The Villisca Axe Murders

Villisca murder house

The Villisca, Iowa home where two adults and six children were slain June 10, 1912.


Montgomery County in Iowa
Montgomery County in Iowa
Villisca in Montgomery CountyVillisca in Montgomery County

Multiple Murders

Josiah B. “Joe” Moore, 43
Sarah (Montgomery) Moore, 39
Herman Moore, 11
Katherine Moore, 10
Boyd Moore, 7
Paul Moore, 5
Lena Stillinger, 12
Ina Stillinger, 8
508 E. 2nd St.
Villisca, IA
Montgomery County
June 10, 1912


Case summary compiled by Jody Ewing
Josiah "Joe" Moore

Josiah B. “Joe” Moore

Sometime around midnight between Sunday, June 9, and Monday, June 10, 1912, a person or persons entered a modest house in Villisca, Iowa, and bludgeoned to death eight people sleeping there, including two adults and six children aged 5 through 12. The killings became known as the “Villisca Axe Murders,” and are easily the most notorious murders in Iowa history.

Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore

The murders spawned nearly ten years of investigations, repeated grand jury hearings, a spectacular slander suit and murder trial, and numerous minor litigations and trials. The horrific crime made and broke political careers.

Legislation was written in response to the murder, including the establishment of the current State Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s predecessor.

The Night Before the Murders
Herman Moore

Herman Moore

On Sunday evening, June 9, 1912, Josiah (Joe) Moore and his wife Sarah took their four children, Herman, 11, Katherine, 10, Boyd, 7, and 5-year-old Paul to the Children’s Day service at the Presbyterian Church. Accompanying them were Lena (12) and Ina Stillinger (8), neighbors who had asked their parents’ permission to stay overnight with the Moore children.

Katherine Moore

Katherine Moore

The Children’s Day service was an end-of-the-year Sunday school program. Sarah Moore was a co-director and her children performed their little speeches and recitations along with the other Sunday school members.

The service ended with a social mingling that lasted until at least 9:30 p.m. When parishioners left on that cloudy, damp and cool night, no one suspected that neither the Moores nor their overnight guests would be seen alive again.

Paul Moore

Paul Moore

They walked the three blocks to their home. Cookies and milk ended the festive evening, and all went to bed.

Sometime after midnight, the killer or killers picked up Joe’s axe from the back yard, entered the house, and bludgeoned to death all eight of its occupants.

Lena and Ina Stillinger

Lena and Ina Stillinger

By 7:30 a.m. on June 10th, Mary Peckham, an elderly neighbor to the west, became concerned that the Moore house seemed quiet and deserted. She called Joe’s brother Ross, a local druggist, who arrived at about 8:00 a.m. to look around. His cautious inspection of the downstairs revealed two figures covered with a sheet in the back bedroom, and he also saw blood on the bedstead.

Boyd Moore

Boyd Moore

Ross stepped back and away from the crime scene and called Joe’s hardware store, telling employee Ed Selley to fetch Marshal Henry “Hank” Horton, because something “terrible had happened.”

Hank arrived about 8:30 a.m., went through the house, and found — as he told Ross when he came out — “somebody murdered in every bed.” The partially cleaned murder weapon was left leaning against the south wall of the downstairs bedroom where the visiting Stillinger girls were found.

“Bizarre” Murder Scene

The killer had added two bizarre touches to the murder scene. The first was a four-pound piece of slab bacon leaning against the wall next to the axe. The murderer also had searched dresser drawers for pieces of clothing to cover the mirrors in the house and the glass in the entry doors. On the kitchen table was a plate of uneaten food and a bowl of bloody water.

The funeral procession for the Moore family and Stillinger sisters. (Courtesy photo - "The Funeral in the Park")

The funeral procession for the Moore family and Stillinger sisters. (Courtesy photo – “The Funeral in the Park”)

All the victims were found in their beds, their heads covered with bedclothes, and all had their skulls battered 20 to 30 times with the blunt end of an axe.

The ceiling in the parents’ bedroom and the children’s room upstairs showed gouge marks, apparently made by the upswing of the axe.

Though Lena Stillinger’s nightgown had been pushed up and she’d been left exposed, doctors concluded she had not been sexually abused. Lena also had a bloodstain on her knee and an alleged defensive wound on her arm.

The Moore-Stillinger funeral services were held in Villisca’s town square on June 12, 1912, with thousands in attendance. National Guardsmen blocked the street as a hearse moved toward the firehouse, where the eight victims lay. Their caskets, not on display during the funeral, were later carried on several wagons to the Villisca Cemetery for burial.

The funeral cortege was 50 carriages long.

Rev. George Kelly

The Reverend

At 5:19 a.m. the morning following the murders, the Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly left Villisca on board the westbound number 5 train and allegedly told fellow travelers there were eight dead souls back in Villisca, Iowa — butchered in their beds while they slept, he said — even though the bodies had not yet been discovered.

Kelly had arrived in Villisca for the first time the Sunday morning of the murders and attended a Sunday school performance by the Stillinger girls before departing early Monday. He returned two weeks later, and, posing as a detective, joined a tour of the murder house with a group of investigators.

Authorities first became interested in Rev. Kelly a few weeks after the murders after being alerted by recipients of his rambling letters.

The Moore family was buried at the Villisca Cemetery. (Courtesy

Kelly — the son and grandson of English ministers — had suffered a mental breakdown as an adolescent. Since immigrating to America with his wife in 1904, Kelly had preached at Methodist churches across North Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas and Iowa. He’d been assigned as a visiting minister to several small communities north of Villisca, where he developed a reputation for odd behavior. He’d also been convicted of sending obscene material through the mail and had spent time in a mental hospital.

