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June 2001

Recently, we received the following comment from someone who visited our website:

...I hope you found some time to interview a forensic psychologist while researching and shooting the documentary. A psychological profile of the Moore killer would be of great use in reconstructing the events of the murder and winnowing out potential suspects, even at this late date. The killer left behind some important behavioral clues that offer insight into why he did what he did...

S.L. Stowe
Raleigh, NC

While it may not be possible to definitively solve the 1912 Villisca axe murders 90 years after the fact, we do believe our film and book project will shed new light on this puzzling case.  One of the goals we set was to have the 500 or so pages of 1917 Grand Jury testimony, regarding the Moore-Stillinger murder crime scene, examined by present-day forensic experts.

Michael Cummings, M.D. and Patricia Kirkish, Ph.D. agreed to review the unusual case.  Both were given only the crime scene data and neither had any other knowledge related to the events in Iowa on June 10, 1912.

"Certainly I think anyone who could murder both adults and children in this fashion is psychopathic, because most of us would identify with the victims." said Dr. Cummings.  "Most people would have a very difficult time even attending to the details of what had happened."

"It was not a 'heat of passion' crime," said forensic psychologist Dr. Kirkish.  "There's nothing to suggest the killer was in a frenzied state at all.   This was methodical to the end."

After receiving their initial examination, each was introduced to the two primary suspects:  Senator Frank Jones and Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly.  In 1916 it was suggested that Jones had hired a labor union organizer named William Mansfield to kill the Moore family.  In addition, Dr. Kirkish examined alienist reports from the early 1900s regarding Rev. Kelly's mental problems.

In the spring of 1996, Dr. Epperly, our primary historical consultant, mentioned a book he had just read called, "Whoever Fights Monsters," (1992) by former F.B.I. Special Agent Robert K. Ressler.  After reading the book, we realized if anyone could create a psychological profile of the likely perpetrator in the axe murder case, Ressler was the man.  He coined the term "serial killer" and was deeply involved in creating the F.B.I.'s system for developing profiles based on crime scene data.  He interviewed and collected data on 36 serial and sexual killers including Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer.   Ressler is currently a criminologist in private practice and is the director of Forensic Behavioral Services.  He agreed to examine the axe murder case and we flew to Washington, D.C. to conduct an on-camera interview in Fredericksburg, Virginia in September 1996.  As with Cummings and Kirkish, he was given only the crime scene data to work with.


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Kelly Rundle (left) interviews Robert Ressler in the fall of 1996.

"I see, not a totally organized individual like Ted Bundy or something of that nature," said Ressler.  "But neither do I see a completely bizarre, psychotic individual because of the fact that there was a plan carried out and that the victims were methodically one at a time 'taken out'...getting everybody under control through death.  Ted Bundy did this in his Chi Omega murders down in Florida.  He moved from room to room and did commit a number of homicides without really alerting or awakening the entire sorority house."

Ressler went on to develop a psychological and physical profile of the Villisca axe murderer.  He also commented on the suspects identified by townspeople and the authorities.

"In any high visibility or spectacular homicide there's always a tremendous amount of pressure upon the law enforcement authorities, by the public, by the courts, just the human outcry for bringing someone to justice," said Ressler. "Public pressure is something that always works adversely in a police investigation...many, many people who are brought into view as a suspect often times are not the person who committed the crime."

On June 10, 1912, Villisca law enforcement gathered very little evidence and took no notes.  They also lost control of the crime scene and dozens of townspeople and onlookers walked through the house and disturbed the scene.  But Villisca, like many small communities, was not prepared to deal with a crime of this magnitude.  Ressler said that even today he sees investigations that are similarly poor in the United States.

Will our film definitively solve the 1912 Villisca axe murders?  Probably not.  But we have developed a new theory and identified a suspect based on our own research and Ressler's profile of the likely perpetrator.

Related Links:

Federal Bureau of Investigation Robert K. Ressler's Website

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