Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Villisca: Mass Murder in Iowa

Hit Man?

The man whom Frank Jones had supposedly hired to commit the crime, William Mansfield, was associated with another episode of killing with an ax. Two years after the Moores were killed in their beds, Mansfield became a suspect in the ax murders of members of his own family — his wife, child and in-laws. In addition, he was a suspect in some of the murders that McClaughry had attributed to Henry Moore.

All of the victims had been killed with an ax and inside the homes, the mirrors had been covered. In one or two, the chimney of a lamp had been removed, like in the Moore home, and in one place, a wash basin was filled with bloody water. One private eye, James Newton Wilkerson, said he could prove that Mansfield had been in the right place at the right time to be the common element in them all. Mansfield was also a convict, having served time in Leavenworth for desertion. Supposedly, he was seen boarding a train out of a town near Villisca early in the morning of June 10.

Nothing much happened aside from rampant rumors during the first few years after the massacre, but by 1916, suspicion was so strong that Mansfield was arrested and brought before a grand jury. Then payroll records were produced to prove that he'd been in Illinois at the time of the Villisca murders, he was released.

Another suspect in several repeat ax murders was Andy Sawyer. He was seen around six o'clock in the morning of June 10, wearing shoes caked in mud and trousers wet to the knee, as if he'd been wading (perhaps in the river?). He showed a great deal of interest in news accounts of the crime, and he wondered out loud whether the killer had been apprehended. He feared that he might become a suspect, and he appeared to know just how the killer had escaped town without being noticed. He even took an ax to bed with him, for protection, and he was reputed to be quite skilled with the implement. However, he'd been in another town the night before the murders, so it seemed that he couldn't have gotten to Villisca in time, and thus, no one launched a formal investigation.

But they did go after a strange fellow who'd drawn a great deal of attention to himself back in June 1912.

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