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The Axe Murder House

Updated on June 27, 2016

Iowa is known for quaint country living as well as peace and quiet. In 1912, Villisca was a small town of only 2,500 residents. It was your typical small farming community where everyone knew each other and residents bonded over this close-knit feeling. However, that all could change in the blink of an eye.

In 1912 that peace and quiet was shattered when the entire family of Josiah Moore and two overnight guests were found murdered in a simple white, little farm house that still stands to this day.

The Night Before the Murders

On Sunday evening, June 9, 1912, Josiah, known by all in town as Joe, Moore and his wife Sara took their four children, Herman, Katherine, Boyd, and Paul to the Children’s Day service at the Presbyterian Church. Accompanying them were Ina and Lena Stillinger, who had asked their parents’ permission to stay overnight with the Moore children. The Children’s Day service was an end-of-the-year Sunday school program. This was a huge event in the town of Villisca. Sara Moore was a co-director and her children performed their little speeches and recitations along with the other Sunday school members. The service ended with a social gathering that lasted until at least 9:30 p.m. The family then walked the three blocks to there home and ended the night with cookies and milk. No one ever knew this would be the last time these eight people were seen alive.

Sometime during the night, probably around midnight or later, a killer or killers unknown picked up Joe’s axe from the back yard, entered the house, and bludgeoned to death all eight of its occupants.

The Next Morning

By 7:30 a.m. on June 10th, Mary Peckman, a neighbor to the west of where the Moore family lived, noticed that the home was eerily quiet, which was very unlike that home in the early morning hours. She gathered up her courage and called Joe's brother Ross, who was the local druggist. He arrived at the home around 8 a.m. and upon entering came across a grisly site of two individuals in the back bedroom covered in a sheet that was covered in blood. He retreated from the home very quickly and made the call to the local hardware store owner, Ed Selley to call the local Marshall, Hank Horton, because something "terrible" had happened.

Hank arrive around 8:30 a.m. and upon doing a dull search of the home announced, "There is a person dead in every bed."

This is when the horror was leaked to the town.

The Victims

  • Josiah Moore, age
  • Sarah Moore, age
  • Henry, age 11
  • Katherine, age 10
  • Boyd, age 7
  • Paul, age 5
  • Lena Stillinger, age 12
  • Ina Stillinger, age 8

Bizarre Murder Scene

The killer had added two bizarre touches to the murder scene. The first was a four-pound piece of slab bacon leaning against the wall next to the axe. The murderer also had searched dresser drawers for pieces of clothing to cover the mirrors in the house and the glass in the entry doors. On the kitchen table was a plate of uneaten food and a bowl of bloody water. The supposed murder weapon itself was found partially cleaned and leaning against the south wall of the bedroom where the Stillinger sisters were found.

The Witnesses

  • Mary Peckham
  • Ed Selley
  • Dr. J. Clark Cooper
  • Jesse Moore
  • Dr. F.S. Williams
  • Edward Landers
  • Ross Moore
  • Fenwick Moore
  • Lee Van Gilder and Harry Moore
  • Blanche and Joseph Stillinger
  • Charles Moore

The Suspects

  • William "Blackie" Mansfield
  • Reverend George Jacklin Kelly
  • Henry Lee Moore
  • Andy Sawyer
  • Joe Ricks

So Who Did It and Why?

To this day, this case has gone cold ever since the beginning. It's a shame to think that this grisly tragedy will never be solved and give the families involved peace and justice. It's one of millions of cold cases in the world today.

Some Interesting Folklore

When crimes like this occur, many speculations arise as to why and how this grisly murder was orchastrated. There have many that came to light since that horrid scene was discovered in Villisca. One piece of the folklore that I found truly puzzling came from here. It is quoted below.

"Council Bluffs, Ia., Aug. 21, 1912 -- C.M. Brown of Villisca, Ia., who is in this city, declares that the detectives at Villisca, working to solve the mystery in the recent murder of eight persons in Villisca have obtained a photograph of the murderer from the retina of the eye of one of the Stillinger sisters. The girl, circumstances at the time indicated, was the only one of the eight, all of whom were killed with a hatchet, who had awakened during the attack."

If this is in fact true, why hasn't the murdered be caught? Every horrendous crime comes with folklore and the questions always swirl at who may have done it. I could only wish these families find peace and justice in the coming years.

The Haunting

As many have speculated, there has been many talks of haunting moments and evidence captured in this stained home. Most persons who pass away at an untimely or grisly manner tend to not be at rest. The following videos highlight some of those who dared to venture inside and see if it was true or fake.

The Children Still Speak?

The Murder Weapon?

The video below is extremely long, but gets to the point of how a thing like this happened. According to the description of the link, "Dr. Epperly is considered the foremost authority on the 1912 Villisca Axe Murders. Dr. Epperly began researching the 1912 Villisca, Iowa axe murders as a college student. In 1955 he traveled to Villisca for the first time with two friends where they interviewed Dr. Cooper, the first physician to examine the victims and the crime scene. Dr. Epperly is a retired Professor of Education at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. His research into the crime is ongoing. He has written essays, articles, collected and compiled a photographic archive of the Villisca murder case now housed at the Iowa State Archives. Epperly is co-authoring a book with Tammy and Kelly Rundle on the famous unsolved Villisca axe murder and is the primary consultant on the documentary "Villisca: Living With a Mystery." This over-view of Villisca’s complex, tragic story was written by Dr. Epperly in 1996 and published in the July 1996 of the Violent Kin! newsletter."

Scariest Places On Earth

Newspaper Article

Tours of the Infamous Home

The Villlisca Axe Murder House is now quite a hotbed for paranormal researchers and thrill seekers alike.

According to the Official Website for the Villisca Axe Murder House found here;

"During the tour season which runs from MARCH 26TH - Oct 31, the house is open daily from 1:00 pm - 3:30pm, closing at 4:00 pm Tues thru Sunday CLOSED ON MONDAYS Walk-in tours of the house will be conducted on a first come, first serve basis. The last daily tour will start no later then 3:30pm. Cash Only for tours and merchandise >

The price for an individual daytime tour of the house is $10.00 per person 12 and over, Children 7-11 are $5, and seniors 65 and over are $5"

A markerThe Moore Family Home -
508 East 2nd Street, Villisca, IA 50864, USA
get directions

In a quiet town, no one knew what happened behind these doors. Many questions remained unanswered. Does a murderer still walk free?

In Closing...

This was a senseless crime with no real motive. Only a monster could wipe out an entire family and friends of that family. It saddens me to think that this may always be an unsolved case with no justice for the Moore and Stillinger families.

Poll Time! Poll Time!

Would you stay overnight in this haunted location?

See results

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    • CYong74 profile image

      Cedric Yong 17 months ago from Singapore

      Firstly, no way would I stay overnight in this house! LOL. Secondly, this is utterly fascinating to read. Thanks for sharing this gruesome unfortunate story.