Iowa murder documentary coming to Sioux City theater
Former Luther College historian Dr. Edgar Epperly will be bringing to Sioux Cit's Promenade 14 Cinema the weapon used in the June 1912 Villisca, Iowa, axe murders of eight people while they slept. (Submitted photo)

A film mystery recounts the overnight axe murder of eight people, some of the victims children.

But in this case, the storyline wasn't crafted out of thin air by a Hollywood scribe.

A documentary on the topic will run for a week at Promenade Cinema 14 in Sioux City. The film could draw a great deal of interest because the murders took place in Iowa (Villisca), and since the 1912 tragic event there has been a great deal of speculation as to who committed the still-unsolved slayings.

"Villisca: Living With a Mystery" will run from Friday through March 31 at Promenade, with two showings per day. After the Friday and Saturday 7 p.m. shows, retired Luther College history professor Dr. Edgar Epperly, who was an adviser to filmmakers Tammy and Kelly Rundle, will be at the theater to answer questions from the audience.

There is another draw for moviegoers, Promenade general manager Scott Rhoads said. "The actual axe that was used" in the murders will be on display. Epperly acquired the axe from the widow of an investigator.

That the murders happened in Iowa should serve to make it intriguing to Siouxlanders, Rhoads said. The Iowa theaters that have shown "Villisca: Living With a Mystery" in limited release since last June have had big sales. "It is just great to be able to show something new to this area."

The Rundles have Iowa roots and chose the topic since "it's hands-down the best story we have ever heard," said Kelly Rundle. "It has all the elements of a great drama and the added benefit of being true."

Villisca residents awoke on June 10, 1912, to find eight dead. A young marshal didn't protect the home crime site, and townspeople disturbed evidence. Villiscans split over the guilt of prominent resident State Sen. F.F. Jones. He never was tried, although in 1917 a local reverend was -- twice -- and not convicted.

The Rundles began interviewing in 1994, with half the duty done that summer, although the movie wasn't fully completed until 2004. Some of the sources in the documentary were senior citizens who remembered events that surrounded the murders.

One woman was 14 when the murders occurred, and Rundle said she told the filmmakers "about how everybody heard the news and everybody just emptied out into the street, talking and crying." The talk, however, "turned to fear, because there was a killer on the loose," Rundle recounted the woman saying.

For her, Rundle said, the story "was just so vivid, so traumatic," because "all of these people had been murdered while they slept" and "it was so foreign to anything they could have anticipated happening in their town." At one point a fortune teller was consulted as officials sought to find the murderer.

"We never set out to solve the crime," Rundle said, and while "it is not possible to definitively say who did it," he believes he and his wife have determined the person who performed the killings. The Rundles theorize a tie to similar axe murders that occurred within a year of the Villisca brutality at Monmouth, Ill., Colorado Springs, Colo., and Ellsworth, Kansas. But he's not naming names -- those who want to know their postulation need to see the movie.

The Promenade theatre showing will be the biggest multiplex showing for the film to date. By summer, the limited release for the movie will likely be over and the documentary will be put into video release.

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