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Inside the Villisca Ax Murder House: A Paranormal Investigation

Rachael is a paranormal researcher and investigator who became interested in the field following a profound childhood paranormal experience.

Moore Family Gravesite

The final resting place of J.B. Moore, his wife Sarah, and their four children. The two Stillinger girls are buried just a stone's throw away.

The final resting place of J.B. Moore, his wife Sarah, and their four children. The two Stillinger girls are buried just a stone's throw away.

Josiah "Joe" B. Moore and his wife Sarah (Montgomery) raised their four children in a modest, white framed house located at the end of a quiet street in Villisca, Iowa. The home, now known as the Villisca Ax Murder House, is the site of one of the most infamous mass family murders in American history, and is claimed to be one of the country's most haunted locations. Our overnight investigation of this location has spawned evidence of these claims.

Villisca Ax Murder House

Front view of the Villisca Ax Murder House.

Front view of the Villisca Ax Murder House.

June 9th, 1912

At 8:00 p.m., Josiah Moore, an affluent and well liked implement store owner, watched his wife Sarah direct the Presbyterian church's annual children's day program. His four children were included in the program: 11 year-old Herman, 9 year-old Katherine, 7 year-old Boyd, and 5 year-old Paul.

That particular night all of the lights in Villisca were blackened due to a feud between the city and the electric company. Two friends of the Moore children, Lena and Ina Stillinger ages 12 and 8, were expected to walk to their grandmother's house for supper following the program; however, fear of the dark streets changed their plans. Following a call to their parents, it was agreed that the Stillinger girls were to walk home with Moore's and stay at their house until morning.

At approximately 9:30 p.m. the program ended. The Moore family and Stillinger girls walked three blocks along the dark Villisca streets, and arrived at the Moore's home between 9:45 and 10:00 p.m. After a snack of milk and cookies, the family and guests headed to bed.

Moore Family and Stillinger Girls

Left Photo | Josiah, Herman, Katherine and Sarah Moore | Upper Right: Boyd and Paul Moore | Lower Right: Lena and Ina Stillinger

Left Photo | Josiah, Herman, Katherine and Sarah Moore | Upper Right: Boyd and Paul Moore | Lower Right: Lena and Ina Stillinger

Dead Person in Every Bed

Before the Moore family and guests arrived, an intruder armed with Josiah's backyard ax entered the home, and waited patiently in the attic silence. It was concluded that between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., the intruder slipped into the parents bedroom and struck Josiah and his wife multiple times, with exact ax blows to their heads. He then entered the adjoining room where the Moore children were paired in each bed sleeping, and bludgeoned each of their heads with the blunt end of the ax.

Next, he declined down the narrow stairway and found the guest room where Lena and Ina slept. He also took the ax to their heads, but not before the oldest Stillinger girl awakened. Her body was discovered pulled down on the bed with her underclothes removed and legs posed in a sexual manner. She was the only victim with defensive wounds on her arms and body, which led to the official claim that she was the only person awake while murdered.

After killing every person in the house, the murderer proceeded back up the stairs and systematically struck the heads of the deceased victims. Physicians estimated the deaths to have occurred shortly after midnight.

Josiah's head was struck an estimated 30 times

All of the victims were left unrecognizable.

"The Villisca Review" Thursday June 13, 1912 - Newspapers across the country replaced sinking of Titanic news with Villisca ax murders' report.

"The Villisca Review" Thursday June 13, 1912 - Newspapers across the country replaced sinking of Titanic news with Villisca ax murders' report.

The Crime Scene

  • Bedclothes were placed over what was left of Josiah and Sarah's heads. An undershirt made of gauze was placed over Herman's head, and a dress covered Katherine's. He also covered the remaining victims faces with clothing.
  • Garments were also draped over every mirror in the house, hiding any reflection.
  • All of the window curtains were drawn shut, and two windows without curtains were shaded with clothing.
  • Gouges were left on both of the bedroom ceilings from the ax being swung at the victims. Ax marks were also found in the middle of the children's room ceiling from what is suspected was the killer swinging the ax in a circular frenzy.
  • A kerosene filled lamp sat on the floor at the foot of the Moore's bed. The chimney of the lamp was removed and placed under their dresser with the wick turned back. Another lamp of kerosene was placed at the foot of Stillinger girls' bed. It was also missing the chimney.
  • The ax was resting in the guestroom where Lena and Ina slept. It was found next to the door, leaning on the wall. It was blood covered but an attempt was made to wipe it clean.
  • A two pound slab of wrapped bacon in a towel was left near the ax. It was cut from a bacon chunk found in the icebox.
  • Next to the ax and bacon sat a short piece of keychain that did not belong to the Moore's.
  • An untouched plate of prepared food was resting on the kitchen table, along with a bowl of bloody water from the killer washing his hands.
  • All of the doors were locked behind the killer, and the Moore's house keys were taken.

