It has been 111 years since eight people were brutally mur*dered in a Villisca home. The m*urders remain unsolved to this day.
Lora Castleman of Local 5’s Arkansas sister station learned more about the 100-year-old mystery surrounding the events of June 10, 1912.
Before their names were immortalized in the annals of true crime, the Moores were a regular Iowa family.
Johnny Houser, a tour guide for the Villisca Ax Mur*der House, stated, “Everyone adored them.” “Think of the family from your small hometown that everyone loves, everyone respects, and nobody has a problem with.”
The family patriarch, Josiah Moore, was 43 years old when he was mu*rdered. Sarah, his wife, was 39. The couple had four children: Herman (age 11), Mary (age 10), Arthur (age 7) and Paul (age 5).
On the night of the mur*der, Mary hosted a sleepover for two of her friends, Lena Stillinger (12) and Ina Stillinger (8).
What was supposed to be a night of celebration soon turned tragic.
Houser stated, “Everyone is in bed, just as they went to sleep.” Everyone adored them. And suddenly they awake to find that everyone is dead in bed.”
According to the website for the Villisca Ax Mu*rder House, it is believed that an unidentified assailant entered the Moore residence sometime after midnight on June 10 and mu*rdered all eight inhabitants.
Edgar Epperly, author of Fiend Incarnate: The Villisca Axe Mur*ders of 1912, stated, “All blows were delivered above the neck.” “This was true for each victim. They were wearing a face cloth, which was a piece of clothing that the m*urderer had seized. And the bed linens were pulled over that.”
Beyond the bodies, the abandoned scene was chaotic.
“The ax was left downstairs, raw bacon was on the floor, the mirrors were covered with sheets, there was food on the table, cigarette butts were in the attic, and there was bloody water,” said Houser. The crime scene was ruined by half of the town wandering around to observe it.
After the mu*rder, many residents of Villisca suspected that Iowa State Senator Frank F. Jones was the perpetrator.
“[Josiah] had been a clerk for FF Jones, Jones’s hardware and implement dealer,” Houser explained. And approximately five years prior to the mur*der, [Josiah] left and became a rival.
In the meantime, authorities were investigating a different suspect: Reverend George Kelly, a Presbyterian traveling minister.
“[He] was in Villisca the night of the mur*der,” stated Epperly. “He sent a shirt stained with blood to a laundry a week after the mur*der. There is a possibility that he was the perpetrator. It cannot be demonstrated to my satisfaction at this time.”
In 1917, Kelly was arrested and charged with mur*der. Kelly’s confession was later retracted prior to his trial.
Kelly’s initial trial resulted in a deadlocked jury. His second trial resulted in his exoneration.
William Mansfield and Henry Moore were also considered as possible suspects. Due to a lack of evidence, however, the majority of what historians know today is based on legend.
“It boils down to small-town gossip,” said Houser. “I mean, it makes no sense.”
In Villisca, where the Moore residence has been restored to its original condition at the time of the mu*rders, the memory of the eight victims lives on.
The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by Darwin and Martha Linn of Corning, Iowa.
The house is infamous as one of the most haunted locations in Iowa. Even the popular web series, Buzzfeed Unsolved, has covered the Villisca Ax Mu*rder House.
Those who dare may tour the Villisca Ax Mur*der House and even spend the night there. For additional details, please click here.