Sitting in a quiet residential neighborhood in Villisca, IA is a white frame house which appears to be from another time, a house more commonly known as the Axe Murder House. In a place with a history as tragic as this house’s past, it’s easy to imagine that someone or something still wanders the grounds on the other side. Voices of children are heard around the property, and many have witnessed moving objects in the house. There is a door which is known to open and close on demand and there was a mysterious plant which grew in front of the house during renovations only to die out as soon as they were finished.
In 1912, the house was occupied by the family of Josiah Moore, a prominent and well respected businessman in Villisca. Sometime between midnight & 5:00a.m. on June 12, 1912, in a crime which has to this day never been solved, an unknown assailant entered the home and murdered the entire Moore family as well as two overnight guests. There were 8 victims in all and each victim’s skull had been crushed while they slept. The bodies of J.B. Moore, his wife Sarah and their children Herman – age 11, Katherine – age 9, Boyd – age 7 and Paul – age 5 were found in the upstairs bedrooms of the home, while the bodies of Lena Stillinger – age 12, and her sister Ina – age 8 were found in the downstairs bedroom.
A bloody axe was found in the room where the bodies of the Stillinger sisters were found which was presumed to be the murder weapon. All of the doors in the house were locked and the curtains were pulled closed all of the windows. Although the crime was never solved and there has never been a conviction in these murders, there were a number of suspects at the time. Some thought that Frank F Jones, another prominent citizen of the area was the mastermind behind the murders and that he paid others to kill the family, others thought that a traveling preacher Reverend George Kelly was the killer. Kelly was arrested in 1917 for one of the murders and supposedly “confessed” but his confession was thrown out by the courts. Still others believe that they were random killings by a serial killer or someone traveling through the town.
Reports of paranormal activity in the house date back to 1930 when newlyweds Homer and Bonnie Ritner rented the property. Mrs Ritner complained of seeing an apparition of a man at the foot of their bed as they slept at night and of hearing footsteps throughout the house when there was no explanation for them. After Mr. Ritner began experiencing unexplained phenomena he was told the story of the murders in the house, after which the Ritner’s left the property never to return.
The Geeseman family who purchased the property later also experienced strange happenings on the proeprty and John Geeseman refused to sleep in the house, but rather set up a bedroom in the barn on the property. Apparently one night, family was staying with the Geeseman’s throughout the evening experienced the door between the parlor and patio swinging open on it’s own. They would close the door, only to see it swing open again shortly thereafter. Neighbors witnessed the guests fleeing the home in the middle of the night still dressed in their sleeping garments, although it’s unknown what exactly caused them to flee.
In the 1960’s & 70’s, the house was owned by Villisca State Bank and used as a rental property. The children of the occupants commonly woke to the sounds of crying children in the night. They would find their dresser drawers open and their clothes thrown around the room although when they reported the incidents to their parents, they were shrugged off. Only after a knife their father was sharpening flew out of his hand and stabbed into his palm did he believe the stories. The family packed up and left the house that evening.
Are the spirits of the murdered Moore family still wandering the property looking for answers? Many visitors say yes! You can visit and try to find out for yourself though, as the house is available for rent for just $400/night for up to 6 people. If staying overnight in a potentially haunted house is a little too scary for you, daylight tours of the property are available at $10/person.
It looks like there is also a movie about the murders, which can be found here.
The house has also been featured on My Ghost Story & Ghost Adventures. Some videos about the house from YouTube are embedded below:
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