Tag Archives: Story


Attic Image 4There’s something terrifying—absolutely horrific—about being axed to death. Hollywood’s made a killing off movies like The Shining, American Psycho, and So I Married An Ax-Murderer, not to mention Lord Of The Rings where Gimley, the ginger-bearded psycho-dwarf, double-blades dozens of ornery Orks. But movies aren’t real—not real life, that is. In reality, ax-murder victims don’t get up to act another day. I’ve investigated a few real-life ax-murders in my time, including one gruesome and grotesque axing scene that tops anything Hollywood has yet to script.

In fact, I’m just about finished the manuscript for In The Attic. It’s based on a true double ax-murder story and I’ll tell you what happened in that bedroom… eight feet below the attic. But first, let’s look at some other famous ax-murders that compete with my case.

15. The Axman of New Orleans

A13Between May, 1918 and October, 1919 six men and six women were attacked in their Lower Ward homes and hacked to death with an ax. The MO was consistent. The killer knew when the victims were vulnerable. Entry was made through the back door. There were no sexual overtones, no evidence of robbery, and a common denominator was that all victims were Caucasian and mostly from Italian-American heritage. The series of killings stopped as abruptly as they started and no viable suspect was ever developed.

14. The Servant Girl Annihilator

A series of eight ax-murders occurred in Austin, Texas in 1885 where the victims were young ladies who worked as servants to wealthy employers. All were chopped in their sleep in their detached quarters. Six victims were black. Two were white. No one was arrested in the cases and they also ended abruptly. In 2014, an investigative report for PBS identified a strong suspect as Nathan Elgin, a 19-year-old African-American cook who was known to many victims. Elgin was shot by police after attacking a similar servant girl with an ax. No other Austin ax-murders took place in this string after his death.


13. Frances Stewart Silver

“Frankie” Silver was hanged in 1833 for the ax-murder of her husband, Charles Silver. His dismembered body was found distributed around the family’s North Carolina farm. Frankie never confessed and, despite weak evidence, a jury convicted her. No motive was established. Prior to her execution, she was sprung from jail through a well-planned break and was disguised as a man. She was caught attempting to flee the state and returned to the gallows.

12. The Crazed Captain

A18William Stewart was the skipper of the Mary Russell, a trading boat returning to England from Barbados. He suffered paranoid delusions and accused seven crew members of conspiring to mutiny. One by one, he lured the innocent men to the ship’s salon and enlisted three other young crew members to overpower the innocent men, binding them hand and foot then pinioning them to the floor. Once all seven were restrained, Captain Stewart took the ship’s fire-ax and systematically split their skulls. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The Mary Russell became known as the ship of seven murders.

11. Karl Denke

By day, this guy was an organ player at a church in the Kingdom of Prussia. By night, he chopped people up with his ax and stored their flesh in huge vats of pickling salt. He was caught axing a man to death at Christmas in 1924. When police searched Denke’s home, they found his business ledger documenting 42 other humans Denke killed and commercially processed. He was selling the meat at the market labeled as salt-pork. Two days after his arrest, Dehke hung himself in jail.

10. The Tokoloshe

Elifasi Msomi was called The Ax Killer in his village in South Africa. He started an 18-month killing spree in 1953 where he raped and murdered six children by hacking them apart and disposing of their parts in a valley. When caught, he claimed to be possessed by an evil spirit called the Tokoloshe. Superstitious Zulu elders bought his claim and freed Msomi after exorcising the entity. When Msomi went back to business, higher authorities stepped in and re-arrested him. A psychological assessment found Msomi to be of very high intelligence, near brilliant, however derived sexual pleasure from inflicting pain and death upon young children. He got hung.


9. The Greenough Family Massacre

This took place in Greenough, Western Australia. In 1993, Karen MacKenzie and her three children Daniel (16), Amara (7), and Katrina (5) were so savagely ax-murdered on their remote rural farm that the trial judge ordered the details of the killings sealed, stating they were too gruesome for public knowledge. Bill Mitchell, their 24-year-old farmhand, was convicted in the murders as well as for performing sexual assaults on the dead bodies. He’s serving life sentences and was recently eligible for parole. It was denied.

