Tuesday, December 23, 2008

To busy to blog

Sorry I haven’t written anything in a while but first my laptop went haywire (don’t buy HP notebooks) then with the combination of not much new info and just being out of the habit of writing I got into other things. I’m not going to write specifically about another murder because, hey it’s Christmas and I don’t want to bum anyone out. So instead I’ll just make a quick note in general about the organization of these crime scenes.

Most people who read about true crime know about the difference between an organized and a disorganized crime scene. For those of you who don’t know it basically boils down to the difference between an organized office and a disorganized office (OVER generalized, I know). When I first began researching these crimes I somehow came away with the notion that these crime scenes were pristine. While trying to reconstruct the crime I started to get bogged down in details I had to guess at; such as did the Unsub wash his hands before or after he closed the curtains? I read an account of the Villisca crime scene and looked at some photos of another and realized my assumptions were way off. As I wrote in my “profile” post the crime scenes showed a mixed typology and I still think they lean more toward organized than disorganized but why mixed and why do I (it is my opinion) believe they lean organized?

Glidden, Texas - March 1912 

First of all, contrary to what I started out thinking, evidence of the unsub’s identity was left everywhere. With today’s technology this guy would have been arrested or at least identified a day after the bodies were discovered in Colorado Springs. Because the killer used a burglary kit and was able to move through a dark house so quietly, I’m pretty confident in saying he likely had a prior arrest for burglary (if not attempted assault) so his fingerprints would have been in the system. Using the Villisca crime scene as a guide there were probably bloody prints left throughout both the Burnham & Wayne cottages on doors and curtains. This was probably a characteristic of all the crime scenes but scene control was likely a problem as well (see photo above) so any prints left behind were wiped out or contaminated by morbid “tourists.” The mess of fingerprints is a characteristic of disorganized behavior but there was a ritual and a plan carried out which shows an organized mind. I also believe there was an “escape” plan carried out after the murders but I’ll get into that when I begin to discuss the Showman murders after the New Year. For now, have a merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, joyous Kwanza, wonderful Festivus or just a happy New Year.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cults and Holy Rollers

Warning: This is a long post.
Some of you who have been reading might be wondering why I haven’t discussed the Showman family who were killed in Ellsworth, Kansas on October 15, 1911. I assure you I will get into that murder in more detail later. I am going to discuss it a bit here due to some (probably red herring) connections to other axe murders throughout the country. Beginning in 1909 in Rayne, Louisiana, a series of axe murders was attributed to a black, voodoo/Christian cult called the “Sacrifice Church” headed by Rev. King Harris. The families lived along the Southern Pacific Railroad line which led investigators to believe the killer worked for the railroad. All the families were black and I have seen some reports stating all the families had mixed-race relatives but have not found any source documents to back this up. So why get into it?

On January 20, 1912 in Lake Charles, Louisiana the Broussard family was discovered bludgeoned to death in their home. Felix, Matilde, Margaret, Lewis and Albertine Broussard had all been murdered in their beds with an axe. Somewhere at the crime scene was left a message: “When he maketh inquisition for blood, he forgetteth not the cry of the humble.” The message was either followed with the words “the human five” or signed with a name, Pearl Ort. According to one source, the words “the human five” were written at a number of crime scenes and there was some speculation that the killer was aiming for five victims each time but that is not born out by the crimes themselves. It was also reported that in several crime scenes the victims had their fingers splayed apart by bits of wood so their five fingers were held apart. The religious message is an intriguing thing. It is Psalm 9: 12 and means God will not allow evil to go unpunished. Another biblical quote attributed to these crimes is “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” and is from Matthew 3:10. The fire is God’s wrath and the tree is the physical person. The fruit is the soul and so means if a person does not have a good soul, they are meant for God’s wrath. More literally, if a tree continually produces bad or no fruit then its best use is firewood. If it is true all the victims were or were related to people of mixed race then it can easily be interpreted this was a message of purification. The use of Psalm 9:12 probably indicated a killer who believed they were God’s agent on earth. The human five could relate to the five senses but I honestly have no clue.

Officials in Ellsworth, Kansas received a letter from Denver and according to the newspaper it was postmarked six hours before the discovery of the murders. The letter rambles a bit but specifically mentions Mathew 3:10:
[sic]According to Mat. 3:10 and Josh. 9:24-27 the ax users namely the
Gideonites are inhabitants of Lincoln, Neb., and surroundings of the same city.
If you will follow my advice examine all Nebraskians, living in your city, and
if you fail to find the ax man, I may write you more.
To me this is clearly a rambling letter from nobody. The post mark issue could easily have been a mistake of the Denver postal worker who failed to change the time on his stamp. The letter is unspecific and references nothing at all except that a “Nebraskian” might be the axe murderer. A more intriguing letter was sent after the Villisca murders. Detective Thomas O’Leary had been put in charge of filtering the mail Villisca was receiving after the murders of the Moore family and Stillinger girls. One he received was from Wichita and the writer identified himself (for lack of a gender-less term) as “Miss Tree of life.” The letter spoke of vengeance and axes and referred to “death upon earth [as] Errette.” Errette likely comes from the German erretten which means (roughly) deliverance and could have been capitalized because it was being used as a proper noun. I only say this because the letter mentions it again “It is only More for the Errette is still in you.” The capitalization of “More” probably references the surname Moore and another passage, “the neighborhood, the press where these killings take place, seldom record or take note of the root, for God will Show Man,” probably referenced the Showman family. The letter was signed “Eli Eloi which is an obvious reference to “"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46 & Mark 15:34)

This is intriguing only in its capitalization and a fleeting reference to the Showmans. The two letters were written by two different persons, the Villisca letter was written by a more educated person, and with the letter to Villisca coming from Wichita it’s very likely the writer knew about the Showman murders when writing it. Are these letters anything more than sick jokes? Probably not and the Biblical references don’t really link them to the crimes in Louisiana and Texas. For one it seems those murders where the work of multiple people. Clementine Burnabet was arrested after the murders of the Randall family in Lafayette, Louisiana in November of 1911. Ms. Burnabet’s father was awaiting his hanging after being convicted (on testimony of his daughter and son) of murdering the Andrus family in Lafayette in February 1911. Clementine was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. She then confessed to killing three other families in Rayne, Crowley and Lafayette, LA. While she was incarcerated four more families were wiped out and I’m unsure if investigators ever looked into her brother, Zephirin. Her father was granted a new trial but it isn’t clear how that went. The Texas/Louisiana axe murders show a classic “mission” style of killer or for a more modern term, ideology driven, while the Midwest Axe murders are sexually based. The Midwest Axe man likely had no interest in communicating with the authorities in any form as it would just have attracted more attention to him and in his mind; he had a good thing going. If you have more information about the Texas/Louisiana axe murders let me know.

Accounts of the Texas/Louisiana murders from Gene Thibodeaux, Crowley Post-Signal, February 4, 2007.
Villisca letter found in “Villisca: The true account of the unsolved mass murder that stunned the nation,” by Roy Marshall.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Connected or copied?

It was Halloween morning, 1911 in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, just sixty miles from Monmouth. Bert Jordan was in his upstairs bedroom when he heard his mother shout from her bedroom below. It was about 5:20 in the morning. When Bert found his mother she was lying across her bed with the bed clothes thrown over her. Mrs. Jordan had been struck twice; once behind her right ear resulting in a fractured skull; once over her right eye causing a deep gash and later loss of sight in that eye. Bert told his siblings (a brother and two sisters between the ages of 15 & 10) to wait while he ran to get his father who had left for work a few minutes earlier.  

The Jordan’s house was immediately adjacent to railroad tracks and there had been a number of break-ins reported along the tracks in the weeks before. The family had lived in the house for two months. A wrench was found outside the kitchen door but it was unclear whether there was blood or rust on it.

Belle Jordan was the wife of J. B. “Zill” Jordan and was about 40 years old when the attack occurred. She was tall, had dark hair and was described being “a fine appearing woman.” Since she was found lying crossways on the bed it seems she was probably standing when she was attacked. The description of the injuries suggest her back was too her attacker when she was initially struck. The first blow did not knock her out but she was dazed and fell onto the bed. The attacker turned her over and as he brought the weapon down for the next blow she yelled for her husband. Bert told investigators he yelled down through the register if she was alright and heard no response. The sound of Bert’s voice likely saved his mother’s life. The attacker threw the bedclothes over Mrs. Jordan, either to cover her eyes or because he thought she was dead. Nothing was disturbed inside the house and nothing was missing.

