Close to 100 years ago, there were two adults and 6 children were found brutally murdered in their beds in Villisca, Iowa, a small, quiet and close knit mid-western town. During the weeks after the murders, this small community was forever changed.
June 9, 1912
J.B. Moore, his wife Sarah, and their 4 children returned home from a children’s program at their church. The children had 2 friends spending the night, Lena and Ina Stilinger. The family went about their nightly routines, completely unaware that this would be their last night alive. While they were all at the church function, someone carefully broke into their home and was hiding in the home. Some say the soon to be killer was in the attic due to some cigarette butts found on the attic floor. Other claim he or she was hiding in the closet of the downstairs bedroom where the Stillinger girls were sleeping. As soon as the family and friends were all sleeping sound, the killer struck. No one is sure of the order he killed in, but everyone was found in their beds, all bludgeoned to death by an axe to the head.
June 10, 1912
The next morning Mary Peckham, the Moore’s next door neighbor, noticed that the Moore’s had not been outside and the chores had not been started. She also noticed that the house itself seemed unusually still for that time of day. Ms. Peckham approached the house and knocked on the door. When she received no response, she attempted to open the door only to find it locked from the inside. Mary placed a call to J.B.’s brother, Ross Moore, beginning one of the most mismanaged murder investigations to ever be undertaken.
As soon as the murderers were discovered, the news traveled fast, and soon up to a hundred neighbors and curious towns people overtook the home causing local law enforcement to quickly lost control of the crime scene. Everyone was just walking through the house gazing at the gruesome sight before the Villisca National Guard finally arrived around noon to secure the home.
The two bodies found in the downstairs bedroom were Lena Stillinger, age 12 and her sister Ina, age 8, houseguests of the Moore children. The remaining bodies were found in the upstairs bedrooms. Josiah Moore, age 43, Sarah Montgomery Moore, age 39, were found in their bed, and Herman Moore, age 11, Katherine Moore, age 9, Boyd Moore, 7 and Paul Moore, 5 were found in the second bedroom upstairs. J.B. had been killed with the blade of the axe, splitting his brain in half, and the remaining victims were beat in the head by the blunt end of the axe. The murder weapon was found leaning up against the wall in the living room right outside the door to the downstairs bedroom.
There were several suspects in this case. One of them was Frank F. Jones, J.B. Moore’s former employer and business rival. J.B. worked for F.F. Jones at the Jones store for several years. In 1908 he left the Jones store and opened his own implement company. It was said that Jones was extremely upset that Moore had left his employ and took on a John Deere contract that ended up being very popular. There were also rumors that Moore had an affair with Jones’ daughter-in-law, Dona, which infuriated Jones even more. F.F. Jones and his son, Albert Jones, were both openly accused of hiring someone to have J.B. killed. However there was no proof to support the accusation, so neither of them arrested.
Another prime suspect was Reverend George Kelly, a traveling preacher. In 1917, Kelly was arrested and charged with the murder of one of the victims of the Villisca Axe Murders. He had attended the church function on June 9th of 1912. His presence in Villisca on the night of the murders and his sudden departure early the next morning made him a prime suspect in the case. Rev. Kelly confessed to the murders, but had details of the crime scene incorrect and again, there was no evidence or motive to convict him. His first trial resulted in a hung jury and he was finally acquitted by the second.
There were a few other suspects; however the murder in Villisca, Iowa still remains unsolved. No one will ever know who the killer actually was, and because of that the Moore’s spirits may never be at peace. Different investigations by paranormal groups have discovered the sounds of children laughing, a man’s voice, a woman crying, furniture moving, things being thrown and more. Psychics have claimed that they sense the spirits of the Moore family dwelling in the home, as well as a very dark spirit that may have been the cause of the murders.
If you would like more information about the Villisca Axe Murder House, please visit their web site at http://www.villiscaiowa.com/index.php. They have scheduled tours, a museum, cemetery, as well as overnight stays for the brave.