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Post Info TOPIC: Ghosts of the Villisca Ax Murder House

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Ghosts of the Villisca Ax Murder House

Nearly lost among the rolling hills and fields of southwestern Iowa is the tiny town of Villisca; a quiet, peaceful place of only a few hundred people --- and one tragic and enduring mystery. It was here, in June 1912, that a horrific mass murder took place, wiping out an entire family. The murder was never solved, casting a pall over Villisca that still lingers today.

And this dark cloud may not be the only thing still lingering here. There are many who believe that the spirits of the murdered family may still remain here as well, their ghosts haunting the old house where they once lived and tragically died. I happen to be one of the people who believe that and if you had the chance to experience what I did at this house in May 2005 --- you might be one of the believers too.

Villisca is located in a remote corner of Iowa, far off the modern interstate and a good distance from any town that might have a population of more than a couple of thousand souls. It's an isolated place, accessible by only an old, two-lane highway and, believe it or not, this is in great contrast to how it was back in the early 1900's. In those days, Villisca, which means "pleasant view", was a booming town of more than 2,500 residents. The streets were lined with flourishing businesses and several dozen trains pulled into town everyday. It was a popular spot in Montgomery County in those days, offering not only stores and shops of just about every kind but restaurants and a theater as well.

Villisca was a close-knit community in those days but the peacefulness here was shattered on June 10, 1912 with the discovery of eight bloody corpses in a house along one of the town's tree-lined streets. The J.B. Moore family, respected and well-liked members of the community, along with two overnight guests, were found murdered in their beds. And now, more than 90 years later, the crimes remain unsolved.

What happened on that dark night in Villisca? And what occurred to cause at least some of the spirits of this terrible crime to stay behind in this world?

Bloody Murder

It was a warm evening in southwestern Iowa and the town of Villisca stirred quietly in the gloom of the setting sun. The dinner hour had long since passed and many residents escaped to the cool of the front porch after the heat of the day started to settle. Stores locked up for the evening and lights began to appear in the windows of homes along the darkening streets. At the Presbyterian Church, music filtered to the street outside, along with laughter and polite applause. The Children's Day Program came to an end around 9:30 p.m. and soon the parishioners began trickling out into the street, heading home for the night.

Sarah Moore, who had coordinated the program, gathered her family around her as they started walking home. She was joined by her husband Josiah, known popularly in town as J.B., and her children, Herman, Catherine, Boyd and Paul. Two young girls, friends of the Moore children who had also been in the evening's program, Lena and Ina Stillinger, came home with the Moore's to spend the night.

The following morning, June 10, Mary Peckham, the Moore's next door neighbor, stepped out of the back door of her home to hang some laundry on the line. As Mary worked, some times passed and she realized that not only had the Moore's not been outside to start their own chores that morning but that the house itself seemed unusually still. This was very strange as J.B. Moore always left early for work and Sarah was always up at dawn to start breakfast and the day's work. The Moore house was full of young children and so the morning hours were always loud and boisterous. Could the Moore's be sick? Mary waited for a few more minutes and then approached the house and knocked on the door. It was still eerily quiet inside. She waited for a few moments and then knocked again. Once more, there was no answer and so she tried to open the door, thinking that she could poke her head inside and call for Sarah. She pulled on the door handle though and found that it was locked from the inside.

Mary did go out to the small barn behind the Moore house and let the chickens out into the yard. She felt it was the least she could do to help Sarah, who she was convinced must be under the weather. After she let out the chickens, Mary went back into her own house but the more she thought about the silent home next door, the more that she worried. Finally, when she could stand it no more, she placed a telephone call to J.B.'s brother, Ross Moore, and he promised to come over as soon as he could. This was the first step in what would turn out to be one of the most bungled criminal investigations of the era.