A Grand Jury indicted Kelly for Lena Stillinger’s murder, and he was interrogated throughout the summer of 1917 while in jail awaiting trial.


Lena and Ina Stillinger are buried together at the Villisca Cemetery. (Courtesy photo Hiesela,

On August 31 at 7 a.m., Kelly signed a confession to the murder, saying God had whispered to him to “suffer the children to come unto me.”

Kelly recanted his confession at trial, and his case went to the jury on September 26. The jury deadlocked eleven to one for acquittal. A second jury was immediately empanelled, but acquitted Rev. Kelly in November.

No one else has ever been tried for the murders, and the crime remains one of the most horrific, unsolved mass murders in American history.

Villisca: Living with a Mystery

On June 10, 2004, Fourth Wall Films released a documentary feature film, “Villisca: Living with a Mystery,” which first premiered in Des Moines. Filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle combined period photographs, computer animation, original art, limited re-enactments, and interviews with historians, eyewitnesses, town residents, and forensic experts to shed light on the then-92-year-old mystery and to reveal the face of a new suspect.

The documentary, now available on DVD, features Dr. Edgar Epperly, the historian considered the foremost authority on the Villisca murders.

Ten years in the making, the documentary explores the possibility that the Villisca crime and similar murders in Monmouth, Illinois, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Ellsworth, Kansas, may have been the work of one of America’s first serial killers.

CourtTV reporter Catherine Crier interviewed Kelly Rundle and Dr. Epperly for a program that aired November 21, 2006. The interview is shown below.

“Villisca” director Kelly Rundle and historian Dr. Edgar Epperly are interviewed by Catherine Crier
November 21, 2006 | CourtTV

The 100-Year Anniversary

On June 10, 2012, a number of Iowa newspapers covered the 100-year anniversary of Iowa’s most highly profiled crime. KCRG-TV9’s piece featured an additional video with a tour inside the notorious home. Both videos may be found below.

100 Years After Iowa Ax Murders, Case Remains Unsolved — KCRG TV-9, Airdate June 10, 2012


Villisca Murder House Tour: 100 Years After Iowa Ax Murders, Case Remains Unsolved — KCRG TV-9, Airdate June 10, 2012

New documentary coincides with 101st anniversary

A new documentary about the slayings made its debut Monday, June 10, 2013, on Facebook. Rockford, Ill., filmmaker Stuart Wahlin premiered The Ax Man Enigma: The real-life inspiration behind “Slay Utterly” to coincide with the Villisca murders’ 101st anniversary.

“Villisca is the most well-known in this series of crimes, largely attributable to the popularity of paranormal TV shows that have featured the house where the murders occurred,” Wahlin said in a Rock River (IL) Times article published June 7, 2013. “But what few people realize is that the Villisca crime scene was not unique.”

During a two-year period (1911-1912), a rash of eerily similar ax murders swept across the Midwest. Leaving unique crime scene signatures in his wake, it is believed the “Ax Man” may have been responsible for at least two-dozen murders, said Wahlin. No one was ever brought to justice.

“The documentary is really aimed at educating people about the case, while also generating interest in our upcoming feature film,” Wahlin added, noting The Ax Man Enigma’s release also coincided with a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign for Slay Utterly, a modern crime thriller inspired by the case. That film is slated for a 2014 release.

Wahlin, a former Rockford journalist, was awarded Best Director at the Prairie State Film Festival in Chicago last year for his film, Hand of Glory.

Other Updates

In June 2017, the new fictional horror film, “The Axe Murders of Villisca,” was released on the popular streaming site Netflix. A Daily Nonpareil article published June 12, 2017, said Netflix describes the film as, “Three ghost-hunting teens get more than they bargained for when they break into a historic home where eight people were murdered over a century ago.”‘s Damond Fudge reviewed the film, and said the incident is used as a springboard, of sorts, for the film’s story, which is set in the present day and “more interested in being a standard haunted house tale than a study of a tragic small town horror.”

Fudge said of the film:

While there are some good things to be found during the short, 74-minute runtime, they’re outweighed by a lot of awfulness. The movie, as a whole, is a jumbled mess that leaves a lot of unanswered questions. . .

Read his deftly written review here.

Sources and References:
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208 Responses to Villisca Axe Murders

  1. Kyle says:

    I’ve always had my own theory. People ask how no one woke up? I have always believed. They invited someone they knew over for dinner. Or they were hiding in the attic. Thus the uneaten food. And they had some how drugged everyone in the house. Through their food. Therefore they never woke during the attacks. This happened way before forensic science. So who knows.

    • sunny says:

      but Lena had a defense wound on her arm if they had been drugged then that wouldn’t make sense
      1 its a Hassel and quite difficult considering that the killer(s) had poisoned the occupants when there where 6 other children in the house not including the parents who could have walked in at any time.

      2 there where no reports of another person in the house also they had just come from a meal at the church they wouldn’t cook a whole meal if no one was going to eat it.

      3 in ur theory u also stated “people ask how no one woke up” but you’ve gotta keep in mind they where killed in there beds the lack of friction in the mattresses would have caused it to be almost silent. another point to this is that we know the parents and a few of the children had slept next to each other, if u look hard enough you’ll be able to find evidence that the axes Handel was longer by about5 1/2 inched with how elongated the axe was the killer(s) would have been easily able to reach the axe to the opposite end of the bed crushing the skull of the victim on the left while also causing substantial damage to the victim on the right.

      4. following my claim with how long the axe was the person on the left would at least have a concussion and have passed out AT LEAST then the killer(s) could have easily focused on the victim closest to them killed that person and then ended the life of the victim on the left.