8. The Hexing Axer

A20Jake Bird, also known as the Tacoma Ax-Killer, was convicted in the 1947 murders of a mother and daughter in Tacoma, Washington. He got caught fleeing the scene, barefoot, after police were called to reports of horrific screams coming from the house. Bird had the victims’ blood and brain matter on his hands, feet, and clothes as well as his bloody fingerprints on the ax found by the bodies.

At his sentencing to hang, Bird stated to the courtroom, “I’m putting the Jake Bird hex on all of you who had anything to do with my being punished. Mark my words, you will die before I do.”

A21Allegedly, six of these people died before Bird was hung in 1949; the judge, the officer who interrogated Bird’s primary confession, the officer who interrogated a secondary confession to other murders, the court clerk, an attending guard, and Bird’s own defense lawyer. Bird progressively confessed to 46 other murders, saying he liked to use an ax because it did the job very well.

7. The Police Corruption Ax-Murder

Daniel Morgan was a private investigator who was digging into allegations of drug-related police corruption in the southeast section of London. In 1987, Morgan was found dead in a park with a massive ax-wound to the back of his head. This opened up a massive investigation into police corruption that resulted in five public inquiries. A number of officers have been charged with many offenses such as drug trafficking, extortion, conspiracy, and cover-ups, but who axed Daniel Morgan remains a secret. The investigation is ongoing.

6. Joseph Ntshongwana

Here’s another South African who was good with an ax. He was also good at sports, being a professional rugby player. But something wasn’t playing right in Joseph’s head. He convinced himself that four men gang-raped his daughter and gave her an HIV infection. He hunted and hacked the men, holding their heads as hostages. At his arraignment, Joe spoke in tongues and called to deities. The court called it faking insanity and declared him fit to stand trial. Joseph Ntshongwana’s now serving life… in maximum security.


5. Victor Licata

A23This guy did-in five members of his own family back in 1933. The Tampa, Flordia man was 21 when he went on a psychotic rampage and axed his way around the house. His mother, father, two brothers, a sister, and the family dog were slaughtered in their sleep. When arrested, Licata was dressed in clean clothes while his body underneath was covered with dried blood. Prior to the murders, his parents were trying to have him committed to a mental institute. They were too late. Licata eventually hung himself in a hospital for the criminally insane.

4. The Black Widow Ax-Murderer

A24Eva Dugan was convicted of killing her fifth husband, Charlie, in Arizona back in the 1920’s. She, like others in this article, used an ax. Eva dismembered Charlie, then buried him in the desert. She was caught—I’m not sure how—and sentenced to hang. Eva became more famous in death because the hangman miscalculated and she was decapitated. They said Eva’s head came to a rolling stop in front of the witnesses, some of which fainted. The error led to Arizona adopting the gas chamber. The noose used to kill Eva Dugan is now on display at the Pinal County Historical Museum in Florence, Arizona.

3. Lizzie Borden

A25As the song goes, “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”  This occurred in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892. Lizzie Borden was acquitted of her parents’ murders, though history gives every indication she was dirty as a tree root. The motive appeared financial and Lizzie was perfectly sane. The house where the Borden murders took place is now a Bed & Breakfast / Museum and even has a giftshop where you can buy a Lizzie Borden Bobble Head doll. It’s blood-spattered and holding an ax. Now how cool is that? Click Here to visit or book a night.

2. The Villisca Ax-Murders

A5Probably the most famous ax-murder case… still unsolved… was in June of 1912. Six Moore family members and two child guests were savagely axed in a house in Villisca, Iowa. Evidence showed the killer hid in the attic and crept down while they slept, dispatching them one… by… one… a number of suspects… were identified… no one charged…. let alone convicted… motive unknown… crimes unsolved… the house is also a museum…

1. In The Attic

Now it’s my turn. I’m writing my next novel titled In The Attic. It’s based on the true double-ax-murders I investigated when I was a cop. Maria Dersch, the complainant/victim, came to my police office seeking protection from her ex-boyfriend, Billy Ray Shaughnessy. He’d just raped Maria at knife point, promised to kill her if caught with another man, then snuck back and sliced-up Maria’s clothes.

