Trail of the Red Ax


Exploring one of history’s most baffling murder mysteries.

The Villisca Ax Murders Mystery

This episode starts with a brutal axe murder that scandalized the quiet town of Villisca, about 2,000 souls in the summer of 1912, when a family of six and two young visitors were killed in their beds by an assailant wielding a long-handled axe, the family’s own tool, which was left at the scene.

Clues were scant, and it took years for the twists and subplots to emerge, including a string of similar murders, implications that it was a job for hire by a business rival, and a bizarre confession by an itinerant minister five years later.

And for some reason, there seems to be a lot of fortunetellers and clairvoyants in this narrative.

Musical direction by Dave Sams

Horror ambiance by the Klankbeeld team via


Clips01 The_Des_Moines_Register_Sun__Jul_7__1912_

spate Evansville_Press_Wed__Jul_18__1917_ 1912 0611 Ottumwa_Tri_Weekly_Courier_Tue__Jun_11__1912_ 1912 0612 The_Des_Moines_Register_Wed__Jun_12__1912_ 1912 0720 Ottumwa_Tri_Weekly_Courier_Sat__Jul_20__1912_ 1912 0727 The_Des_Moines_Register_Sat__Jul_27__1912_ 1916 0621 Adams_County_Free_Press_Wed__Jun_21__1916_ (2) 1916 0722 The_Des_Moines_Register_Sat__Jul_22__1916_ 1916 1004 Adams_County_Free_Press_Wed__Oct_4__1916_ 1916 1213 Adams_County_Free_Press_Wed__Dec_13__1916_ 1917 0515 The_Des_Moines_Register_Tue__May_15__1917_ 1917 0929 The_Des_Moines_Register_Sat__Sep_29__1917_ 1945 0128 The_Des_Moines_Register_Sun__Jan_28__1945_ Adams_County_Free_Press_Wed__Jun_21__1916_ Chronology The_Des_Moines_Register_Sun__Oct_7__1917_ kelly The_Des_Moines_Register_Tue__May_15__1917_ The_Des_Moines_Register_Sun__Oct_7__1917_ (1) The_Des_Moines_Register_Sun__Oct_7__1917_


The Calumet Christmas Catastrophe


A reading from America’s historical newspapers in the golden age of yellow journalism

Panic at the Italian Hall

This episode comes from the request of a listener in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who wanted to know more about the panic disaster that took place at the Calumet Italian Hall in 1913.

I actually went through Calumet a couple of years ago on vacation when we wanted to see what the upper peninsula of the upper peninsula of Michigan was like.

We found a lot of good microbreweries and wandered about some of the old copper mines, but we missed the monument dedicated to the victims of this horrible tragedy.

Now that I know about it, the next time I’m in Calumet, I will definitely pay my respects. It’s a sad story, folks, but I think it’s an important one to remember because it’s all about what happens when we lose our civility.

Theme music by Dave Sams

Some incidental music via Creative Commons license


1913 1208 The_Calumet_News_Mon__Dec_8__1913_ 1913 1210 The_Calumet_News_Wed__Dec_10__1913_ 1913 1211 The_Calumet_News_Thu__Dec_11__1913_ 1913 1224 The_Calumet_News_Wed__Dec_24__1913_ 1913 1226 The_Calumet_News_Fri__Dec_26__1913_ 1913 1226 The_Cincinnati_Enquirer_Fri__Dec_26__1913_ 1913 1227 The_Evening_Herald_Sat__Dec_27__1913_ 1913 1227 1914 0307 The_Calumet_News_Sat__Mar_7__1914_ door Panic Disasters The_Calumet_News_Sat__Dec_27__1913_