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Horrifying Murders of Villisca, Iowa
In the early 1900s, Villisca, Iowa, was a quiet, sleepy little rural town. Community residents believed the name of their town meant "Pretty Place" or "Pleasant View." However, it was later discovered the Indian word "Wallisca" for their town, located in Montgomery County, possibly meant "evil spirits." The events on the night of June 9, 1912, lent convincing evidence to that translation.
On that night an unknown assailant, or assailants, entered the house of Josiah and Sarah Moore and brutally murdered eight people by hacking them in the face with an axe. The victims were the Moore’s, their four children, Herman, Katherine, Boyd and Paul and two young girls, Lena and Ina May Stillinger, who were sleeping over. Whoever committed the horrific crime disappeared after the murder and no apparent motive for the murders was ever found. There were a few suspects, including a traveling minister and a local businessman. But no one was ever charged.
The slain victims were found in their beds and had apparently slept throughout the entire ordeal. The attending coroner believed the killer returned to the bed of Josiah and Sarah to inflict additional blows. The axe used to brutally slay the family and two visiting girls was found in the downstairs guest bedroom, where the sisters Lena and Ina May had been. Faces of the deceased, along with the windows and mirrors in the house, were covered with either curtains, blankets, or clothing.
At that time, crime scene investigation wasn’t what it is today. Much of any incriminating evidence may have been destroyed by an estimated one-hundred people milling about the scene.
The investigation produced many possible suspects, including Reverend George Kelly, Frank F. Jones, William Mansfield, and Henry Lee Moore (no relation.) But, as the investigation progressed, they were all eliminated for one reason or another, although it was strongly felt several may have been guilty.
For instance, Reverend Kelly was said to be crazy. He was a traveling minister who was teaching at the Children's Day services on June 9, at the Moore family church. Kelly and his wife had quickly left the town early on June 10, the day the bodies were discovered. Despite this, he was never charged. Fourteen witnesses, all related to victims, testified on June 11, but no suspect was ever identified.
Then there was Frank Jones, a Villisca resident and Iowa State Senator. Josiah Moore had worked several years for Jones until he opened his own implement company in 1908. Apparently Jones had become extremely angry Moore had left his employ and managed to take away a very profitable John Deere franchise. Detective Wilkerson of the Burns Detective Agency openly accused Frank and his son Albert in court of hiring someone to kill Moore, which they both vehemently denied.
Many still believe Jones hired William “Blackie” Mansfield to murder the Moore family. Mansfield was the prime suspect of the Burns Detective Agency of Kansas City and Detective James Newton Wilkerson. The Wilkerson Investigation revealed the murders were committed by Mansfield.
According to Wilkerson, Mansfield was a cocaine addict and serial killer. Wilkerson also believed Mansfield was responsible for the axe murders of his wife, infant child, father-in law and mother in law in Blue Island, Illinois 2 years after the Villisca murders, Axe Murders committed in Paola, Kansas, 4 days before the Villisca murders and the murders of Jennie Peterson and Jennie Miller in Aurora, Colorado.
All of the murders had been committed in precisely the same manner. Wilkerson stated he could prove Mansfield was present in each of these places on the night of the murders. In each case, the murderer avoided leaving fingerprints by wearing gloves.
In 1916 Mansfield was arrested and brought to Montgomery County from Kansas City. Payroll records, however, provided an alibi placing him in Illinois at the time of the Villisca murders.
There was one other who was suspected…Henry Moore who was convicted of murdering his mother and grandmother with an axe several months following the Villisca incident. Nine months before the murders at Villisca, similar cases had occurred in Colorado Springs, Ellsworth, Kansas and Paola, Kansas. However, some town residents believed the murders were committed by someone passing through town on a train.
The house was originally built in 1868 and the Moore family purchased it in 1903. After the murders, the house went through the possession of eight people. In 1994 Mr. Darwin Linn and his wife purchased the property and successfully restored it to its original condition at the time of the murders. In 1998, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Prior to the renovation in 1994, there were several recorded paranormal occurrences in the house. Former tenants said they had seen the figure of a shadowy man with an axe standing at the foot of their bed. Another report tells of a closet door that opened and closed one evening. Later the same night, the tenants were seen fleeing the house, screaming.
There were additional reports of child tenants waking up to the sound of children crying. They often found their clothing strewn about the room. Their father was also said to have been sharpening a knife in the kitchen when it flew from his hands and stabbed him in the chest. The family immediately left the house and never returned.
Multiple paranormal investigations have been conducted at the house. The results strongly suggest the place is haunted.