I’m the poor bastard who got handed the file.

AtticSo, I took an audio-recorded statement from Maria. It opened “I’m so terrified that psycho’s going to kill me.” I went to Maria’s house to find Billy Ray. To arrest Billy Ray. To photo Maria’s clothes as evidence. He was nowhere to be found. I took this serious. I arranged for others to stay with Maria until Billy Ray could be caught… even arranged for the locks to be changed on Maria’s doors.

Two and a half days later, Maria and a male friend—Earl Barker, who stayed to protect Maria—were savagely slaughtered in their sleep. Billy Ray climbed down from the attic at 3 am with an ax. The scene looked like a bomb blasted a barrel of blood. He’d been in the attic… the whole fucking time… while I photographed the clothes… changed the locks… protected Maria…

In The Attic’s point of view tells in first-person with me, the nameless detective, narrating the investigation. Uniquely, it’s also told from Billy Ray’s perspective—his thoughts told to me about lurking above. In The Attic is nearly complete and I’m looking for potential victims who’d like ARC’s, Advance Reading Copies in exchange for reviews. In The Attic is available about mid-June in ePub, Mobi/Kindle, and PDF if anyone wants dibs.

Please leave a comment or email me at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca and I’ll ship you a copy of…

Attic Image 2


Rachel Abbott is psychological thriller writer who has sold over a million novels. Rachel generously shares her views on novel writing with DyingWords followers with this abridged piece which has been republished from her website, Rachel-Abbott.com.

A1The world is full of people who really want to write. For some, it’s a burning ambition. They dream about days of sitting in front of their computer (or even more whimsically, in their attic – with pencil and notebook), having great ideas and getting them all down on paper.

Some of it is like that. It’s exciting seeing your ideas grow and develop and watching the words appear on the page – sometimes it’s as if your sub-conscious has taken over and when you read back your latest chapter you think “where the hell did THAT come from?”. It’s a wonderful experience.

With the growth of self-publishing and the ease with which any writer can publish their work, that dream can become a reality.

But where do you start?

A2I’m sure that everybody writes in a different way. Some people say that they start with the title. Others say they just sit down and write and see what comes out. So I’m just going to talk about what I do – not because it’s the right way, but just because it’s the only way I know.

I start with a question.

In Only the Innocent the question was “What set of circumstances would be so bad that a woman would have absolutely no other option than to kill a man?

A4It had to be a scenario from which she couldn’t escape. But initially each avenue that I pursued left me with a “but she could do this or that” and it took a long time to work out what would make me kill a man. And for me, that’s the way it has to be. I have to think how I would behave, and not just one of my imagined characters.

For The Back Road I thought about a group of people, each with a secret that they need to hide.

The secrets had to be credible – secrets that you might encounter amongst your own friends. Or at least, the majority of them had to be. Perhaps in one case the secret is darker than the rest. Then I asked myself what kind of catalyst would it take to blow everything apart and expose the lies and deceit, and what would be the outcome. I have been to dinner parties or business dinners and seen looks exchanged between people and thought “I wonder what that’s all about?” knowing that I would probably never find out. To me, that dinner party is real.

That is always my starting position – what is the overall issue that the protagonist has to solve.

A22Then comes the incubation time. Once the initial idea is in my head, I start to carry round a notebook and pencil, and each time I have an idea that develops a character or plot point, I jot it down. There are always plenty of false starts – storylines that I begin to develop and then discard. I think that’s fairly normal (at least, I hope so).

Once I have a rough idea of the beginning – the inciting incident (the conflict that begins the action of the story and causes the protagonist to act) – and the end – how the protagonist solves (or doesn’t) the problem – I switch tack. I start to develop my characters, locations and timelines.

For each character, I find a photograph that matches my idea of how they might look.