Funeral in the Park

Horse drawn hearse brings Villisca murder victims to their final resting place. The interment was memorialized as the "funeral in the park".

Horse drawn hearse brings Villisca murder victims to their final resting place. The interment was memorialized as the "funeral in the park".

Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly

Photo of acquitted murder suspect, Reverend Kelly.

Photo of acquitted murder suspect, Reverend Kelly.

Who was the Killer?

There were multiple suspects following the murders, including state senator and Villisca resident, Frank F. Jones. William "Blackie" Mansfield was another suspect who was thought to have been paid by Jones to carry out the crime; the most likely suspect however, was reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly, who sat just behind Josiah during the children's program, and was a known sexual deviant.

Reverend Kelly was a midwest preacher who drifted in and out of Iowa and the surrounding states. Early in the morning following the murders, Kelly boarded the 5:19 a.m. train out of Villisca to Macedonia and told two elderly passengers about the murders before they were discovered. He then exited the train in Macedonia, where he sent a blood filled shirt to Omaha for laundering. Kelly returned to Villisca one week following the murders and entered the Moore's home posing as a detective. He inquired about suspects at this time.

Kelly confessed to the murders years later but the confession was said to have been coerced. After two trials, this ultimately led to an acquittal. At that time there were several serial murders in the midwest that fit the Villisca description. Was the Reverend Kelly responsible for them all? No person was ever convicted, and nobody will ever know.

Says He Killed Eight at God's Command

Kelly confessed he was studying sermon on "Slay Utterly" when the impulse to slay seized him.

Window Spirit

Spirit of Boyd or Paul Moore (bottom left window corner). Image shared on barn tackboard at Villisca Ax Murder House. Rephotographed.

Spirit of Boyd or Paul Moore (bottom left window corner). Image shared on barn tackboard at Villisca Ax Murder House. Rephotographed.

Ageless Children

35mm camera captured at least three child spirits in the Villisca Ax Murder House kitchen.

35mm camera captured at least three child spirits in the Villisca Ax Murder House kitchen.

The Haunting

For years, the Villisca Ax Murder House has had claims of being haunted. Nearly every night different paranormal teams fill the home waiting to capture evidence from the other side, hoping to reveal the unknown mysteries surrounding the murders.

A slew of evidence has come to the surface based on these investigations, but many unanswered questions still linger. Are the spirits of the Moore children trapped in the house? Could J.B. or Sarah still be lurking in the home searching for them, or is the killer's spirit basking in his demented glory? From apparitions to EVPs (electronic voice phenomena), and being touched or even scratched, it has been said that the Villisca Ax Murder House is the most haunted location in America.

On May 30, 2014, our paranormal investigative team took our turn with an overnight stay in the house. Aside from personal experiences (including being grabbed) we also captured 16 EVPs in six minutes, along with an impressive full spectrum video still featuring several unique anomalies including an unknown shadowy face complete with visible pupils, ears and hair (below). Two additional photos captured by other teams are included above, and reinforce the claims of paranormal activity in the home.

Full-Spectrum Camera Still

Michael Henderson captured this stunning full spectrum camera still in the parlor of the home during our investigation. Several anomalies are visible including a defined male head lingering above a ghost child.

Michael Henderson captured this stunning full spectrum camera still in the parlor of the home during our investigation. Several anomalies are visible including a defined male head lingering above a ghost child.

Initial Walkthrough EVPs

The following video features 16 EVPs that were captured on an Olympus FE-360 digital camera during our initial walkthrough of the Villisca Ax Murder House on May 30, 2014. No children were present during this recording.

The voices from beyond can be easily located by forwarding the video to the following timestamps:

0:23 Mom
1:00 Whistle
1:54 (Inaudible)...my mom and dad.
2:13 Mommy
2:29 (Unknown)...did it
2:38 Growl
2:55 Whistling
3:17 Uh huh
3:24 Unknown
3:40 Growl
4:00 Unknown
4:14 Deep exhale
5:13 Tell the killer that...(inaudible) [Class A]
5:32 Deep exhale
6:22 Short scream
6:24 Tell them [Class A]

The Children Speak: PRISM Paranormal EVP Compilation

The following video is a compilation that was created by PRISM Paranormal. It includes a brief history of the house, and features a comparison of Moore and Stillinger children EVPs that were captured from 2004 - 2014. Along with a clip from my recording, recordings of EVPs captured by several paranormal groups are included. Be warned, some of the EVPs are disturbing.

