The Blind Man’s Axe
Every town and community has its’ fun stories when it comes to history. Stories about a great sandwich, stories about eccentric citizens. There is often much more hiding in the shadows; the following is one of those stories. It’s a story of a gruesome killing of a woman and child. The killer was never caught and the crime remains a mystery today.
The year was 1894, the location was outside of Quincy near Liberty. John C. Loomiller headed out that evening to go hunting, unaware that life as he knew it would be much different on his return. Loomiller was an avid and skilled hunter which was surprising considering he had been blind since the age of 14 when an accident with a gun took his vision. Due to his blindness it was common for him to be active day or night since the night and day were indistinguishable to Loomiller. Being blind in that era was typically a huge disadvantage to a person, he however, managed to be quite successful, finding an education attending a special school for the blind and becoming a successful, well-spoken businessman. Though he lacked sight he was able to go about all his day to day tasks without any assistance. All accounts describe John C. Loomiller as being a tall man with dark hair and a goatee, and even though his eyes were void of site, accounts spoke of how they seemingly glared right through anyone addressing him.
After returning home late in the evening from hunting, Loomiller was surprised to find that the two main doors were locked. He assumed his wife Kate and their niece Orlinda Viola Searles, staying with them from time to time, had traveled over to a neighbors earlier and decided to spend the night. Loomiller went to the neighbors and upon arriving, was told they had not seen his wife or niece. Being late in the night Loomiller chose to stay with the neighbor that night.
The next day, Loomiller, with his neighbor, returned home where the brutal crime was discovered. Loomiller’s wife and niece’s bodies lay almost beyond recognition after being horrendously hacked to death with an object thought to be either an axe or hatchet. All accounts of the crime scene describe a veritable blood bath, both bodies lying in their own beds. The community was horrified upon hearing of this inexplicable crime. It was widely believed that the tragedy was the result of a burglar expecting an empty home, and then acting hastily to prevent being identified and going to jail. As time passed, speculation ran abound and many people began to think that Loomiller was the guilty party.
There was an in-depth investigation that took place. According to the newspapers of the time, several items were recovered including a blood stained hatchet, a bloody walking cane owned by Loomiller, some pieces of brick, as well as a bloody boot leg, if not other various blood stained clothing. Some speculation took place over the discovery of a lit lamp, as no robber with eyesight would leave a lamp burning at the scene of a crime. The biggest strike against Loomiller would turn out to be several large insurance policies that were taken out on his wife around four months prior to her death.
After a lengthy investigation and some preliminary hearings, Loomiller was not considered a suspect, nor could any other potential suspects be identified. Loomiller was very cooperative with the police investigation and was very vocal about the murders, talking to the newspapers on several occasions, expressing his shock and horror about the murders and seeking retribution for those guilty of the act. He spoke of how he loved his wife and how she was also his secretary for his business affairs. At one point he even shared love letters to the interviewer from when he was initially courting her. Perhaps the most curious testimony came from one of the individuals with Loomiller on the day where the crime scene was discovered. The individual felt that the murderer may very well have been blind due to the random wounds inflicted upon the deceased, almost as if the murderer were swinging a hatchet, unable to aim at one specific area of the body.
Loomiller was never indicted of the crime and was eventually awarded the insurance money. Though he had every intention of remaining in Liberty, rising speculation and belief that he was the murderer made staying in the area a difficult option. He would leave the area, spending time in Kansas, Oklahoma, and finally Indiana where he remarried and presumably started again with a clean slate. One evening he left to travel to a nearby town but would never arrive. After being reported missing his body was discovered in a nearby cornfield, a bullet through his head. There were signs of a struggle. At first, suspicions of suicide arose, but it was later concluded that he was robbed and his own pistol had been used against him. In an ironic turn of events, Loomiller’s widow was awarded nearly $15,000 in insurance settlements.
We’ll never know for sure if John C. Loomiller killed his wife and niece in cold blood. If today’s forensic technologies existed a suspect and eventual murdered would have most likely have been identified. Whatever happened that night, the repercussions of the act affected the entire community. The quiet little town of Liberty, as well as the entire county, had never witnessed such a violent crime. History has its high points and certainly has its low points as well. It is important though, to not pick just the good. The stories of tomorrow come from the events of yesterday. The whole past, not just the stories that make you feel all warm and fuzzy, are what’s important in preserving the identity and culture of a community.
If you’d like to learn more details about the Loomiller Murder, do some detective work yourself! You can research old local newspapers online via the Quincy Public Library’s Website here. It’s a great free resource!
Sources: “The Loomiller murder case” by Carl Landrum; featured in the March 29th 1981 “Quincy Herald Whig”, as well as the original newspaper articles appearing in the following dates of the “The Quincy Journal”; 2/13/1894, 9/26/1895, 1/30/1895, 10/20/1894, and 10/24/1894