An Unsolved Crime in Villisca

(Updated November 8, 2020 from the original published May 29, 2017)

Villisca is a small town in the southwest quadrant of Iowa.  Being a city girl, driving around Iowa was a real treat for me.   Beautiful scenery and friendly people made my excursion through Iowa one of my favorite road trips so far this year.


If you are into the paranormal at all, you have probably heard about Villisca and the tragic events that happened so very long ago. Over one hundred years ago in fact. If you aren’t familiar, then read on to learn about the town of Villisca and my experience staying in the house overnight.


As of the 2010 census, there were a little more than 1,200 residents in Villisca. As I drove from Des Moines to Villisca, I enjoyed the hills, winding roads, and charming farmhouses I saw along the way. I imagined what it would be like to have such a wholesome life. It is very different than where I come from in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. It was almost as if time had stood still here.


Villisca is known for an infamous and tragic crime that occurred on a dark night in June 1912. It was then that a family of six and two family friends were brutally bludgeoned to death with an ax. Unfamiliar with a crime of this magnitude, the crime scene was not properly secured by law enforcement, gawkers contaminated the scene, and valuable evidence was lost forever.


Moore Family GravesGrave of Villisca Axe Murder victimes


The Victims

The Moore Family and two family friends were killed that night:

  • Josiah Moore;

  • Sarah Moore;

  • Herman Moore;

  • Katherine: Moore;

  • Boyd Moore;

  • Paul Moore;

  • Lena Stillinger; and

  • Ina Stillinger.


Villisca Axe Murder HouseVillisca Axe Murder House 



There were several suspects however no one was ever brought to justice and the crime remains unsolved.

  • Henry Moore (unrelated to the Moore family) - alleged to have killed multiple people (up to 25) in the same way as the Villisca murders;

  • Reverend George Kelly - a travelling preacher who happened to be in Villisca when the murders happened and who left quickly the morning after;

  • William Mansfield - a man allegedly hired by Frank Jones, former employer of Mr. Moore;

  • Frank Jones - a former employer of Mr. Moore and who was angry that Moore had left his employment to start his own company;

  • Andy Sawyer - a transient who allegedly acted suspiciously, was somewhat preoccupied with the Villisca murders, and who told a coworker that he had been in Villisca at the time of the murders; and

  • George Myers - a prisoner in Detroit who confessed to the killings and that he was hired to do it.


Bedroom at Villisca Axe Murder House Kids room at Villisca Axe Murder House


Our Experiences


My friends and I stayed in the "Villisca Axe Murder House" and spent hours investigating the alleged paranormal activity for which the house is known. We rented it for an entire weekend and split up into two groups so that we could investigate in smaller subgroups.  The other group investigated Farrar School while we were here at the Villisca House. Then we swapped places so everyone would get a chance to investigate. For my subgroup, three of us slept in the room in which the Moore kids were killed while the others slept downstairs (there were six of us in total).  The downstairs bedroom is where the Stillinger girls were murdered.

We had run of the house and access to the barn (now giftshop) as well. We initially didn’t experience much but later had a few hits on our meters. Nothing profound. but still worth noting.  While upstairs in the children's room, we didn't hear very much however we did observe a ball move in a circular pattern near one leg of the crib.  Unfortunately the cameras we had were not aimed at the floor so we didn't get it on video to review and debunk.  We did however attempt to recreate the pattern of the ball's movement by walking around the ball or causing vibration in other ways, but we were unsuccessful.



All in all, this paranormal adventure did not disappoint. We enjoyed our visit to Iowa and specifically Villisca. A sadness hangs over the is a sadness that is almost tangible. While we did not have much activity to document a true haunting, we enjoyed the opportunity to learn about this family. We paid our respects at the cemetery and we hope to return to Villisca some day.  In the hustle and bustle of my day, it is easy for me to forget that horrific things happen now as they did back then. It is a gentle reminder to stop, reflect, and to be grateful for the life that I have.

Make this beautiful day count!

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