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10 Small Towns Shaken by Murder

Updated on September 11, 2015

Murder is a criminal phenomena that is often sensationalized by entertainment and the media. It’s the top headline in the nightly news and the subject of numerous films and written works, whether real or fictional. As people, we are fascinated by the criminal mind. In some places, such as New York or Detroit, many murders can go un-noticed, drowned beneath a sea of constant crime; however, in small town America, a murder is not only recognized, but can often leave an unmistakable scar on the town and its people that remains for generations to come. Everything from nameless ax murderers who descend in the night and leave without alerting a soul of their presence to sadistic killers with no clear motives stain the faces of small towns across the United States.

10. Villisca, Iowa (The Ax Murderer)

Villisca is thought to mean "pretty place" or "pleasant view"; however, after 1912, this small town conjured anything but beauty for those who heard its name. During the early 1900s, Villisca was a growing Midwestern town with only 2,500 residents and a tightly-knit community, until murder disrupted the peace (Link 1). On June 10, 1912, a perpetrator--who's name remains unknown--entered the Moore's unlocked home shortly after midnight. Without waking any of the eight members of the household, which included two overnight guests, the ax murderer made his way up to Joe and Sarah Moore's bedroom. This unknown intruder proceeded to go room-to-room, murdering each of the family members with an ax. Lena Stillinger, the elder of the Moore's overnight guests, is thought to have woken up for a split second before succumbing to the same gruesome death as the other members of the household. After killing everyone inside, the ax murderer proceeded to return to each room, bludgeoning each victim 20-30 times, until their faces were unrecognizable. He then covered each family member's face, as well as all of the mirrors and glass (Link 2). The scene authorities discovered the next day was terrifying. The unknown perpetrator left behind a four-pound slab of bacon beside the bloody ax, which belonged to the Moore's. In the kitchen was a plate of un-eaten food and a bowl filled with bloody water. Many of the ceilings in the bedrooms had gouge marks on them from the violent upswing of the ax. Over one-hundred years later and the murder still remains unsolved (Link 3).

9. Rock Island, Illinois (Nicholas Sheley)

The small town of Rock Island, Illinois fell victim to the violent killing spree of Nicholas Sheley in June of 2008. One of multiple killings that spanned from Sterling, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri, Sheley's gruesome murders had many of Rock Island's 9,200 citizens afraid to leave their homes. It would take three years, but Sheley was eventually convicted of four murders, which included Brock Branson, Kilynna Blake, her 2-year-old son Dayan, and Kenneth Ulve (Link 4). Caught in July 2008 in Granite City, Illinois, Sheley was charged with multiple first-degree murders, aggravated vehicle hijacking and the possession of a stolen vehicle (Link 5). Autopsies of the four Rock Island victims showed that they were all bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Sheley's motive is thought to be his cocaine addiction, which fueled his murderous rampage in search of money to fund his habit (Link 4). Sheley was implicated after police discovered one of the original victim's stolen trucks abandoned at a gas station in St. Louis, Missouri. The victim's blood was found on the pavement of the carwash, as well as the passenger's seat, with Sheley's own DNA being identified on the multiple beer bottles that littered the inside (Link 5). After being convicted in Rock Island, Illinois, Sheley was then transferred to Missouri, where he could be tried for two more murders in a state that offered the death penalty (Link 4).

8. Tyrone, Missouri (Joseph Jesse Aldridge)

Tyrone, Missouri, a small town of only 50 residents, was shaken by the actions of Joseph Jesse Aldridge, who left a staggering 3-mile trail of death in his wake one snowy night. In fact, the state trooper in charge of the case lost count when asked to report the murders at a news conference. The long string of murders traced back to Aldridge's own mother, who was discovered to have died of a natural cause: Metastatic lung cancer (Link 6). The death of Aldridge's mother is thought to be the motive that fueled Aldridge's rage, which lead him to kill seven people with .45-caliber handgun in the dead of night. At least four of the victims were related to Aldridge, with three more being left un-named at the family's request. A distress call came in to local sheriffs around 10:15pm, courtesy of a young girl who allegedly ran barefoot through the snow to a neighbor's house after hearing Aldridge kill her parents. When authorities fanned out to assess the victims, they found no signs of forced entry, with many of the victims dead in or near their bedrooms. One boy, orphaned by Aldridge's killing spree, was found undisturbed in his bed. He had heard nothing of the gruesome murders of his parents. Aldridge himself was later found dead in his GMC pickup truck, less than 15 miles away; he had shot himself in the head. As one resident would later state, "half of the town got killed" that night (Link 7).

