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Are you thinking about visiting the very haunted Villisca Axe Murder House? Know what you’re getting yourself into, first.

Why is this house called the Villisca Axe Murder House anyway?

Our story begins with the Moore family. Josiah Moore (43) and his wife Sarah (39)  had four children. Herman (11), Mary Katherine (10), Arthur (7) and Paul (5). By all accounts, the townsfolk liked this family. Which is just a bit of a bummer, ya know? I mean. Does anyone deserve to be murdered with an axe? No, but I feel like when it’s someone unlikeable, like Andrew Borden for example, it’s kinda like eh—sucks to be him.

The Moore family seemed pretty decent though. John was a successful businessman, and he kind of made a name for himself. In a good way. He was well off, and also bonus points for him because he had a reputation for sharing what he had. He was the kind of guy who would always be willing to lend a hand. Honestly, it kind of sounds a bit like my dad. He’s a sweet baby angel.

The Moores were a good Christian family, for the record (I held my religious traumatized ass from writing that sarcastically). John and Sarah really had a strong spot in the community. I did read in a few spots that John had some enemies, but I guess you don’t get to be in a position where you’re successful without pissing someone off. That’s basically it—good people who had a shit end. Let’s get to the murder bit now! 

Photo courtesy of nonpareilonline.com

The Day of the Murders

Now, the morning of the murder was just like any other, but with an extra layer of excitement. The family’s local church hosted a children’s day. I think the children were doing some performances, but I really don’t know what all they were doing. I’m imagining there was singing, and maybe some games. This doesn’t really matter, but it matters to me. I want to have the full picture in my mind! I’m picturing Oh Brother Where Art Thou? You know—when he goes into town and his daughters are singing? It was a whole day affair. I bet there was a picnic. I’m thinking way too much about this children’s day, but the rest of this is awful.

It just sounds very picturesque. You know what I mean? Probably not hot as shit either. The day wrapped up around 9:30 p.m. and the Moore family headed home. The Moores brought two little girls home with them. They were Lena (12)  and Ida Stillinger (8). You know how it is when kids are having fun and want it to continue? Begging for sleepovers. So they were like yeah, sounds great, come on home with us and they walked the three blocks from the church to their house. I read that they all had milk and cookies when they got home. It sounds like a lovely day, and I bet all the kids were just excited and happy. Tired after a long day.  

The Horrific Axe Murders

Here’s where it gets terrible. And, this is why it’s called the Villisca AXE MURDER House. Bit of a bummer considering it’s the last time any of them would be seen alive again. I mean, It’s awful that any of them died, but can you imagine being the parents of those extra two little girls? I’d probably slowly torture myself with what ifs.

This scenario is literally like the scariest thing imaginable to me.

What if I had said no? What if… what if… what if. We don’t do many sleepovers. I don’t have anything against them exactly, but I also just don’t trust a lot of people with my kids. Plus, my kids got all of my anxiety. You’re welcome, children. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows they probably had a pretty nice last day of being alive. And hopefully they all slept through what happened to them. Right? Right. 

Sometime around midnight, probably, at least one person entered their house. This is why everyone needs a dog. Ok?! This scenario is literally like the scariest thing imaginable to me. Someone comes in at night while everyone is asleep. FUUUUCK that. That’s why I have a massive dog. The killer might have actually hidden in the attic and waited until the family went to sleep too though. There were two cigarettes found in the attic. Either way. Not a fan.

The killer went room by room and killed everyone in the house with an axe. And then covered the victims’ heads. Actually, I don’t know if they covered the victims’ heads before or after the murders. But, killers will do that to like… cover up what they did? 

Swinging that Axe

Our first episode was the Lizzie Borden case and I described Andrew Borden and the way he didn’t have much face left. Same situation here. The killer hit each of the victims 20-30 times from the BLUNT end of the axe. Actually, Josiah got the blade. Everyone else got the blunt side of the axe. Which like…why not use the blade side? Especially because the killer left marks in the ceiling where the axe hit. So like, if you’re f*cking swinging an axe up that hard…did it get stuck in the ceiling? Did he have to like yank it out of the ceiling to carry on? I probably didn’t need to say that bit. I just needed you all to get a good picture of what it’s like in my head.

As if that wasn’t weird enough…

Apparently after he killed everyone, he went BACK to the master bedroom and hit Josiah and Sarah some more. He knocked over a shoe filled with blood. Which is a gross mental picture. Another weird thing? The killer pulled all the blinds down. That’s not weird because obviously he’s trying to cover up what he did, BUT what is weird is that he also covered up all of the mirrors, and the windows that didn’t have blinds, as well as the glass entry doors. He used pieces of clothing to cover everything up. I wonder though—if someone felt guilty enough to cover all the windows and mirrors, why didn’t they end up confessing?