  2. Robert Lucht says:

    They had a little museum at knotts berry farm when I was a kid in the 1970s they had the axe from this crime at there museum it was shut down years ago wonder what happend to the axe!

  3. kaelyn says:

    i most deff think that this is the weirdest crimes iv heard it kinda makes no sense to me,what did he have agianst them? what was his motive where would he have hid if you can hear every tiny thing like a sneeze it blows my mind the things people do to others

  4. Erika Parr says:

    I was reading this and realized that there had to be more than one murderer and if not why didn’t anyone hear? Especially those in the same room. The oldest guest did have defensive wounds on her body and while she was fighting off the attacker, did she scream? Why didn’t others hear? If the two guests were killed last how come they didn’t hear anyone else scream? Even if all were asleep. You would of had to hear the ax.

    • Jim Farrell says:

      My first reaction when hearing about this. It has been stated that the first blows rendered all victims practically motionless so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it made them inaudible as well, if only long enough for the second blow. Fortunately we can not test this theory.
      Still I can’t imagine a killer EXPECTING no one to make a sound as they attempt to kill 8 people. And this brings up the questions:
      1. Was only one person the intended victim?
      2. If so then who was killed first?
      After watching “Villisca: Living With A Mystery” I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a psychopath/serial killer. Most probably Henry Lee Moore.
      If any one specific person was the victim then it appears they could have easily committed the deed and left but to go after 8 people in 3 different rooms and on 2 different levels tells me that all of them were intended to die.
      I can’t state it enough. WATCH THAT MOVIE
      So many repetitive questions here a answered in it PLUS you learn so much more. A GREAT documentary.

      • Jason J Knudsen says:

        I would love to know if there is anything left that was collected from the crime scene. As big of a case that this was nationaly you would think they might have some left. As we all too well now know, when you have a scene this bloddy and physical, the murderer most likey left some of himself at the scene along with his victim. If evidence still existed it would be a great chance to see what these experts we have today could maybe find…….just a thought

  5. Mason Mixdorf says:

    thank you

  6. Deb says:

    Whatever happened to Pastor Kelly! My mother was raised in Villisca and her brother-i-law was a private detective from the railroad on the case. My mother is no longer living nor any of her family that I can inquire with.

    I heard that dogs had tracked the murderer to the river and lost the scent!

  7. Alesia Stone says:

    Does anyone know the bedroom ceiling height?

  8. Paul Pate says:

    In Dec 1904..a very pregnant Ella Fox Barrett with the homeowner and wife were killed before house set ablaze…the two ladies were beaten to death and laid very respectfully on a bed while the man of the house was beheaded and axe was left on the floor next to his body…axe was always left in out house…so killer retrieved it from there…this happened in Monticello Arkansas. Today that site remains one of the most haunted places in America.

  9. Patrick says:

    I really enjoyed reading all of these comments, scenarios, and opinions.
    Thank you all.

  10. Jim Farrell says:

    I don’t know how relevant this is but it is sure an entertaining video I found on YouTube.

    • Jim Farrell says:

      sorry .. it’s been taken down. It was a video trying to link all the axe murders so prevalent at the time. Wish I could find it again.

  11. Candy Schott says:

    When I went there the tour guide that lived next door at the time stated that a family of there came there the week prior and the daughter was autistic or special and when she went into the attic (where they think the killer or killers hid) she began hysterically – saying bad man bad man in white. Many wondered if a doctor or someone who would have access to chloroform – could have committed the murders.

  12. Kevin colston says:

    If G Kelly was in that attic space, at 5’2″ and thin, and emerged around midnight, he might have been identified by either of the Moores in wakefulness in the dark as one of the children.

  13. Kevin colston says:

    They had no indoor plumbing, in the way of a bathroom. Perhaps it is plausible to imagine that during warmer months, the kids created late night traffic through the house to visit the outhouse in back, and as such, create a routine background noise during sleeping hours, never considered suspicious at all by the sleeping adults.

    • Marsha Reagan says:

      Kevin Colston: “They has no indoor plumbing; it’s plausible… the kids created traffic to the outhouse and back…”
      I also considered this, but in a house with that many children (4 not counting the Stillinger girls) there were closets in each room, and they would likely have had bed pans. It’s possible they didn’t, but when you have small ones you don’t want to get up with them several times a night. You would probably have a water pitcher and basin, with a cup that older children can help the youngest with and, a few chamber pots inside their closet. I don’t know if this is true, but I heard that they had milk and cookies before bed. A mother as experienced as Sarah was, would not have given them milk immediately before bed, if she wasn’t assured that they would be able to access the toilet quickly. The youngest two were ages 7 and 5. Just a practical mom’s point of view. It still doesn’t necessarily rule anything out.

      • Mandy says:

        Good theory about the chamber pots. You wouldn’t want your young children running about outside early morning to use the outhouse. But then again, perhaps there wasn’t the fear we have today about our children’s safety. Who’s to know. Very tragic……very interesting.

    • Marsha Reagan says:

      “They have”, not “They has” – excuse the typo, lol

      • Mandy says:

        Good theory about the chamber pots. Wonder how strict parents were back then as far as any of the children using the outhouse at night? Everyone was so much less fearful back then.

  14. Kevin colston says:

    These events obviously took place after the 2200 dismissal at the church. Maybe midnight? How dark was it? How does a killer navigate a dark house with no light, without waking someone? That house is small. One sneeze after bedtime would certainly be heard. Moore had enemies, competitors in business. Is it possible there were two killers?

