The Villisca Axe Murder House is a notorious historical site in Villisca, Iowa in the United States where a gruesome and unsolved murder occurred on the night of June 10, 1912. The house, located at 508 East 2nd Street, has since become a popular tourist destination and a subject of fascination for true crime enthusiasts.
1. Details of The Entire Family Who Lived in This House
The Moore entire family consisted of Josiah B. Moore, his wife Sara, and their four children: Herman, Katherine, Boyd, and Paul. They lived in the Villisca Axe House, located in Villisca, Iowa.
Josiah B. Moore was a prominent businessman in Villisca and was well-respected in the community. He was also a member of the Presbyterian church and served as an elder. His wife, Sara, was described as a loving mother and active member of the church. Their four children ranged in age from 5 to 11 years old at the time of their deaths.
Herman Montgomery Moore, the oldest child, was born on February 3, 1903. He was a well-liked student at Villisca High School and was active in sports. Katherine Lucille Moore was born on October 19, 1904. She was known for her love of music and was a talented singer. Boyd Clifford Moore was born on May 24, 1906. He was described as an active and curious child who loved to explore. Paul Vernon Moore was born on August 14, 1908. He was the youngest of four children and was known for his sweet and kind nature.
The two young girls who were staying overnight with the family were Ina Mae Stillinger, age 8, and her sister, Lena Gertrude Stillinger, age 12. They were the daughters of Joe and Sarah Stillinger, who owned a local grocery store. The girls spent the night with the Moore family because they had attended the Children’s Day Program at the Presbyterian church earlier that evening.
2. The Villisca Axe Murders: A Unsolved Crime
The Villisca Axe Murders is a famous unsolved crime that occurred on the night of June 9, 1912, in the town of Villisca, Iowa, USA. The crime took place in the Moore family home, which was a modest two-story house where Josiah and Sarah Moore lived with their four children and two visiting children.
On the evening of June 9, the family attended the Presbyterian Church’s Children’s Day program, which was an annual event in the town. They returned home around 9:45 p.m. and went to bed soon after. At some point during the night, an unknown assailant entered the house and brutally murdered all eight occupants with an axe.
The victims were Josiah Moore, age 43; his wife Sarah, age 39; their children, Herman (11), Katherine (10), Boyd (7), and Paul (5); and two children who did overnight stays, Lena and Ina Stillinger, who were ages 12 and 8, respectively.
All of the victims suffered multiple blows to the head, and the murder weapon, an axe belonging to the Moore family, was found in the guest bedroom where the Stillinger girls were sleeping.
The killer also covered the mirrors in the house and placed a piece of cloth over Josiah Moore’s face, as well as clothing over the faces of the other victims. There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing appeared to have been taken from the house.
The crime was discovered the next morning when a neighbor noticed that Moore’s house was tranquil and went to investigate. The neighbor found the bodies of the eight victims, all of whom had been bludgeoned to death with an axe. The murder weapon was found at the scene, but the killer was never identified.
The murders shocked the community of Villisca and became the focus of a high-profile investigation. However, despite multiple suspects and several trials, the case remains unsolved to this day. The house where the murders occurred, known as the Villisca Axe Murder House, has since become a popular destination for paranormal investigators and tourists interested in true crime.
3. Discovery of The Crime
The Moores’ neighbor Mary Peckham got concerned at 7 a.m. on June 10 when she saw that the family had not come outside to perform their morning duties. Peckham rang the Moores’ doorbell. She attempted to unlock the door after hearing no response but found that it was locked.
Peckham contacted Ross Moore, Josiah’s brother, and let the Moores’ chickens out. Like Peckham, Moore shouted and banged on the door but got no answer. Ross used his duplicate house key to unlock the front door. Ross entered the parlor and unlocked the guest bedroom door, where he discovered Ina and Lena Stillinger’s bodies on the bed, while Peckham remained on the porch.
When Henry “Hank” Horton, Villisca’s chief peace officer, arrived shortly after, Moore quickly instructed Peckham to contact him. The Moore family as a whole as well as the two Stillinger girls had all been bludgeoned to death, according to Horton’s search of the home. The Stillinger sisters were discovered in the guest room where the murder weapon, an axe belonging to Josiah, was discovered.
Doctors determined that the murders occurred between midnight and five in the morning. Two used cigarettes in the attic suggested that the killer or killers calmly waited there until the Moore family and the Stillinger visitors were fast asleep (although no smokes were discovered).
In the master bedroom, where Josiah and Sarah Moore were resting, the murderer or murderers first struck. Josiah was the victim who took the most hits from the axe; his face was so badly damaged that his eyes were gone. The murderer’s lifting of the axe to kill him left a gouge mark on the ceiling of his room.
Josiah was struck by the axe’s blade, while the other victims were struck by the blunt end. After their parents, Herman, Mary Katherine, Arthur, and Paul received the same headbutt. The killer then moved downstairs to the guest bedroom and killed Ina and Lena.