So did Bert Jordan deny the Midwest Axe Man another victim or was this just a robbery gone badly? The timeline suggests the intruder was watching the house. Zill left the house around 5:10 a.m. to walk to work, which was only a block away from the house, so it would not have taken long (no more than five minutes I imagine) for Zill to have gotten to work. He did not lock the kitchen door. At 5:30 a. m. Bert showed up at his father’s workplace and told him what had happened. Bert likely ran and so it would have taken less time to reach his father. Assuming Bert left within five minutes of discovering his mother and it taking no more than two minutes for Bert to run a block that means the attack ended around 5:23 a. m., leaving the intruder a mere ten minutes to enter the house, assault Mrs. Jordan and flee to parts unknown. What, if any similarities are there here? Aside from the blitz-style, blunt force attack used, the covering of the victim with bedclothes is all I have. The proximity to the railroad tracks is not as important as the railroad that used those tracks but that’s another post for another time. For now have a happy and safe Halloween and make sure your axes are locked away in a safe place.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Justice for all...

Kelly Rundle over at the Villisca Axe Murder Blog posts today about the recent AP article relating to the reinstitution of after dark Trick-or-Treating in Oil City, PA. He makes a good point about how towns deal when tragedy strikes.

It is possible that cancelling Halloween for many years contributed to a focus
on the murder.

However, there are no handbooks or instructions available to cities wounded by violence, and communities are left to define themselves via action or inaction in the immediate and enduring wake of a tragedy...as they have done in Villisca, Iowa.

Some towns embrace it, like Fall River, Massachusetts, while others run from it without much success, like Amityville, NY (I know, not really a town but leave me alone). The Oct. 26, 1911 edition of the Ellsworth Reporter warned

that the children of this city [not] follow their usual custom of inflicting
petty annoyances upon the people of Ellsworth on the nights of Sunday, Monday
and Tuesday, which are known as Tick-tack, Corn, and Halloween nights. Our
people are still considerably wrought up over the murder and it is said that a
great many have purchased firearms with which to defend themselves in case of an

Everyone in Ellsworth today knows there was an axe murder on the outskirts of town. It’s part of the local lore and the place where the Showman house once stood is referred to as “The Hatchet” but very few resident’s know the family’s name. In Monmouth, Colorado Springs and Paola (KS) the crimes are completely unknown except by a few locals. I look at the strife Villisca went through after the crime and I see the way the town struggles with the crime today and I wonder if it’s worth the effort to drudge up murders that haven’t been thought of in a generation or more. Shauna’s killers have been brought to justice and while it may not be enough for some, it is more justice than many victims ever get and certainly more than any of the victims of the Midwest Axe Man have received, and at this moment, knowing the victim's names is all we can do.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My flashlight inquiry…

Back in March I was prepping some articles for my Monmouth/Dawson/Mitchell postings when I came across an interesting fellow from Australia. Dan has a very interesting blog about which I am apprehensive about telling for fear the five or six of you reading will abandon me for him. Anyway, Dan likes flashlights…well…like may be understating it a bit but he knows his stuff even if he claims he’s not an expert. I had a hypothesis rattling around my skull about the flashlight found in Monmouth but I needed to somehow verify its viability so I fired off an email to Dan to get his opinion. The long and short of it is my hypothesis is valid while my thinking had to change.  Initially I felt the flashlight was some kind of souvenir you might buy on the counter at a roadside diner. You know the kind I’m talking about; the cheap tin flashlight with “Yellowstone” stamped into the body. I thought what was written on the flashlight was “Lovely Colorado Springs” and that you could pick one up on the way out the door of your local TB hospital (or at the neighborhood grocery store across the street from your house). With this in mind I thought it highly likely the flashlight was absconded from either the Burnham or Wayne cottage as the killer’s souvenir. He then used it to guide himself through the Dawson house and as a replacement for an oil lamp with its chimney removed. After killing the Dawsons the killer dropped the flashlight as he crawled through the fence at the back of the property and either didn’t notice or didn’t take the time to pick it back up. I still believe the crime scene scenario is valid but the probability the Wayne or Burnham families owned a flashlight at all are a bit slim. As Dan put it “[Novelty flashlights were common], yes - though they weren't cheap.” Indeed they were not. The photo above is of an Ohio Electric Flashlight from about 1900. Note the price on the box of a hefty $2.50. By 1911 the technology in flashlights had gotten better but the price remained about the same. The average salary for a worker was around $2.20 so a flashlight of any kind would cost more than a day’s earnings for the time period. Adjusted for inflation it would be the equivalent of $54.99! The best flashlight I own is waterproof, floats in water and has a beam bright enough to drive off vampires and it cost me half that price. Henry Wayne had $55 in savings so it’s possible the flashlight was his but clearly a flashlight would be considered a frivolous purchase by either family. While I can’t discount my hypothesis entirely, I am moving it to the “highly unlikely” category. Check out Dan’s blog. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Confirmed...details to come...

Lovey Mitchell was not indicted by the grand jury in Monmouth.  He was brought up on three counts of murder but the charges were thrown out and the indictment was "stricken."  I'm guessing the stricken part explains the lack of information on the actual trial.  I'm not giving up yet but I'm guessing there aren't any records from the trial either.  Numerous affidavits were reportedly signed but my guess is they all ended up in the furnace.  I have some information coming but I'm not sure how valuable it might be.

Coming up I will start a series of posts about other axe murders that occurred around the same time frame.  The period between 1909 and 1914 was a bad one for people who owned axes.  I will kick this off on Halloween and I will be discussing cases that may or may not be related to the Midwest Axe Murders.  People often hear about linkage blindness when discussing serial crimes but with historical crimes such as these you often run into linkage puzzling or trying to fit as many crimes as you can into an entire picture.  An axe pretty much does the same kind of damage no matter how you use it.  In the age before silencers it was the only way to kill a person quickly and quietly and with little chance of the victim fighting back so it isn't surprising that a large number of murders during that time frame were committed with axes.  Drawing out signature elements in these murders becomes more important lest you lay the murders of 100 people at the foot of one perp.  Some "Ripperologists" have speculated the "Servant Girl Annihilator" of Texas could have been Saucy Jack.  A series of prostitute murders in Denver were also attributed to the Whitechapel ripper.  The only way to really differentiate similar crimes is by teasing out those elements that make them different and you can only do that by finding detailed descriptions of the crime scenes themselves.  I don't have this for some of the crimes I will be posting about so it'll all be speculative fun.  Feel free to comment and share information you might have.

Friday, October 17, 2008

From Murders to Mayors

George G. Birdsall - 1935
Courtesy of Pikes Peak Library
On August 29th, 1956, George Grippin Birdsall, former El Paso County Sheriff, died after a long illness. He was seventy-nine years of age and had been a public servant and business owner for almost fifty years in the Pikes Peak area. His obituary which ran on August 30 mentioned his years of service in Colorado Springs government, starting in 1921 on the city council then in 1929 as mayor. Three years before his death, the city of Colorado Springs began construction on the Birdsall Municipal Power Plant, a steam plant designed to burn sludge oil and later retrofitted to burn used motor oil. The plant is still in use today and provides the city with 1/3 of its power using natural gas. Of his years as the El Paso County Sheriff (1909-1917), his obituary notes only “Colorado City (sic) went from a "wide open" town to a "closed" one. There had been turbulent years there.” Certainly the Burnham / Wayne murders had something to do with this but forty-five years later, no one wanted to mention it specifically. Sheriff Birdsall never arrested a suspect and officially investigated the crime for only ten days before handing it off to the Pinkerton agency. Birdsall was a special agent for the FBI in 1918 and would later be named a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1940 but his greatest political success was his time as mayor.
Warren County Public Library - became the first free public library in Illinois in 1920
Political success was not only afforded to George Birdsall. John Hamilton Hanley had graduated from Monmouth College in 1883 and later received his Masters Degree from the same school. He began working for the law firm of Grier and Stewart in Monmouth and would become a successful lawyer in spite of his lack of a degree in the field. The local authorities in Monmouth and Warren County had given up on investigation into the Dawson family’s murder but the crime stayed in the back of Hanley’s mind long after the rest of the community had forgotten. Hanley was known by his friends as a fighter for those who could not fight for themselves and the lack of justice for William Dawson and his family would have been unacceptable to him. By 1915 Hanley had what he believed to be enough “dope” on the case to at least make an accusation which led to the arrest of Lovey Mitchell.  Hanley's involvement in this case is not mentioned in any biography I have read.  In 1917 John Hanley was elected to his first of two, two-year terms as mayor of Monmouth and upon his death of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 15th, 1936, was serving as the city’s Master in Chancery (a kind of judge’s assistant). One of the first ordinances enacted by Mayor Hanley’s city council was a regulation on weapons within city limits:
That no person shall within the City, wear or carry, concealed on or about his person, any pistol, revolver, slingshot, metallic knuckles, bowie knife, dirk, razor or other dangerous or deadly weapon, nor shall any person display or flourish any such weapon in a boisterous or threatening manner.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Axe Falls in Kansas..

