Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Unnecessary Headaches: Wikipedia

Click the pic to go to the article
Wikipedia can be a great tool to initialize a research project but I would strongly encourage anyone writing a term paper to never quote Wikipedia directly (if ever).  You see, the problem is that the same person who might have written an article about cancer treatment also wrote the episode guides for ALF, which is okay if it just happens to be an oncologist that also is a big fan of ALF but I would guess that isn't the case.  Over the holiday I decided to look at the Wiki entry for the Villisca case, just to see what was written there; big mistake.

The following are quotes taken from the Wikipedia entry on the Villisca Axe Murders, which I refuse to link to.
They were likely not aware that there was an intruder or intruders who are thought to have been inside the attic or cellar, waiting for them to fall asleep, so they could attack.
 First off, it would have done the killer no good to hide in the cellar.  They would have just been a person or persons crouching in a cellar.  The cellar has no entry into the house.  Second, there wasn't any evidence of recent activity in the cellar when the murders were discovered.  Now as for hiding in the attic?  Impossible.  The attic door is inside the closet of Joe and Sara's bedroom.  This closet, as was discovered by investigators the day of the murder discovery, was jammed with boxes and clothing.  In order for the killer to hide in the attic, he/she/they would have had to remove everything in front of the attic door, enter the attic then somehow replace everything they had removed so they could close the closet door again.  Oh, and do all the replacing from behind the closed attic door.
Lena...and there were wounds on her arms. But, there was no way to see if she was sexually traumatized or not.
There were no wounds on her arms.  There were no wounds on any victim below the neck.  As for the "sexually traumatized or not," there was a way to tell...and she wasn't.
The most promising evidence goes to the theory that Senator Frank F. Jones hired William “Blackie” Mansfield to murder the Moore family. 
This is the most promising evidence if you ignore all other facts and evidence in the case.  One nice thing to ignore would be the nickname "Blackie."  William Mansfield hadn't been called Blackie in his life, until a Kansas City reporter created the name.  This reporter was a very talented writer who would go on to create the character "Boston Blackie."  Hmmm...what a coincidence he would would use that nickname.
It is believed that Mansfield was a serial killer because he murdered his wife, infant child, father- and mother-in-law (two years after the Villisca crimes); committed the axe murders in Paola, Kansas, four days before the Villisca crimes; and committed the double homicide of Jennie Peterson and Jennie Miller in Colorado.
Believed by whom?  Mansfield was in Kansas City Milwaukee when his estranged wife, child and in-laws were murdered. By 1915 the Blue Island case was cleared up after a former, mentally unstable lodger who had become obsessed with Mrs. Mansfield, confessed.  Mansfield was nowhere near Paola when the Hudsons were murdered and I have no idea who "Jennie Peterson and Jennie Miller" were.  And I love this last line in the Mansfield section:
However, Mansfield was released after a special Grand Jury of Montgomery County refused to indict him on grounds that his alibi checked out.
Stupid grand jury.  Yep, Mansfield produced rock solid evidence that he was 200 400 miles away from Villisca on the night of the murders so unless he could warp time and space, he couldn't have been the killer.  Now the author of this Wikipedia "article" goes completely off the reservation in their section on Henry Lee Moore.
Henry Lee Moore (ex husband of John's sister). 
John?  John who?
It came up in the inquest that Henry Moore often threatened to kill Josiah Moore. Josiah had told his employer of the threats and Henry's son had confirmed it to be true.
Henry Lee Moore had never been to Villisca, wasn't related to the Moore's at all and his name is never, ever mentioned in the Villisca inquest.  Also, he had no son.  He did, however, kill his mother and grandmother with an axe in 1912. This post is dangerously close to my "No posts about Villisca" policy which I follow loosely.  As punishment I will not post for the rest of the year.


Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that research done with Wikipedia should be verified with a more authoritative source -- I believe this is true with all forms of media, not just Wikipedia -- to safeguard against bias and sloppy research.

A few years back some friends of mine produced a DVD movie with multiple language translations. They used Wikipedia to look up the name of the Catalan language that is used by the Catalan people (e.g., Germans say "Deutsch" instead of "German" for their language). Wikipedia told them the word is "Polaco". This is actually a grave insult to the Catalan people, and it turns out that the Wikipedia article they referred to had been vandalized that day. For those interested, there's a post about this incident here:

Anyways, my interest is about the 1911 axe murders in Rainier, and I've seen some really sloppy research and bias in the press about this case many, many years before the Internet even existed. One of the worst cases is the retelling of the story by the Seattle Daily Times in the mid-1940's:

If you compare this with the retelling by Master Detective magazine in the mid-1930's, you'd get a very different story:

(The information in the second article is far closer in details to the newspaper articles of the 1910's.)

Ultimately, I think Wikipedia does more good than bad, but like all information from any form of media, it should be accompanied by good verification.


Anonymous said...

The murders of Jennie Peterson and Jennie Miller remain a mystery to most researchers of the Villisca crime. Most of them choose to ignore this reference, which was made by the disreputable detective James Wilkerson, and never mention it at all. Those who only do light research into the history of the case merely re-print the mention from other sources and it gets mixed into the story and makes it appear that perhaps there was some justification in Wilkerson’s accusations against William Mansfield. So, I decided to start digging into some old newspapers and try and track down these crimes. As it turned out, though, Wilkerson’s inclusion of them in his list of Mansfield’s “crimes” became even more mysterious. I have no idea why he included them, other than they were young women who were bludgeoned to death in a town that was not too far from where Mansfield lived and they happened to fit into a convenient timeline for his manufactured case.

The murders that he mentioned were actually two of three murders that took place over a period of several months in Aurora, Illinois. The first victim was Theresa Hollander, who was beaten to death with a wooden club on February 16, 1914. A former boyfriend was twice for the murder but he was acquitted in two separate trials. The second victim was Jennie Miller, who was beaten to death on November 19, 1914, and she was the daughter of a former mayor of the city. Her head was caved in by a heavy iron pipe and her murder was also never solved. On February 25, 1915, a young woman named Emma Peterson (not Jennie) was also killed. He head was also beaten in, probably with a metal pipe, although the weapon was never found. Emma’s empty purse was discovered a short distance from her body and the police surmised that she had been killed in a robbery. There were no connections between any of the murders and nothing to connect them to Mansfield. I can only assume that Wilkerson added them to his list of charges because he wanted to inflate the “crimes” of William Mansfield.

Needless to say, there was nothing to realistically link Mansfield to the murders in Aurora. But as mentioned, they often get included in places like Wikipedia because references are merely copied from one place to the next.

Hope that helps!

Inspector Winship said...

"One of the worst cases is the retelling of the story by the Seattle Daily Times in the mid-1940's:"

Chris I agree. That is as great an example of "yellow journalism" as I've seen.

"Needless to say, there was nothing to realistically link Mansfield to the murders in Aurora."

Well, Aurora, IL explains a lot. I was looking in Colorado :) Thanks for the info. I wasn't aware of those murders at all.

Thanks both of you for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia allows anyone to edit. Why don't you fix the article instead of just complaining about it? I think that would have been less effort, honestly.

Anonymous said...

I agree. If you're not a part of the solution you're a part of the problem. It's easy to bash Wikipedia, but it is intended as a community resource anyone can contribute to. If you have better research that isn't reflected in the wiki, then post it for everyone to evaluate.