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Sounds very interesting, I must check it out!

I'm curious... did the film-maker make any connection between the Burnham-Wayne murders (1911, I think) and the Blue Island murders (1914) with Villisca? If I'm not mistaken, there was speculation at the time that Villisca was connected to the B-W murders at least.


Thanks, Laura. Between the book reviews and the movies......I'll be busy through the end of the year.


The film maker speculates about the other murders possibly connected to the Villisca piece, including the crimes in Colorado Springs (Burnham-Wayne), Paola and Ellsworth, KS and Columbia, MO. I personally do not believe that the man convicted for the Columbia crime (the supposed serial killer) committed the Villisca crime, as the crimes are dis-similar. I do believe that the Villisca crime IS connected to the other five, however.

A link to an academic paper I wrote on the string of crimes can be found at: at least temporarily

Kelly Rundle

The film does explore a possible connection between the Villisca murders, the Burnham-Wayne crime in Colorado Springs, and other similar Midwestern homicides in 1911-1912. The Blue Island, Illinois axe murders were also connected in the sense that a suspect in the Villisca case, William Mansfield, drew suspicion because his estranged wife, daughter, and in-laws were murdered with an axe in 1914.


Villisca is a quaint little town and the first time I visited it I had no idea that the crime had happened.

I have a few friends from there, and they told me. Its amazing. They open the house for tours on Halloween I think, and I am thinking of going. If I do, I will be sure to send pictures.


Wow, Beth, that is a fantastic paper. Laura, I recommend you take a look when you can.


Beth, truly a great paper, as Nene pointed out. Thank you for directing us there.

Terre Read

I have been fascinated with this case ever since I first saw the documentary this summer. I read that the murder weapon has been donated to the historical society in Villisca by the historian in the film named Epperly. How did he get the axe?

Kelly Rundle

Sometime after the trial of Rev. Lyn George Kelly (the diminutive Englishman with a history of window-peeping among other peculiarities) the axe was given to State Investigator James Risden. Risden later headed the Iowa Bureau of Criminal Investigation. A researcher named Don Brown acquired the axe from Risden's widow. When Don's interest in studying the murder waned, he gave it to fellow Villisca researcher Dr. Edgar Epperly. Iowa law indicates that property used as evidence must be held for two years and then offered to the owner first (it's unlikely that the Moore family wanted it back) and if unclaimed, it can be disposed of in any reasonable manner. Ed will donate the axe to the newly formed Villisca Historical Society, Inc. on October 31, 2006 just prior to a Halloween screening of "Villisca: Living with a Mystery" at the State Historical Society in Des Moines.

Faye Musselman

I have this video and it's excellent but I can't say it surpasses the Lizzie Borden case as "the greatest unsolved murder case in the history of America." Naw. Lizzie still holds the Champeenship Title. :) The tantalizing elements aren't even the same. Powerful name, missing murder weapon, committed in broad daylight on a busy street, suspected virginal youngest daughter, crimes 1.5 hours apart, etc. etc. I love that you quote Thomas DeQuincey.

Inspector Winship

The Blue Island murders were actually committed by a former lodger of the house. He confessed to the crime in 1915 and was sent to a mental institution. Anyhow, see this film! The 1912 Axe murders are just the backdrop for a film that is an excellent study on how a heinous crime tore apart a small community and how the shockwaves of that crime are still felt nearly 100 years later.

Mark Daniels

Laura's effusive review has me intrigued. I've never heard of this case before, but it's right up my alley, having read dozens of turn-of-the-century true crime books and a handful of Lizzie books.

BETTER than the Borden case? Wow! I'm there!

Mark Daniels

My local library had the DVD. I borrowed it and plan to watch it tonight. Something tells me this is going to be great!

Pity that only two books about the case are currently in print, and one of them fiction. Nevertheless, I'll probably buy and read the one factual book.

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