On Monday the 16th of October, 1911 Will Showman’s bird dog showed up at the house of W. O. Snook. Mrs. Snook shooed it away only to have it return several more times. Mrs. Snook placed a call to Showman house and no one answered. After calling several more times and failing to get a response, Mrs. Snook called Will’s employer and asked if he’d been to work; he had not. Mrs. Snook then decided to go and check on the family herself. Around 5:00 p.m., Mrs. Snook walked to the Showman’s house with her own child in tow.

An hour later, the former cattle town of Ellsworth, Kansas would be known as the latest stop for a killer the Chicago Tribune had dubbed “The Sabbath Slayer.” Today we remember five more victims of the Midwest Axeman; William, Pauline, Lester, Fern and Fenton Showman.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lovey Mitchell

The M&StL Depot Today
On March 19, 1915, Monmouth police chief G. W. Morrison and the mayor of Monmouth left for St. Louis to gather information on Lovey Mitchell, a black man who worked at the M&StL roundhouse in Monmouth at the time of the Dawson murders. They believed Mitchell was living in Kansas City at the time and were surprised to find him in St. Louis instead. He surrendered without incident and was escorted back to Galesburg which had a stronger jail. The arrest of Mitchell was the result of continued “investigation,” primarily by a Monmouth lawyer named John H. Hanley. Hanley had not been satisfied with the police giving up on the case. Interest in the Dawson case had been renewed when in July of 1914 the Mislich family was found bludgeoned to death in their beds in Blue Island, Illinois.

Warren County Courthouse
There isn’t much information about Lovey Mitchell’s life before or after his arrest. The case against him was tenuous to say the least. A former co-worker, John O. Knight, also black, who was already serving a prison sentence for burglary and larceny, was reportedly “confessing” that Mitchell was the murderer. His wife was brought into the fray as a witness and was put in jail in Peoria in order to “protect” her. Reports out of Peoria had Chief Morrison telling reporters Mitchell had confessed while the Monmouth paper was denying any such interviews even took place. By the end of the month it was clear either the newspapers were just making things up or someone “inside” was feeding the reporters phony information. Mitchell was denied a lawyer and not allowed to speak to reporters. While Morrison would not state whether he felt Mitchell was guilty of the Dawson’s murders, he did state he “did not believe [Mitchell] was guilty” of the other axe murders that had occurred. The editor of the Monmouth Review-Atlas in 1915, L. A. Ryan, didn’t believe Mitchell was guilty of anything. Newspapers reported that Mitchell would face a Grand Jury in April of 1915 but there isn’t any record of this trial officially or in newspapers. Mitchell’s arrest made national headlines but his trial or lack thereof didn’t even register in Chicago. The records of the Monmouth Review-Atlas appear to be incomplete as well. A 1984 revisiting of the incident gets some of the facts right but misses on others. It states John Knight was tried, convicted and sentenced for the crime, but Knight, an early suspect due to the proximity of the M&StL roundhouse to the crime scene, was given an alibi by his foreman. The article also states the murder weapon was an axe when it was actually a gas pipe. It appears any charges against Mitchell were dropped and he may have died in January of 1979 near East St. Louis, Illinois.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Flashlights and Futility…

Here’s the post I promised you about the flashlight found at the Monmouth crime scene. The photo above is a 1907 Eveready Pocket Flashlight with factory engraving. The photo is from TheFlashlightMuseum.com and I’m using it as an example of what the flashlight might have looked like. As I said in the earlier post, the flashlight was found while removing a wire fence at the back of the Dawson’s property a few months after the murders. I have never found a description of the flashlight in any accounting of the crime so the picture above is purely a speculative representation. The flashlight is important because it either ties Monmouth to Colorado Springs or Monmouth to a suspect or both. The one detail that is consistent in all accounts is the flashlight had something “scratched” onto the metal body. Just what the scratching said is not clear at all. By the time a suspect was arrested in March of 1915 the flashlight itself had disappeared. The suspect’s name was Lovey Mitchell, a black man who had worked at the M&StL (Minneapolis and St. Louis) railroad roundhouse in Monmouth around the time of the murders. I’ll discuss the Mitchell arrest in a later post.  

I have four different phrases reported on the flashlight. The New York Times reported in 1915 the words “Colorado Springs” and “Lovey.” Pretty damning if true, however newspapers in Colorado reported the writing to say “Lovely, Colorado Springs.” The comma is paramount here as it’s the difference between a possible name (Lovely and Loving have both been reported as Mitchell’s first name) or a phrase you might find on a souvenir from a resort town like Colorado Springs. Another Colorado paper reported “Loving Colorado Springs.” The Monmouth Review-Atlas reported simply “Colorado Springs” in 1915, and in a 1984 article rehashing the incident the same paper reported “Colo. Sprig. Sept. 4.” The one running theme out of all of them is some mention of Colorado Springs. The Colorado papers and the New York Times would have received the news via the same wire service so that explains the variations of the name Lovey but was inclusion of the name just an embellishment to make the case stronger to the public? I have no idea. Whatever the answer, a trio of Monmouth lawyers had started a ball rolling that seemed very hard to stop now…

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Remembering Monmouth Today...

As the Coroner’s Jury in Colorado Springs was being released, nearly a thousand miles away William Dawson, caretaker of the 1st Presbyterian Church, diligently spent his paycheck paying bills at the kitchen table of his little five room cottage. The house was typical for the time. Originally a four-room cabin, a lean-to addition had been built on at some point in order to expand it. It was still a very small house for him, his wife Charity and his three daughters, Maud, Clarabel and Georgia; the youngest of William and Charity’s seven daughters. William had moved his family into the little house about eight years before, after having spent time in prison for horse theft. Clarabel and Maud had spent the day with friends and family outside of town and were going to stay the night with them as well. Georgia would be thirteen in a couple months and likely sat at the table with her father finishing up her schoolwork.

The Dawsons lived south of the railroad tracks that cut the little town of Monmouth, Illinois in half. It was the section of town referred to by locals as the “Colored” section and Dawson home was next door to the “Colored Church,” Cavalry Baptist. The congregation at Cavalry would eventually move into another building closer to the town square and that building is currently being torn down due to maintenance costs. I’ve already told the story of the discovery of the Dawson’s bodies on Oct. 1, 1911 so I won’t rehash it now but I can tell you the Dawson murders were the first to actually have a suspect arrested and put to a grand jury. Today we remember the victims, William, Charity and Georgia Dawson.  

Monday, September 29, 2008

Very inquesting...

To the defense of all involved in the investigation at Colorado Springs, the victims were not discovered until nearly three days after they were murdered. If the killer was mobile (and it seems he was) then he was long gone from the city by then and certain missteps could be forgiven since the Colorado Springs authorities really had no hope of catching a mobile serial killer in 1911. But on the other hand if this had been an acquaintance murder then the investigation would have been an even bigger failure. At the inquest held ten days after the crime's discovery and ten days after the swearing in of the jury over the victims' bodies as they lay in the morgue, four witnesses were called, neither of them able to shed any better light on the crime than what the newspapers had already reported.  

Two people mentioned in newspaper reports were never called to testify; the milkman who on the morning of September 18 (around 2:00 a.m.) saw a peculiar man leaving the neighborhood on a bicycle and the miner, C. Marshall, who saw a man loitering in the area around midnight on the 17th. Marshall got close enough to the man to see a mustache but we don't know the context of the sighting (where in the area was he seen, what clothes he was wearing, what was the suspicious behavior noticed, ect...). The description given by Marshall was vague at best; medium height, mustache and wearing a soft hat. Who knows what details further questioning could have brought out. Also noticably absent from the witness list were Tony Donatell, Arthur Burnham, John Merritt (Anna Merritt's brother) and at least one person (a woman) who had paid for the use of the Burnham's front porch hammock a week before the murders. At least three people walked past or visited the Burnham's house on Monday September 18th; Grant Collins' son actually knocked on the front door in an attempt to deliver the Burnham's grocery bill. He tried again on Tuesday and ended up leaving the bill tacked to the front door. Anna Merritt's niece walked by the house on Monday and Tuesday and not only told her aunt the Burnham children had not been to school those days but told her the house was closed up. Anna herself walked by Monday morning on her way to and from the Meskimen-Collins grocery store and testified not only did she notice the house looking empty but had made a conscious decision not to visit since she was very busy that day. The Burnham's nearest neighbor, Mrs. C. L. Brown, was also not called to testify even though she may have been the last person, other than May Burnham's sister, to see any of the family alive. Would any of the above individual's testimony have helped the investigation? In short, probably not but the more information an investigator has, the better the chance of finding a lead.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Find A Grave...