7. Windsor, North Carolina (Unknown)

Windsor, North Carolina is a quaint town with only 4,000 citizens and a dark past--the location of a little-known triple homicide. Although the story did not make national headlines, for the small town of Windsor, the memory remains set in the community. Almost everybody knows somebody who was involved in the investigation of an unknown killer who murdered three at a Be-Lo on June 6th, 1993. Although not everything is known about this case, the murders occurred shortly after closing. Three workers were cleaning up while three more were just arriving. The perpetrator was believed to have already been hiding in the store prior to closing, just waiting to make his move. The six workers were held at gun point, bound and duct taped, and taken into the meat packing room. The unknown suspect then proceeded to stack the victims up on top of each other and open fire on them. The scene police found later that night was horrific. First responders discovered the bodies of the victims stacked, one on top of the other, with a knife jammed into one person's back. Three of the six victims died that night, one of which was a man who managed to contact the police. Of the surviving three, two were severely injured, while one managed to escape injury-free; however, the small community of Windsor, North Caroline is still haunted by the after-shock of the gruesome Be-Lo triple-homicide (Link 8).

6. La Porte, Indiana (Belle Gunness)

A woman by the name of Belle Gunness, who later became known as the "queen of the black widows", committed all of her murders on a farmhouse in La Porte, Indiana. With a population of roughly 7,000, Gunness' gruesome killings left a stain on the community. Listed amongst the most prolific serial killers in the Guinness Book of World Records, Gunness is estimated to have killed as few as 40 or as many as 180 unsuspecting men (Link 9). Originally, Gunness worked on a farm with her husband, Peter Gunness, but after he died a mysterious death, Belle Gunness began advertising herself as a woman seeking out a husband. Over the years, numerous men answered Gunness' requests, each meeting untimely deaths while Gunness happily collected on their life insurance (Link 10). But men were not Gunness' only victims. Gunness is suspected as having poisoned two of her own children in order to collect on their life insurance as well. Her crimes were eventually discovered after a strange fire burnt down the Gunness farm. Multiple bodies were discovered in the rubble, including Gunness' children, four men, and what police originally believed to be Gunness herself. While there was never any clear evidence to support whether or not Gunness actually died in the fire or not, dozens of bodies were found buried in shallow graves around the Gunness farm, exposing the dreadful truth of what had really happened to the many men who had mysterious died after answering Gunness' advertisement for human companionship (Link 11).

5. Sycamore, Illinois (Jack McCullough)

Sycamore, Illinois was a mid-western farm town of 7,000 and home to Maria Ridulph, a little girl who was snatched while she was playing outside with her best friend, Kathy. The man who took Maria introduced himself to the girls as "Johnny", a twenty-six-year-old single who liked to give free piggyback rides. The girls played with Johnny for a while before Kathy had to run home and grab her mittens, but when she returned Johnny and Maria were nowhere to be found. Search parties were sent out, but all anyone could find of Maria was what remained of the doll she had been playing with when she disappeared, and the mystery of her kidnapping haunted the small town of Sycamore, Illinois for over fifty-five years. Months later, Maria's body was discovered nearly 100 miles outside of town, dumped in the woods like garbage, but this did little to ease the townspeople's worst fears. There was still a predator amongst them. Over half a century of searching amongst each other lead to the Maria Ridulph kidnapping being the oldest cold case to ever reach a court for trial (Link 12). Jack McCullough, age 73, was convicted for Maria Ridulph's murder. At the time, he would have been 17 years old. McCullough, who had originally been a minor suspect, became the center of the investigation after his mother admitted to lying about his alibi while on her deathbed in 1994. Kathy was shown a picture of Jack McCullough at the time of the kidnapping and she immediately identified him as the blonde teenager who had been playing with Maria on the day she disappeared (Link 13).

4. Alba, Texas (Erin Caffey)

Erin Caffey grew up in Alba, Texas, a town of only 492, located halfway between Tyler and Sulfur Springs. At the age of sixteen, Erin was raised in the church along with her two younger brothers, Bubba and Tyler. The Caffey's seemed like the ideal family to those who knew them: Involved in the church and involved with each other. Erin, the Caffey's oldest and only daughter was stunningly beautiful, sung in the church choir and worked as a server at Sonic; however, the Caffey's had disagreements about the boy Erin was dating: Charlie Wilkinson. The two teenagers felt that they were in love, but Caffey's parents were restricting their meetings outside of school to just once a week. This was around the time Erin hatched the plan to kill her parents. Manipulating Charlie and his friend, Waid, into doing her bidding for her, Erin had her mother and two younger brothers violently murdered in their home, which was then lit on fire. Erin's father was supposed to die in the flames as well, but he somehow managed to crawl all the way to a neighbor's house with five gun wounds to the back, shoulder and head (Link 14). Despite playing innocent at first, Erin Caffey was later convicted in the murders of her mother and two younger brothers. Charged with capital murder, she received two life sentences, while her accomplices also sentenced to a considerable amount of jail time (Link 15).

