“I’m afraid something awful has happened here.”
Those were the words of a horrified and shocked town Marshall, Hank Horton, on the afternoon of June 10, 1912 in Villisca, Iowa.
Sometime in the wee hours of June 10, 1912, someone brutally murdered all six members of the Josiah Moore family along with their two overnight guests. The six children and the two adults in the Moore home were bludgeoned to death with the Moore’s own axe; a poignant piece of this story. Here, in this beautiful and wholesome Midwestern landscape, the unthinkable occurred. In the town of Villisca, no one locked their doors and no one had a reason to fear or suspect anyone else, let alone a neighbor or someone that they saw every day. How ironic that Villisca is an Indian word meaning “pleasant view” or Pretty place.” After the murders, some came to believe that the town was actually named Wallisca, which is Indian for “evil spirit.” This very thought can send chills up your spine!
On the day of June 9, the Moore family had been gone all day at a church function. They walked home from church and arrived home around 10 pm. It is estimated that the killer murdered everyone between midnight and 5:00 am. The authorities thought that the killer was hiding in the attic, waiting for the family to arrive home. To say the murders were brutal is a gross understatement. Blood was everywhere, and the murders performed with such ferocity that there were gouge marks in the ceiling left by the upward swing of the axe. Everyone in the house had been bludgeoned while they were sleeping and bedclothes placed over their faces after they were killed.
There are many more puzzling and disturbing details about these murders. A neighbor had come to the house to see why the house was silent that morning and found the doors locked from the inside. The murderer had covered all of the mirrors in the house. The curtains were drawn on all of the windows but two, which did not have any curtains. These were covered with bedclothes. A pan of bloody water was on the kitchen table near a plate of partially eaten food. Strangely, there was a two pound slab of bacon wrapped in a towel placed on the downstairs bedroom floor, next to where the axe was set. Did the killer linger? If so, then why?
The problem with murder scenes prior to the middle of the 21st Century is that no thought was given to protecting the crime scene. Hundreds of people had been allowed to trample through the house. Items in the house were also repeatedly touched, handled and moved. What a horrid thought to know that hundreds of people walked through that house, touching items and gazing at the bloodied bodies. Some even took souvenirs! It’s easy to criticize the Villisca law enforcement officials for having no control over the crime scene. However, a crime and the resulting crime scene of this nature were unheard of and simply inconceivable in 1912. Crime scene processing didn’t exist then.
The Villisca house is reported to be filled with a very dark, evil energy. There have been many “ghost hunters” and paranormal investigators that have documented a great deal of activity in the house. In fact, there have been some investigators and visitors that have taken this oppression with them after leaving the house. This force has been a negative influence in their lives, affecting them and their families. Those few who have lived in the house have become physically ill upon returning to it. People who have toured the house and stayed overnight have reported seeing objects move. People also hear children crying and laughing.
There has been no justice for the Moore family or the Stillinger sisters. An unspeakable murder committed ages ago is sad enough, but when the perpetrator remains a mystery and is not brought to justice, it's more haunting and heartbreaking. The lack of conclusion or a resolution makes a crime so much more tragic. This may be why so many places where atrocities have taken place are considered to be haunted. Perhaps the Moore family and the Stillinger girls are still looking for justice, over one hundred years later?
The next time that you’re in or near southwestern Iowa, visit the Villisca House. Decide for yourself if it’s haunted or not. You can find many channels on YouTube as well, showing videos posted by visitors to the house. Additionally, there are a quantity of websites, books and films about the murders. If you’re so inclined, you can even stay a night or two in the house. It’s open for tours from March 2nd through October 31st, but is open all year long, seven days a week, for overnight stays. It's been placed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings and has been restored to its original condition by owners Darwin and Martha Linn, who also run the Villisca Museum. The Villisca axe murder house, now deeply carved into the Midwest’s historical topography, serves as a living history book for us.