The Villisca Iowa Axe Murder House Investigation
June 10 th, 2008
HPT had the opportunity to embark on a road trip to the Villisca Axe murder house in Villisca Iowa , which is located in southwest Montgomery County, the county seat of Red Oak on June 10 th, 2008. The significance of this date is that it is the 96th anniversary of the Villisca Axe Murders. The team had been excited to do this investigation since one of our member’s, Erin, previously visited this place as a guest with the IPRA Team and WE TV crew. This visit was to film a documentary on Psychic Women. So as Paranormal Investigators; you can see we all were quite anxious to check it out! After a 5 ½ hour road trip through Minnesota and Iowa, to include a few stops along the way, we arrived at our destination, Villisca Iowa. Unfortunately for the citizens of this close-knit community, the innocent appearance of this quaint town will be forever overshadowed by the horrific deaths of eight of their own. On June 10, 1912, the tranquility of this place was shattered by the discovery of the victims who will forever be associated with the Villisca Axe murders. The family home of Josiah and Sara Moore at 508 East 2nd Street became a crime scene sometime between 11:00 p.m. on Sunday June 9th, and 2:00 a.m. Monday morning June 10, 1912. The entire family of two adults and four children, along with two visiting children, were murdered with an axe while they slept. Josiah Moore, age 43, Sarah Montgomery Moore, age 44, Herman Moore, age 11, Katherine Moore, age 9, Boyd Moore, 7 and Paul Moore, 5 as well as the Stillinger Sisters Lena 12 and Ina 8. Local law enforcement lost control of the crime scene the next morning as dozens, perhaps hundreds of townspeople entered the home to view the bloodbath. As a result, evidence was moved, destroyed, and altered contaminating the crime scene and rendering any possible evidence destroyed. Within a short amount of time, officials were faced with the possibility that this horrifying crime would be impossible to solve.
Ten years ago had you inquired about the axe murders; you would have been met with cold stares and turned heads. Today, however, the residents seem to be on the brink of accepting the one thing that they cannot change and that is their history on that specific and tragic night.
As we descended into town, one could not help but detect an unsettling feeling about the place. It felt like a scene out of “Silent Hill”. The sidewalks were empty and there was little or no traffic around. We finally stopped and parked outside the local diner and decided to stretch our legs. As we were standing around I looked up at the old buildings next to the diner and saw a window with a tethered bluish curtain in it, and what I was able to see of the interior of the walls, appeared in a condemned state. I couldn’t help but think that there was some type of history there. The buildings in the downtown area are fairly old and were built back in and around the 1800’s when Villisca was coming alive.
As I looked up at a window directly above us “something” or should I say “someone” caught my attention. Looking down at us was a little girl staring at us with her arms crossed. She appeared to have an angered look on her face. Once we made eye contact with her, she slowly backed away until she was out of our view. Some of us found this to be a little awkward. We were all wearing our HPT t-shirts and wondered if the gaze from the window above was that of a curious onlooker or possible a look of disdain by a citizen weary of having people seek out a moment and place they would just as soon forget. Tired of riding so long we made our way over to a park in the center of the town to stretch our legs. We walked the perimeter of the town square casually taking time to absorb the quaintness of the town, which seem to transport us all back to a time more innocent and simple. As we turned the corner we spotted a path leading to what appeared to be a memorial. As we grew closer we saw that the town had dedicated a memorial to the service men and women that died for our country.
At the base of the memorial was a concrete slab inlayed with bricks bearing the names of residents who had served in a variety of wars and conflicts. Just past this was a brick wall which contained scores more bricks. Each brick held the name of someone who participated in the 1916 Mexican Expedition, WWI and WWII, as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Villisca history states that in 1912, the town built the only publicly funded Armory in the state of Iowa, and also states that during World War II, Montgomery County lost more men per capita than any other county in the United States. Villisca surely contributed several of her own to that number. As some team members stopped to read and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many, others took pictures of the monument, and approached slowly to read the inscriptions of those honored. After a short period of time for reflection, the team ventured back across the street towards where our vehicle was parked and into a small diner. Patrons already in the diner never acknowledged our presence when we made our way to the rear of the diner. Could it be that the residents of this town had seen a lot of Paranormal teams come and go and were either immune to them, or were they just simply tired of the attention and strange attraction to a time in history that they would just as soon forget? Our waitress greeted us courteously with the casual repose often anticipated in a small town. She made recommendations and it would be an understatement to say that the food was great and there was plenty of it. Some members even found fare not seen anywhere in years. While some member found that fried chicken gizzards and hearts were not a delicacy they were longing for, but those that ordered them remarked that they were some of the tastiest they had been able to feast on in years. After finishing our meal I contacted Darwin and informed him of our impending arrival and got directions to the house.
We all decided before going there, that we would take a quick drive around the town and check out some of the beautifully restored and preserved Victorian homes. The homes were all well kept and Juli and I instantly fell in love with the architectural structure of some of the older Victorian style houses. Next, we found the railroad tracks and a nearby creek in which it is rumored that the murderer(s) traveled to conceal their getaway. We then drove past the Presbyterian Church and made our way down the very same road the Moore family and Stillinger girls took that fateful night.
