attic stairs. Nor would he ever burn the incriminating letters for they were forever out of his control. One supposes he assumed they would always remain hidden in the attic wall, but time and the 1970’s energy crises conspired to bring them to light.
There are very few secrets in a small town, so word of the discovery soon entered Villisca’s public arena. Rumors flew: Albert’s journal had been found and it contained incriminating information; Albert had written a confession. When confronted with these rumors, the owners dismissed them all. They had found a packet of love letters, bound with a pink ribbon, sent to Albert from Omaha. They had read them and had been offended by the woman’s attack on Dona who she called “the butter and egg lady.” After reading the letters the couple thought them too personal for public knowledge, so they burned them.
I suppose the above account is true. But I know the woman who told this story to one researcher with a twinkle in her eye that made him wonder if some or all of the letters escaped the bonfire. Perhaps they are in a musty drawer somewhere waiting to be discovered a second time.
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 60 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.
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