    • Simbo says:

      He used an oil lamp with the chimney removed and the wick turned low. Same MO he used in other crimes. This was one of his signatures.

    • Brandi says:

      I believe it was a person that was very religious I say this because of the bacon wrapped in a towel in the kids room and i believe this person went to there church the old saying about pig in a blanket was said to be pretty much about wrapping the meat to hide that your eating it as a religious point when your not supposed to I’d look back in to all the people who went to there church I believe that’s were they would find the one responsible

      • Anon says:

        Theres a new book called The Man from the Train. The author went thru old newspapers and found there were more than 20 killings like this near railroad tracks. The authors theory is that the man was a pedophile who killed families with little girls. Its gross but there was often bacon found at the crime scenes. The author thinks the killer used the bacon fat to masturbate. The killer may have been a lumberjack who traveled by train.

  15. Leslie says:

    I’m going to put forth my theory, crazy as it may sound. I think the father did it.

    Look at it with forensic psychology. Of all the victims, the adult male’s face was completely demolished. This happens for two reasons – 1 – the killer is in a rage, or 2 – the killer is trying to obscure the identity of the body. The whole house speaks of cool calculation, not a crazy rage.

    And there is this – how could so many people be killed quietly with so much violence? My answer is that they were drugged. Something slipped into a bedtime glass of milk, say?

    Now the obvious question is where did the dead man come from? The same source where most of the suspects come from – the train, and the transients who walked through town. The father could have offered him a job, some charity like new clothes, or food. The father might have killed him in advance (since time of death determination was really crude at that time) or arranged for him to come to the house late at night. The man could have been poisoned in the kitchen (the uneaten meal) or with blunt force that was then obscured by the axe blows. The father dressed him in his clothes and finished the job.

    For a few loose ends, the food and bacon left the impression of an outsider. So did the cigarettes, though those might have been smoked while the father waited for, you guessed it, the train. He slipped out into the dark and went to start a new life.

    • Carrie says:

      Makes sense. They could exhume and compare dna.

    • Serena Kurtz says:

      I’m not gonna lie, I just started doing deep research on this murder case and all of these replies and comments have me thinking! This case and all of the conspiracy theories are crazy!! I wish I could see the actual legal reports and the evidence so I could look at it! It would be super cool to have an actual answer to the biggest US crime case of “WHO DONE IT?”!

      • Erika Parr says:

        I agree very much with you Serena. I have also been looking into it and the world needs answers.

      • Paul Pate says:

        Cannot help but think this has a connection to the 1904 Ella Fox murder done with an axe…too much in common.
        If someone was to do the research, think it would be discovered that many other cases exist….this is the kind of thing that CANNOT be a solo act…just has to be others….this kind of Psycho doesn’t stop at one or two….

    • Erica says:

      What an interesting theory! I personally keep thinking it was the father too, or perhaps a teenage boy close to the family or part of the family.I get a sense of a secret and pain perhaps abuse and the need to cover it up or to end it.
      What if the preacher witnessed it (just a thought), What if someone committed the act but someone with their own issues went in the house after?I also feel have this feeling the mother might of been a main target out of anger and hurt. Was the father having relations with Lena? So many thoughts.

    • Katastrophe says:

      The house is close to a train track you can hear it from the ghost hunting videos.

    • Lavinia says:

      It also states there have been 2 dozen similar murders throughout the Midwest, did the father do these as well?

  16. Glenn says:

    A new book titled The Man from the Train makes a good case for whodunit, saying this wasnt an isolated case….

  17. Tony Bash says:

    who want’s to go their

  18. Jim Farrell says:

    I always wished some one could provide a map of the Stillinger place to the Moore house.

  19. triciaann hellums says:

    why did family?. were the girls sexually messed with?. nice looking family. good people.

    • Joyce says:

      One would have to understand the religious climate of the day. The Stillinger children did not attend public school, and one map from 1912 places the Stillinger school on their property. The church service the two attended with the Moore’s was Christian…and in those days, Amish, Mormon, Mennonite and other sects separated themselves because of their ‘different views’ regarding proper treatment of girls and women. Lena was the object of the event, and the scene found in the morning, was exactly according to the ”Blood atonement ritual” practiced by the fundamentalist Mormons. The ‘hints’ were all documented in the first few days after the murders took place. You’ve never heard this before because it has been the missing piece of evidence that no one noticed…. and of course the fact that they were all ‘knocked in the head’ and placed in their beds before Lena was forced to witness what had to be done to protect their community of brothers and sisters.

  20. Pat Callies says:

    Watched the movie, hence, googled the incident. Creepy and unsettling. Made me appreciate the movie, which I thought was a little cheesy, not so bad.

    • Micki says:

      There are murderers who cover the face of the victims they know and murderers who cover all mirrors to ensure they don’t see themselves because in their mind, it’s not them commiting the crime. There was no evidence of sexual assault on the girl but there was evidence of defensive wounds. Could it be possible that she’s the only one who saw the killers face and recognized them and she was left in a sexual pose to shame her so she wouldn’t be believed or even heard in the spirit life so that when the killer died, there would be no judgement from her words?!? Remember that this was 1912 and an unmarried female who wasn’t a virgin would be prosecuted in heaven and on earth. Also think about the fact that in the old testament it is a sin to eat pork because it’s a white meat, the same as humans. If the murderer actually took the large slab of bacon out of the house freezer, maybe they were murdered for the sin of eating pork ?! I believe that anyone capable of commiting a crime like this has to be mentally ill; even psychotic, which means they wouldn’t think the same as someone without mental illness. Therefore, possibly making all reasons for why/how things were done totally impossible to figure out. Just my thoughts !

