Villisca, IA

Who was the Villisca Axe murderer? The inside story.

Rooted Expeditions
The Villisca Axe Murders house.All Thats Interesting

Today's location may look just like any other old house. But this home has a very dark and graphic history to it. Eight people were found dead inside this home. Each one was brutally beaten with an axe. With few suspects at hand, this case has never been solved. Today we are going to look at this home and the history I dug up on this place. Due to graphic detail, reader discretion is advised.

But before we get started, if you are a fan of the abandoned, historical and strang locations and events, then you are in the right place. Hit that thumbs up, and lets get started into todays location.

In 1868, in the small town of Villisca, Iowa, architect George Loomis built this 913 square foot home. Which in that time period was an average size home. Today, the home is 2 stories, and has 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. The bathroom was added sometime in the mid to late 1900's.
Inside the Villisca house, the downstairs kitchen.360 Cities

In 1903, the Moore Family purchased the home. They would go on to live in the home for 9 years until the murders occurred in 1912.

Just before the murders, Josiah B. Moore, who was 43, was a hard working and well-respected businessman in the town Villisca, His wife was Sarah Montgomery, who was 39, was an active member in a local Presbyterian church that was right down the street from their home. They had 4 children; Herman, who was 11, Katherine who was 10, Arthur who was 7 and Paul being the youngest was 5.
The eight victims of the Villisca Ax Murders. The entire Moore family and two friends who were staying at the house.House and History

Now to better understand the story, let's look at the layout of the home dating back to 1912.

As you look at the front of the home from the driveway, you can see the porch that’s on the left side of the home. And as you walk up onto that porch, you walk in the front door and you are immediately in the kitchen. To the right, you can see a doorway that has a flight of stairs that goes up to the 2nd floor. To the left of that doorway is another doorway that goes into the Parlor room or living room. When in the living room, to the right, there is a small bedroom that is known today as the blue room. That is where the two Stillinger sisters, Ina - 8 and Lena - 12 slept when they came to stay the night when the murders took place.
The guest room where the Stillinger girls were killed. | Photo: Anna HiderRoad Trippers
Ina and Lena Stillinger.Docublogger

As you make your way up to the 2nd floor, you would walk up the narrow staircase until you got to the top where you would immediately be in the bedroom where the parents Josiah and Sarah Moore slept. And through another door would be the children's room where Herman, Katherine Moore, Arthur & Paul would sleep.
This is where the parents slept on the night they were murdered.KGGO

Standing just before the doorway of the children's room, if you look to the left you would see a small closet, and inside that closet was a doorway that would enter into the attic. The attic was a good size room with a lot of space. It also had the same type of the style windows that the Amityville house had back when the murders took place in 1975.
The room where the four Moore children were killed. | Photo: Anna HiderRoad Trippers
The Attic, the entry to the attic is right next to the parents room.Set-Jetter

Now since we have a better understanding of the family and the layout of the home, let's dive right into what happened.

On Sunday evening, June 9, 1912, the Moore family would attend a children's program that was at their church right down the street from the home. This program would include the children performing skits and showing the parents in the audience what they learned during the days they were in Sunday school. They would perform this program every year in the summer while the children were out of school.

After the children's program was over, 10 year old Katherine Moore invited her 2 good friends from church to stay the night, Ina and Lena Stillinger who where sisters. They would walk and make their way home about 10 pm that night and would hang out for a bit before all going to bed.

At 7 in the morning on Monday, the next day, June 10th, one of the neighbors Mary Peckham, noticed that the Moore family had not came outside to tend to their chickens they had in the back of the property, or even do any of their chores. In fact, there was no one moving about which was very strange and out of character for the Moore family, as the family was very active everyday.

Keep in mind, in a small town like this it was very common for neighbors to look out for one other. In small towns you kind of pick up on a people's routines. So when the Moore family were not moving around and didn’t seem to be in their routine, Mary their neighbor would head over to their house and knock on the door to make sure everything was alright. When she knocked on their front door, she would wait to hear a response… But, no one answered the door. She would call out "Is anyone in there?" and still there was no response.

Mary would try to open the door to walk inside the home, but the door was locked. This was usually in the small town, everyone would usually leave their doors unlocked. This town never saw a murder or robbery Really this town didn’t have much crime at all, so there was really no reason to lock their doors.

Since no one answered the door and Mary couldn’t get inside the home, she would contact Josiah's brother Ross. Even the Stillinger sisters parents called the Moore house several times trying to figure out why they were not home and ready for school.

Ross came by as fast as he could and when he got to the Moore families home he knocked on the door and shouted, " Hey its me Ross, is anyone home? Let me in." Just as before, no one answered. So as Mary and Ross stood on the front porch, Ross would then reach in his pocket and grab his spare key that he had and would unlock the front door. Ross then proceeded to walk inside the home as Mary stood on the porch by the front door.

