Eight grisly ax murders in Iowa have stumped the area for more than 100 years, but the cold case is getting a new look from a local author. “8 Souls” is the latest novel from Rachel Rust. It’s a fiction young adult novel, but it’s based on the true story of the Villisca Ax Murders of 1912. Someone murdered Josiah and Sarah Moore, their four children, and two of their friends that June. The investigation led to several suspects, and even a few trials, but there is still no solution to the case. Rust is honoring the history of the case and using her own story to inspire other local writers.
At any time of the day, Rust steals whatever precious moments she can and finds the keys to unlock the story inside of her.
“Pretty much all of my books have been written at the kitchen table,” Rust said, typing on her laptop.
Over the years, Rust has dished out novel after novel. It all started with a passion for storytelling.
“So, I just buckled down and within about four or five months, I had a monstrosity, which ended up being shelved,” Rust said.
Rust didn’t give up, and now she has five published Young Adult novels. Her latest work of fiction is based on a very real murder mystery.
“8 Souls” is about 17-year-old Chessie and her recurring dreams about a little white farmhouse. It’s the same house of the unsolved murders of Villisca, Iowa, where someone slaughtered eight people in 1912.
“It’s also a modern day paranormal tale and the eight plays into that as well, but I can’t really say how without giving a massive plot twist,” Rust said.
Not even one clue! However, Rust is willing to tell us about how her process led to pages. She grew up interested in the case. To research it more, she and her mom, Sue Bunger, visited the house where it happened.
“What happened to those eight people in just the blink of an eye. There were no answers,” Rust said.
Rust says she felt compelled to write the story.
“It’s a sad story and it’s a tragedy that I felt like maybe more people should hear about,” Rust said.
Both Rust and Bunger spent a lot of time in the house trying to get to know the people who lived here.
“It was very surreal going in there knowing those eight people had died. Seeing the hatchet marks on the ceiling in the children’s room,” Bunger said.
Rust wanted to make this trip, because even though her novel is fiction, she says the facts of Villisca are still very important.
“It’s definitely, you know, something I worked hard on to maintain the respect for the families and the town itself that had to deal with the tragedy,” Rust said.
Beyond her new book, this is a story of how Rust shines as a writer. The mother of two has worked hard in between raising her family and working a full-time career to turn her dream into a reality. She loved writing as a kid and, as an adult, took it upon herself to find publishers for each of her manuscripts.
“We always knew Rachel was a storyteller,” Bunger said.
Bunger says her daughter’s success is valuable to other creative types who want to do something, but aren’t sure if they can.
“She really is an inspiration to me, because of Rachel, I have decided to write a couple of novels,” Bunger said.
No matter where you are, whether it’s an office or at your kitchen table, Rust says don’t feel locked in by your surroundings. If you have a dream, go for it.
“Each word leads to sentences, sentences lead to paragraphs and so on. You know, you can do it,” Rust said. “Keep trying. You keep sending it out. Be proud of who you are, where you’re from, you know, the stories you have to tell. They’re your stories. You’re the only one who knows how to tell them.”