The Villisca Axe Murder House, Villisca, Iowa

On June 9, 1912, the Moores, husband Josiah (43) and wife Sarah (39)including their four children, Herman (4), Katherine (9), Boyd (7), and Paul (5), and two members of the Stillinger family made their way back to the Moore home following a church social. The event began at 8 p.m. and concluded around 10 p.m. The children and their parents readied themselves for bed and settled down for the night. What followed is considered by many  the most gruesome event in Iowa history and a tale of murder that would rock the small community of Villisca to its very foundation.

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The Stillinger children, Ina (8) and Lena (12) had been asked by the Moore children to stay the night after the lamps in town went unlit due to some argument between lamp lighters. The girls were supposed to travel to their grandmother’s house for supper, but were afraid of the dark. In a strange twist of fate, they stayed with the Moores instead, believing this to be a safer alternative. When they all arrived back at the house, they went to bed, the Stillinger children occupying the guest bedroom on the first floor off the kitchen and the Moores upstairs. Sometime between midnight and 5 a.m., the entire family and the Stillinger children were brutally murdered with an axe.

Many have speculated that the attacker hid in the attic space and waited until everyone was asleep. Two spent cigarettes were found in the space. It has also been speculated that the food the family may have consumed had been poisoned or tampered with in some way to facilitate their murder.

The murders were a national sensation, causing friends and neighbors to turn on one another and making it difficult to buy a means of protection or a lock anywhere in the town. Many suspects were questioned, but were ultimately cleared or dismissed by authorities.

Suspects

Reverend George Kelly– Kelly had a history of mental problems and was considered a sexual deviant. He was also accused of being a peeping tom and writing lewd letters to women in town. It was reported that Kelly left early in the morning the day of the murder and talked about it on the train out of town. This information could not be confirmed by witnesses and, although Kelly had confessed to the crime, they had no evidence to support Kelly as the killer. He had also contacted people in town asking for details about the murder. Kelly later recanted his confession and was acquitted twice.

Henry Lee Moore (No Relation)- Moore had been charged/sentenced of the murder of his grandmother and sister (he killed them with an axe no less), but authorities could not link him to the crime. He was also accused of killing several other people, but the charges did not stick.

Frank Jones– A former employer of Moore. Jones became a business rival when Moore went out on his own and was bitter about the loss of business caused by the split. It has also been said that Moore had been seeing Jones’ sister, which he was not pleased about. This has never been proven.

William Mansfield– It was speculated that Mansfield was hired to kill Moore and his family by Frank Jones, but there was no proof of this.

Andy Sawyer– A transient who was in town the night of the murders. He stated that he left town after the murders because he did not wish to be blamed for the crime.

The Facts

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On June 10 at approximately 5 a.m, the Moore’s neighbor, Mary Peckham, exited her house to hang some laundry out to dry. She was surprised to see that the shades on the Moore home were still drawn and that the children were not outside tending to their chores. At approximately 7 a.m., Peckham walked to the Moore home and knocked, but received no answer. She tried the door, but it was locked from the inside. The shades were still drawn. On two of the windows that were without shades, clothing had been hung to block the view inside.

Peckham immediately called for Josiah’s brother, Ross Moore, who tried the door before using his key to enter. He walked through the kitchen and into the guest bedroom, often referred to as the Blue Room. When he saw the two Stillinger girls lying dead with dark red stains surrounding them, he immediately retreated back to the porch and called for authorities.

The sheriff arrived and took in the scene. He made his way into the house, found the two Stillinger girls in the Blue Room, then proceeded upstairs to find the Moore’s in a similar state. All had been attacked with an axe, but only Josiah Moore had been struck in the face with the sharp side of the axe, his wife and the children had been bludgeoned with the blunt side. The sheriff returned to the porch where Peckham and Moore’s brother were waiting. He muttered something about each bed having a dead body in it and went back to town for reinforcements. Once there, he told several townspeople about what had happened and, within a short time, almost 100 people had converged on the house. They wandered inside and gawked at the dead bodies, essentially destroying the crime scene. The townspeople arrived even before the coroner. Finally, the Villisca National Guard arrived and took control of the scene and cordoned off the area at around noon.

A through search of the home by authorities found the following:

A pan of bloody water sat on a table next to some uneaten food.

There were axe marks on the ceiling, either from the killer chopping at his victims or swinging the axe around maniacally (both are speculated).

Sarah Moore’s face was completely unrecognizable and Josiah Moore had no recognizable features from the shoulders up. Both parents had been struck between 20-30 times each.

Josiah Moore’s head had been crushed completely and pieces of tissue and skull fragments were all over the head board.

The Moore children likely slept through the murders while it is speculated that the Stillinger sisters, at least Lena, awoke while she was being attacked. Her body hung off one side of the bed and her skirt was pulled up to her waist. Her underwear had been removed and thrown under the bed. There was no sign of sexual assault. Ina had her hips angled toward a lamp that sat on the floor next to the bed. Again, there was no sign of sexual assault.

The axe was found in the Blue Room and appeared to have been partially wiped clean. A slab of bacon wrapped in a towel was also found in that room. Some speculate the killer intended to steal the bacon and forgot it, others claim it was used as an artificial vagina due to the way the bodies of the Stillinger girls were found. However, authorities found no hair or fluids.

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The killer covered the mirrors in the house.

The murder remains one of Iowa’s most perplexing mysteries. Locals blame the authorities at the time for mismanagement of the crime scene, believing they could have brought someone to justice. Of course, at the time, there was no DNA testing and the crime scene had been so badly muddled by the townspeople that fingerprint evidence was destroyed. There would have been no database to compare the prints to anyway. Basically, authorities would have had to catch the killer as he left the scene or in the act.

Haunted House

With such a terrible crime, the house must contain some residual energy, right? Of course it does! Violent death and unsolved murder can have that effect. Guests can do a daytime tour (for the faint of heart, as the website states) or an overnight and many visitors have reported seeing and hearing ghostly phenomena. Full bodied apparitions have been spotted as well as disembodied footsteps and voices. EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) have caught children laughing and, immediately after, heard them crying out. They have also recorded children telling them to “hide.”

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Have you ever visited the Villisca Axe Murder House? Tell us about your experiences in the comments. Don’t forget to like/share/follow if you like what you’ve read!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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