Location: 508 E. 2nd Str., Villisca, Iowa Map
Villisca Axe Murders House in Villisca, Iowa is a famous site of a gruesome murder of the whole family that occurred here on June 10, 1912. It is one of most famous cold cases of mass murder in an American history. Despite lengthy investigation and many suspects the killer (or killers) of a Moore family and two Stillinger girls was not discovered. The house was constructed in 1868 and in 1903 Josiah and Sarah Moore moved here to expand their family.
The story of Villisca Axe Murders started on June 9th. Moore was a good and well- liked family in their community. Those who remember them say that their parents loved each other and took good care about their kids. A day before that faithful day parents of the family, Josiah or Joe (aged 43) and Sarah (aged 39) took their four children to Presbyterian church where they participated in the Children's Day Program. They celebrated end of the school year. Sarah Moore coordinated the program. This included Herman (aged 11), Katherine (10), Boyd (7) and Paul (5). It ended around 9:30 and families started to leave. Katherine Moore invited her two friends over their house. This included Lena (aged 12) and Ina (aged 8) Stillinger.
Herman Katherine Boyd Paul
We don't know what happened during night of June 9th and 10th,
but at 7am the next morning Moore's neighbor Mary Peckham
started to worry when she didn't see kids or any of the family
members outside. She went over and knocked on a door. It was
locked. Mary called Ross Moore, brother of Josiah Moore over to
their house. He opened the door and went on investigation, while
Mary stood outside. In the guest bedroom he discovered
bludgeoned bodies of Stillinger sisters. Moore told Peckham to
get peace officer, Henry "Hank" Horton. The murder weapon, an
ax, was discovered near bodies of the Lena and Ina Stillinger.
It turned out it belonged to a Moore family. Next to it Horton
discovered a four pound piece of slab bacon leaning against the
Medical autopsy concluded that the killing in Villisca Axe Murders House started somewhere after midnight when the whole family went to sleep. The killer or possibly killers started with a master bedroom of parents. Both Josiah and Sarah were killed while they slept. Josiah Moore got most of the blows. His face was completely mauled and his eyes were completely missing. Some suggested it might have been either due to extreme personal hate of a man or simply done by a scared person, who felt that the man of the house was the major threat. Whatever might be the case the murderer was swinging his axe wildly. He managed to hit the ceiling above the bed as he was dealing terrible blows on his victims.
From that point murders of the kids were systematic and horrific. They all were killed with 20 to 30 blows to the head. The killer also left some deep gauge marks on the walls and ceiling above beds of children as he tried to get maximum momentum for his blows. It seems that none of them woke up or realized what happened. The last people to be killed in the Moore household were Stillinger sisters. Lena it seems woke up to the noise of the outsiders in her room. She probably even tried to fight whoever came in to her room. Her body was found lying crosswise across the bed with her arms covered by wounds, which allowed detectives to suggest that she tried to defend herself with her arms as a killer was hitting her with an ax. Additionally her nightgown was pushed up to her waist and undergarments were missing. This lead to believe that the killer tried to rape little girl before killing her, but failed to do so. A part of the chain was also discovered nearby. It is believed to belong to a murderer who left it accidentally during struggle.
The case took everyone by surprise. No one ever heard of such violence toward the whole family. Bodies were disfigured, their faces gone. The whole scene appeared surreal to anyone who entered this house. Additionally, there were several oddities that were discovered around the house. In the kitchen a half eaten meal was discovered. A pan with bloody water stood next to it. A front room had its bed done for someone who was supposed to sleep here but didn't. A burning lamp with the chimney off was left at the master bedroom and in the guest room. Additionally, all the curtains on the windows were drawn. Two windows that didn't have curtains were simply covered by clothes of the family. All the mirrors were also covered with linens found in the closet. We still can't figure out whether it was a signature of a killer or was it simply an act of superstition. Many culture believe that all mirrors should be covered in a house of a recently deceased person. Faces of the victims were also draped by clothes. And to make thing particularly confusing for the police, all doors in the house were closed. We have no idea how the killer left the house after he committed these terrible crimes.
Burial of the Victims
There were several suspects in the case of these horrific murders. Below are just few names that were under suspicion.
Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly was a traveling Methodist minister. Many of the parishioners noted he strange behavior and unexplainable actions. Kelly suffered a mental breakdown in his youth after which he spent some time in the mental institution. Upon release he was caught sending inappropriate and suggestive items to several of people he came across. Some have suggested he was a paedophile, although he was never convicted for that. He was in the Presbyterian Church on June 9th and on June 10th he left the town early in the morning at 5:19am. Several witnesses, including one elderly couple, claimed that he made a reference to unfortunate souls that died in the town of Villisca. It is strange given the fact that the bodies were not even discovered yet. Two weeks later he returned to the town and sneaked inside the house posing as a detective. He was tried several times. At some point he even wrote a letter (on August 31, 1917) where he confessed to the murders. He claimed that God told him to kill the family so "suffer the children to come unto me". Eventually he was released and his confession letter ignored.
Frank Jones a resident of Villisca and also served as an Iowa State Senator. Josiah Moore had worker for Frank Jones for several years. Eventually he quit and started his own business. It was said at the time that new business of Josiah Moore basically forced Frank Jones out of business. Another rumour tied the head of the Moore family to Jones' daughter- in- law, Dona. However these allegations were dismissed for the lack of any clear evidence. Even thought Frank Jones had means and a motif to kill Josiah it is somewhat strange that senator would go as far as kill the rest of the family including innocent children.
William Blackie Mansfield was an alleged serial killer who killed his wife, infant child, and both his in- laws just two years after the murder in Villisca in 1914 in Blue Island, Illinois. Some suggested that he was behind murder in Iowa as well as axe murder in Paola, Kansas just four days before. All these murders were similar. An axe was used to kill his victims, bodies were severely disfigured and a burning lamp was left on a site of a gruesome murder. Furthermore mirrors were covered by clothes as well. And if you take in consideration extensive rail road system that existed in the country at the time it is plausible that he could move from city to city and kill random strangers. Additionally where have been rumours that Frank Jones hired Mansfield to kill the family. This was never supported by any type of credible evidence.
Andrew or Andy Sawyer was under suspicion of the police, but no evidence were collected to put a man on trial. He was a hobo and an outsider. This obviously rose suspicion among the locals. During inspection of the house detectives discovered half eaten meal in the kitchen of the house. Some suggested that the owners of the house invited a poor man inside, gave him food and possibly even allowed him to stay overnight. A bed in the front room was clearly made for someone. But no one slept in it. These are only theories, however. Andrew Sawyer was never charged.
The house changed hands several times after the murder. In 1994 Darwin and Martha Linn purchased this location and removed all modern additions including plumbing and electricity. Furniture, personal items and other possessions from the time period were brought in to keep an atmosphere of an American house in the early 20th century. Many people who visited this house claim to experience paranormal activity. They hear footsteps, shadow figures, strange gusts of cold wind and other signs of presence of supernatural forces. In some rear cases people reported attacks by an unseen force that left marks on people's skin without damage to the clothes themselves. Many people reported strange feeling in the attic of the house. This gave room to speculation that the murderer came to the house on June 9th before the family returned from their church at 10pm. Here he waited till the family will fall asleep until he began killing them.