Villisca Ax Murder House
Updated: Jul 14
On Saturday, April 6, 2019, the Haunted Nebraska team visited the Villisca Ax Murder House in Villisca, Iowa. During our overnight stay in the house, we took the tour and conducted a paranormal investigation.
Before we begin, I would like to share the history behind the gruesome unsolved murders.
Around 5:00 a.m. on the morning of June 10, 1912, Mary Peckham stepped into her backyard to hang laundry only to notice that her next door neighbors, the Moore family, had not yet awakened to begin their own chores. Around 7:00 a.m. she still had not seen a single soul exit the Moore home and the house seemed unusually still. She eventually went over, knocked on the door, and waited for someone to answer. When no one came, she attempted to open the door only to find it locked. Without knowing what else to do, Mary let the Moore’s chickens out of the coop, checked on their other livestock, and went home to call Josiah’s brother, Ross Moore.
When Ross arrived, he attempted to peer into the house through a bedroom window, but the blinds prevented him from seeing in. Ross and Mary then tried knocking on the windows and doors and shouted to rouse anyone inside. When that too failed, he opened the door with one of his keys. Following close behind, Mary remained on the porch where she could see into the home but never entered. First, Ross checked the bedroom off the parlor. He pushed open the door and could see two bodies under the sheets on a bed covered in blood. He immediately fled the house and upon returning to the porch, he instructed Mary to call the sheriff. The two girls in the bedroom off the parlor were Lena Stillinger, age 12, and her younger sister, Ina, age 8, who were houseguests and friends of the Moore children.
Upon the arrival of City Marshall Hank Morton, the remaining members of the family were discovered upstairs, all brutally murdered with an ax at the hands of an unknown killer. Eight people in all, including Josiah Moore, age 43, Sarah Montgomery Moore, age 39, Herman Moore, age 11, Katherine Moore, age 9, Boyd Moore, age 7, and Paul Moore, age 5, as well as the Stillinger sisters were found dead.
Unfortunately, news traveled quickly throughout the small town, causing curious onlookers to contaminate the crime scene. What was discovered during the investigation would provide few clues as to who actually committed the crime, but would continue to leave a lasting impression on the town and investigators for years to come. After the Villisca National Guard finally secured the home, they were able to clear the area of over 100 people who had entered throughout the morning.
The following are the only documented facts related to the crime scene:
-Eight people, later concluded to have been bludgeoned to death with the blunt side of an ax owned by the Moore family, were found inside the home.
-After autopsies were performed, the estimated time of death appeared to be sometime around midnight.
-All curtains in the house were closed with the exception of two windows that did not have any. Those windows were covered with clothing belonging to the Moore family.
-All of the mirrors in the house had been covered with various items from the home.
-All of the victim’s faces were covered with bedclothes after they had been killed.
-A kerosene lamp was discovered at the foot of Josiah and Sarah’s bed.
-A second lamp was discovered at the foot of the bed where the Stillinger girls slept.
-The murder weapon, an ax with remnants of blood on the blade that appeared to have been smeared as a result of trying to wipe it clean, was found leaning against a wall in the room occupied by the Stillinger girls.
-A slab of uncooked bacon wrapped in what appeared to be a dishtowel was found near the ax on the floor of the room occupied by the Stillinger girls.
-Gouge marks on the ceilings of both rooms upstairs apparently from the sharp end of an ax.
-A piece of a keychain was found in the room occupied by the Stillinger girls.
-A pan of bloody water in the kitchen as well as a plate of uneaten food.
-All doors to the house were locked.
-Lena was the only victim who appeared to have moved before she was killed, which meant she might have heard the assailant enter the room.
Although no one was ever convicted of the murders, several people were questioned as suspects. Today, historians generally attest to two main suspects and possibly a drifter. The two suspects are a prominent Villisca resident and Iowa State Senator Frank F. Jones who may have hired William “Blackie” Mansfield to commit the crime and a traveling preacher named Reverend George Kelly. The third possibility was someone else completely unrelated to the town or the family who was simply passing through.
After the murders, the house remained vacant until 1915 when J.H. Geesman purchased it. Over the next ninety years, the home had seven additional owners. In 1994, the house was in danger of being razed. Darwin and Martha Linn purchased the home in hopes of preserving history by converting the residence into a museum. They restored the home to its original construction and condition at the time of the murders in 1912. Between 1936 and 1994, the house had undergone several renovations including the addition of electricity and plumbing. By simply using old photographs, the Linn’s brought the historic home back. In addition to removing all modern technology, appliances, and conveniences, they also used testimonies to furnish the home in approximately the same places at the time of the murders.
Today, day tours are offered in addition to overnights.
Before the overnight began, we were taken on a guided tour. Throughout the tour, we walked through the house and were provided a brief history of the murders that occurred in 1912.
During our investigation, we mainly relied on voice recorders in an attempt to capture EVPs and the EMF detector because the house has no electricity. We also used a temperature gauge, light grid, a spirit box, flashlights, and a camera.