After returning to the master bedroom to continue beating the elder Moores, he or she knocked over a shoe that had become bloody. A 4 lb slab of bacon was apparently taken out of the refrigerator later and placed next to the axe. During their investigation, investigators also discovered unopened food and bloodied water.
With the exception of Lena Stillinger, investigators thought that all of the victims had been asleep when they were killed. She was discovered lying crosswise on the bed with a defensive wound on her arm, indicating that they believed she was conscious and trying to fight back.
Lena’s nightgown was pushed up to her waist and she had no undergarments on, which led police authorities to believe that the killer or killers either attempted or committed sexual molestation on her.
4. Who Were Investigated?
Knowing the fact that the killer or killers who were involved in the murders were never identified.
Reverend George Kelly, Frank F. Jones, William Mansfield, Loving Mitchell, Paul Mueller, and Henry Lee Moore were among the numerous suspects who eventually came to light (no relation). Kelly faced two murder trials. While the second trial resulted in an acquittal, the first trial ended with a deadlocked jury.
The investigation’s other suspects were also cleared. Apart from this, the following people were investigated regarding this case-
- F.F. Jones: Iowa State Senator and friend of the Moore family who initiated the investigation.
- James Newton Wilkerson: Private detective hired by F.F. Jones to investigate the case.
- William J. Burns: Private detective who had previously worked for the Secret Service and was hired by F.F. Jones to investigate the case.
- Oren Jackson: Montgomery County Sheriff who was involved in the investigation.
- Hank Horton: Deputy Sheriff who was involved in the investigation.
- John Black: Iowa State Senator who led a legislative investigation into the murders.
- George Wilkerson: Brother of James Newton Wilkerson and private detective who was also involved in the investigation.
- Frank Jones: Businessman and rival of the Moore family who was initially suspected of being involved in the murders.
- Reverend George Kelly: A traveling minister who was arrested and tried for the murders, but ultimately acquitted.
- Journalists from local and national newspapers reported on the case, including the Des Moines Register and the Kansas City Star. It’s worth noting that there were likely many other individuals who were involved in the investigation to varying degrees, but these were some of the key players in the case who were investigated.
5. Can Tourists Visit This House?
After the murders, the house was sold and passed through various owners over the years. In 1994, the house was purchased by Martha Linn, who restored it to its original condition and opened it to the public for tours.
Guests can tour the historic house and discover more about the horrible events that took place there in 1912 by going to the Villisca Axe Murder House. Visitors may view a lot of the original features and furniture because the house is decorated to look the way it did at the time of the killings.
Both guided and self-guided tours of the house are available. Visitors can take a tour of the house and see all the rooms, including the living room, kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms where the killings occurred. Information on the murder investigation and the suspects under consideration at the time is also included in the tour.
Many guests are drawn to the house for its reputation as a paranormal hotspot in addition to the historical side of the tour. Strange things have reportedly happened in the residence, and some guests have reported having ghostly encounters. The house is open for overnight stays and paranormal investigations for people who are interested in the supernatural.
It is not advised that anyone spend the night at the house since it is thought to be haunted by the ghosts of the deceased family and the murderer. Yet, there have been instances of individuals visiting the site and claiming to be related to the family that once resided there.
The identities of the victims and their living family members were not made public at the time of the crime, therefore it is vital to keep in mind that it is difficult to confirm whether someone claiming to be related to the family is speaking the truth. Also, it is not advisable to remain inside the house owing to possible threats to one’s safety and wellbeing.
It should be noted that the Villisca Axe Murder House is a historic location, and guests are urged to show respect for both the home’s historical significance and the horrific incidents that took place there. Visitors are urged to enter the house with sensitivity and respect as it serves as a solemn reminder of a horrible catastrophe.
6. “The Axe Murders of Villisca”: A Movie
A 2016 horror film called “The Axe Murders of Villisca” is partially based on the unsolved Villisca murder case. Alex Frnka, Robert Adamson, and Jarrett Sleeper feature in the Tony E. Valenzuela-directed film.
In 1912, a family of six and two young house guests were brutally murdered with an axe as they slept in their beds in the little Iowan hamlet of Villisca. The killings were unsolved, and the crime scene was well-known for being violent and horrifying.
In order to see the spirits that are rumored to haunt the location, a group of teens goes to investigate the now-abandoned house where the murders occurred. They spend the night in the house and soon realize that it might be more dangerous than they ever imagined as they start to experience strange and terrifying phenomena.
You can watch this movie on Amazon Prime.
The movie is loosely based on the actual Villisca axe murders but is mostly a work of fiction and takes certain liberties with the truth. While some reviewers have praised the atmosphere and horrors in the film, others have questioned its pacing and lack of creativity.
The Villisca Axe Murder Mansion still serves as a chilling and tragic memory of a heinous crime that rocked a tiny community and has remained in the public’s consciousness. The identity of the murderer is still a mystery, and the case hasn’t been solved despite countless inquiries over the years.
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