We recently received inquiries from a reader who wanted to know more about the undertakers involved in the 1912 Villisca, Iowa ax murder case. The answer is quite complex because several area undertakers were involved and some were called and questioned before the 1917 grand jury in the court house in Red Oak, Iowa.
To access a copy of the 1917 grand jury, one has to either visit the Villisca Public Library or the State Historical Society in Des Moines. However, there are two documents in publication that shed light on the early and final investigation of this notorious true crime.
The first is the Coroner's Inquest (Fourth Wall Films, 2003), and the second is the 1917 Grand Jury Signed Statements (Fourth Wall Films, 2003). Both are available via the Villisca Emporium and Amazon.com (links below).
Jessie Moore was the wife of victim Josiah Moore's brother Ross. In 1912 it was not uncommon for family members to assist in the preparation of bodies for burial, and that was Jessie's primary role in the axe murder mystery.
As you will see, the bulk of the interrogation focused on her knowledge of early suspects. Although the other family members were not allowed to view the bodies due to the mutilation, Joe Moore's mother did spend some time in the firehouse with Joe's covered body, holding his hand.
Editor's notes/corrections are in [brackets].
Having first been duly sworn, on oath testified as follows, upon examination,
BY MR RATCLIFF:
Q What is your FULL NAME, Mrs Moore?
Q Mrs Jessie. You are the wife of Ross Moore?
A Yes, sir.
Q And Ross Moore is a Brother of Joe Moore?
A Yes, sir.
Q You may first, in your own words tell about this Monday morning, --last Monday morning, June 10th about discovering something?
A Why, Mrs Peckhan [Peckham], a neighbor of theirs called me and wanted to know if there was anything that happened down at Mr Moore's father, he was in poor health, and I told her, I did not believe there was because they would have called up, and so I told her then that I would call up his store, and I did, and Mr Selley said, he was not able to get the people nor get his home, and he come down to the store finally and said that he would call up at her peoples. Mr. Montgomery, or at Mr Moores, and he called up and told me that the [they] had been neither place, and then I said, well I think perhaps I better go down, so I did, and he called up in a little while, and said that he could not find them, by that time I had got there, and I think perhaps after a little while they called up and told me not to go to Creston, I was just ready to go to Creston, and they told me not to go, and in just a few minutes one of the neighbors come over and told me what had happened. I think perhaps that is all I know.
Q Did you go to the house?
A I was there just a little bit, I was in one of the rooms for some pictures, that they wanted for print.
BY THE CORONER:
Q That was afterwards, --that was sometime after they had entered?
A Oh, yes.
Q Hour or two afterwards? A Yes.
Q You have not heard anything about the family affairs that would lead you to believe, --
A No, --no one else knows.
Q Got any enemies?
A No, No, I never knew, I never knew he had any enemies. None whatsoever.
Q Was you to their church Sunday evening?
A No, I was not. I did not go, I wasn't here in the evening.
BY MR RATCLIFF:
Q Do you know of any matter of business, or otherwise wherein he was in trouble with any one?
A No, sir, not a one.
Q Did you ever hear him speak of having any enemies?
A No, sir, I had not. I never heard him speak ill of any one.
Q You ever hear him speak of any one else?
BY DR LOMAS:
Q Mrs Moore, do you know when was the last time any of the Moores every [ever] heard from Sam Moyer?
A Well, Fern, that is the second girl, you know, had a letter from him, and I can't tell you the date, it has been over two weeks.
Q Two weeks since?
A Yes, and he told her he was in Oregon.
Q Where in Oregon?
A He told her he would go and visist [visit] this Harry Moore, that is the other brother, Ross's brother, thought he would visit him, but I don't know here he is, what town or anything more, I could not say how long it has been.
Q How long has it been since you say?
A That little boy has been gone, well really I could not tell you.
Q Is the little boy with him at the present time?
A No, the little boy is with his son, this child's half brother at, I believe, Newhawak, Nebr.
Q What town?
A Newhawka, down by Nebraska City.
Q Were you acquainted with Sam Moyer?
A Was I acquainted with him. Yes, I visisted [visited] his home.
Q What was his disposition?
A Well, he was a free man, was very kind to his family, when he was with them, they really had more than they should have had, he did not deny them anything. He was a xxx xxxx man, that xxxxxxxxxxxx said very little, and always seemed very pleasant in his home, or while I was there, I don't know what it would be, I was just a visitor.
Q He had left his family once before this?
Q You know how long he was away at that time?
A He was away a year, he came back on Old Settlers day.
