Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Villisca: Mass Murder in Iowa

Serial Mass Murder

In England in 1811, two families were slaughtered along the Ratcliffe Highway. On December 7, Timothy Marr, his wife, and apprentice were bludgeoned to death, and their throats were slashed by an unknown intruder. A constable surmised from a bloody implement left behind that the weapon had been a seaman's maul with the initials J.P. A similar incident occurred down the road over two weeks later on December 19, when a family residing at the King's Arms Inn was similarly slaughtered. The inn's owner, John Williamson, lay bludgeoned to death on the cellar stairs while the beaten bodies of his wife and the maid were in the parlor. An Irish sailor, John Williams, was arrested, based on the missing maul in the trunk of his roommate, John Peterson, who'd been out to sea during the murders. Williams had no substantiated alibi and had been away from his room both times, so he was arrested. However, he committed suicide in prison before getting to trial.

Anatoly Onoprienko
Anatoly Onoprienko

In Russia during the1990s, Anatoly Onoprienko terrorized the Ukraine, murdering a dozen women before he turned his rage into wholesale slaughter of entire families. Then after taking what he could, he burned the home. Sometimes he scattered photographs of the family, as if the very idea of kinship enraged him — perhaps because he'd been an orphan. In addition, he killed people at random — a police officer, men sitting in a car, people who merely looked at him as he fled a crime scene. His cousin alerted police, who found possessions from the victims in his girlfriend's home. Onoprienko claimed to have killed more than 50 people, insisting that "voices from above" had ordered him to kill.

While there's some reason to believe that the Villisca slaughter could have been just one in a series of random ax attacks on other families, officially the case remains unsolved.

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