Murder Key (Matt Royal Mysteries Book 2)

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The door was not locked—crime was not the sort of thing you worried about in a modestly prosperous Midwest settlement of no more than 2, people, all known to one another by sight—and the visitor was able to slip inside silently and close the door behind him.

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Then, according to a reconstruction attempted by the town coroner next day, he took an oil lamp from a dresser, removed the chimney and placed it out of the way under a chair, bent the wick in two to minimize the flame, lit the lamp, and turned it down so low it cast only the faintest glimmer in the sleeping house. Still carrying the ax, the stranger walked past one room in which two girls, ages 12 and 9, lay sleeping, and slipped up the narrow wooden stairs that led to two other bedrooms. He ignored one, in which four more young children were sleeping, and crept into the room in which year-old Joe Moore lay next to his wife, Sarah.

Then he struck Sarah a blow before she had time to wake or register his presence.


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The Moore house in Villisca, For a price, visitors can stay in the house overnight; there is no shortage of interested parties. Once again, there is no evidence that Herman, 11; Katherine, 10; Boyd, 7; or Paul, 5, woke before they died. The killer then descended the stairs and took his ax to the Stillinger girls, the elder of whom may finally have awakened an instant before she, too, was murdered. What happened next marked the Villisca killings as truly peculiar and still sends shivers down the spine a century after the fact.

At some point the killer also took a two-pound slab of uncooked bacon from the icebox, wrapped it in a towel, and left it on the floor of the downstairs bedroom close to a short piece of key chain that did not, apparently, belong to the Moores. He seems to have stayed inside the house for quite some time, filling a bowl with water and—some later reports said—washing his bloody hands in it. Some time before 5 a.

Taking the house keys, the murderer vanished as the Sunday sun rose red in the sky. Lena and Ina Stillinger. Lena, the elder of the girls, was the only one who may have awoken before she died. That set in train a sequence of events that destroyed what little hope there may have been of gathering useful evidence from the crime scene.

Horton brought along Drs. They were followed by the county coroner, L.

Murder Key (Matt Royal Mysteries, No. 2)

Linquist, and a third doctor, F. Williams who became the first to examine the bodies and estimate a time of death. The murders convulsed Villisca, particularly after a few clumsy and futile attempts to search the surrounding countryside for a transient killer failed to unearth a likely suspect. He might have vanished back into his own home nearby; equally, given a head start of up to five hours in a town at which nearly 30 trains called every day, he might easily have made good his escape. Bloodhounds were tried without success; after that there was little for the townspeople to do but gossip, swap theories—and strengthen their locks.

By sundown there was not a dog to be bought in Villisca at any price.


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Though never formally charged with any involvement in the murders, Jones became the subject of a grand jury investigation and a prolonged campaign to prove his guilt which destroyed his political career. Many townspeople were certain he used his considerable influence to have the case against him quashed.

A fight over car keys the final straw

By relations between Jones and Moore had grown so cold that the they began to cross the street to avoid each other, an ostentatious sign of hatred in such a minuscule community. That was the theory of James Wilkerson, an agent of the renowned Burns Detective Agency , who in announced that Jones had hired a killer by the name of William Mansfield to murder the man who had humiliated him.

Unfortunately for Wilkerson, Mansfield turned out to have a cast-iron alibi for the Villisca killings. Payroll records showed that had been working several hundred miles away in Illinois at the time of the murders, and he was released for lack of evidence. The rancor caused by Wilkerson lingered on in the town for years. For others, though, there was a far stronger—and far stranger— candidate for the ax man. His name was Lyn George Jacklin Kelly, and he was an English immigrant, a preacher and a known sexual deviant with well-recorded mental problems.

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He had been in the town on the night of the murders and freely admitted that he had left on a dawn train just before the bodies were discovered. There were things about Kelly that made him seem an implausible suspect—not least that he stood only 5-foot-2 and weighed pounds—but in other ways he fit the bill.

He was left-handed, and Coroner Linquist had determined from an examination of blood spatters in the murder house that the killer probably swung his ax that way. Kelly was obsessed with sex, and had been caught peering into windows in Villisca two days before the murders. Convicted ax murderer Henry Lee Moore was the suspect favored by Department of Justice Special Agent Matthew McClaughry—who believed he committed a total of nearly 30 similar murders across the Midwest in Investigation soon made plain that there were links between Lyn Kelly and the Moore family.

The service had been organized by Sarah Moore, and her children, together with Lena and Ina Stillinger, had played prominent parts, dressed up in their Sunday best. Many in Villisca were willing to believe that Kelly had spotted the family in the church and become obsessed with them, and that he had spied on the Moore household as it went to bed that evening. That Lena Stillinger had been found wearing no underwear and with her nightdress drawn up past her waist did suggest a sexual motive, but doctors found no evidence of that sort of assault.

At first glance, the case against Kelly seemed compelling; he had sent bloody clothing to the laundry in nearby Macedonia, and an elderly couple recalled meeting the preacher when he alighted from a 5. It also emerged that Kelly had returned to Villisca a week later and shown great interest in the murders, even posing as a Scotland Yard detective to obtain a tour of the Moore house.

