Inside the Villisca Ax Murder House: A Paranormal Investigation
J.B. and Sarah Moore 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 has spawned evidence of these claims.
Villisca Ax Murder House
June 9th, 1912
At 8:00 pm Josiah (J.B.) 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. This particular night all of the lights in Villisca were blackened due to a feud between Villisca and the electric company. Because of this, two of the children's friends, Lena and Ina Stillinger ages 12 and 8, were afraid to walk to their grandmother's house after the program for dinner. Following a call to their parents, it was agreed the Stillinger girls were to spend the night at the Moore's. At approximately 9:30 pm the program ended, and the Moore family and Stillinger girls walked three blocks along the dark streets to the Moore's home. They arrived at the house in Villisca, Iowa between 9:45 and 10:00 pm. After a snack of milk and cookies, the family and guests headed to bed.
Moore Family and Stillinger Girls
Dead Person in Every Bed
The family tucked in to sleep in the upstairs bedrooms of the house, and the Stillinger girls slumbered downstairs in the sewing/guest room. Josiah's backyard ax was taken by an intruder who entered the house before the family and Stillinger girls' returned from church. It was concluded that between the hours of midnight and 5:00 am, the intruder slipped into the parents room through the attic door, and with an ax, struck Josiah and his wife multiple times, with exact blows to their heads. Next, he bludgeoned the heads of the four children in the adjoining room with ax. He continued down the stairs to the room where Lena and Ina slept, and 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 also found with defensive wounds on her arms and body. Officials claimed she was the only person awake while murdered. After murdering every person in the house, the killer proceeded back up the stairs, and continued to systematically strike the heads of the deceased bodies. 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 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 in the home with clothing.
- The Moore's clothing was hung over every mirror in the home, hiding any reflection.
- All of the curtains in the Moore house were drawn shut, and two windows without curtains were shaded with the Moore's clothing.
- Ax marks were left in the children's and Moore's 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, and the wick was 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 near the doorway, and was leaning on the wall. It was blood covered, but an attempt was made to wipe it clean.
- The killer left a 2 pound slab of wrapped bacon in a towel next to the ax in the Stillinger girls' room. 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
Moore Family Gravesite
Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly
Who was the Killer?
There were several suspects following the murders including the state senator. William Mansfield was another suspect who was thought to be paid to construct the murders, and the most likely suspect a reverend, Lyn George Jacklin Kelly, who was found to be a sexual deviant, and sat just behind J.B. Moore at the children's program.
Reverend Kelly was a mid-west preacher who drifted in and out of Iowa and the surrounding states. In the early morning following the murders, Kelly boarded the train out of Villisca to Macedonia. He told other passengers on the train of the murders before they were discovered. After arriving in Macedonia he sent blood filled clothing to be laundered. He returned to Villisca one week following the murders, and entered the Moore's home posing as a detective. He also inquired about suspects at this time. Kelly confessed to the murders years later, but it was found to be a coerced confession. He was tried two times for the murders, and both times he was acquitted. At this 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.
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, and 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. Two additional photos captured by other teams are included below, to reinforce the claims of paranormal activity in the home.
Full-Spectrum Camera Still
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:
1:54 (Inaudible)...my mom and dad.
2:29 (Unknown)...did it
3:17 Uh huh
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
The Children Speak: PRISM Paranormal EVP Compilation
The following video is a compilation created by PRISM Paranormal. It features the history of the house, and compares EVPs captured of the Moore and Stillinger children. Included in the video is my recording, and recordings from several different paranormal groups from the years 2004 to 2014. Be warned, some of the EVPs are disturbing.
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 Villisca apart, are now holding it together. Most of the storefronts sit empty, but the Villisca Ax Murder House keeps the town alive by pumping a steady stream of tourist revenue into remaining businesses. 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?
Home of J.B. Moore and the infamous Villisca Ax Murders
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.
Share Your Voice
Is the Villisca Ax Murder House really haunted?
© 2015 Rachael M Ryhn