Villisca Axe Murder House
Written By: JEH
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Long before the popularity of serial killers and mass murders, a gruesome crime horrified the small town of Villisca, Iowa. Eight people, including six children, were murdered in the comfort of their beds and the safety of their home. A century later, the murders remain unsolved and Villisca Axe Murder House becomes one of the top haunted tourist attractions of all time.
The Bloody History of the Villisca Axe Murder House
In the early morning hours of June 10, 1912, an unnamed assailant entered the unlocked back door of the Moore residence, where the Moore family and two guests slept. First, the suspect crushed the skull of 43-year-old Josiah Moore by hitting him with an axe for at least 30 times. Then, Josiah’s wife, Sarah, suffered the same fate even before she had the time to wake up.
Leaving the couple dead in their room, the killer then bludgeoned the four Moore children, 11-year-old Herman, 10-year-old Katherine, 7-year-old Boyd, and 5-year-old Paul. After the gruesome deed, the killer proceeded to murder two house guests, Katherine’s friends, Lena and Ina Stillinger.
The next morning, their neighbors noticed that the lively family is unusually quiet. A concerned neighbor called Josiah’s brother to check on the family. When he unlocked the door, they found the Stillinger sisters’ bodies on the bed. While still in shock, Josiah’s brother managed to call primary peace officer Henry “Hank” Horton, who later found the rest of the bodies.
The Unsolved Axe Murders
Over time, many possible suspects emerged, including:
• William “Blackie” Mansfield – Arrested in 1916. Some people claimed that the daughter-in-law of a senator, Dona Jones, had an affair with Josiah Moore. So, investigators believed that Senator Frank Jones hired Mansfield to commit the murders.
• Reverend George Kelly – A traveling preacher. As per witness claims, Kelly was in Villisca on the night of the murders and his subsequent departure in the early morning hours of June 10th made him a prime suspect in the case. Reportedly confessed but only to mock investigators.
• Henry Lee Moore – A serial killer who also used axe to bludgeon several families in their sleep. Despite bearing the same surname as the victims, he is not related to the Moores.
• Andrew Sawyer – After the murders, he inexplicably became suspicious with crazed mutterings, making his employer nervous. He was later reported and detained due to his suspicious acts. However, he was later released after his alibi checked out.
Many more suspects were detained but none of them were ever convicted. Up to this day, no one knows who committed the horrifying murders.
Return to the Scene of the Crime
Over the following hundred years, the Villisca Axe Murder House had at least 8 new owners. But it was only in 1994 that the house underwent quite a transfiguration with the help of Darwin Linn and the Olson-Linn Museum. Using old photographs, they attempted to restore the house into its 1912 look. Also, they paid attention to every detail, from photos of the family to a piano against the southwest wall with two bird nests sitting at the top.
Then, Linn opened the house to visitors. Tours are given for $10 and a group of up to six can stay overnight at the house for $400. The house then gained a national reputation among people who believe in paranormal activities.
Is the Villisca Axe Murder House Haunted?
Both skeptics and phenomena-believers continue to debate whether or not the house is haunted. First, let us explore the reported hauntings that occurred in the murder house.
In 1999, a group of paranormal investigators visited the house and they declared the house was haunted. Also, they claimed that they could identify the suspect, who was supposedly talking directly to them. However, none of them were ever able to prove their findings.
Some guests say that they experience uneasiness in the house, while other people claim that the house is not haunted. But an event on November 7, 2004 continues to baffle skeptics and believers alike.
A paranormal investigator, identified as 37-year-old Robert Laursen Jr., was spending the night at the murder house. For unknown reasons, Laursen stabbed himself in the chest with an unknown object shortly before 1:00 AM. He was shortly rushed to a hospital and fully recovered. Up until this day, Laursen is unable to explain the strange happening.
Villisca Axe Murder House in Popular Culture
Due to the popularity of this sad yet intriguing crime, it is inevitable for the event to inspire countless films, TV shows, and books. The most notable shows/films that feature the house include:
• Ghost Adventures (paranormal reality television series)
• Scariest Places on Earth (paranormal reality television series)
• Most Terrifying Places in America
• Morning Ran Red by Stephen Bowman (book)
• Murdered in Their Beds by Troy Taylor (book)
• The Axe Murders of Villisca (2016 film)
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