Then, the killer left a four-pound piece of slab bacon leaning against the wall next to the axe. Gross! It was wrapped in a cloth. And seriously, nothing good comes from bacon being found where it’s not supposed to be found. Ok? Ok. Bacon doesn’t belong in a bedroom, much less a room with dead bodies. 

Someone—the killer?—left a plate of uneaten food and a bowl of bloody water on the kitchen table. Like maybe after all that murder he was hungry and sat down to eat. Washed his hands off first. But then he didn’t eat. 

Have you visited the Villisca Axe Murder House? Share your photos with us and they may be included in this article!

The Tragic Aftermath

The next morning, they found the bodies. The Moore family were early birds and they were hard workers. They definitely wouldn’t ignore their laundry like I do. Their neighbor, Mary Peckham, noticed the family wasn’t up and about like normal. She called Josiah’s brother and was like, “heeeeyyyy, something seems off.” Even though it was only 7:30am.

Before she called Josiah’s brother, Mary tried to go in and check on them. Wikipedia mentioned the door was locked. Lock your f*cking doors people! But also. Wait. If all of the doors were locked, how did the killer get out? Maybe through a window? I need to know this. Then, she let their chickens out and called Josiah Moore’s brother, Ross who came over. He used his key to get in and found the bodies.

Finding them like that must have been horrible. Ross found the two girls downstairs. He saw them covered with the sheet and saw there was blood on the bed frame. Naturally, he panics and runs out saying something horrible has happened and asks the neighbor to call the sheriff. 

Meanwhile, Ross calls an employee, I think, of the family and is like “hey come down here something super wrong.” His name is Ed. Poor Ed.

So Ross is like “hey man, I can’t go back in there.” Ed goes in and comes running back out, and is like “yup. Everyone is super f*ckin dead.”

The funeral

Their funeral was a huge deal. Thousands of people came to pay their respects, and unfortunately it had to be closed casket. Not much you can do to fix that kind of damage.

Villisca Axe Murder House
From The Day Book, Chicago, June 14, 1912. Image sourced from Chronicling America

The Suspects (P.S. This Crime was Never Solved!)

There is a long list of suspects, and honestly it would take way too long to cover them all. I picked three, but you can read about the rest of them wherever you please! 

Reverend Lynn Kelly

First of all, we’ll examine an asshole named Reverend Lynn Kelly. He left Villisca on a train at 5:15am on the day the bodies were discovered, and he was telling people that eight people had been found brutally hacked up while they slept. Which like ok, that’s some hot 1900s gross right there. EXCEPT, the bodies hadn’t been found yet. So how did this f*cker know they were there?!

Reverend Kelly is just a really problematic person. He has a history of being a peeping tom, and at one point stayed in a mental hospital and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Also, apparently he put classified ads out for a secretary who was willing to work in the nude. Sooooo. Yeah.

Some Big Dick Energy Going On

Kelly got into Villisca the day of the children’s day thing. He went and watched the performances and everything. Then this guy comes back two weeks later and is like hey, I’m a detective! And he joined in a tour that was being given to a group of detectives. I just feel like, listen, we should have lived in the early 1900s. IF we were men. If we rolled up with this much big dick energy and were like yeah, I’m a f*cking doctor. I’ll fix you right up! Who would even know? THIS is the kind of confidence I need. “I’m a badass and I can do whatever the fuck I want to do.” Ok. Let’s be men from the 1900s from now on.

He put classified ads out for a secretary who was willing to work in the nude

A Confession and then a Retraction

Another thing he did, he wrote a shit ton of letters to investigators. Just being weird AF really. The letters were just bizarre, and honestly he’s popping up everywhere being sketchy as can be. He did sign a confession at one point, he said that God told him, “suffer the children to come unto me” which. Gross. But then he recanted that.

Next, he was put on trial, but the first jury couldn’t decide. So they had to do it all again with a new jury, and that jury also was like, “We don’t f*cking know” So he was acquitted. I mean, this guy should have definitely been on everyone’s “watch out for this guy” list, but there really wasn’t any actual evidence tying him to the scene. 

Frank F. Jones

Frank F. Jones is another suspect. He was a high profile kinda guy in Villisca. Jones was also a senator, and Josiah Moore worked for him at Jones’ general store for like forever. Then, one day Josiah was like “heeeyy, so I’m quitting and also I’m opening up my own store right down the street from you.” So naturally, Jones was pissed.