Ross would walk through the kitchen and into the living room and saw that the door to the bedroom was closed. He would open the door and to his surprise, he would see the 2 Stillinger sisters Ina and Lena lifeless bodies laying on the bed in a pool of blood.

In a panic, Ross shouted to Mary, "call Hank Horton". Hank was the Marshall at the time.

When the Marshall, Hank Horton arrived he would search the whole house while Ross and a couple neighbors waited outside. Not long after Hank searched the home, he would come out of the house and approach Ross and tell him that everyone's dead.

This was devastating to Ross.
Local newspaper article from a few days after the murders took place.House and History

After Marshall Hank Horton searched and inspected the house, he would call the Doctor to come inspect and take care of the bodies. Horton would conclude that the 2 sisters and the Moore family of 6 were brutally beaten to death by an axe that was found in the first floor bedroom by the bed where the 2 sisters Ina and Lena were found along with a low burning lamp.

They found that all the windows, mirrors and the faces of the deceased bodies in the house had been covered by sheets and clothes. They also noticed that there wasn’t any blood that went from room to room. They did find one blood spot in between the parent's room and the children's room. But other than that, the blood was contained in each room. Along with a shoe that was in the parents room that looked like it filled up with blood and was knocked over causing blood to spill everywhere.

There were blood splatters all over the walls and ceiling and the beds were just drenched in the victim's blood. In the parent's room where Joe and Sara slept, there was a large gash in the wall on the side that Joe was sleeping on. Indicating that the killer had hit that wall as he was swinging the axe.

After inspecting the bodies, the doctors would claim that the murders would have taken place between midnight and 5 am. They would go on to find one clue that would really stand out to them. They found 2 cigarettes on the floor in the attic that had been smoked. The Moore family would of never gone inside that attic to smoke.

They also figured out pretty quickly that the killer was a man and was left handed by reviewing the blood splatter and the way the victims were struck with the axe. The town got together and pitched in money to quickly hire bloodhounds to sniff out a trail to find the killer. But they had no luck and were not able to find anyone.

How did it happen?
The murder weapon was left leaning against the wall in the bedroom of the Stillinger girls. The killer had attempted to clean the blade, howHouse and History

From the evidence shown, it was said that the killer had entered the home while the Moore family was out attending the children's program at their church.

The killer would wait quietly in the attic waiting for the Moore family to come home and go to sleep. As he was waiting in the attic, he was holding an axe that he had taken from outside the home that Joe used to cut up firewood. He also had a small lamp that would give off just enough light to see, but not too much light to light up the room.

Once everyone was asleep in the house, the killer would quietly open the attic door and make his way out of the attic through that closet and into the bedroom where Joe and his wife Sarah were sleeping. Lighting the way with the small slow burning lamp he had, he would set the lamp down on the dresser, grip the axe with both hands and strike Joe in the head. Then the killer would take the axe, turn the sharp end around and would hit Sarah with the blunt end in the head killing her.

Once they were deceased, the killer would pick up the lamp that was on the dresser and make his way into the children's room. He set down the lamp and he would take the blunt end of the axe and killed each child, 1 by 1, until they were all dead.

Then the killer would make his way back into Joe and Sara's room and would proceed to brutally slash them many more times. The killer brutally slashed Joe with the axe many times. So many times that Joe would not be recognizable. Joe would end up receiving more blows by the axe than any victim in that house.

The killer hit Joe so many times that as he was drawing the axe back he hit the wall behind him leaving a big indention. In the process, the killer had knocked over a shoe that was filled up with blood while he was killing the children in the other room.

After the children and parents were dead, the killer would quietly make his way downstairs lighting the way with the lamp.

When he got downstairs to the kitchen area, he would turn right and head into the living room area where he would head into the bedroom where Ina and Lena were sleeping. The killer would end up killing Ina first, again using the blunt end of the axe.

Then Lena woke up and in a panic would wrestle against her attacker. She put up a good fight, but was not able to fight off her attacker. The killer would beat and assault her before killing her with the axe.

After everyone in the house was dead, the killer would clean the blade of the axe and set it down next to the bed along with the lamp and cover up the 2 girls faces with the sheets then shut the bedroom door and proceed to cover up all the windows and all the mirrors in the house with sheets and clothes, along with covering the other victims faces with sheets, then left the house.

The Suspects
The Ax Murder suspects – Frank Jones, William Mansfield, Rev Kelly, Henry Moore.House and History

There were many suspects that the police looked at after the murders took place. But there were just a few suspects that really stood out in this case.

One of those suspects would be Reverend George Kelly, who was in town for a couple days. And, in fact, was at the church attending the children's program that the Moore Family and Stillinger sister were at on the night before the murders.
Traveling minister, Reverend Lyn George Kelly was one of the main suspects.House and History

Reverend Kelly was described as a strange man and had suffered a mental breakdown as a kid. Later on when he was an adult, he was accused on many occasions for spying on young women and girls and even went as far as to ask them to pose nude for him.

