We tend to think of violent crime as a recent curse that only affects the modern world, but as Abel could tell us if Cain hadn’t done him in, it just isn’t so. The modern media makes us aware of violent crimes much more quickly than in the past, and we hear about violent crimes occurring in many places, not just our local area, so we tend to believe that more violent crimes are being committed nowadays than in the past.
A number of mass homicides committed in 1911 and 1912 (including one committed in Columbia, Missouri) should serve to dispel our illusions. On 17 December 1912, Mary J. Wilson and Georgia Ann Moore were found in the home they shared, each killed by the blow of an ax. The finger of suspicion quickly pointed at Henry Lee Moore, grandson and son respectively of the dead women, who had claimed to discover the bodies. His alibi for the time of the murders collapsed almost immediately, and it became clear that the serial womanizer had told several prospective conquests that he “stood to inherit a house from his mother shortly.” The 37-year-old was sentenced to life in prison, and served 38 years before being pardoned by the governor in 1949.
The story might have ended there, but Department of Justice Special Agent M. W. McClaughry suggested that Moore might have also committed five other mass homicides in Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa (these five incidents claimed the lives of 24 victims). All of the victims were killed with a blow from an ax, pipe, or other heavy object.
In the end, few persons believed that Moore had committed the other murders, for the simple reason that those crimes had been perpetrated by a clever killer or killers who left few clues and were never apprehended, while Moore’s crimes were so clumsily executed that the finger of suspicion pointed towards him almost immediately.
An article on the 1911-1912 ax murders appears in GSCM Reporter 27:4 (Jul-Aug 2008); you can also access a lengthier version of the article here:
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