A9It may be a picture of a famous person, or it might be a random person that I find in images on the Internet. It doesn’t matter. I grab their photo and put it into their character file. Then I begin to develop their characteristics – Age, date of birth, personality, likes, dislikes, greatest strengths and weaknesses, story goal, past traumas – a whole list of details which gives me a very clear idea of who they are and how they would behave. It also means that I know how to describe them, and because it’s all written down, I can always remember how old they are, what they drink, what secrets they have, what job they do.

Next come the locations.

I was recently interviewed for a blog, and the interviewer very kindly said “I find the atmosphere of place very strong in your novels.  I know those villages – I’ve met those people.  How do you get that atmosphere?

A3The answer is that I also know these places – because I have found photographs of interiors and exteriors of all the houses or other locations that are featured. In The Back Road I used Google street view to walk around the Cheshire village that I used as my main location, and found the perfect property for my protagonist. I was inspired by an atrium dining room that I saw on an architectural site, and grabbed that image too. I found a map and worked out which road would be “The Back Road” and then plotted where everybody lived. Only that way could I be sure that journeys were logical. Even at the dinner party, I wrote down the menu and a seating plan. It was important to know where everybody was sitting, so that I knew when people had to lean forward to speak across somebody, or when people’s eyes could meet.

Timelines are really important – and not just the timeline of the book.

A14Most people have a back-story – when did they meet? What are the major events in their lives? The back-story timeline is really important, because I have often read books in which a section has made me stop and think, “How old is this person? Does this make sense?” and anything that slows a reader down is bad news. If you are confident because you have the information in front of you, the reader will feel that confidence.In short, then, I need to know every detail so that when I write about a location or a person I have a very clear vision of them in my mind. In The Back Road, if I had any artistic skills, I could paint you a picture of every room in the house, and how the rooms connect with each other. It’s as clear in my head as my own home, and allows me to write with confidence.

Of course, the important thing is the story!

A16As you will have gathered, I am a fanatical planner, and I use two different pieces of software for my planning. My main tool is a piece of software called Scrivener. This has some fantastic features that I will talk about briefly here, but hope to do a more detailed blog post soon. However, it doesn’t do one thing that I need, and that’s to create the equivalent of a story flowchart. For that – and the initial planning stages – I use Storylines.

With Storylines I can either create a number of story threads, or character threads, and I can see them all at the same time on a cork board using individual ‘cards’. The board is arranged in columns for scenes and rows for character or plot threads. I can move these around and see all on one screen how the story develops and how and when characters appear in the story. It gives me the main outline of my book, and the software does so much more than this. You can write your whole book using nothing else, but there are some elements of Scrivener that I prefer for the writing process.

A5With Scrivener I create folders for each chapter, and then write scenes within a chapter. I can colour code scenes – for example, in The Back Road I coded scenes in relation to the level of tension. I could see when there were spots in which the tension dropped, and it gave me an opportunity to think about the scenes and how to ramp them up a notch.

Similarly, I used keywords extensively. The Back Road has a number of story threads, with huge potential to get lost! So each scene is given one of a number of keywords each of which relates to a thread. I can then search on the keywords, and find all the scenes, allowing me to read one storyline in complete isolation – a fantastic tool for checking consistency and story development. Scenes can be written in any order – once the structure is in place you can add a scene, move it around, put it in an ideas folder for later use – the options are endless. But with the structure in place, the writing can begin.

A8I could talk all day about the tools I use and how they help – but this is supposed to be an overview of how to get started. Remember, I am not for a moment suggesting this is the right way or the only way, but it might give you some ideas of where to start.

*   *   *

A15Rachel Abbott has written four psychological thrillers which, combined, have sold over one million copies. She self-published Only the Innocent in November 2011. It raced up the UK charts to reach the top 100 within 12 weeks and quickly hit the #1 spot in the Amazon Kindle chart (all categories) and remained there for four weeks. 