The following is a historical recount of that horrific evening…
Lena and Ina Stillinger, daughters of Joseph Stillinger left their home for church early Sunday morning. They planned on having dinner with their grandmother after the morning service, spending the afternoon with her and then returning to her home to spend the night after the Children's Day exercises concluded. The girls, however, were invited by Katherine Moore to spend the night at the family home instead. Prior to leaving for the exercises, Mr. Moore placed a call to the Stillinger home to ask permission for the girls to stay overnight. Blanche, Lena and Ina's older sister told Mr. Moore that her parents were both outdoors but she would pass the message along to them.
The Children's Day Program at the Presbyterian Church was an annual event that began at approximately 8:00 p.m. on Sunday evening June 9th. According to witnesses, Sarah Moore coordinated the exercises. All of the Moore children as well as the Stillinger girls participated. Josiah Moore sat with the rest of the congregation. The program ended at 9:30 pm and the Moore family along with the Stillinger sisters, walked home from the church. They entered their home sometime between 9:45 and 10:00 p.m.
The following morning, at approximately 5:00 a.m. Mary Peckham the Moore's next door neighbor stepped into her yard to hang laundry. At approximately 7:00 am. she realized that not only had the Moore's not been outside nor begun their daily chores, the house itself seemed unusually still. Between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., Mary 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. After letting out the Moore's chickens, Mary placed a call to Josiah's brother, Ross Moore setting into place one of the most mismanaged murder investigations to ever be undertaken.
As we drove down 2nd street, we encountered a white frame house on a corner lot with a sign hanging in the front of the home identifying it as “The Villisca Axe Murder House”. Behind the home was a red outhouse and barn that was rebuilt back in 2004. I have to say when we pulled up to the house and stepped on the property, I could not help but feel a melancholy about the place especially when one realizes that innocent lives, children’s lives were taken. We decide after the initial set up that the team ( Sorry Tim stayed back and babysat our equipment!) would go to the cemetery to search out the grave stones of the Moore family and the Stillinger girls before dark. Once we arrived at the cemetery we decided that we would perform a “grounding” of ourselves before we entered. Grounding is something that one of our lead investigators Juli is teaching the group. This is a Wicca ritual that is used to protect ones self from supernatural and paranormal forces. I’ve felt myself become more invigorated after doing this, not to mention that it is a great protection tool for everyone that delves into our field of research. After a brief stroll through the cemetery we managed to find what we were looking for, that being the resting places of those lost that June night. With the night settled in we moved quickly and before the closing of the cemetery, which was posted as occurring at nightfall.
Both of the families were found buried very close to one another, almost as if they were to spend eternity interwoven though a cowardly and heinous act. The headstone for the Moore family had one large stone then off to the side was a large ground stone or marker which listed the names of each family member and a small inscription stating they all died on June 10 th, 1912. The Stillinger girls each had their own markers, as did the rest of the family that was buried by them. We found a headstone next to Lena’s that just said “Baby Boy” on it. Erin informed us that the Stillingers mother Sarah was pregnant at the time and in the same week that the girls were murdered, had given birth to a stillborn baby boy. This unnamed child is often called the “ninth” victim. Innocence lost before its life ever began.
After a taking a few pictures we were on our way back to the house. Shortly after our arrival at the home the team split up into pairs. Juli and I took the upstairs to investigate in the children’s bedroom and Erin and Josh manned the Parlor and Sewing room. It did not take us very long gaining a response to our presences there. This had been well-documented prominence from other Paranormal Investigations that have entered particular areas of the house. Activity such as hearing children’s voices, falling lamps, moving balls and flying objects has been reported to occur. Psychics also have established the presence of spirits dwelling in the home and many claim to have actually communicated with them. I will say that there were many lessons learned by our team during our investigations of the Villisca house that night. We experienced many things that forced us to think beyond our traditional sphere of the paranormal/Spiritual realms. The Villisca house has altered each of us in some way or another. If you were to ask Darwin Linn, owner of the Villisca Axe Murder House if he believes in ghosts, he'll tell you that although he's never personally seen one, he readily admits "There's something in that house".
We are all left to ponder what the reason would be, or could be, to take the lives of innocent victims, children, all sleeping peacefully on that fateful night. The house is the only surviving witness from that dark June night. It is not capable of revealing the killers, not able to tell the tale of what happened. All history records is speculation on what happened inside the home of J.B. and Sarah Moore. The house will forever keep her secret. Perhaps that is best.
To those of us who investigate places such as these in search of answers to what may lie beyond our realm, the house may give us hints, glimpses into the past, a snapshot of a time long ago and those forever caught in the vacuum circumstance.
I would like to thank Darwin Linn for the opportunity to visit The Villisca Axe Murder house and his written permission to retell parts of the story from his web site. www.villiscaiowa.com
Introduction and historic recap was witten by Judy, Co-Founder of HPT.
Please check back to read other team members accounts as they become available and to review the evidence we collected during our stay there.
Occurrences or Experiences...
Numerous EVP’s were recorded by team members
Multiple Team Member s reported hearing noises or vocalizations that could not be explained
Team Members experienced multiple incidents of apparent interaction to include…
- A door which appeared to open and close by itself
- A ball which was stationary on the floor moved towards the attic door by itself
- Team members were playing “ball’ in a bedroom where the ball apparently would not be allowed to roll to one team member (Juli)
- One Sensitive Team Member reported feeling an entity “move” through her during a vigil
- Multiple Team Members witnessed an EMF meter apparently reacting to questions being asked during multiple vigils within the house
One Team Member reported having her hand touched by “something”
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*We are now adding the name of the team member who carried the device that picked up the EVP*
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Videos...Villisca Videos Posted 9-11-08...