The Unsolved Villisca Axe Murders Still Haunt This Iowa House

Villisca was a close community in Iowa, United States, but everything changed on June 10, 1912, when the bodies of eight people were discovered. The Moore family and their two overnight guests were found murdered in their beds. Over a century years later, no one has been ever convicted of the crime, and the murders remain unsolved to this date.

The Villisca Axe Murder House © Flickr

Whatever happened At The Small Villisca House That Night, It Shook Community To Its Core!

The Villisca Axe Murder House And The Victims © Wikipedia

All is known is that Sarah and Josiah B. Moore, their four kids Herman, Catherine, Boyd and Paul and two of their friends Lena and Ina Stillinger walked home after a children’s program at their Presbyterian Church at around 9:30 pm on June 10, 1912. The next day, a concerned neighbour Mary Peckham noticed the family was strangely quiet most of the day. She didn’t see Moore leave for work. Sarah wasn’t cooking breakfast or doing chores. No sounds of their children running and playing. She examined the house, looking for signs of life prior to calling Josiah’s brother, Ross.

When he arrived, he unlocked the door with his set of keys and along with Mary, began searching for the family. When he discovered the bodies of Ina and Lena, he told Mary to call the Sheriff. The rest of the Moore family were found upstairs brutally murdered, all their skulls were crushed by an axe that was later found in the house.

The Crime Scene

The news spread fast and it has been said that hundreds of people wandered the house before the Villisca National Guard arrived to regain control of the crime scene but not before they touched everything, stared at the bodies and taking souvenirs. As a result, all potential evidence was either contaminated or destroyed. The only known facts regarding the scene of the crime were:

  • Eight people had been bludgeoned to death, presumably with an axe left at the crime scene. It appeared all had been asleep at the time of the murders.
  • Doctors estimated the time of death as somewhere shortly after midnight.
  • Curtains were drawn on all of the windows in the house except two, which did not have curtains. Those windows were covered with clothing belonging to the Moore’s.
  • All of the victims’ faces were covered with bedclothes after they were killed.
  • A kerosene lamp was found at the foot of the bed of Josiah and Sarah. The chimney was off and the wick had been turned back. The chimney was found under the dresser.
  • A similar lamp was found at the foot of the bed of the Stillinger girls, the chimney was also off.
  • The axe was found in the room occupied by the Stillinger girls. It was bloody but an attempt had been made to wipe it off. The axe belonged to Josiah Moore.
  • The ceilings in the parent’s bedroom and the children’s room showed gouge marks apparently made by the upswing of the axe.
  • A piece of a keychain was found on the floor in the downstairs bedroom.
  • A pan of bloody water was discovered on the kitchen table as well as a plate of uneaten food.
  • The doors were all locked.
  • The bodies of Lena and Ina Stillinger were found in the downstairs bedroom off the parlour. Ina was sleeping closest to the wall with Lena on her right side. A gray coat covered her face. Lena, according to the inquest testimony of Dr. F.S. Williams, “lay as though she had kicked one foot out of her bed sideways, with one hand up under the pillow on her right side, half sideways, not clear over but just a little. Apparently, she had been struck in the head and squirmed down in the bed, perhaps one-third of the way.” Lena’s nightgown was slid up and she was wearing no undergarments. There was a bloodstain on the inside of her right knee and what the doctors assumed was a defensive wound on her arm.
  • Dr. Linquist, the coroner, reported a slab of bacon on the floor in the downstairs bedroom lying near the axe. Weighing nearly 2 pounds, it was wrapped in what he thought maybe a dishtowel. A second slab of bacon about the same size was found in the icebox.
  • Linquist also made note of one of Sarah’s shoes which he found on Josiah’s side of the bed. The shoe was found on its side, however, it had blood inside as well as under it. It was Linquist’s assumption that the shoe had been upright when Josiah was first struck and that blood ran off the bed into the shoe. He believed the killer later returned to the bed to inflict additional blows and subsequently knocked the shoe over.
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Suspects

There were many suspects. Frank F. Jones was a prominent resident of Villisca and a senator. Josiah B. Moore worked for Jones until he opened his own company in 1908. Jones was considered one of the most powerful people in Villisca. He was a man who didn’t like to be “defeated” and was upset when Moore left his company and took the John Deere franchise with him.

There were also rumours that Moore was having an affair with Jones’ daughter-in-law, but nothing was ever proven. However, it was a distinct motive to Jones and his son Albert. Many have suggested that William Mansfield was believed to have been hired by Jones’ to carry out the murders. He was arrested and later released after payroll records showed he was in Illinois at the time of the murders ― a powerful alibi.

Revered George Kelly was a travelling salesman who supposedly confessed to the crime on a train heading back to Macedonia, Iowa. He claimed the reason for killing them derived from a vision telling him to “slay and slay utterly.” He was arrested on unrelated charges and eventually was sent to a mental hospital. His obsession with the murders and numerous letters sent to law enforcement made him appear as a viable suspect. However, after two trials, he was acquitted.

There was a common belief a serial killer may have been responsible for the murders and Andy Sawyer was the number one suspect tied to this theory. He was a transient fingered by his boss on a railroad crew as knowing too much about the crime. Sawyer was also known to sleep and have conversations with his axe. He was brought in for questioning but was released when records showed he was in Osceola, Iowas on the night when the murders took place.

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The Villisca Axe Murders Remain Unsolved To This Day

Almost 100 years later today, the Villisca Axe Murders remain an unsolved mystery. The murderer or murderers are probably long dead, their gruesome secret buried with them through this long period. In hindsight, it’s easy to blame the officials at the time, for what could only be considered a gross mismanagement of what little evidence may have remained.

It’s important, however, that we also realize that in 1912 ― fingerprinting was a fairly new venture, and DNA testing unimaginable. Although a local druggist had the forethought to attempt to enter the crime scene with his camera, he was promptly thrown out.

It is quite probable that even if the crime scene had been secure, the evidence would not have provided any real clues. There was no central database of fingerprints so even if any had been recovered, the murderer would have had to have been apprehended for a comparison. Granted, prints may have either convicted or cleared Kelly and Mansfield. Frank Jones, however, was suspected only of masterminding the plot, not actually committing the murders himself. Fingerprints would not have exonerated him.

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Hauntings Of The Villisca Axe Murder House

Over the years, the house had escaped many hands of the owners. In 1994, Darwin and Martha Linn had purchased the house in an effort to preserve and save it from being razed. They restored the house, turning it into a museum. As much as the Moore family home became a part of American crime history, it also has a place in ghost legend.

Ever since the house was opened to overnight visitors, ghost enthusiasts have flocked to it, seeking the strange and the unusual. They witnessed the sounds of children’s voices when no children were present. Others have experienced falling lamps, feeling of heaviness, sounds of dripping blood, moving objects, banging sounds and a child’s bloodcurdling laughter from nowhere.

There are those who lived in the house who say they never experienced anything paranormal. No ghosts at all were believed to be inhabiting the dwelling until 1999 when Nebraska Ghost Hunters labeled it “Haunted”. Some believe the house gained it’s status after the Sixth Sense gained popularity.

Haunted Villisca Axe Murder House Tour

Today, the Villisca Axe Murder House is served as a popular haunted tour destination in the United States. Many are now spending day or night to either solve the notorious murder mystery or to experience unnatural something in the house. Want to see for yourself? Just take a tour.

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