A10Only the Innocent was so successful that it was re-edited and the new version was launched in the US by Thomas and Mercer in paperback, audio, and Kindle versions on 5th February 2013, hitting the number one spot in the Kindle Store in August 2013. Her second book, The Back Road, was also published by Thomas and Mercer.

Her third book, Sleep Tight, was published in February 2014 and her newest, Stranger Child, was released last month.

A13Rachel Abbott was born just outside Manchester, England. She spent most of her working life as the Managing Director of an interactive media company, developing software and websites for the education market. The sale of that business enabled her to fulfil one of her lifelong ambitions – to buy and restore a property in Italy.

Rachel now lives in Alderney – a beautiful island off the coast of France, and is now able to devote time to her other love – writing fiction. For more information, see Rachel’s website, or follow her on Twitter.

Visit Rachel Abbott’s website at:  www.Rachel-Abbott.com

Like her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RachelAbbott1Writer

Follow Rachel on Twitter:  @_RachelAbbott   https://twitter.com/_RachelAbbott

Buy her books:  http://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Abbott/e/B0068FBVCW


photo (11)I was twenty-one when I joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but I looked like I was seventeen. Not only was my teenage looks a challenge to being an effective cop, I was raised in a tiny Manitoba town that didn’t have a stop sign, never mind a street light, or a transit service. So I was anything but worldly. 

In August, 1978, I got transferred from basic RCMP recruit training in Regina, Saskatchewan, to beautiful Vancouver Island in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast. I thought I’d won the Mountie lottery for postings.

I arrived in Courtenay, a small city of 30,000, and was immediately assigned to be trained by an experienced officer. My role was a uniformed General Duty position which attends everything from car accidents, to barking dogs, to violent domestic disputes.

In street policing, things can go from dead-boring to flat-out chaos in seconds and there’s nothing like years of experience to equip an officer in responding properly and safely. So, it’s standard procedure that a rookie pairs up with a vet for a few months before they’re ready to go out on their own.

photo (15)Now on my third week on the job, I was starting to feel kinda comfortable wearing the yellow-striped uniform and packing heat in my Sam Browne. One warm, summer afternoon in mid-week my trainer was called up to court, leaving me hanging around the police office. A call came in about a bicycle being found about a half-dozen blocks from the cop-shop.

My old Sarge was strapped for guys that afternoon so he throws me the car keys and tells me to go straight down, pick up the bike, and come straight back; warning me “Whatever you do, do not get yourself into any trouble.”

I was feeling pretty proud of my first patrol alone as I drove the marked Police Cruiser (PC) down a quiet thoroughfare in residential Courtenay. About four blocks from the office, I see this guy standing alongside the street to my left.

Now you gotta remember that this was in 1978 and community policing was a dream yet to come. It was a real us-against-them mentality between the ‘pigs’ and the ‘scroats’ and the cool street look was long, greasy hair, zitty-faces, beards, and crude logo’d tee-shirts. This guy was a poster-boy scroat and he was standing there with his arms folded across his chest, giving me the stink-eye as I drove past. I watched him in my mirror, waiting for him to flip me the bird or make a run for it, but he just kept standing there, staring, till I was out of sight.

rookieI dealt with the bike thing, putting it in the PC trunk, and bungeed the lid down. As I was driving straight back to the office, like Sarge ordered me, I’m looking ahead and here’s this same guy, still standing in the same place. His arms are still folded across his chest and he’s staring at me with beady little eyes and a scowl like he wants to slice off my nuts.

I figgered “Okay. Okay. This guy’s up to no good.” So I pulled over to my right, put on my hat, and got out. As I rounded the PC hood, this guy stays standing with his arms folded, never breaking his stare.

What the fuck do You want?” he says.

I’m standing three feet from him with my hands on my hips. “Just wondering what you’re doing loitering about the neighbourhood,” I tell him.

His right arm breaks from the fold. His forefinger points straight up. And he says “Like waitin’ for the fuckin’ bus?

I look up at the sign, then down at the ground.

Very well. Carry on then,” I said as I got back in the car and drove off with a face the colour of my brand-new Mountie Red Serge.