Find A Grave is a wonderful website. If you are a genealogist I suggest you utilize it. I had never tried the "photo request" feature until the other day. I don't know why I was apprehensive about making a request but I was. Two days after I make the request and BAM! I have a photo of the Wayne's headstone in Medaryville Cemetery. Special thanks goes out to Find A Grave volunteer clanema for getting the photo. By all accounts, the Wayne's funeral was small and attended only by friends and family. This was a stark contrast to the Burnham funeral in which hundreds attended. Later funerals for later victims would have much the same carnival feel of the Burnham funeral.  

Special thanks to Beth Klingensmith for the photo of the Burnham's headstone.  

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The neighborhood today…

Unlike the Villisca house and the Lizzy Borden Bed & Breakfast, the Burnham and Wayne cottages are gone. Many of the original houses in the neighborhood are still standing after much modernization. The photo above ran in the Colorado Springs Gazette the morning after the murders were discovered and shows the crowd outside of the Burnham cottage. The house immediately behind it is the Wayne cottage. The photo below is from Google Street View and shows the view of the neighborhood looking from west to east. Note the similarity of the houses; these houses are nearly 100 years old. If the Burnham cottage was still standing it would be at the east end of this street. In 1911 a trolley line ran north and south perpendicular to the Burnham’s street. The lines were removed in the 1930’s but the street is still a major roadway. Just a few houses south of this location another axe was found, which was tested for signs of human blood. The test was not conclusive.

Do the people who live in this neighborhood know about the history? It’s hard to say. I have intentionally kept addresses private in order to ensure the privacy of the current property owners. If the current owners know about it, they probably don’t want curiosity seekers hanging around, and if they don’t know they definitely don’t need strangers driving by all the time. The Colorado Springs Gazette called this the “worst crime in the city’s history.” Almost a hundred years later I believe it still has that designation but the crime has been largely forgotten and only the silent houses left standing can testify to the chaotic crowds that descended upon the little neighborhood on a cool September morning ninety-seven years ago.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A grim anniversary...

It’s been almost 100 years since a mine worker named Marshall noticed a strange fellow hanging around a neighborhood in what was then known as West Colorado Springs. The time was about midnight and the Marshall thought nothing of it at the time. Ninety-seven years later I am left wondering just who it was he saw. Mr. Marshall may have been one of the only people to actually see the person responsible for one of the most brutal series of crimes in U.S. history. We probably will never know; no one was ever caught and Marshall was never called to testify before the Coroner’s Jury. Those involved with the investigation would call the inquest a “farce” and useless. Sheriff George Birdsall would pass the investigation off to Pinkerton’s who would soon give up on a case with few leads and little chance of paying money. In 1929 Birdsall would become a very successful mayor of the city and even worked for a period in 1918 as a special agent for the FBI in Utah. The murders in Colorado Springs would be headlines for a less than a year and very soon, the worst crime in Colorado Springs history, labeled by newspapers as a crime that would never be forgotten, would be forgotten. History forgets more than it remembers. The people most affected by the murders are long gone. Arthur Burnham had no family left to mourn; Blanche Wayne’s parents had died before her and her siblings have all passed; the same with Henry Wayne and May Burnham. Maybe somewhere in Indiana is a trunk or box filled with old photos or a little diary whose owner cannot be identified. For today, remember the victims or ignore them. They are not the first and they were not the last. They simply lived; and 97 years ago tonight, they were brutally killed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ninety-six years ago today, another one...

Today marks ninety-six years since Mary Peckham decided to check things out at the all-too-quiet home of her neighbors, Joe and Sara Moore.  A quick Google of Villisca will tell you just 
about everything you ever wanted to know about the crime that split the little Iowa town.

It's the most well known and well documented of this series of crimes and probably the best example of how little investigators understood what was going on in these towns.  Anybody reading this blog probably knows about the crime so I won't get much into it here except to say this...All the victims of the Midwest Axeman deserve to be remembered so lets take a moment to think about the Moore family and their house guests, Lena and Ina Stillinger.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ninety-six years ago today...

It has been ninety-six years since three neighbors went into the front yard of Rollin and Anna Hudson's house to investigate the empty look of the place. For an accounting of this crime go to Miller's Paranormal Research. They have transcribed newspaper articles about the crime and included some photos taken from those papers. I'll say up front that I do not believe in psychics and mediums and their psychics make some connections between this crime and the Villisca crime that are, quite frankly, debunked. But in the interest of full disclosure I do believe in "ghosts" and I enjoy reading stories about hauntings and watching shows like "Ghost Hunters" so a website like Miller's Paranormal is a guilty little pleasure for me.  I'll be writing about this crime later, as new information comes up, but for now just take a moment to remember Rollin and Anna, who had their problems and faults, but were victims just the same.

Friday, May 30, 2008

So what happened at Monmouth…

As I’ve mentioned before finding information about the Monmouth murders is quite difficult. Resources are scarce, even newspaper reports. But through tenacious digging and pissing off more than a few state and county employees I have been able to put together a reasonable amount of data about the crime scene.

The Dawsons had lived in their home for about eight years (possibly six) and this was another small cottage. The house was located several blocks south of the railroad tracks and was in an area inhabited mostly by black families which meant, at that time, a very poor neighborhood. The descriptions of the layout of the house vary and some do not match up with the only known photograph of the crime scene (an exterior shot of the house with arrows pointing to the rooms in which the Dawson’s bodies were found). I know the house faced east and contained five rooms. There was a kitchen with a back door which lead into the living room in the middle of the house. On the north side of the house were two (or three) bedrooms. Directly across from the kitchen was the bedroom in which Georgia was found. Her parents were found in the bedroom next to hers. Across from the parent’s bedroom was the bedroom two other daughters shared although it is possible one of them shared the room in which Georgia was found. The bodies were covered by bed clothes and the windows were covered by curtains. The parents appeared to have been killed without waking up but Georgia was found differently. According to one source:

[Georgia] was found in her bed shoved down off the pillow and with one hand raised above her head as though she had attempted to pull the covers over her head when she saw harm coming.

A rumor ran through the crowd standing outside the crime scene that Georgia had been raped but I haven’t seen anything to corroborate this. Is it possible that Georgia was posed in much the same position as Lena Stillinger would be eight months later?

The weapon was not immediately located and was at first believed to have been a hammer. More than one report indicated the victims had been dispatched with a single blow. Bloodhounds followed the trail west out of town to a pond near the southbound railroad tracks. On the bank of the pond was found a two foot length of one-inch gas pipe covered in blood and hair. This was sent to Chicago for analysis and it was confirmed the blood and hair was human. There were bloody fingerprints on the weapon and these were supposedly photographed. No mention of evidence the killer washed up at the scene and there weren’t any “open” flame light sources found. Several months later the wire fence at the back of the property was being removed and a pocket flashlight was found. The flashlight is a key piece of evidence and deserves its own post. The fence was in the path of the alleged escape rout so it is very possible the flashlight was used to commit the crime then was dropped as the killer crawled through or over the fence. I have yet to find anything on how the killer gained entrance or from which point entrance occurred. I’ll put up my observations about the flashlight in my next post.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Walking through Colorado Springs

I recently created a virtual walkthrough of the Colorado Springs crime scenes.  The camera is a bit quick with the movement so if you watch it too many times you might hurl.  No blood or guts just a simple, 3D crime scene.  If you want to see a souped up version go to YouTube.  I put a soundtrack to it and goofed around with it on Windows Movie Maker.  I'm working on a much bigger video for YouTube so look for that in the future.  Now my drawing skills are rather...crappy so no critisizing the artwork.  I will be making virtual walks of all the crime scenes and will post them as I finish them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Second Murder

Monmouth, Ill – On September 30, 1911, Assistant District Attorney for Colorado Springs, M. W. Purcell, abruptly and surprisingly adjourned the Coroner’s Inquest in the matter of the Burnham – Wayne murders. He had called just four witnesses. Three politicians, Sherriff Birdsall, Coroner Jackson and ADA Purcell, all tried to push blame away from themselves. The Sherriff decided to turn the case over to the Pinkertons, the Pinkertons didn’t want it because they saw little hope of getting paid and the superintendent of detectives for the Denver office declared the “fears of repetition of the slaughter were groundless.” If only that were so…