      • Pat Callies says:

        Very analytical response. Thank you for educating me on the values and consequences of that era

      • JA Kalskett says:

        The very first fact that your comment twisted is why many have followed false leads and gossip…that’s a shame. Do you know that in 1912, penetration was the gauge for ‘assault’ of a GIRL, but a married woman could not accuse anyone of rape…no matter what the circumstances or the perpetrator. Children had less… no rights. No voice…they worked without pay, and were subjected to any condition at the will of their ‘father /provider’. Women were considered as valuable as livestock and married for the dowry to enhance the position in the community, and would lose title to their ‘joint’ property when the husband died for any reason.

      • Vickie Wilson says:

        Ever think it might have been the neighbors son? He was mentally I’ll and she could have came over and covered their faces and the mirrors…she could have been the one to clean up the mess. She was up early washing clothes and why did she call the brother instead of walking over there and knocking on the door? We will never know….

  21. Edward leroy says:

    Who ever did it, died many years ago. I’m just saying

  22. Mandi Marie says:

    Malinda Maria Sharp 104 years and 1 day

  23. Iowa Public Television has been showing the documentary about it, which is also available on Netflix. Very good movie, and also names the most likely culprit.

  24. I did a Halloween tour – VERY interesting!!

  25. Spent the night at that house. Pretty crazy.

  26. Joyce says:

    Sorry to find no one reads these comments anymore. As in 1912, and thru the hundred years since, thousands of people have learned of this tragic event, but must have moved on, as each piece of evidence and theories were dis-proven. The right evidence has been overlooked or otherwise discarded, in the interest of public decency. The key to this case is child sexual abuse within the Stillinger family, and the eldest sister orchestrated the murders, after the Lizzy Borden event, 20 years earlier…using the slab of bacon as the purpose for going to the Moore’s home, late that night. She created the opportunity whereby Mr and Mrs Moore were murdered first, by masquerading as Lena in the closet to use the ‘pot’. Determined to protect her family name, there was only one way to keep secret (the ‘unmentionable behavior) of sibling incest’. But if Josiah hinted or even explained the reason he would keep Lena and Ina overnight, Edith was the one person of interest, and the only person to hear what was discussed in the call. Despite laws, the silent crime continues in families today (as prison inmate statistics support), it is the one secret that explains clearly, why they all had to die…including Lena and Ina) who had told their ‘secret’ to Sarah and Josiah on the walk home, that night.

    • Joyce says:

      i apologize for possibility the name used in my previous comment…it may be incorrect

      • Angela says:

        Joyce, I’m curious here. This is the first time I’ve read about this scenario anywhere and I’ve done a lot of reading up on this case. Where is this information coming from?

        • Anastasia says:

          What Angela said! I’ve been studying this case for years & have NEVER read this “incest” scenario. Sounds pretty far fetched to me!

    • Stacy Northup says:

      There was No Evidence of sexual abuse


        According to reports the killer used a side of bacon found near the body of one of the children. The implication was that some sort of perverted act was performed. If you Google this case, you find that there were at least four other cases or murder in the mid-west and west coast that had the same MO as the Iowa murders. Forget all this hoo-hah about the “Reverend”. He was demented and neurotic, but he did not do it. You’re dealing with a serial killer who rode the rails.

  27. Joyce says:

    The reason for the murders was “unmentionable’ in those days…which allowed the truth of the matter to go ‘un-exposed’. All investigations have tried to connect the event to the Moore family, when all they did was protect the 2 little neighbor girls from walking home with their abusive brothers…

  28. Jim Farrell says:

    I’ve always had a theory that Josiah and/or Sarah called out the name of the murderer during the attack which prompted him(her?) to murder everyone else in the house for fear of being found out. This of course would mean they knew the murderer.

    • Tom says:

      The flaw in your theory is that the person or persons unknown found the children asleep. There was no need to worry about anyone having heard anything. The murderer(s) would have got out of Dodge (quietly) as soon as it was ascertained that the children were still asleep.

      It actually increased the risk of someone being awakened when the killer(s) bludgeoned the children. No, the culprit(s) wanted everybody dead.

  29. Amyana says:

    I just read a book about this recently, called Morning Ran Red! The author, Stephen Bowman had some interesting ideas.*Version*=1&*entries*=0

  30. agnes says:

    Was a very interesting experience! Totally spiritual…Believe it or not.

  31. Kim says:

    Found a link about Henry Lee Moore being a strong suspect in this case:

  32. Richard Brockus says:

    I cannot figure out how they were all murdered without awaking some of them. I visited the inside of the house and the parents bedroom really wasn’t that far away. Could they have been poisoned before being axed? And if Mansion or someone was hired to do it, why would they kill the whole family and two neighbor children? They could have found Mr. Moore alone and knocked him off. ???

    • Joyce says:

      Josiah was not the intended victim! But the murderers could not be sure who else had heard what was said in the conversation from the Moore’s home to the Stillinger’s home. The Stillinger girls knew the people they let into the house that night…they all recognized their assailants, and would have exposed the ‘unmentionable’ secret, (child abuse)

      • Joyce A (Moore) K. says:

        Much of the evps, pics and testimonials validate this POV

        • Richard Brockus says:

          Joyce, what you said does make sense.But still, how do all these people get murdered without awakening someone. I read the book (Murdered in Their Sleep). I still think about the whole thing a lot and cannot help to believe from everything I read that the crazy perverted preacher wasn’t involved.

          • G.S. Wilson says:

            Joyce, appreciate you for speaking up for abused children and understand your agenda. That is commendable. Respectfully disagree with you in this case.

            Richard, believe you are correct. This has the hallmarks of a serial killer. It “fits the profile”.

