STATUS: Open as a tourist destination
A gruesome and disturbing event occurred over the course of the night of June 9th, 1912 known as the Villisca Axe Murders in the town of Villisca, Iowa. In total, there were eight victims, six of them children, two of them guests. All of them died from severe blows to the head with an axe. Although there is a long list of suspects, the crime remains unsolved to this day.
The Moore family, who were some of the victims, was rather large consisting of Josiah, the father, aged 43, Sarah, the mother, aged 39, and their four children, Herman (11), Katherine (10), Boyd (7), and Paul (5). On the fateful day of June 9th, 1912, Katherine Moore invited her friends Ina (8) and Lena (12) Stillinger to spend the night at the Moore household (now known as Axe Murder House).
That evening, the family and two friends attended church, and returned home between 9:45 and 10:00 p.m. The next morning at about 7:00 a.m., neighbor Mary Peckham became worried when she noticed that the Moore family hadn’t come out to do their daily morning chores. She knocked on the door, but nobody answered. When she tried to open the door, she found that it was locked. She called Ross Moore, Josiah Moore’s brother. When Moore received no response when he knocked on the door, he pulled out the house’s spare key.
Mary Peckham was instructed to wait on the front porch while Moore was to investigate. He, upon opening the guest room, he discovered the bodies of Ina and Lena Stillinger, who appeared to be hit in the head by means of an axe. Moore hastily ordered Peckham to call Villisca’s primary peace officer Hank Horton, who arrived quickly. Horton investigated the house and discovered that the entire family and the two friends were murdered via axe. The axe belonged to Josiah Moore, and it was found in the guest room where the Stillinger sisters were found.
Doctors estimated that the murders took place just past midnight. The killer(s) began in the master bedroom, killing both Josiah and Sarah while they were sleeping. Similar to the Lizzie Borden case, the face of Josiah had been hit so many times by an axe that both of his eyes were missing. The killer(s) then proceeded into the childrens’ room, where he/they took care of Herman, Katherine, Boyd, and Paul with the same infamous axe.
The killer(s) then continued downstairs to the guest room to claim their final victims, Ina and Lena. Some investigators believe the two sisters were asleep during the time of the brutal murders, while others think that Lena attempted to fight back, as a wound was found on her arm probably from resisting. A number of suspects were compiled:
- Reverend George Kelly – Kelly was said to have been rather unbalanced. He was a travelling minister, and he happened to be at the church on June 9th while the Moore family was there. He and his wife left the town early on the morning of June 10th, around the time when the bodies were discovered.
- Frank F. Jones – Jones was an Iowa State Senator as well as a Villisca resident. Josiah Moore once worked for Jones at his store for many years prior to opening his own store. It is said that Moore’s store took away business from Jones’. While there is no supporting evidence, it is rumored that Moore had an affair with Jones’ daughter-in-law.
- William Mansfield – Another theory to the Jones’ idea is that he hired William “Blackie” Mansfield to murder the Moore family. Mansfield is believed to be a serial killer, as he killed his wife, baby, father-in-law, and mother-in-law two years prior to the Villisca Axe Murders. He committed axe murders in Paola, Kansas only four days before the Villisca crimes, as well as the double homicide of Jennie Peterson and Jennie Miller in Colorado. One of the key points in the suspicion is the fact that each of the locations of these crimes were all accessible via train; they are also connected by the fact that each of the murders were conducted in a very similar way. Mansfield was cleared by the Grand Jury of Montgomery County after his alibi checked out.
- Henry Lee Moore – Although the evidence against Mansfield was rather large, there was another axe murderer in the area named Henry Lee Moore (who, ironically, is not related to the victims). He had been convicted of murdering his mother and grandmother months after the Villisca Axe Murders. His weapon of choice was the axe. Nine months prior to the killings, similar cases occurred in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Ellsworth, Kansas, and Paola, Kansas. Since the crimes were quite similar, it is thought to be the same murderer.
- Sam Moyer – Josiah’s brother-in-law, Sam Moyer was known to have threatened to kill Josiah Moore often. However, his alibi cleared him from the crime.
In more modern years, a paranormal team investigated the house. They used a device known as a “ghost box” (which picks up words from spirits). They recorded these words:
- “Blood”, “Torture”, “Get out”, “Out now”, “Out”, “Not with me”, “Blackie”, “Henry”, “Frank”, “Hank” (the names of suspects), “Julz”, “Bob”, “Anthony”, “Roland”, “Jenny”, “Joseph”, “Sarah”, “Lena”, “Paul”, “Herman”, “Boyd” (the names of the victims)
In Popular Culture
- The house was featured on Most Terrifying Places in America.
- Forgotten USA. “Villisca Axe Murder House,” www.ForgottenUSA.com
- Paranormal Python. “Villisca Axe Murder House Investigation,” www.ParanormalPython.com
- Villisca Iowa. “Villisca Iowa,” www.VilliscaIowa.com
- Wikipedia. “Villisca Axe Murders,” www.Wikipedia.org