3. Madison, Indiana (Melinda Loveless)

Madison, Indiana was a quaint town located along the Ohio river that attracted tourists with its antebellum charm; however, on January 11th, 1992, something sinister happened that would forever rock the community. On that night, four teenagers--three who were from Madison and one who was from 50 miles outside of town--tricked twelve-year-old Shanda Renee Sharer into sneaking out of her father's home. Once in the teenagers' car, the ring-leader, Melinda Loveless, emerged from hiding and put a knife to Sharer's neck. What followed was over eight hours of torture and abuse, motivated by Loveless' quest for revenge (Link 16). Loveless believed that Sharer was responsible for stealing Loveless' lesbian lover. As punishment for this, Loveless and her friends beat Sharer unconscious repeatedly and sodomized her with a tire tool. She was also choked with a cord and had her legs cut by a knife before finally being burned alive as the other girls watched. Loveless was reportedly gleeful as she watched her perceived rival die a painful death while another one of the girls, Mary Tackett, simply enjoyed the sight of another person dying. All four girls were sentenced to prison time for multiple offenses of torture, kidnapping and murder (Link 17).

2. Duncan, Oklahoma (Alan Hruby)

The small town of Duncan, Oklahoma was rattled one morning when a family's housekeeper arrived to work only to find three of the four family members lying dead in the kitchen of their home. When police were contacted, they immediately began searching for the fourth family member, 19-year-old Alan Hruby, who was attending the University of Oklahoma 75 miles away. Hruby was shaken by the news of his family's death and eventually confessed to killing them with a 9mm pistol. His motive: Hruby was hoping to use his inheritance in order to pay off $3,000 he owed to a loan shark. Hruby had reportedly already been in trouble with the law for credit card fraud after he took out a credit card in his grandmother's name, racking up over $5,000 in charges while overseas in Europe (Link 18). At 20, Hruby admitted that he still was not sure what compelled him to murder his entire family. While Hruby's spending was a bit out of control, he knew that it was nothing his parents could not pay. He denied that his spending problem was what provoked the killings, but admitted that his actions required dire consequences. For this reason, Hruby welcomed the death penalty (Link 19).

1. Shawano, Wisconsin (SIST)

Shawano, Wisconsin is a small town close to the border of Canada where threats of murder lead the town's mayor, Lorna Marquardt, to adapt to a closed-door policy. Largely open-door prior to the threats, the mayor moved to have bullet-proof glass installed in the doors at the front of her office. These threats came when a hired gun named Bob Cameron came forward, confessing that the SIST had tried to hire him to kill over 60 people from the small town of Shawano, Wisconsin, including the town's mayor (Link 20). SIST had formally been known as The Disciples of Lord Jesus Christ, and was an anti-Catholic religious cult (Link 21) that had previously been wrapped up in a spat with the town of Shawano. The cult's leader, called "Brother" by its members, began to get noticed in town as he amassed a wealth of property throughout the town, including over 20 commercial lots. Many of the townspeople feared that "Brother" would take over the Shawano if left unchecked. Over the years, "Brother's" properties fell into foreclosure and bankruptcy with business dropping, which angered "Brother" and is thought to be the reason SIST attempted to order a murderer-for-hire (Link 22).

3. Madison, Indiana (Melinda Loveless)

Madison, Indiana was a quaint town located along the Ohio river that attracted tourists with its antebellum charm; however, on January 11th, 1992, something sinister happened that would forever rock the community. On that night, four teenagers--three who were from Madison and one who was from 50 miles outside of town--tricked twelve-year-old Shanda Renee Sharer into sneaking out of her father's home. Once in the teenagers' car, the ring-leader, Melinda Loveless, emerged from hiding and put a knife to Sharer's neck. What followed was over eight hours of torture and abuse, motivated by Loveless' quest for revenge (Link 16). Loveless believed that Sharer was responsible for stealing Loveless' lesbian lover. As punishment for this, Loveless and her friends beat Sharer unconscious repeatedly and sodomized her with a tire tool. She was also choked with a cord and had her legs cut by a knife before finally being burned alive as the other girls watched. Loveless was reportedly gleeful as she watched her perceived rival die a painful death while another one of the girls, Mary Tackett, simply enjoyed the sight of another person dying. All four girls were sentenced to prison time for multiple offenses of torture, kidnapping and murder (Link 17).

