The Villisca Axe Murders:
Page - 3
minutes of the murders discovery, some Villisca citizens began speculation that F.F.
Jones, a prominent town businessman, might be involved. F.F. Jones seemed an
unlikely suspect. Born in 1855 in New York state, he heeded Greeleys
admonition and moved west to grow up with the country. In 1875 he moved to rural
Villisca from Illinois. Frank broke prairie and taught school as he looked to
establish himself. Married in 1880, by 1882 he had left school teaching and farming
to become a bookkeeper for a hardware and implement firm in Villisca. In 1890 he and
a partner bought a hardware and implement stock that started him down the road to a very
successful retail career. From this retail base, he moved into banking. In
1895 he joined a five-person partnership, which formed the Farmers Bank in Villisca.
Ten years later this business was reorganized as the Villisca National Bank.
In November of 1903, he won election to the State House of Representatives. He
remained in the House until the fall of 1912 when he was elected State Senator from
F.F. had made more than his share of enemies. He was arrogant, self-righteous and
hard in his business dealings. Secondly, Joe Moore, the murdered man, was his bitter
enemy, a fact known by everyone in town. In 1901 when Jones bought into a new retail
partnership, Joe was already working for that firm. He stayed on and became a crack
salesman for Jones of Villisca. In 1907 Joe left and opened a competing
hardware and implement store. More gulling than that, he took the John Deere Plow
Company franchise with him when he left. The business conflict between Frank Jones
and Joe Moore had grown so intense that by 1910 they wouldnt speak and would cross
the street to avoid meeting each other.
Within a year of her marriage she was acting in a most indiscrete manner. She was entertaining male visitors in her home when Albert was not there. At least three, and perhaps as many as five, local men visited her un-chaperoned. As the reader might suspect, Joe Moore was among these visitors. In fact, Joe was her most frequent guest. Revealing either extreme naïveté or a disregard for public opinion, Dona arranged these several trysts over the telephone. This was the day of a central operator, so every phone call was bugged as everyone in 1912 knew. Certainly any gossip as explosive as this was sure to spread throughout the town, and it did.
All these reasons combined to give F.F. Jones a better conventional motive for murder than anyone else in town. Gossip was rampant, but there was no public acknowledgment of the community suspicions directed toward a citizen of such prominence as F.F. Jones. There is nothing in the Attorney Generals papers, or statements by local investigators to suggest that Jones was a suspect. The only public record is an editorial in the Villisca Review that chides citizens for spreading ill-founded rumors that even include such preposterous charges that a prominent local citizen was behind the murder. It is very doubtful these community suspicions would have ever officially surfaced had the Moore family not continued to pressure officials for action.
April of 1914, a Texas land agent, James N. Wilkerson, came to town and set up shop.
He worked for several weeks arranging a train trip to south Texas to, as he put it,
get the best farmers in the world to come and buy the best land in the world.
Then one evening he knocked on the back screen of Ross Moores drug store.
Introducing himself as an undercover operative of the Burns Detective Agency
working out of Kansas City, he told Ross he was convinced that F.F. Jones was the money
behind the murder. From that point on the accusations against F.F. were common, but
not public knowledge. No formal court proceedings were held, no newspaper editorials
written, no official interrogations conducted, nor arrests made. Instead, the
community boiled with rumors for two years while Wilkerson built his case.
Now the accusation was public. Jones lost the nomination to County Attorney Ratcliff, and Villisca wanted to see what would happen next.
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