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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Crime Tidbit--Villisca Axe Murders (If creepy stories scare you, you may want to read this in daylight!)

Have you ever heard the story of the Villisca Axe Murders committed in Iowa in 1912? It's a creepy, sinister story. *Warning: if you get scared reading creepy stories, maybe read this post in the daylight. You've been warned!!!*

In June of 1912, the Moore family, consisting of parents Josiah and Sarah and their six children, lived in the small town of Villsca, Iowa. They were well-to-do and well-liked in their community. On the night of June 9, two extra children from the community were invited to spend the night at the Moore house.

The next day, the neighbor noticed that there was no activity coming from the house. The Moores, like most of the small Iowa community, were early risers who had chores to take care of. They were generally scene moving around the house and yard quite early in the morning. When 7 a.m came and went, the neighbor became concerned knocked and the doors and windows, but received no answer. She let out the Moore's chickens and then called Ross Moore, brother to Josiah. Ross Moore came straight over and knocked on doors and windows but also received no answer. He used his copy of the house key to enter the residence and discovered the bodies of his brother, sister-in-law, their six children, and their two house guests. 

All had been killed, shortly after midnight, by being bludgeoned with an ax. It appeared that all except one of the house guests, Lena Stillinger, were asleep when killed. Lena was found laying cross-wise on her bed, with a defensive wound on her arm. She probably awoke and tried to fight back.

The shocking murders were front-page news and over the next several months, a handful of viable suspects emerged, though none were ever convicted. The only clue to who the murderers were was two extinguished cigarettes found in the attic. None of the Moore's smoked. The town's peace officers believed that two assailants hid in the attic until everyone was asleep, then went downstairs. They used an ax that belonged to Mr. Moore himself to commit the murders, then disappeared into the night.


  • Andrew Sawyer was a transient who left town in a hurry the morning the bodies were discovered and remained obsessed with newspaper coverage of the murders and whether the police had any suspects.
  • George Kelly was an unbalanced minister and probably a pedophile. He and his wife left town the day after the murders. Kelly was tried twice for the crimes. One trial resulted in a hung jury; the other in acquittal.
  • Frank F. Jones was a townsman and prominent senator whom Mr. Moore had worked for for many years before leaving to start his own business. Mr. Moore took a great deal of business away from Jones, and Jones was quite bitter about it. Many historians believe he master-minded the murder, but hired others to actually carry it out.
  • William "Blackie" Mansfield was an unstable man who murdered his wife, child, and parents-in-law with an ax two years after the Villisca murders. He was also the prime suspect in several other ax murders that occurred up and down the Southern Pacific Railroad line. Detective James Wilkerson put together a case against him and brought it before the grand jury. Ultimately Mansfield was acquitted because he had an alibi, though the alibi was flimsy, there might have been political pressure involved and there was at least one witness who was supposed to testify that never showed up.
  • Henry Lee Moore was another suspected serial killer who killed his mother and grandmother with an ax only months after the Villisca murders. He was also a suspect in several of the other ax murder cases Mansfield was suspected in.
  • Sam Moyer (Josiah Moore's brother-in-law) often threatened to kill him, though an alibi exonerated him in the eyes of the law.
The investigation went on and on. No one was ever convicted and the case remains open. To this day, the Moore house still stands and is one of the most haunted houses in America. Children growing up in the house have testified to a dark energy centered in the attic and strange things happening in rooms when no one was in them.

I've always thought the image of the two smoking cigarettes in the attic was a creepy one. 

What do you think of this story? Who do YOU think is the most likely suspect?

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