Villisca, Iowa was a close community in Iowa but everything changed on June 10, 1912 when the bodies of eight people were discovered. The Josiah B. Moore family and two overnight guests were founded murdered in their beds. Over 90 years later, the murders still remain unsolved.
What happened? All is known is that Sarah and Josiah B. Moore, their four kids Herman, Catherine, Boyd and Paul and two of their two friends Lena and Ina Stillinger walked home after a children's program at their Presbyterian Church at around 9:30 pm. The next day, a concerned neighbor Mary Peckham noticed the family was strangely quiet most of the day. She didn't see Moore leave for work. Sarah wasn't cooking breakfast or doing chores. No sounds of their children running and playing. She examined the house, looking for signs of life prior to calling Josiah B.'s brother, Ross.
When he arrived, he unlocked the door with his set of keys and along with Mary, began searching for the family. When he discovered the bodies of Ina and Lena, he told Mary to call the Sheriff. The rest of the Moore family were found upstairs brutally murdered, all their skulls were crushed by an ax that was later found.
The news spread fast and it has been said that hundreds of people wandered the house before the Villisca National Guard arrived to regain control of the crime scene but not before they touched everything, stared at the bodies and taking souvenirs. As a result, all potential evidence was either contaminated or destroyed.
There were many suspects. Frank F Jones was a prominent resident of Villisca and a senator. Josiah B. Moore worked for Jones until he opened his own company in 1908. Jones was considered one of the most powerful people in Villisca. He was a man who didn't like to be "defeated" and was upset when Moore left his company and took the John Deere franchise with him. There were also rumors that Moore was having an affair with Jones' daughter-in-law, but nothing was ever proven. However, it was motive to Jones and his son Albert. William Mansfield was believed to have been hired by Jones' to carry out the murders. He was arrested and later released after payroll records showed he was in Illinois at the time of the murders.
Revered George Kelly was a traveling salesman who supposedly confessed to the crime on a train heading back to Macedonia, Iowa. He claimed the reason for killing them derived from a vision telling him to "slay and slay utterly". He was arrested on unrelated charges and eventually was sent to a mentally hospital. His obsession with the murders and numerous letters sent to law enforcement made him appear as a viable suspect. However, after two trials, he was acquitted.
There was a common belief a serial killer may have been responsible for the murders and Andy Sawyer was number one suspect tied to this theory. He was a transient fingered by his boss on a railroad crew as knowing too much about the crime. Sawyer was also know to sleep and have conversations with his ax. He was brought in for questioning but was released when records showed he was in Osceola, Iowas on the night when the murders took place.
The house had many owners over the years. Darwin and Martha Linn had purchased the house in an effort to preserve and save it from being razed. They restored the house, turning it in to a museum. As much as the Josiah B. Moore family home became a part of American crime history, it also has a place in ghost legend.
Ever since the house was opened to overnight visitors, ghost enthusiasts have flocked to it, seeking the strange and the unusual. They witnessed the sounds of children’s voices when no children were present. Others have experienced falling lamps, feeling of heaviness, sounds of dripping blood, moving objects, banging sounds and a child’s laughter.
There are those who lived in the house who say they never experienced anything paranormal. No ghosts at all were believed to be inhabiting the dwelling until 1999 when Nebraska ghost hunters labeled it "Haunted". Some believe the house gained it's status after the Sixth Sense gained popularity.
So, is it really haunted? Spend $10 to tour the house during the day or $400 to spend a night there with a group of friends or family and find out for yourself.
P.R.I.S.M. - Villisca Ax Murder House
Villisca: Living with a Mystery
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