            Many serial killers have a history of “porn” aka “obscene material”. The “perverted preacher” had such a history. Another common behavior among serial killers is returning to the scene of the crime. Again, the “perverted preacher” did so. They also leave “signatures”. The crime scene had many: the lamp, the clothing over the windows, covering the faces, locking the doors from the inside, time of crime, etc. Serial killers repeat their crimes. There is evidence this one repeated similar crimes at least three times in the region.

            If the younger children heard anything, like most frightened children, they probably would have cowered under their sheets in hopes of becoming invisible. They weren’t killed because they could identify anyone. They were killed for the thrill of it.

            The eldest daughter had no need to kill any of them as she could have simply said, “No” to the Moore request on the phone and not have had a “problem”. One can imagine throughout the remainder of her life, she suffered the guilt of having sanctioned the overnight stay.

            That would be imagining on my part and not fact; just as accusing the grieving Stillinger family of child sexual abuse is imagining. It’s something Stillinger descendants might find offensive. There is no conclusive evidence of the preacher having harmed anyone either nor is there evidence of the girls having been abused at home or anywhere else for that matter.

            There is evidence of a serial killer.

            • Richard Brockus says:

              I agree with you G.S. Also the book said that the perverted preacher would walk around at night and chant “slay and slay again”. Everything indicated that he was definitely at the house that night. Why was he on the train leaving town ? This guy was insane and I believe you’d have to be insane to commit this gruesome mass murder. Also in court his defense attorney claimed he was too small of a person to swing an axe high enough to commit the murders. A ten year old could wing an axe. On top of everything else he admitted to the murder. This perverted preacher is still my prime suspect. I am still puzzled as to how he did it without awakening the others. Perhaps he murdered the parents first.

            • JA Kalskett says:

              For people who have spent so many years trying to make sense of the crime using the ‘wrong pieces’, it is understandable that resorting to the ‘deranged murderer or serial killer’ would be all you are left to think. But, you have to use the religious and social climate and conditions of that day, not today. Many people are in love with the mystery, but not with exposing what took place after dark one night in 1912. My comment was not up for approval…. merely to show the event thru the eyes of the innocent who experienced life and death, at a time when children were expendable and abuse undefined. I have given what I came here to leave with others…. thank you, Jody Ewing for giving me the time and place to deliver these thoughts over the expanse of time.

  33. Tia Williams says:


  34. I have visited this house. It don’t believe it is the traveling preacher. I believe it was someone else in the town that had a vendetta. From what I understand, it’s possible that Josiah had an affair and had another child.

  35. Pam Ingham says:

    They do tours and I believe overnights. Ghost Adventures did an episode there too.

  36. haunting murders.

  37. Joshua Allan Felkins

  38. Andrea Marie says:

    Loved doing a investigacion on this place!! Got tons on evidence back!! Going to go again this year!!

  39. Heather Cramblit Whitmore

  40. Matt Nesbitt says:

    I think it was Jeremy Draman!

  41. People still call it the Villisca Axe Murder House

  42. Anna Bierman De Leon

  43. Kris Starks says:

    I have read about this case (very interesting) and have a couple of DVD’s about it.

  44. Makayla says:

    If you’re so sure the reverend did it because “There was no possible way he could’ve known all that information without being there”, you’ve obviously never lived in a small town where everyone knows everybody. The reverend may have been perverted and mentally ill, but that surely doesn’t automatically make him a killer. In all honesty, we have the technology to find out who truly committed the murders, but we never will because they’re too busy making money off of the house, the case, and the story. The way they look at it: if they leave the case unsolved, it keeps people interested and gives them more time to make more money. Just saying. Mason is right: Unclean, Unseen, Modesty. The killer was more than likely brought up in an unsanitary/unclean environment, and was surrounded by abuse (it doesn’t necessarily mean he/she was the one abused. It could just mean they were forced to witness it). The covered mirrors, being unseen…This could mean that maybe he/she had a deformity or was shamed and forced to stay hidden from the public.

    • Judie Delano says:

      He probably just forgot to take the bacon with him when he left, as to the covers over the mirror that was a common practice when there was a death, as well as stopping the clocks. They would not be restarted until after the funeral. Henry Moore, not related to the family was a transient who rode the trains. He was thought to have committed similar murders by creeping in while the owners were sleeping and killing them in their beds.

    • gracie says:

      According the time frame, Kelly left and told people on the train, before anyone went to go check out the family. So how would he have known about it before anyone else in town knew?

      • Wendy says:

        He could have taken a confessional from someone else in town on the evening late that it happened before leaving town the next day.

      • JdF says:

        This had been disputed and the elderly couple who made the statements later stated they couldn’t remember, as I recall.
        I still lean towards Henry Lee Moore as the suspect.

    • Joyce A (Moore) K. says:

      I agree, Makayla….covering the mirrors was customary, to keep the soul of the departed safe…but in this case, the windows were likely covered at the time the windows were closed and blinds were pulled. It is likely, too, Lena was made to look at all the people who were killed because she told Sarah the secret behavior that they feared, if they walked home with their brothers that night.

      • Misty L. Davis says:

        I’m confused so when was Sarah Moore told anything about secret behavior and who would have known about it if she was murdered too. I don’t argue if that’s the case it might very well have been the brothers who committed the crime and being youth of the community were protected and harbored from being suspects.