Q Just disappeared, did not hear anything further from him until he came back again?
A No, never heard a word, except once his wife did, and he just came here old settlers day.
Q To your knowledge did Sam Moyer and Joe Moore ever have any trouble?
A No, not that I ever knew of.
Q How long has it been since Sam Moyer left his family this last time?
A Well, let me see, I know it was in the spring, I can't tell you whether it was April or May?
Q One or Two years since?
A Yes, sir.
Q He left his family and heard nothing of him?
A They say he send them a letter and sent them some money to pay his lodge dues, and I believe paid them, and told them not to write that he would write to them, he was going west, he was with the railroad company of some kind, on carptenter [carpenter] work, and he would write them again and they never heard from him again from that time until just lately, you know, when the girl has had letter from his occasionally.
Q Sam Moyer has one brother here?
A He has one brother and one sister living out south of town?
Q What is the sister's name?
Q Is she married?
A No, the brother, that is he, she keeps house for him.
BY THE CORONER:
Q What is the man's name?
A I believe his name is Gum Moyer, or something. I just heard of it, Gum, or Gun. I just heard it they just called him that.
BY MR RATCLIFF:
Q You know what place in Oregon this letter is from?
A No, I do not, --I do not know hat place.
Q Did you see that letter?
Q Is it true that he has been roaming a good deal?
A Yes, he has been in Dakota, I can't tell you the name of the town. He has been having contract work, he has been building the bridges, taken out, work of that kind you know. I can't remember the name because I did not pay no attention.
Q Do you know anything this Van Gilder?
A No, I just knew him, my friends, Mrs Moore this lady that was mudered [murdered], were very close friends, when she was sick, and of course I think he says that he thought I was there, and she just told me that he was a mean man, that he was a drinking man and this time she would never go back, that is the only conversation that ever passed between us.
Q You don't know of him being here?
A No, I do not know anything of it. I never saw the man to know anything of it.
Q Never mentioned it to you?
Q As far as you can remember what was the nature of his last visit here?
A Of whom?
Q Sam Moyer?
A Well, let me see. Well, I could not give it at all, I can't remember.
Q You said it was on an old settlers day?
A Well, he has been here since that.
BY A JUROR:
Q Has he been here since the death of his wife?
A No, they never heard of him.
Q Until the children have been hearing from him?
A I think this oldest girl, that went to Sioux Rapids, or Sioux Falls, he came to see her. They had evidently heard from him, and he never even asked for the rest of the family or the wife, and when she mentioned it, he never paid any attention.
BY ANOTHER JUROR:
Q Was he of a rather surely disposition?
A Yes, he was very quite [quiet], he always seemed to be as though he would be a surely man, if he got mad. Of course I don't know. I never saw him angry, and I was not so very weel [well] acquainted with him, only just meeting him, but he was always very pleasant when I knew him, but seemed to be that kind of a man if he would get mad, he could be.
Q Now Mrs Moore, do you know whether he has ever visited with Joe or not, --whether he has ever been in their house?
A I do not know.
Q Is it not true, Mrs Moore, at the time of Mrs Moyer's sickness and death that Joe took an active part in protecting for the expense of her sickness and death and was in a measure assisting in establishing to care for the family?
A Well, I could not say as to that. Of course all the boys, you know, expected a great deal, but I rather think when the sister died that he naturally paid this time I know my husband settled when the baby died. He had all that time attended to the business part of it, and I rather think that Joe attended to it.
Q Is it not true that at the time Sam Moyer deserted his family, that there was well, five children in his family and another arrival expected shortly?
Q That he left the family and after sending them back this letter, never paid any further attention to them until after the wife and baby died, and were burried [buried] and never even inquired xx into the place of the death, or nature of the death?
A I never heard as to that.
Q And had, --that at the time that he deserted his family that his wife was not only, --but was also suffering from a kidney disease?
A I don't know, --he surely knew that, --he must have known her condition of course, but I don't know as to that. Other.
Q Is his daughter who had the letter from him reside in town at the present time?
A Yes, it was Fern, the biggest child, she was at home, she told me she got a letter from him, and seeing it was from Oregon?
Q You don't know whether he gave her an address to write to or anything?
A No, I do not.
More on the Signed Statements in a future post.
This online version of the Coroner's Inquest is Copyright 2003, Fourth Wall Films, All Rights Reserved. Intentional minor typographical errors, that do not alter the content, have been added so we can track unauthorized use. Please ask permission if you wish to repost this material. Thank you.