As the Not-Me game was being played in Colorado Springs, William and Charity Dawson and their not quite thirteen years-old daughter Georgia were sleeping soundly at their home in the little college town of Monmouth, Illinois. William was the janitor for the 1st Presbyterian Church and had to get up Sunday, October 1st in order to open the church up for the day’s services. William and Charity were from Indiana and married June 6, 1875. In all they had eleven children (four were not living at the time) three of which were living at home in their small, five-room cottage in the “colored district” of town. On this night, two of the daughters were staying with friends and family in other towns. William had moved his family to Monmouth eight years before after serving a stint in prison for horse stealing. By all accounts he was a reformed man and well liked by the town and the church he worked for. He had proven himself to be an honest, hard working man and that’s why the minister, Rev. C. J. Greene, was so puzzled on Sunday morning when the church was still locked. When Dawson still hadn’t shown by the start of eleven o’clock services, Rev. Greene became worried that Dawson might be seriously ill. Two parishioners went to his house after a phone call went unanswered. The front door was locked and repeated knocks received no response. On man went to the back of the house and knocked on the kitchen door with the same result. He tried the knob and the door swung open.

The house was dark. All the windows had been closed and the curtains pulled. The men made their way through the kitchen and the living room to the front (south) bedroom where they found the bloody body of Georgia Dawson. The police were notified and a crowd soon gathered around the house. William and Charity were found dead in their bedroom on the north side of the house. A white family had been slaughtered in an area of town known as the “colored district” and care had to be taken to control rumors in order to prevent a riot or lynching but this didn’t stop the rumors from flying.

The details surrounding this crime are hard to come by. Official documents relating to it seem to have vanished, including the summery of the Coroner’s jury, which is normally the only thing you can find from an inquest. Of all the crimes in the series, Monmouth to me is the most intriguing. The racial aspects of the case are just one facet. The seeming ingenuity of the killer is another and there are some tantalizing and somewhat confusing aspects to sift through. One of the first hypothesizes explored, indeed it was discussed on day two, was the idea a group of blacks had slaughtered the family because William Dawson paid too much attention to their female relatives. The police had given up on the case by 1913 but two years later, three lawyers “cracked it” and – surprise – the culprit was a black man and the motive was affections shown towards his female relatives. I’m going to spend some time on this one in the coming weeks so hunker down…

Monday, May 12, 2008


My first post on the Daweson family and their murders in Monmouth, Illinois is forthcoming.  In the meantime there really isn't anything to report.  I am following a lead that appears to be taking me all the way to the F B I but that is about it.  I am also just about finished with my "summation" of the Colorado Springs coroner's inquest and probably will make that available for download.  Has anyone heard wether or not Dwight Haverkorn ever heard back from the National Archives?

Friday, May 9, 2008

It's in the Details

Okay...when analyzing crime scenes details are tedious to Joe Sweatsock but can be priceless to an investigator. I am a Joe Sweatsock but I have a passion for details because I'm a dork. The three of you who have read anything on this blog have likely read my weak little profile of the killer. Here's a quick hit from that:

Both crime scenes were contained inside one room of small, two-room cottages with limited space available for movement.

How small were these cottages? According to one source they were identical floor plans and about 16 by 24 feet. That's a total of 384 square feet which was then divided into two equally sized rooms (192 sq. ft.)! Your master bedroom is probably bigger than that (hell your walk in closet might be). Small space + long, heavy weapon = small killer with efficient axe-swinging skill. Another new detail I have learned (two actually) relates to the injuries sustained by Henry Wayne. According to the surgeon's testimony at the inquest, Henry's injuries were caused entirely by the flat side of the axe rather than the blade or blunt edge (Editor's note: So what?) (Author's response: I have an editor?). Henry's body was also covered with a jacket as well as the bed sheets. Also, and this I feel is important, when the surgeon examined the bodies at the morgue, he noted that Blanch Wayne was not fully clothed. In order to avoid Occam's razor I will leave it at that (but the temptation is there). Soon I'll be starting in on what I believe is the next crime in the series, the murder of the Dawson family in Monmouth, Illinois. However I have come to the conclusion that it would be easier for me to invent and build a time machine rather than do actual research on this case. Till next time.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Inspector Returns

The two or three of you who may be actually reading this blog might have wondered where I have been.  Well due to family stuff I had to put off some things and this was one of them.  Updates are coming with regard to another murder.  For now I'll let you know that I have confirmed the bodies of the Waynes were covered.  I can also tell you I have gathered another bit of info from the coroner's inquest held Sep. 30, 1911.  Piece by excruciating piece I am putting that thing together so bear with me.  Until my next updat (a few days from now)...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The second murder in Oregon

I’ve decided I don’t know enough about Charlie Daniels (aka Charles Brown) to write a post of any significance so I will skip it and move on to a second Oregon murder attributed to the Colorado Springs Unsub by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

North of Portland and near the Washington border is the little town of Scappoose. Today the town is a bedroom community for the Portland metropolitan area and has a population of about 6,000. In 1911 there was a small community about six miles to the west of Scappoose known as Schnitzerville. It is here that Frank and Daisy Wehrman and their four-year old son, Harold, built a house. Frank was a baker in Portland and was only home on Saturday night and Sunday. Daisy and Harold spent their time in the little cabin and keeping up the small crops the family planted. Frank Wehrman left his wife and child for work on the afternoon of Sunday September 3. It was the last time he saw either of them alive. On September 6 a neighbor woman and her daughter went by the Wehrman cabin and found the front door locked from the outside with a padlock. Blood from inside the cabin had flowed from under the door and dripped onto the step. The windows where uncovered and the bare legs of Daisy Wehrman could be seen hanging, flat footed, over the side of the bed. For unclear reasons, the neighbor sat on the discovery for a day before going into Scappoose to tell the sheriff. Her explanation for the delay was she thought Mrs. Wehrman was sleeping and the blood was from a slaughtered chicken. Obviously she was either stupid or covering for someone (turns out is was probably the latter).

Upon entering the cabin the sheriff discovered Daisy Wehrman partially naked and still wearing her shoes and galoshes. Harold was lying in bed with her, also dead. Both had been shot at extremely close range with three .38 caliber shots each and Mrs. Wehrman’s head had been beaten with a hatchet. Sitting on the table was a package containing a curtain made from a flour sack and a wrapped newspaper. A bullet from Mrs. Wehrman’s .32 caliber pistol was picked out of the door frame near the head of the bed indicating Mrs. Wehrman had managed to fire a shot at her killer before being murdered. Skin was also found under Mrs. Wehrman’s fingernails and brown hairs were found clutched in her hand. A neighbor man named Pender was eventually convicted of the crime, after two trials, and sentenced to hang but later had his sentenced commuted to life. The evidence convicting him was non-existent and the primary reason for the conviction was based entirely on hearsay. I haven’t been able to confirm whether or not he was ever pardoned even though another man confessed four years later.

There is one tantalizing piece of connection here though; the Wehrman family was originally from Iowa. Remember the newspaper found on the kitchen table? It was probably a copy of the Eldora Herald sent from Frank’s hometown of Eldora in Hardin County, Iowa. The bodies of Daisy and Harold were shipped back to Eldora and buried in a single plot in the Eldora City Cemetery. Now I mention this only as a tease. Eldora is more than 200 miles away from Villisca and at this time there isn’t any reason to believe the Wehrmans ever set foot in that town. Besides, the man who confessed to the Wehrman murder wasn’t anywhere near Colorado Springs on September 17, 1911 making the connection between the two as tenuous as Villisca is to Lizzy Borden.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Second Suspect at Ardenwald

William Riggin - 1915

In May of 1917, William Riggin was serving out a sentence in the State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon for stealing a gun in 1915. Riggin was a well known thief and had been first convicted of stealing a horse when he was eleven years-old. For that crime he went to the reformatory in Salem and after his release, was arrested for larceny and served his first term in the Pen. His reputation for being a thief was so great that the Washington County Sheriff decided to take him to the town of Hillsboro, Oregon in an attempt to clear up some other thefts. Much to the surprise of the Sheriff, Riggin blurted out “you want me for the Booth murder!”