  45. Mason says:

    The Bacon represents Unclean! The ccovered mirror means Unseen! Which means the whole exsposed girl means modesty

  46. delicia says:

    was he mentally impaired

  47. delicia says:

    why did he kill the family

  48. chekan says:

    Are you fucking kidding me? He admits to doing this, leaves that same morning and tells people what happened BEFORE anyone knew it had happened, and he STILL gets acquitted TWICE?? Get the fuck outta here. He either did it, or the police did, and tried to pin it on him for propaganda. It WAS election time, smh.i hope whomever did this,dies. Im suspicious about this coroner who denied sexual assault to Lena, even though she was exposed. FBI/cops do so much dirt, i believe they have alot of blood on their hands

    • Judie Delano says:

      There was no FBI involved. There was a man named Henry Moore who is also considered a likely suspect. He is accused of at least two other murders with the same MO. There is a paper written by relative of his.She believes he was the killer. Check it out.

    • Anastasia says:

      Really? You hope who’s responsible dies? No shit Sherlock! The murders happened over 100 years ago! It might be safe to say they’re dead! God, I hate stupid people!

  49. One thing that I found interesting is the senator at the time had taken the ax and left it at a masonic temple and a fake one was in use at the trial

    • JA Kalskett says:

      Interesting to know… Masons seem to leave their calling card behind many dark events. I believe they are also connected with the non-Christian
      cults. Hmmm!

  50. Brennen says:

    so i went and investigated the villisca iowa house november 12th 2014 , and im just curious about what all did people catch threw the spirit box or on a digital recorder ,im not going to say what my group caught until i hear other peoples feed back just because maybe someone will hear a name or something we caught and say they caught the same thing and maybe it was completely different, i dont know im really curious so , if your willing to inform me or conversate about your experience or information , anything please give me an email _ . our group is also called TCPRI , visit our website _ – Thank you.

  51. Terry Woods says:

    that was fucking wrong to judge the lady Owen that house she didn’t
    make money off if it the thing is u need to be burn to the ground

  52. What is your problem? Who are you to judge? And that's nasty of you to say you hope she burns in hell. SHAME on you, jerk

  53. its is obvious that a member of the church, that was present that night, committed the murder. the Rev's activities and actions were very suspicious but i think a tall man in their mid to late 30s that was present at the church that night, not necessarily having close relationship with the family, was at fault. the attack didnt seem to have been committed by someone that knew the family well… likely a new member of the church that recently joined within the last month or two…

  54. The two littlee girls that were not related that were neighbors We're my bffs family

  55. Me to I want to stay in it with my mom and friends.

  56. My husband and I stayed the night there overnight and got a ton of evidence that it haunted. Such a sad story

  57. Maggie Hiatt says:

    I love this case and the Villisca Axe Murder House so so much.

  58. Nick ; I really can’t see the house good, but to me, it looks like your house

  59. I’m sorry but this is making me I’ll.

  60. That house is beautiful but eerie. And the land surrounding it is amazing.

  61. This is really sad! It is a horrific murder, & dad it was never solved!

  62. Ashley Lewis says:

    Heather Mesmer Amber L Harrington

  63. It was a one of a kind experience staying here…wish we could have gone up tonight. Such a terrible tragedy

  64. Carrie Cusher i want to go so bad

  65. Andrea Marie says:

    Loved doing an investigation there!! So awesome!!

    • patsy hellums says:

      Why did it happen? What did the Moore family do to be murder? Was the girls sexually absurd? And who ever did that, killed everyone to keep them quite patty hellums

    • patsy hellums says:

      Did that ever find out the murder of the boy in the box?. 1959. Who had killed him only the one or persons involved did that.

  66. Autumn Rosie says:

    this case has always intrigued several books on the matter…. this along with all of the other midwestern ax murders

  67. Bob Cooper says:

    Jennifer Edge Taylor Edge Tori Nicole Cooper

  68. Amanda Welter we need to plan a trip to go :)!

  69. Jen Poulter says:

    Jessica Hendrikson today would have been awesome to go!

  70. Justin David Cramer

  71. Natasha Otterbeck

  72. Meghan Fisk says:

    Caitlin Mabee! :)

  73. Alex Ahart says:

    Uh no Haley Moritz.. I have enough nightmares!

  74. Haley Moritz says:

    Alex Ahart we should have went today ;)

  75. Jerri Noell says:

    they were relatives

    • Joyce says:

      relatives of the Stillinger girls coaxed them to open the screen door to the front porch…they knew the killers and the reason all died that night. Lena was the last one alive and her dress held the evidence. I DO hope someone kept it.

  76. Jerri Noell says:

    David Wildeboer i was told that they did know and the wife left a symbol that she knew there was an intruder–her wedding ring, under her pillow

  77. Jerri Noell says:

    was my grandmothers family

    • Joyce Kalskett says:

      Have you had déjà-vous moments that give you any insight? I believe that it is because I, too, am blood related, and see the event, motive and the commission of the secret ritual that has allowed the event to remain unsolved.

  78. I am a sensitive at least that's what they call me. My friends called me one night and said they were going to spend Halloween in this house and wanted me to come, since I can feel, see, and communicate with the dead. As soon as I stepped out of the car I was consumed by death. The house gave me images I wish I could wash away. The killers face was never clear. Yet I felt like I was struck with every blow of the axe that night. I stayed until morning but will not go back into that house again. It was the most unnerving thing I have ever felt and I have felt a lot of things.

    • Cory G says:

      I hate when people say they can communicate with the dead. It’s ridiculous and it’s simply not true. Stop with the lies.

  79. Diane says:


  80. Becky Harmon says:

    I would not stay there, The woman that bought the house is not because of the historical value but to make a meant off the tragic deaths of this family and no justice was done for this family. That woman claimed she has not felt a thing in the house that own's it, She should be made to stay in the house for a whole weekend. She is getting rich off this poor family's murder. Shame on her. I hope she burns in hell for this.

