The House & Town

Crime Scene

Photos of the victims

Something Terrible Has Happened Here

The Moore’s next-door neighbor, Mary Peckham, went out to hang laundry around 5 a.m., just as the sun was rising. By 6 a.m., it struck her as odd the normally boisterous family wasn’t awake – especially given the children were expected at school that Monday morning.

By 7 a.m., she became increasingly concerned. Their horses were restless and the other animals hadn’t been fed. She knocked. Disturbed by the stillness, she attempted to look in the windows, but all the curtains were closed. She tried both the front and back doors, both were locked.

Concerned, she called J.B.’s brother’s home and spoke to his wife. Was it possible the Moores were ill? Was Josiah’s father was ill? She called his store, and he wasn’t there, either. At 8:15 a.m., she got hold of his brother, Ross, who arrived and let himself in with a key. At first, Ross saw nothing wrong.

Then, he went into the first-floor bedroom and saw a sheet pulled over the bed where the Stillinger laid. A hand fell lifeless below it. He could smell a dreadful blend of copper and blood. Ross immediately ran out and told Peckham to call the town’s marshal, to call everyone. One of Moore’s workers, Ed Seeley, turned up to tend to his livestock and Ross told him not to bother. “Something terrible has happened has happened here,” he said.

Sometime after 8:40 a.m., the town’s central telephone center issued an “all call” alert, advising every household in town of the murders. Within minutes, the home became a full-blown spectacle.

Upwards of 100 people stampeded through the rooms, the bodies of the eight victims still in place. The town marshal, Hank Horton, even let some of the locals handle the murder weapon. Some townspeople took pieces of J.B.’s skull as souvenirs before they could be ushered out.

The county coroner, Dr. Linquist, arrived at the scene of the crime at approximately 9 a.m. After viewing the scene himself, he later met with Horton, who had been the town’s night watchman that Sunday, and Sheriff Oren Jackson to review the information they had collected.

Lindquist, appalled by the flow of people in the house, urged the sheriff to get the national guard in place to secure it. The state’s armory was located in Villisca, and the national guard secured a perimeter around the house by 10:30 a.m.

A local druggist whose hobby was photography showed up to take photos, but he was dismissed told taking photos was “too ghoulish.” (He may have had an economic motive; many drugstores sold postcards of crime scenes at the time.)

Although Linquist called members of the Coroner’s Jury together in late afternoon, it was several hours later before they entered the Moore home to view the bodies. After 10:00 p.m., he called County Attorney Ratcliff to finally give permission to the undertaker to remove them. The fire station had been set up as a temporary morgue and it was close to 2 a.m. before all the bodies had been transported there.

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