William Booth had been shot and killed in 1915. It was two weeks after the shooting that Riggin was arrested for stealing a gun. Booth’s wife and an alleged lover had been convicted of killing Booth as a means to get him out of the way. They had been convicted on purely circumstantial evidence that hinged entirely on the alleged affair, which was all but proven to be a fantasy of the populace. Riggin’s confession was corroborated when he lead the Sheriff to the exact location where he had buried the murder weapon, a .38 pistol. In his confession, Riggin felt his crime had been justified because Booth “always had it in for [him]” and he freely confessed to being the trigger man. Perhaps feeling the weight of that crime lifting, he made another statement to the Sheriff that he had been involved in the murders of the Hill family at Ardenwald. This was shocking for a couple reasons: first, Riggin volunteered the information completely of his own volition, and second, he had never been a suspect in the crime. He actually made two confessions within a span of about two months in 1917. With his first confession he stated he was the lookout for two others who went into the house and did the killing. His two companions where Charles Brown and William Flynn. The name William Flynn was an alias of Ed Ramsey’s and no one is quite sure if Charles Brown actually existed. He stated he never went into the house and that when it all was over, the three split off and met the next day in an area about five miles south of the Hill’s house. This confession was short and vague on some details and wrong about others.

His second confession was much more detailed and those details were correct. Charles Brown disappeared and this time it was only he and Ramsey who took part. He still wouldn’t say he had actually killed anybody but he admitted he had been inside the house. Riggin’s presence in Ardenwald at the time of the murders was corroborated by his family as was his association with Ed Ramsey. Was Riggin’s first confession an attempt at notoriety and his second confession the result of coaching? Details that changed from statement to statement were pretty big. In the first confession he was one of three men, Brown took the axe from the woodshed (wrong), he never went into the house and all three escaped in different directions on foot, Brown and Ramsey going one way and Riggin the other. In the second confession he was one of two men, he stole the axe from a house on the way to the crime scene (correct), he was in the house after the murders were over and he and Ramsey walked some distance to their waiting horses before splitting up. In both confessions the motive was robbery and the killers entered and exited through the back door (correct). To further confuse things, Riggin made another statement to the D.A. in 1918 re-implicating Brown and gave his reason for omitting him in the second confession as trying to protect an old friend who had “always been good to him.” Even more confusing is the fact that Brown was an alias of Charlie Daniels (!) who did exist and was an inmate at the same reformatory in Salem when Riggin was there! I’m going to write on Charlie Daniels in my next post. For those of you who may be wondering why I’m spending so much time talking about suspects in a crime I myself have declared to be unrelated to the Midwest Axe Murders, I leave you with this: I may be wrong.

*Confessions and mug shot of William Riggin taken from Why Some Men Kill by George A. Thatcher
*On vacation next week, no posting

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The first suspect at Ardenwald

Ed Ramsey

On June 18, 1911, Ed Ramsey (aka Fredrick Alexander) was picked up while crossing the Willamette River on a raft. Ramsey was a well known vagrant who lived in Scott Woods. He was known to local young boys as “Nutty Ed” and reportedly liked to entice boys to his camp where he would sexually assault them. He worked off and on at various jobs but mostly remained a vagrant in the woods surrounding the Portland area. The day he was arrested, his physical description was given as 5’ 7”, 145 lbs. His given age was fifty-five. When asked where he was the night of June 8, he replied that his memory was bad and couldn’t recall. The local sheriff had been trying to catch him for theft for a while and it was reported that many people were afraid of him due to his peculiar behavior. An affidavit was made by a couple who lived near the Hills stating they saw a man walking on the road away from Ardenwald around 7:00 p.m. on the night of the murder. He appeared to be a vagrant and he was agitated and muttering to himself. The woman heard this man say “Damn her, I’ll ____ [sic] her yet.” Now I don’t know how much faith to put in this affidavit. I don’t want to smear the couple that signed it but it was made in 1915, coincidentally around the same time that Ramsey was arrested for vagrancy. The couple was taken to the jail and IDed Ramsey as the man they saw on the road that day. I have to acknowledge this may not be on the up-and-up. Did the couple make these affidavits before or after IDing Ramsey? I believe there is a discrepancy in the affidavit. The couple described the man as being “about 50 years old and medium height and fairly heavy set and looked as if he had not been shaved for a month.” The mug shot above corresponds to this description almost exactly; it was taken in 1915. The description of Ramsey when picked up ten days after the murders is not one of a heavy set man but one of average weight and height at best. I don’t doubt the couple saw a vagrant walking around that day but the possibility is very high they signed the affidavit after identifying Ramsey in the jail in 1915. Thrown into the mix is a detective that never got paid the $2000 billed to the county due to the fact no one was ever caught and you’ve got all the makings of a couple of coached witnesses. Ramsey apparently went to grand jury in 1915 for the Hill murders but the D.A. (who didn’t try very hard) failed to get an indictment.

In spite of all this, I’m not willing to say Ramsey didn’t do it. But I’m not entirely sure he did. His alleged pedophilia was for young boys and not young girls. Philip Rintule was not assaulted beyond the blows that killed him while the females in the house were. His previous MO didn’t show a penchant for violent apprehension of his alleged victims and the worst thing the Sheriff was trying to get him for was theft. If he had been a violent pedophile I’m sure he would have been run out of town long before the Hill’s were murdered, wouldn’t he? The people in 1911 didn’t take pedophilia any lighter than we do today, aside of course from the cultural differences like child brides (which is horrible in any epoch but you have to acknowledge the differences in mind set). That said, you don’t go from theft to mass homicide, rape and sodomy over night, but maybe Ramsey did.

*Mug shot and affidavits taken from Why Some Men Kill by George A. Thatcher

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Is One of These Scenes Not Like the Other?

On September 30, 1911, the Colorado Springs Gazette ran a brief snippet titled “Recalls Oregon Murders.” It tells of nine victims being killed with an axe or hatchet in the Portland area. By my count it was eight and I’m not sure where the ninth victim comes from. This wouldn’t be the only time the Springs Gazette would play loose with details. For example, in the Sep. 30 article the Gazette lists the similarities as “a hatchet was used, and the heads and faces were beaten to an unrecognizable mass.” In the November 10 issue of the same paper it is reported that the two crimes were “similar in every detail to the murders committed in Colorado Springs.” That, as you will see, was not true. The Sheriff from Portland did visit Colorado Springs in order to compare notes with investigators and it was reported that Sheriff Robert Stevens believed the two to be connected at that time but later it seems he had changed his mind. What were the similarities?

In both murders the weapons, axes, had been picked up at or on the way too the crime scenes. All of the victims were killed in their beds while asleep which means the crimes occurred late at night or early in the morning. The UNSUB washed his hands on the scene in both crimes and the murder weapon was “placed” at the crime scene after the murders. I say placed to differentiate from “dropped” or “thrown away.” The wounds were similar in nature. Overkill was definitely present but not severe overkill of the type seen in Fall River, 1892. In fact, Ruth Hill was hit with only one powerful blow starting diagonally from her right eye to her left jaw. The most severe overkill was directed at the children, particularly young Dorothy. She received three blows, each of which was instantly fatal, two on the front of her skull and one on the back. Philip Hill appeared to have been beaten with a bare fist first before being struck with the flat side of the axe and killed. This type of non-overkill overkill ™ was also present in Colorado Springs.

With those similarities there are some key differences. Along with the murders, the Hills had been robbed. Enough items were taken and evidence left of robbery for the Sheriff to believe robbery was the motive. Neither the Burnham’s nor Wayne’s had anything of note stolen from their homes and even had items of value sitting in plain sight. Both female victims in Ardenwald had been raped (whether or not it was post-mortem is not clear) and then sodomized. This was not an element of the Colorado Springs crimes. The bodies of the Hill family had clearly been handled by the UNSUB(s) post-mortem with bloody fingerprints found all over their bodies. No such handling was evident in Colorado Springs. In Colorado Springs, the most sever overkill was directed at the adults, specifically the most threatening adult in each crime scene, May Burnham and Henry Wayne. The children were killed with one blow each. The bodies of at least the Burnham’s and possibly the Wayne’s were covered. Usually this indicates some type of remorse on the part of the UNSUB and there was no such remorse at the Hill house.

So were these crimes done by the same UNSUB? IMHO, no. I’m no detective or profiler but certain things don’t fit, primarily the wounds to the bodies and to whom the most sever damage was done. In Colorado, the adults were attacked the most severely and the children were attacked as a means of taking complete control of the crime scene. In Ardenwald the adults appear to have been killed in order to get control of the children. Overkill was present on William Hill and the two children but not on Mrs. Hill who was killed with one powerful blow to the head. The bodies of both children and Ruth Hill were handled after they were murdered demonstrating a need to control and manipulate those bodies and the rape and sodomy of Mrs. Hill and Dorothy Rintule reinforces this belief. As I have said before, I believe at least the body of May Burnham had been posed after death which also demonstrates a need to control but she was not sexually assaulted in the traditional sense. The covering of the bodies in Colorado shows remorse by the UNSUB and indicates he may still have seen them as people and that any posing done was for his own twisted pleasure and not to humiliate the victim. The displaying of the bodies in Ardenwald shows how the UNSUB detested his victims and felt the need to treat them like garbage. This post ran longer than I thought it would so I’ll get to the suspect(s) in a later post.