  81. kyara says:

    Sad I wish it didn’t happen poor kids

  82. Adam says:

    I’m watching the episode of Ghost Adventures that covers this incident. It prompted me to look it up and I came across this site. I believe it may lead to some answers from that sad and fateful night.

  83. For real? That's crazy. Idk if I would be emotionally stable or mentally stable to have dreams like that.

  84. Terry Woods says:

    Misty Darst i would love to spend the night at that house

    • blondmyk says:

      I’ve done that. It’s rather creepy since there is no electricity in the house. If you do an overnight there you’ll have to use the old kerosene lights. We paid I think either $35 or $50 for a night there with my old paranormal group.

  85. Its only a half hour from me. I've taken a tour in it.

  86. Terry Woods says:

    i would love to go in that house i heard stories about it

  87. I also thought , they thought there was a butcher involved and possibly his competition. When i went there , we were told he ran a store and had an argument with the person who was his friend also running a store. Also being the mayor or something of the town he hired someones to kill and they killed everyone. Thats missing in the various stories and documentaries that are out there .

    • justin little says:

      He was the senator at a time and he was a mason and he took the murder weapon to a masonic temple at the time of the trial and another one was used while the trial was going on.

  88. I visited the house and listened to the stories by the person giving the tour I really think the reverend did it how would he know this type of info if no one new about it that time no one knew the neighbour called the brother so it was told. but it broke my heart to hear that innocent lives were taken…. I heard he was a real pervert and they way he treat his female employees

    • Joyce Kalskett says:

      Likely drinking, and wandering in an unfamiliar town, Kelly was confused. Deprived of sleep, accused of things he couldn’t remember… Luckily he had JTStillinger by his side for the next five years, to keep his facts straight. Odd that the father of the two murdered girls from down the road was SO committed to justice that he helped the only accused man. I believe Mr Stillinger KNEW Kelly was innocent, because he also knew who (all) was responsible for the ritual that took place.

      • Misty L. Davis says:

        I agree to the point it must have been trusted friend(s) or neighbor(s), possibly even the stillingers themselves. Ritualistic with misleading deaths to confuse the investigation. Only person who was not found in the bed, was noted to have defensive wounds and was in such an exposed state was the one stillinger girl. This may have been some form of ritualistic sacrifice staged at the entire communities expense simply to throw off the scent of the actual perpetrators. Maybe even a first time event they felt the need to complete but orchestrated through careful planning and very frightening lengths. I mean who blacks out the power of a whole town, gives permission for their kids to have a sleepover during said blackout, and then carries out the most vicious form of human sacrifice of multiple victims in such a methodical approach then simply walks away without any guilt or even blinking an eye. Demons and eery things aside I have a gut instinct this event was a once in a lifetime unrepeatable occurrence. No facts to prove it except for the ones I would connect from the very depraved experiences I myself have witnessed firsthand. Anything is possible even among the ones you love the most.

  89. I lived in Boone, Iowa my entire life and only heard about this murder after I moved away to England! Had no idea this had taken place.

  90. DELIA SCHERR says:


    • Mini Jackson says:

      I agree with you Delia. Although i have just discovered this there is no such thing as a perfect murder. I also believe that the had interviewed the murderer at least once.

    • Joyce says:

      Actually there is more significance to the fact there were two slabs of bacon…. one that Mrs Moore put in the icebox BEFORE the kid’s church program, and the one someone used as an excuse to ‘deliver’ bacon to the Moore’s later that evening… placing someone else in the house after dark…the cloth wrapping was one overlooked clue.

  91. lisa says:

    i can’t imagine someone would even think about killing a person, let alone, two adults and children… and for that matter! someone they trusted!

  92. i can understand your feelings angela, i could not imagaine how that night went in that house, i feel they know who did it, i would really like to visit that house and i plan on it soon.

  93. rev. kelly looks like a pedophile and crazed killer!

  94. Frank Pint says:

    Nope, they went before I started going, but hope to go yet this year, cause I had to work on the last big trip 2 months ago

  95. thought you went to this one already? with the tripp'ses's lol

  96. Frank Pint says:

    Gotta check this out real soon

  97. I've been to the house and it really consumes you. I've had numerous dreams that I'm in the house alone, sitting in the childrens room in the rocking chair. Reverend Kelly is just standing in the doorway stairing at me with this sinister grin and tells me he did the murders and got away with it. Creepy!

  98. sara says:

    what that person said in that comment its true you can spell legion…

  99. Beka Shakur says:

    When the people say Legion did the killing, look at the reverends name, LyGeIn, that’s Lyn George Jacklin, all in 1 word

    • Angie says:

      I believe that it’s Legion that stays in the attic. He had nothing to do with the murders. The demon was brought to the attic about 10 years ago.

      • chekan says:

        Ummm, sorry to burst your bubble, but there are no friendly demons, they are all sent out to do satans work…KILL STEAL AND DESTROY. Please dont applaud the devil by putting things past him. That would make you a fool

        • bobbie2000 says:

          well, i worship the devil, so i believe that all the things they do it nothing but right.

          • mzzjohnson says:

            may God have mercy on your soul

            • Welp says:

              More wars have been wages in the name of God than in the name of Satan. Satan killed 6 people in the bible; God killed off his entire worldly creation save 2 of everything and some humans. Yup. Satan’s the bad guy.

          • Keith Surland says:

            Well of course you worship the devil. That’s nothing special
            Most people do since most people do not know the Lord Jesus Christ. See John 8:44. If you want to change that see John 3:3, 14:6, 3:16.

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