Kelly had left town between 5 and 5:30 in the morning on the same day the murders took place. So with evidence stacking against Kelly, he would actually confess to the murders in court. But the jury didn’t believe his confession.

Weeks after Kelly was found not guilty, he would show great fascination with the case and would send many letters to the police and to the family of the deceased. Almost as if he was trying to taunt them or to get attention. He went as far as giving great detail of what happened on the night of the murders, but since the jury found him not guilty, there was nothing they could do.

Then, two years after the murders in 1914, Kelly was arrested for harassing a young women who applied for a job as his secretary. He would be convicted and sent to a mental hospital.

Again investigators would speculate that they really think that Kelly could be the axe murder that killed the Moore family. Then 3 years later in 1917, Kelly was arrested again for the murder of the Moore family, and police were able obtained a confession from him. But when they would interrogate him further he would quickly deny and recant his statement regarding the murders of the Moore family. Then after 2 separate trials, Kelly was acquitted again and walked free.

Another suspect that could be a person of interest was a serial killer named Paul Mueller, who showed similar signs with his victims as the Moore family.
Believed to be Paul Mueller.The Line Up

Paul would use the blunt side of the axe rather than the sharp blade side to kill his victims. He would hide inside their homes and wait for them to fall asleep and then around midnight he would emerge and slay his victims with an axe. There was also evidence to show that he would assault younger girls.

Paul was also known to select families close to the railroad tracks so that he could make a fast getaway. From research it shows that Paul claimed the lives of 59 victims in 14 separate incidents.


Now there is another compelling theory to put a major twist in the story. It was said that senator Frank F. Jones, hired a serial killer to kill the Moore Family. The reason was that for a time Josiah worked for Frank Jones in a store and Josiah would then open a store of his own. It was said that Josiah took business away from Frank Jones and even had a very successful John Deere dealership. This made Frank very angry and on top of that, Joe was accused of having an affair with Franks daughter-in-law. There is no evidence to really show if that was true.
Frank F. Jones.Wikimedia

The killer that Frank was said to have hired was another axe serial killer. This killer would go by the name William Blackie Mansfield. William had very similar traits that the Moore family killer had. And if you looked at the murders from Moore family and the murders that William committed, you could quickly tell that it looked like the same killer.

Nine months before the murders of the Moore family, a similar case of an axe murder occurred in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Two axe murder cases followed in two different cities in Kansas. Other murders reported as possibly being linked to these crimes including several unsolved murders involving an axe.

The murders in Colorado Springs were closely related to those in the Moore family house. Four people were found dead, murdered with an axe and bed sheets were used to cover the windows to prevent people from looking in. At the Moore house, the killer hung clothes and sheets to cover the windows.

Just as in the Moore house murders, the killer in Colorado Springs wiped the blood off his axe and covered the faces of the victims with sheets.

When William was question, he had a solid alibi which would cancel him out as a suspect. But a witness did come forward stating that they saw someone that looked like William near the Moore home early that morning. If this was true, this would show that William was lying and he would possibly be the killer. There was also a strong belief that senator Frank had involvement leading to Reverend Kelly's arrest and tried to convict him of the crime of the Moore family.

The killer has never been found leaving this case unsolved and with many unanswered questions.

One more interesting fact that was stated was that Sam Moyer - Josiah's brother-in-law - would threatened to Kill Joe. But, when he was questioned, he had a pretty solid alibi that would clear him from the crime.

So with details laid out, what do you think happened. Do you think it was a random select killing? Or a planned killing from within the family? Let me know your thoughts below.

Three years after the murders, the property was sold to J.H. Geesman. Over the past 90 years, the property has hand many owners up until 1994, when Darwin and Martha Linn bought the property.
The house before being restored to its former glory. Notice both porches are closed in and the chimney stack between the windows is missing.House and History

Between 1936 and 1994 the property underwent remodeling including enclosing the back porch, adding a bathroom, along with plumbing and electric throughout the house. They also removed the old outbuildings and had them replaced.

The Linn's would go through a long and detailed process to bring the house back to how it looked before the night of the murders in 1912. They would use documented testimonies from early 1900's and pictures and would put everything back to the way it was. Even going as far as positioning the furniture in the same spot as it was in 1912.

Today, the home is used as a museum to take you back to the night before the murders. Making the home a true time capsule. You can tour the home for fairly cheap or if you dare you can even stay the night.

Would you explore this home? Or would stay the night here in this home alone?

Ok guys that does it for today's story. I hope enjoyed it if you did hit that thumbs up, Peace, I love you and as always God bless.
The house today, restored to look just like it did in 1912, with open porches and a new chimney stack.House and History

Primary Sources:

1. Wikipedia

2. All Thats Interesting

3. House and History

4. Docublogger

5. Rooted Expeditions

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If you're a fan of the abandoned, historical, and strange events and locations, then you're in the right place. I post videos and articles like what you see here every week. You can stay up to date on all my current content and updates on my YouTube channel. Link in bio.

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