*Description of Ardenwald crime scene taken from Why Some Men Kill, by George A. Thatcher

Monday, February 25, 2008

Was Colorado Springs the First?

In July of 2006, Beth Klingensmith wrote a research paper about the Midwest Axe Murders and the theory put forward by M. W. McClaughry, the fingerprint expert who investigated the Villisca crime. It is a brief summery of the murders included in his theory and some “outlying” cases he didn’t include. The report is available here.

Ms. Klingensmith sums up a murder that occurred in Ardenwald, Oregon in June of 1911. I want to discuss that and one other over the next few days.

William Hill had married the widow Ruth C. Rintule and taken on the raising of her two children, Philip, 8, and Dorothy, 6. In May of 1911, the Hills moved to the little community of Ardenwald, south of Portland and near the Southern Pacific rail line in an area known as Scott Woods. Then as today, Ardenwald was a suburb of Portland, and while it may have no relation whatever, there is a small, wooded park on the west end of Ardenwald named Scott Park. William Hill began to build a cabin for his family and they moved into it in late May or early June before it was completed but it had walls, roof and doors so it was habitable. On the afternoon of June 8, 1911, Ruth took the electric line north to Portland to see her brother and father at their law firm. It was reported she was very agitated but she apparently never told her family why. On the morning of June 9, the neighbor, Mrs. Matthews, called on the family out of concern for the quiet look of the house. The windows were covered with clothing and cloth and the front door was locked. Mrs. Mathews entered through the unlocked back door and made the grisly discovery of the Hills bodies. Details vary on where each of the bodies where found. One source says William and Ruth were found in separate rooms and the children in one bed, another says all were found in their beds and insinuates the children were in separate beds. The axe had been stolen from a neighbor’s side steps and was found resting against Dorothy’s bed and there was a bowl of bloody water found inside the house. Philip had fingerprints on his right arm and other bloody prints were found on the bodies showing the killer had handled the bodies at some point. Both Mrs. Hill and her daughter, Dorothy, had been “assaulted in outrageous fashion” which is to say they had been raped but, according to one source I have, it appears both female victims had also been sodomized with a foreign object. Nothing I have found describes the bodies being covered or the presence of a chimneyless lamp.

The community was in a panic upon the crime’s discovery. Doors were reinforced and locks were bought. Guns sat loaded at the headboard of beds and neighbors took night-watches for one another. Posses went into Scott Woods and began clearing out the vagrants and hobos known to populate it. From Ms. Klingensmith’s report:
Numerous suspects were arrested, one for bothering women, another, a vagrant, a third a survivor of an axe assault in 1898. Two youths implicated a traveling partner before cross-examination of the story broke down.
My next post will look at this crime in comparison with Colorado Springs and I want to introduce you to that “vagrant” who was arrested. He is indeed a person of interest.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Three Funerals and a Movie

As would be the case in towns across the Midwest, hundreds of people, some of them family and friends, gathered at the morgue to watch the coffins be loaded into the hearse and follow the procession to the cemetery. It was the afternoon of September 21, 1911 and drama ensued when Arthur Burnham’s mother-in-law “threw her arms about Burnham’s neck and sobbed, ‘He’s innocent! Oh, I know he’s innocent!’” The cemetery was crowded by morbid onlookers as the caskets were lowered into the ground. Nellie and John were placed in a single, white casket and buried next to their mother. Arthur Burnham was still in police custody and was allowed to attend his family’s funeral but was returned to his cell that evening.

Perhaps while the Burnham funeral was taking place the battered bodies of the Wayne family were loaded on a train and shipped east and arrived in Medaryville, Indiana Saturday evening, the 23rd. The caskets were opened for an informal viewing that night and on the following morning the Wayne family was laid to rest in the Medaryville Cemetery with a slightly smaller crowd in attendance. I am having a bit of trouble locating the actual graves so any help is appreciated.

Arthur Burnham was admitted to St. Francis Hospital in November of 1911 suffering from the late stages of TB. While there, he received a telegram from his father-in-law who was working in Mexico at the time. Mr. Hill had just heard about his daughter and grandchildren’s fates and offered any assistance he could. On January 26, 1912, Arthur J. Burnham was re-admitted and knew he was going to die soon. He died alone at St. Francis Hospital. Ultimately it was TB and asthma that killed him but he also suffered from Bright’s disease which hastened it along. He reportedly died at 7:00 in the morning as the nurse entered his room. He was buried near his family on February 7, 1912. I have entered the burials of the two families at Find-A-Grave and you can use the search box at the bottom of the page to view those entries. I haven’t any photos of the graves themselves and if anyone would like to assist with that, I would be grateful.

I am also scouring and scraping for a lost film. In November of 1911, residents of Colorado Springs who had visited Chicago, which at the time was the movie making capital of the world, reported seeing film about the Springs murders. Apparently film crews arrived on the scene shortly after the murders were discovered and these films were shown in Chicago. The films were reported to show Arthur Burnham leaving his house escorted by police and showed the throngs of spectators around the two little cottages. It appears this was an actual film and not just a newsreel as those who saw it reported the film to “realistic in the extreme.” There were so many Chicago based film companies in 1911 that it’s hard to know where to start. My first guess is the legendary Essanay Studios who made a LOT of Westerns in the Colorado Springs area and may have had cameras in the area already. While this film may not be all that important for investigative purposes it might quite an interesting thing to see.

Special thanks to Thomas VanCamp for the Colorado Springs Gazette article about the film.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Back in 2005, when I first started studying these crimes, I thought about how novel it would be if you could profile the Unsub the way they do in the movies. Since I couldn’t afford to hire John Douglas as a consultant I decided to learn how to do it myself. “How hard can it be really?” I thought to myself. “It’s just matching crime scene elements with statistical data right?” Ah to be young and naïve again. There are no step by step instructions or a list of “if this, then this” psychological markers and the section on profiling in Forensics for Dummies is sparse at best. So I read everything I could find on the subject. If John Douglas or Robert Ressler wrote it, I read it. I watched Silence of the Lambs like a hundred times and read it once. I read criminology papers and sociology papers and psychology reports and…The result? I profiled everything I came across. From the guy at the bus stop that always shouts at the new billboards to the neighbor’s cat that poops in my yard. One morning as I was contemplating the psyche of the bread I was toasting I decided to write down my thoughts about the Colorado Springs Axe Murderer. Then I watched Villisca: Living with a Mystery and saw the one and only Robert Ressler, former FBI profiler and the man given credit for introducing the term “serial killer” to the world, giving a profile of the Unsub at Villisca. Oh well…here’s my take (note: I’m not even going to touch on the psyche of the killer).

Crime Scenes: Entry was gained into the Burnham cottage through a side window by cutting open the screen. While closing the window used to enter the Burnham cottage, the Unsub knocked over a bottle of black ink or shoe polish and attempted to wipe it up which transferred the substance to his fingers and facilitated the transfer of his fingerprints to various items in the house and on the murder weapon. (Note: I’m adding the following based on new info I have received) According to witness testimony, Mrs. Burnham was in the habit of leaving windows up and doors open with only the screen door latched (end addition). A make-shift torch in the form of a twisted, burnt newspaper was found on the floor of the Burnham crime scene and a pile of ash was found in front of the stove in the kitchen. A washbowl containing bloody water was found in the kitchen as well indicating the Unsub washed up after the crime was committed. That factored with the attempt made at wiping up the ink/shoe polish means the Unsub spent a considerable amount of time on scene after the murders.

The Wayne cottage was entered through the back door after the offender cut the screen, lifted the hook and picked the lock with the wire. The wire had been bent indicating it had been used as a lock pick. No significant evidence has been noted in the Wayne cottage with exception to that of a kerosene lamp that was believed to have been handled by the Unsub. The murder weapon was found resting against the back of the Wayne cottage, possibly in the same position it was found before the murders. No attempt had been made to wipe off blood or fingerprints.