Around 4:30 p.m. we began setting up our equipment and settling in for the night. As I was sitting on the leather couch across from the Stillinger girl's bedroom, I saw a shadow enter the doorway from the left side of the room and then shoot back into the room. The shadow was approximately 6 feet tall and only appeared about 1/3 of the way through the doorway before moving back. This same occurrence never repeated itself throughout the rest of the investigation and no one was moving in the room when I saw the shadow.
When the rest of the crew entered the home two people refused to go near the leather couch after feeling a sensation of spiderwebs on the back of their legs. One team member described the experience as if they were standing in the same spot where someone was sitting with their legs extended out from the couch.
Later in the evening, we received numerous spikes on the EMF going all the way up to the red lights in one area of the room. While we were asking questions in order to receive responses on the EMF we could hear creaking noises in the adjacent bedroom. We were all in the parlor at the time and hadn't heard creaking in the room until then. The house was oddly still and silent, so hearing noises was difficult to debunk.
Around 3:00 a.m., footsteps and creaking noises could be heard from the upstairs children's bedroom directly above where we slept.
Around 4:00 a.m. we could hear tapping coming from the kitchen. The sound mimicked that of someone repetitiously hitting the metal of the stove.
In the morning, after waking up from an unsatisfying sleep, one member of the team reported having felt as if someone was tugging at the end of his sleeping bag near his feet. The pull was so abrupt that he woke up three times during the night.
Throughout the night we experienced several spikes on the EMF when asking questions. Specifically, when we asked if the entity who was speaking to us would rather have the lights on, we received multiple responses. No other incidents occurred while in this area. We heard no odd noises, no whispers, or felt any differences in temperature or atmosphere.
Josiah and Sarah's Bedroom:
We conducted an EVP session in Josiah and Sarah's bedroom and also placed the EMF detector on the bed. At one point, two team members who were standing with their backs to the dresser, both felt as if someone touched the back of their legs at the same time. Right after, several team members heard a whisper near the attic entrance that sounded like a child.
After asking some questions, we asked whether or not a child was in the room. When we asked if it was Paul, the EMF spiked. Then we asked if Paul was five years old and the EMF lit all the way up. We continued to ask questions, receiving spikes to questions we asked.
Although we attempted to try to get a ball to move and/or have an entity move or close the closet door, we received no results. We moved the door to line up with a rug on the floor. When we checked in the morning, we found the door in the same exact spot.
At one point the team could hear what sounded like a conversation coming from the parent's bedroom, but no other sounds or activation of our equipment occurred while in the children's room.
Stillinger Girls Bedroom:
Around 2 a.m. we heard creaking coming from the Stillinger girls' bedroom. No one was in the room at the time and although we had spent a great deal of time in the room earlier in the night and also in the parlor, we hadn't heard the sound before. We tried to mimic the creaking by walking around the room and duplicated it by stepping on the floor at the end of the bed near the chest. We could not debunk why the sound occurred when no one was in the room. The only explanation other than a paranormal one would be the house settling since there was little to no wind on the night we stayed.
We had a few EMF spikes in the room, but could not obtain any responses related to our questions.
Around 2:30 a.m. we conducted an EVP session. During this time the room temperature dropped and several cold spots were detected. The area near the highchair produced several spikes on the EMF and the area was significantly colder. One member of the team felt as if someone touched their arm and felt a spiderweb-type sensation.
We heard tapping around 4:00 a.m. that sounded as if it were coming from the metal stove.
When one member of the team entered the pantry around 2:30 a.m. he instantly felt dizzy and disoriented. I walked in afterward and felt the same sensation. I could have simply been influenced by his experience or we both may have been feeling a form of vertigo we couldn't explain.
Almost every member of the team had an odd experience while in the home. Although no one saw an apparition, with the exception of the shadow in the doorway, we did hear and feel unexplained anomalies throughout the night. The frequency of feeling something brush up against members of the team and the odd sounds, especially in the early hours of the morning, leave us with more questions than answers. After reviewing all of the photographs and voice recordings, we only found one reply that cannot be outwardly explained as a random sound from either one of us or from the house simply making noise. While in the parents' bedroom around 1:15 a.m. when we were talking to who we believe was Paul according to EMF responses, a distinct voice said the word, "Hey". As a skeptic, I will most likely just write this off as possibly being the sound of someone on the team moving and producing what could be determined as a word, but I cannot be completely sure. I do know that no one else on the team said the word out loud at the time.
The entire experience was incredible. We learned so much, not only about the Moore family and the tragedy that took them from this world, but also about the beautiful town of Villisca. We were able to visit Villisca Cemetery and drive around looking at some of the most beautiful homes in small town Iowa.
Want more ghost stories?
Check out Beyond Lincoln: A History of Nebraska Hauntings at taydenbundy.com/store
“The Official Site of the Villisca Axe Murders of 1912.” The Official Site of the Villisca Axe Murders of 1912, Villisca Axe Murder House, 2009, www.villiscaiowa.com/.
“The Villisca Axe Murders.” Iowa Cold Cases, Iowa Cold Cases, 3 Aug. 2018, iowacoldcases.org/case-summaries/villisca-axe-murders/.