One the morning of June 10, 1912, a small community in Villisca, Iowa awoke to find 8 of their own had been brutally murdered by an axe during the middle of the night. What once had been a peaceful community where everyone knew and trusted their neighbors, attended church together and left doors unlocked, changed forever on that bloody morning.
Joe B Moore (43), his wife Sarah (39), their four children, Herman (11), Katherine (10), Boyd (7), Paul (5) and two visiting children, Lena (11) and Ina (8) Stillinger were found in the early morning hours of June 10. All had been brutally murdered while they slept in their beds sometime between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. They had attended Children’s Day at their local church and arrived home about 11:00 p.m. the night before.
After the bodies were discovered and law enforcement arrived, the law quickly discovered that they had already lost control of the crime scene. Neighbors had already filed into the house to witness the carnage and contaminated any evidence that might have been useful. The murderer/murderers had covered all the windows and mirrors of the home, and had cover the victims with blankets and clothing. A long, black handled axe lay against the wall in the downstairs sewing room where Lena and Ina lay. The mutilation of Lena and Ina was so severe that they were identified by their personal Bibles which were left on the dresser in their room. A bloody pan of water was found in the kitchen along with a half eaten meal. Kerosene lamps were carefully placed at the foot of each bed in both the parent’s room and the sewing room. The chimneys of the lamps had been discarded and the wicks turned back.
Neighbors and law enforcement began to compile a list of suspects. No longer were doors left unlocked and everyone began keeping vigils at night to ensure the safety of their families. Accusations, rumors, and suspicion ran rampant. The state and neighboring counties sent in law enforcement agencies to assist with the thousands of interviews that took place, but the crime was never solved.
One of the prime suspects of the murders became Frank Jones, a very wealthy and powerful businessman. He was also a State Senator and very involved in politics. Joe Moore was once employed by Frank Jones but quit that job to open his own business. Jones and Moore soon became bitter business rivals. It was also rumored that Joe Moore was having an affair with the Senator’s daughter-in-law, Dona and this further aroused suspicion.
Another prime suspect was Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly who was a traveling minister, a peeping tom and a man with peculiar habits He had attended the Children’s Day Services at the Moore’s church on the night of the murders. He boarded a train during the early morning hours of June 10 and it was reported by an elderly couple, also on the train, that he talked about the murders before the bodies were discovered. Rev. Kelly confessed to the murders several years later, but charges were dropped after one trial ended in a hung jury and the 2nd jury acquitted him.
William Mansfield also became a suspect. He had recently been released from prison and was known to have associations with the other criminals. He became a suspect when his own wife, his infant daughter and his in-laws were murdered by an axe in Blue Island, Illinois in 1914. The murder scene in Blue Island was very similar to the Villisca murders. It was rumored that Mansfield was hired by Frank Jones. Similar axe murders had occurred in Kansas and Colorado in which Mansfield could be placed in these locations on the nights of those murders.
The house was originally built in 1868 and became the home of the Joe Moore family in 1903. Since the murders, ownership has changed hands several times. It was purchased by Darwin and Martha Linn in 1994 who have returned it to its original condition. All electricity and plumbing have been removed. Period furniture has been bought and placed as closely as possible to their reported positions on the night of the murders. Recent renovations have sparked reports of paranormal activity and have stirred an interest both locally and nationally. The house remains vacant but lamplight tours and overnights are available by appointment.
To learn more about the crime, the victims, suspects, and available tours, etc., please visit the Official Villisca Ax Murder House website located at www.villiscaiowa.com.
After the initial investigation conducted by MPR, we felt that this house may be one of the most haunted locations in the United States and that a possible intelligent residual haunting may be occurring.
UPDATE: After a return visit to Villisca on September 12, MPR verified their findings after the intelligent residual haunt, once again took place, with interaction, room changes and EVPs...and again, triggered by the whistle of the train.