3. Madison, Indiana (Melinda Loveless)

Madison, Indiana was a quaint town located along the Ohio river that attracted tourists with its antebellum charm; however, on January 11th, 1992, something sinister happened that would forever rock the community. On that night, four teenagers--three who were from Madison and one who was from 50 miles outside of town--tricked twelve-year-old Shanda Renee Sharer into sneaking out of her father's home. Once in the teenagers' car, the ring-leader, Melinda Loveless, emerged from hiding and put a knife to Sharer's neck. What followed was over eight hours of torture and abuse, motivated by Loveless' quest for revenge (Link 16). Loveless believed that Sharer was responsible for stealing Loveless' lesbian lover. As punishment for this, Loveless and her friends beat Sharer unconscious repeatedly and sodomized her with a tire tool. She was also choked with a cord and had her legs cut by a knife before finally being burned alive as the other girls watched. Loveless was reportedly gleeful as she watched her perceived rival die a painful death while another one of the girls, Mary Tackett, simply enjoyed the sight of another person dying. All four girls were sentenced to prison time for multiple offenses of torture, kidnapping and murder (Link 17).

2. Duncan, Oklahoma (Alan Hruby)

The small town of Duncan, Oklahoma was rattled one morning when a family's housekeeper arrived to work only to find three of the four family members lying dead in the kitchen of their home. When police were contacted, they immediately began searching for the fourth family member, 19-year-old Alan Hruby, who was attending the University of Oklahoma 75 miles away. Hruby was shaken by the news of his family's death and eventually confessed to killing them with a 9mm pistol. His motive: Hruby was hoping to use his inheritance in order to pay off $3,000 he owed to a loan shark. Hruby had reportedly already been in trouble with the law for credit card fraud after he took out a credit card in his grandmother's name, racking up over $5,000 in charges while overseas in Europe (Link 18). At 20, Hruby admitted that he still was not sure what compelled him to murder his entire family. While Hruby's spending was a bit out of control, he knew that it was nothing his parents could not pay. He denied that his spending problem was what provoked the killings, but admitted that his actions required dire consequences. For this reason, Hruby welcomed the death penalty (Link 19).

2. Duncan, Oklahoma (Alan Hruby)

The small town of Duncan, Oklahoma was rattled one morning when a family's housekeeper arrived to work only to find three of the four family members lying dead in the kitchen of their home. When police were contacted, they immediately began searching for the fourth family member, 19-year-old Alan Hruby, who was attending the University of Oklahoma 75 miles away. Hruby was shaken by the news of his family's death and eventually confessed to killing them with a 9mm pistol. His motive: Hruby was hoping to use his inheritance in order to pay off $3,000 he owed to a loan shark. Hruby had reportedly already been in trouble with the law for credit card fraud after he took out a credit card in his grandmother's name, racking up over $5,000 in charges while overseas in Europe (Link 18). At 20, Hruby admitted that he still was not sure what compelled him to murder his entire family. While Hruby's spending was a bit out of control, he knew that it was nothing his parents could not pay. He denied that his spending problem was what provoked the killings, but admitted that his actions required dire consequences. For this reason, Hruby welcomed the death penalty (Link 19).

1. Shawano, Wisconsin (SIST)

Shawano, Wisconsin is a small town close to the border of Canada where threats of murder lead the town's mayor, Lorna Marquardt, to adapt to a closed-door policy. Largely open-door prior to the threats, the mayor moved to have bullet-proof glass installed in the doors at the front of her office. These threats came when a hired gun named Bob Cameron came forward, confessing that the SIST had tried to hire him to kill over 60 people from the small town of Shawano, Wisconsin, including the town's mayor (Link 20). SIST had formally been known as The Disciples of Lord Jesus Christ, and was an anti-Catholic religious cult (Link 21) that had previously been wrapped up in a spat with the town of Shawano. The cult's leader, called "Brother" by its members, began to get noticed in town as he amassed a wealth of property throughout the town, including over 20 commercial lots. Many of the townspeople feared that "Brother" would take over the Shawano if left unchecked. Over the years, "Brother's" properties fell into foreclosure and bankruptcy with business dropping, which angered "Brother" and is thought to be the reason SIST attempted to order a murderer-for-hire (Link 22).

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