The Children Speak

Is it Really Haunted?

My conclusion after reviewing all of the evidence we captured is this is a hot paranormal spot. I believe it is filled with a variety of entities, some of which may have been conjured by other members of the public who have visited the house on pretenses of evil including the use of Satanic rituals.

Murders Keep Villisca Alive

The murders that once tore this town apart are now holding it together. Much of Villisca's businesses sit empty, but the Villisca Ax Murder House provides a steady stream of tourist revenue to the town. In 1994 Darwin Linn purchased the property, began conducting daytime tours, and allowing overnight guests to stay in the home. Since his passing in 2011, Darwin's wife Martha took over and still allows guests.

Where is the Villisca Ax Murder House?

Share Your Voice

Questions & Answers

Question: With EVP recordings, isn't it possible that an investigator can simply scratch a pillow or sheet they are sitting on, with their own fingers, to produce noise that can be made to sound like spirit voices?

Answer: Of course, falsified evidence via sound manipulation is entirely possible; however, the likeliness of fraud is significantly reduced when two or more devices (ie: digital audio plus video) are used concurrently. Additionally, frequency and waveform analysis is an excellent tool used to identify audio manipulation, and/or confirm the validity of an EVP recording.

© 2015 Rachael Ryhn

Comments

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on January 10, 2018:

Thank you so much Thomas!

Thomas Stein on January 10, 2018:

Splendid research Ms. Ryhn written in a concise and and succinct manner. Well done. Sincerely, Thomas Stein.

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on November 04, 2016:

Thank you so very much Scott!

Scott Westin on October 28, 2016:

I was skeptical before hearing the audio of the "spirts" but after listening to those sounds, and the eerie meanings like "tell them", "who are they ?" I firmly believe they are supernatural voices from the damned & tortured. Good Work Rachel.

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on March 02, 2016:

Thank you so much kittythedreamer. It is indeed a very sad story.

Kitty Fields from Summerland on November 15, 2015:

Very creepy! I'd never heard of the Villisca Ax Murder house before. What a sad story. I wouldn't be surprised at all if other entities have been attracted to the house because of all the negative energy lingering there. Thanks for sharing your story.

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on June 18, 2015:

Thank you so much Sharlee01!

Sharlee on June 17, 2015:

Very well written and put together. You certainly did your research. This article is compelling and gives good evidence of a haunting. The EVP's were very clear, and relevant to the location. Good work...

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on May 01, 2015:

Thank you Mel for the very nice compliment!

And, thank you for your comment Larry.

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on April 30, 2015:

Creepy for sure. I got the chills reading this. Very well written and researched.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 30, 2015:

Always fascinated with this sort of thing. Very in depth analysis.

As to the haunting of this place, I am skeptical, but the existence of ghosts is not something I've ruled out.

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on April 28, 2015:

Thank you so, so very much NightDude! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Frank McCrary from Tampa, Florida on April 28, 2015:

Awesome article!!!

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on April 21, 2015:

I know DarkestDreams. It's such a sad story.

Darkest Dreams from East Coast, USA on April 20, 2015:

I've heard about this house before on different shows. It is such a sad story. For some reason, it really bothers me so much about the two children that were friends with them spending the night there. It was bad enough for an entire family to be killed, but then two more innocent children were killed too just because they happened to be there that night. So sad!

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on April 15, 2015:

Thank you so very much Kristleangel!

Crystal Myers from Flagstaff on April 15, 2015:

That was a great article!!!!!

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on April 14, 2015:

Thank you so much Flo!

Flo Shaugobay on April 14, 2015:

David Shaugobay my husband says he would sleep in the house , well heck I think he could sleep anywherewhereas he falls to sleep so fast and in bed early. As for me not sure and find it interesting ,but not sure just how much I believe in ghosts. Won,t say it is not true as I have not went to a haunted house to check out ghosts. Great job Rachael Stein Jones.

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on April 14, 2015:

I still get the goosebumps thinking of the investigation, and I can no longer even listen to the EVPs because I get so creeped out, but I honestly don't think I could resist another trip back!

Asma Shaikh from Mumbai, Maharashtra, India on April 13, 2015:

extremely creepy video and article...sure of getting goosebumps..:D

Rachael Ryhn (author) from Cambridge, MN on April 13, 2015:

Thank you Lee! It was indeed very creepy to say the least.

Lee Cloak on April 13, 2015:

Very interesting hub, great pictures, scary stuff indeed, Voted up, thanks, Lee