I knew God wanted me to do it this way. Rollin and Anna Hudson were the victims of an ax murderer in Paola, Kansas, just five days before the Villisca killings. Perhaps the strongest evidence that both Jones and Kelly were most likely innocent came not from Villisca itself but from other communities in the Midwest, where, in and , a bizarre chain of ax murders seemed to suggest that a transient serial killer was at work.

The researcher Beth Klingensmith has suggested that as many as 10 incidents that occurred close to railway tracks but in locations as far apart as Rainier, Washington, and Monmouth, Illinois, might form part of this chain, and in several cases there are striking similarities to the Villisca crime. Three and five people died in those attacks, and two more in Paola, Kansas, where someone murdered Rollin Hudson and his unfaithful wife just four days before the killings in Villisca.

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As far as McClaughry was concerned, the slaughter culminated in December with the brutal murders of Mary Wilson and her daughter Georgia Moore in Columbia, Missouri. It is not necessary to believe that Henry Lee Moore was a serial killer to consider that the string of Midwest ax murders have intriguing similarities that may tie the Villisca massacre to other crimes.

Moore is now rarely considered a good suspect; he was certainly an unsavory character—released from a reformatory in Kansas shortly before the ax murders began, arrested in Jefferson City, Missouri, shortly after they ended, and eventually convicted of the Columbia murders. But his motive in that case was greed—he planned to obtain the deeds to his family house—and it is rare for a wandering serial killer to return home and kill his own family. Nonetheless, analysis of the sequence of murders—and several others that McClaughry did not consider—yields some striking comparisons.

Blanche Wayne, of Colorado Springs, may have been the first victim of a Midwest serial murderer. She was killed in her bed in September by an ax man who heaped bedclothes on her head and stopped to wash his hands, leaving the weapon at the scene. The use of an ax in almost every case was perhaps not so remarkable in itself; while there certainly was an unusual concentration of ax killings in the Midwest at this time, almost every family in rural districts owned such an implement, and often left it lying in their yard; as such, it might be considered a weapon of convenience.

Fans of Dorothy L. Sayers, P. James, and Elizabeth George will also be delighted. One of the best traditional mystery series currently being published. Publishers Weekly Murder interrupts Chief Insp. It's a serious novel that bridges the gap between the mystery genre and mainstream fiction Louise Penny's fourth novel is an enduring mystery that begins and ends with the qualities that make great fiction writing -- compelling storytelling, evocative descriptions that are the heart of the story -- and characters the novel's soul who are rich in qualities and foibles that make them unforgettable -- and capable of murder.

Time Out London. Montreal Review of Books The plotting is flawless and when the murderer is finally revealed in a thrilling climactic scene Penny has found her perfect formula with the carefully constructed puzzle plot in the perfect village with the classic cast of characters. The fact that it's modern Quebec is the icing on the petit four Once the puzzle is set up, it's impossible to put this book down until it's solved. Devotees of Christie will be delighted by Penny's clever plots and deft characters.

The Irish News In a traditional who-dunnit crime thriller that rivals Agatha Christie's Poirot, Gamache is a refreshing alternative to the hard-nosed stereotypical detective. Penny builds the lives and imperfections of the characters effectively, exposing the complexity of human nature, challenging the reader's opinion and creating a constant sense of suspicion. This is a classic tale that proves that revenge is a dish best served ice cold. You have to read it The temptation is to scarf Penny's books like potato chips but it's ever wise to savor each bite and let the flavors fill your tongue.

Easter in Three Pines is a time of church services, egg hunts and seances to raise the dead. A group of friends trudges up to the Old Hadley House, the horror on the hill, to finally rid it of the evil spirits that have so obviously plagued it, and the village, for decades. One of their numbers dies of fright. As they peel back the layers of flilth and artiface that have covered the haunted old home, they discover the evil isn't confined there. Some evil is guiding the actions of one of the seemingly kindly villagers. A very personal demon is about to strike. A time of rebirth, when nature comes alive.

And it become clear - for there to be a rebirth, there first must be a death. The mouthwatering food, the beautiful gardens, the quirky and literate villagers -- Three Pines is a charming oasis for the spirit Move over, Mitford. The Scotsman There's real pleasure here. Kirkus Review Perhaps the deftest talent to arrive since Minette Walters, Penny produces what many have tried but few have mastered: a psychologically acute cozy. If you don't give your heart to Gamache, you may have no heart to give. Publishers Weekly Chief Insp.

Highly recommended. As Penny demonstrates with laser-like precision, the book's title is a metaphor not only for the month of April but also for Gamache's personal and professional challenges - making this the series standout so far. And this place, this wonderous, fantastical place. The thing about the Gamache novels is that while the crimes are intriguing, the people are downright fascinating not just Gamache himself, who manages to be completely original despite his similarities to Columbo and Poirot, but also the entire cast of supporting characters, who are so strongly written that every single one of them could probably carry an entire novel all by themselves.

The writing is sensual, full of sights and smells and tastes that will resonate with her readers. And although Penny paints an almost Grandma Moses idealized view of village life, it is a view tinged with ominous foreboding, reminiscent of the brooding images of Breughel and Bosch It's a gem.

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Penny's writing is rich in imagery and atmosphere and characterised by a very quick and highly verbal intelligence. Winter in Three Pines and the sleepy village is carpeted in snow.


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It's a time of peace and goodwill - until a scream pierces the biting air. There's been a murder. Local police are baffled.