State of Victims: (Note: Due to new info, the original text of this section has been lifted entirely and replaced) The doctor who examined the bodies testified that Mrs. Burnham’s head had received more sever blows than the other victims. He counted four distinct blows to her head. The two John Burnham had been hit twice in the front of the head and Nellie Burnham had been hit once on the back of her skull. Nellie’s body was found face down across her mother’s legs in such a way as to indicate she had been crawling over her mother when she was struck. Both children were dressed in their underwear and Mrs. Burnham was dressed in a nightgown. Henry Wayne had been struck repeatedly in the face and the facial bones were smashed in. Blanch Wayne had been hit on the side of the head, near the temple “with some sharp instrument” then hit with the blunt edge of the axe. News reports stated the Wayne’s were “half nude” when found but could mean both were in their nightclothes.

General Crime Scene Characteristics: The murder weapon was acquired by the Unsub moments before the murders and was left at the crime scene. The attack was blitz style with the victims being asleep at the time. One of the crime scenes was sloppy with evidence in the form of fingerprints left all over the scene but while sloppy, neither crime scene was chaotic. The Unsub brought a burglary kit with him in the form of a knife used to cut screens and a wire used to pick locks. The knife was not found but the wire was left at the back door of one of the crime scenes. The bodies in at least one of the crime scenes had been covered and the windows in both cottages were found closed and covered by shutters and/or curtains. All entry doors into the cottages were closed but not all were locked. By closing up the cottages, the Unsub was able to delay discovery of the crime for two days. These elements all point to a mixed offender leaning more towards organized than disorganized.

Physical Characteristics: Both crime scenes were contained inside one room of small, two-room cottages with limited space available for movement. The type of weapon used was a heavy instrument with a long handle which would be difficult to wield inside of such confined spaces efficiently. For this reason I believe the Unsub was shorter than six feet tall. The average height for males in 1910 was about 5’ 8” which is around an inch smaller than the modern average, so I would say the Unsub was probably about 5’ 7” or 5’ 8”. While of average height he was probably powerfully built due to the strength necessary to dispatch two adults sleeping in the same bed before either had time to wake up. Also due to the cramped confines of the rooms, the Unsub was pretty adept at wielding an axe.  Since Jack Lalanne was 25 years away from opening his first gym the power probably came naturally or from the type of work he was in. The main lines of work which would have both required him to swing a heavy, blunt object every day and be in Colorado Springs were mining or railroad work.

According to a witness, a man with a mustache and wearing a light colored soft hat was seen near the crime scene around the time the attacks were estimated to have begun. So what I have, exactly, is a man of average height, powerful build with a mustache and wearing a style of hat that nearly every man in the country owned at the time. Jeeze, I might as well accuse Captain Kangaroo.

You can flame me if you like.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

At Last the Coroner's Inquest - Part 2

Henry F. Wayne

Much thanks to Sandra at the Pikes Peak Library in Colorado Springs.

Now don't get excited, I still haven't found the actual Coroner's findings or listing of evidence submitted. What Sandra did find for me was a brief summery of the Coroner's Inquest in the Colorado Springs Herald and I think it gives me some new things to chew on and more fuel for my WAGs and SWAGs.

El Paso County Coroner Leonard Jackson called only two witnesses outside of the
doctor who examined the bodies. Dr. E. L. McKinnie viewed the bodies at the
morgue and it isn't stated if he saw them in the context of the crime scene. He found that May Burnham was "the worst battered of any of the victims." She had been struck four times and he noted she was wearing a nightgown or a wrap. Nellie Burnham had been struck on the back of her head which was consistent with the finding she had been attacked while attempting to crawl over her mother's legs. The Burnham children were dressed in their underwear. Henry Wayne had been attacked while lying on his back and the frontal bones of the skull and facial bones were collapsed from the attack. Dr. McKinnie stated Henry had been the next "worst battered" of the victims. Blanche Wayne had been lying on her side when attacked and had been hit with the blade of the axe near her temple then was hit with the blunt end of the axe. No mention is made of the state of dress or undress of the Wayne's bodies.

Officially the Jury returned an "open verdict" which basically means they had no suspects and no idea where they were going to find some suspects. It is the last aspect of the jury's findings that intrigues me.

"[W]e further find that the killing of the above named persons was done with felonious intent."
I'm not a lawyer but I can Google. Felonious intent means the murders happened as a consequence of some other felony action. An example would be if a burglar was surprised by the homeowner and, while attempting to escape, struck the homeowner with a fire poker and killed him. The original intent of the crime was burglary, a felony, and as a consequence someone was murdered. According to Wikipedia, the current interpretation of "felonious intent" has been in effect since the 18th century so this is how the jury in Colorado Springs would have understood the finding as well.

So what might have been the “felonious intent” the jurors had considered? If you read that Wiki entry you will see what the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code lists as crimes contained in the Felonious Intent clause; robbery, rape or forcible deviant sexual intercourse, arson, burglary, kidnapping, and felonious escape. I can remove robbery/burglary from the list since it was well documented that items of value were left in plain sight throughout both crime scenes. Investigators originally thought an attempt to set fire to the Burnham cottage had been made but as I wrote earlier, the scorched curtains were explained by too much powder being used by a photographer, so arson is out. Felonious escape and kidnapping were not considered so that leaves rape and/or forcible deviant sex. This leads me back to my previous post where I proposed the bodies may have been posed or assaulted in some way after death. The jury seems to have considered something while listening to the evidence. This of course is all speculation. I can’t begin to be certain of anything unless I find an accurate description of the crime scenes somewhere but until such time, I will stand by my deductive reasoning and leave it at that.

P.S. The two other witnesses were Nettie Ruth and Anna Merritt. Pretty lean list considering all the speculation flying around the neighborhood. Why not Mrs. Evans who loaned out what turned out to be the murder weapon and supposedly heard a scream on the night of the murder? How about the mine worker who saw a man loitering in the area about midnight the same night? Wow. Even by the standards of 1911 criminology this case got botched badly.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Congratulations to the Villisca Folks!

My congratulations go out to Kelly and Tammy Rundle, the makers of the documentary Villisca: Living with a Mystery. The readers of the true crime blog In Cold Blog have bestowed upon their film the In Cold Blog Detective Award for Best Documentary Based on a True Crime.

We have to shorten that name. The Coldies; The Icbies; something for crying out loud.

And congratulations to all those who were nominated.

Buy it!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rich, steamy bowls of justice to be served

Murder of the innocent is senseless but it takes a particular kind of asshole to commit a crime like this.  In December of 1959, Cliff, Christine, Debbie and Jimmy Walker were shot to death in their family home by a still unknown intruder. Christine had been sexually assaulted and Debbie, who was 23 months old, had been shot and later drowned in the bathtub. It happened in Osprey, Florida and shook up the quiet little farming community. DNA found at the scene has finally been processed and a profile developed that may finally solve the case. Laura James at CLEWS has the scoop.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has an excellent walkthrough of the crime as well.

Pardon me while I get up on this soapbox but reading through the links provided by Ms. James I was taken aback. Friends and family of the Walkers are alive this very day and can remember their warm smiles. Their memories are of people who will forever be young and never had the chance to grow old with friends and neighbors. For those who are alive the solving of this case may mean closure or vindication. This isn't the case with the crimes I, and a handful of others, are persuing.

The people most closely associated with the crimes of the Midwest Axeman are long dead. If the crimes in Colorado Springs, Monmouth, Ellsworth, Paola and Villisca are ever solved, it won't really benefit anybody. So why do we do it? With a case that is almost 100 years old it is easy to forget that the victims were innocent people too. It isn't hard to draw a parallel between young Debbie Walker being drowned in the bathtub and little Nellie Burnham being struck down as she desperately scrambled over her mother's legs. We can often disassociate ourselves from adults we do not know but, at least in my case, we have a hard time doing the same when it comes to children and more children than adults fell victim to the Midwest Axeman. The children of Ross Moore never had the chance to grow up with their cousins, Herman and Katharine. Blanche Stillinger had to live the rest of her life knowing she was the one who let her two little sisters stay with the Moores on the night of June 9, 1912, a fact which effected her raising of her own daughter.

While the principal players may all be gone the lack of justice still lingers for the victims. Most who study historic crimes know the names of the victims in Villisca but very few know the Dawson family. The Hudsons are rarely mentioned in the same sentence as the Moores and they died only four days earlier. Has anyone bothered to locate the graves of Henry, Blanche and little Lulumay Wayne? Don't get me wrong, I would like to solve these crimes because seriously, how cool would that be, but sometimes I do have to step back and remind myself the victims aren't just names on a gravestone but real people with real families and friends who mourned for them almost 100 years ago.

P.S. My apologies to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune for uploading the thumbnail but the linked picture was just too big.