When Ross Moore arrived at the home of his brother, he was met by Mary Peckham, who had continued to try and raise someone in the neighboring home. Ross tried the door himself and then leaned up to peer into a bedroom window. It was too dark to see anything, so he returned to the door, banging on it and shouting for his brother and sister-in-law. There was still no answer, so he produced his own set of keys and looked through the ring until he found one that opened the front door. As he pushed open the door, Moore stepped into the parlor with Mary Peckham behind him. Moore looked around, seeing no one in the kitchen. He called out but there was no answer. On the opposite side of the parlor was a doorway that went into one of the children's bedrooms. He carefully opened the door and looked into the room. He nearly cried out when he saw two bloody bodies on the bed and dark stains on the sheets. Moore never even looked to see who was lying there. He ran back to the porch and shouted for Mary Peckham to call the sheriff --- someone had been murdered!

The City Marshall, Hank Horton, arrived a short time later and searched the house. The two bodies in the downstairs bedroom were Lena Stillinger, age 12, and her sister, Ina, age 8. The girls were houseguests of the Moore children. They had come home with them after the church program the night before. The remaining members of the Moore family were found in the upstairs bedrooms. Every person in the house had been brutally murdered, their skulls crushed with an ax. The victims included Josiah Moore, age 43; Sarah Montgomery Moore, age 44; Herman, age 11; Catherine, age 10; Boyd, age 7; Paul, age 5; and the Stillinger sisters.

Almost as soon as the murders were discovered, the news of the massacre traveled quickly throughout Villisca. As friends, neighbors and curiosity seekers descended on the Moore house, the town's small police force quickly lost control of the crime scene. It has been said that literally hundreds of people walked through the house, staring at the bodies, touching everything and even taking souvenirs before the Villisca National Guard unit arrived at noon to close off the scene and secure the home for state police investigators. It's easy for us now to blame this disastrous mismanagement on local police officers but in 1912, such a crime still would have been much more difficult to solve than it would be today. At that time, fingerprinting was still a new idea, crime scene photographs were rarely taken and DNA testing would be unimaginable for decades to come.

In short, investigators in rural areas like this simply did not see crimes of this magnitude in 1912. In spite of this, the investigators did manage to make some notes of the scene or all of the clues would have been completely lost. As it was though, any evidence left in the house was likely destroyed.

Thanks to this, the murders remain unsolved to this day.

Blood On Their Hands?

While no one was ever convicted of the Moore / Stillinger murders, there was never any shortage of suspects in the case. In the days that followed the crime, there were at least four suspects mentioned in every edition of the newspaper. However, leads were quickly exhausted, alibis were established and possibilities began to dwindle. The local police, state investigators, private detectives who were hired, and even amateur detectives looking for the reward that had been offered combed the town and the surrounding region, following every clue that was presented. Dozens of theories were pursued but each time the investigation seemed to be getting close to something, it all fell apart again. As time wore on, the possibility of solving the crime began to fade and eventually, the trail went cold.

Today, historians, and those with an interest in the case, have their own ideas of who committed the murders. There are many who believe the killer was a local man, who was known to the victims, while others believe a deranged preacher, a traveling hobo or dangerous serial killer was responsible for the deaths of the Moore's and the Stillinger girls. The leading suspects included:

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I know who the killer was, he is dead now, but the killer was Reverend George Kelly. I knew him personally from when I traveled the globe. We had become lovers, but only to the extent of finding all the skeletons in his closet. I was there confessed to the crime on the train going back to Macedonia and that he had committed the murders because he had a vision that told him to "slay and slay utterly", a phrase that allegedly came from the Bible.
Before his "confession" though, Kelly wrote a number of letters to the authorities about the Moore / Stillinger deaths. In the letters, Kelly appeared to be obsessed with the murders and supposedly wrote things that only the killer would know. His uttering on the train ("slay and slay utterly") was said to have been overheard by witnesses and he spoke to other passengers about the killings --- before they were even reported, some said. True or not, Kelly did send a bloody shirt to the laundry in Council Bluffs but it was never recovered.
In 1914, Kelly was arrested but not for the murders. He was jailed in South Dakota for sending obscene materials through the mail and was sentenced to prison. Instead, he ended up in a mental hospital in Washington D.C. By 1917 though, suspicions had fallen onto Kelly in Iowa and he was arrested for the Moore / Stillinger murders.

This man was just not right in the headdisbelief

╰☆╮Rebekkah Moon ╰☆╮

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you knew him personally hm?


Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead. For anything is better than a life standing still.

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