Jones was never arrested, and honestly, I feel like that’s mostly just speculation. I don’t know though. He could have technically hired someone, and a lot of people think that he did hire someone named William Mansfield, who actually WAS a serial killer….and he liked to kill people with axes.

Another big mark against this guy? Mansfield covered all the windows and mirrors of his victims’ homes with sheets or clothes! Sounds like a pattern if you ask me. He also wore gloves while killing his victims. Apparently they found his fingerprints somewhere, but I wonder like… it couldn’t have been easy to get copies of finger prints in the 1900s, right? Also, someone else said they saw William Mansfield boarding a train after the murders, too. Soooo. Idk. I mean. He was for real a serial axe murderer. 

Henry Moore

BUT THEN. there is another serial killer. Is it just me or is this too many serial killers for one place? So, one of the investigators thought it was this guy Henry Moore. They weren’t related…they just have the same last name. A few months after the Villisca house murders, this guy Henry Moore killed his mother and grandmother…with an axe. And he ALSO covered the windows and mirrors. PLUS he covered his victims’ faces. He wasn’t charged for the Villisca murders—investigators only thought about this guy because of the similarities between the two cases.

Visiting the Villisca Axe Murder House today

Now, the house is now used as a tourist destination. For the low price of $428 to spend the night at the home, which has no electricity or running water, according to its website. It’s naturally a draw for paranormal investigators and true crime lovers. I’m BOTH! Come sleep in a creepy ass house with me. We’ll need to bring portable phone chargers though. We’ll get lost on our way out of town if our phones die and we have no GPS. Then again, if I’m driving we might get lost anyways.

Is the Villisca Axe Murder House haunted?

As you can imagine, plenty of creepy things happen in this house today. Tour guides, visitors, and investigators hear whispers and footsteps. A lot. People see shadows and catch them on camera. Rumor has it that if you don’t believe in ghosts, you will after spending the night at the super haunted Villisca Axe Murder House. Ghost Adventures even went there (S 4, E6), so you know it’s gotta be somewhat famous for his haunted-ness.

In fact, a few years ago, a “recreational paranormal investigator” stabbed himself in the chest when visiting the house with a group of friends. He went into the northwest bedroom by himself and then, next thing you know, he’s radioing his friends for help. The wounds were pretty bad—he had to be flown to Omaha for treatment. Which is why you never break the first rule of Ghosthunting Club: Never wander off by yourself!

Listen to an episode about a haunted house in Iowa

What the locals think of all this haunted Villisca Axe Murder House stuff

According to local reports, many of the residents of the small town of Villisca, Iowa, aren’t that keen on all the visitors that schlep through the town looking for ghosts or getting their true crime fix. Some locals think it’s improper to exploit the deaths of the Moore family and their friends, and hate that the town is famous for such a heinous crime. So, you may get the stink eye from the townsfolk if you go to check it out.

We used Mediumship to Delve Deeper

While we recorded our episode, my partner Tera did tap in to see what information she could get about the case. What she got was more confusing than the long list of suspects. Basically,  we think there were multiple pieces to this puzzle happening all at once. Tera thinks it’s entirely possible that William Mansfield WAS hired to kill the Moore family, but at the same time Reverend Kelly was there being a perv.

Someone set up an extra guest bed set in the living room and we couldn’t figure out why. The Stallinger girls were sleeping in the guest room, so who was this extra bed for? It’s possible that the Moore family offered Reverend Kelly a place to stay. If that’s the case, we think it a likely scenario that William Mansfield hid in the attic. Perhaps, Reverend Kelly was sneaking around being a total weirdo, and ended up hiding himself away and witnessing. There are several loose strings to this theory, but to be perfectly honest, this is a case we didn’t want to dive too deep into!

Thanks for reading this terrible story! 


Karly and Tera 

Visit the official Villisca Axe Murder house site at https://www.villiscaiowa.com/


2 thoughts on “The Haunted Villisca Axe Murder House

  1. I grew up about an hour away and went to the house in high school. Writing up something to record and send you about the experience. Every few years I get the urge to go back there, and then go “nope, nope!” I don’t want to say the house possesses you when you enter, but I’ve never felt anything else like it. Even from the street, you can feel it pulling you in, and my friends and I found it very hard to leave.

    1. Ooh, that’s really creepy! Did you notice it pulling on you before you went in for the first time, or only after you’d gone inside?

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