For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by true crime stories and the paranormal. Due to the explosion of true crime podcasts, this has become a common hobby. Stories about places such as the Villisca Ax Murder House can easily lead people down a rabbit hole that leads to obsession. Some highly publicized cold cases have been solved over the years due to internet sleuths spending countless hours figuring out things that the investigators had overlooked.
When I learned about the murders in Villisca Iowa and heard the strange details of this case I was immediately hooked. I wanted to watch every YouTube video that talked about this case and read every newspaper article I could get my hands on.
My favorite source of information about this murder case was an episode of Buzzfeed Unsolved. The ghoul hunters Shane Madej and Ryan Bergara took a nighttime tour of the Ax Murder House and tried their best to contact the killer. My daughter and I love this show because the host’s silly dynamic resembles our own. We knew that visiting this historical site not only offered us some insight into the unsolved case but the two “ghost experts” or at least Ryan, think that the place may be haunted, this added another level of intrigue to the home for us.
While reading up on the Iowa ax murder house I found that there is quite an impressive number of Iowa Ghost Hunters that claimed to have a supernatural experience in Villisca. People have even claimed to have been attacked by a supernatural presence while in the house, one man claims to have been stabbed after provoking the spirits.
The caretaker of the home says that he believes this stab wound was self-inflicted. Although he does think that the house has a dangerous effect on people and their mental state while inside. So when I had the chance to tour one of the most haunted houses in the country and learn about the ax murder case that remains unsolved in my home state, of course, I had to plan a trip.
Villisca Ax Murder House Story
Joe and Sarah Moore along with their four children Herman, Mary, Arthur, and Paul, as well as two young girls named Mae and Lena Stillinger will forever be tied to the “haunted house in Iowa”.
The Moores were a family that often opened their home to travelers who came through by train and sometimes hosted sleepovers with the friends of their children.
On the night of June 9, 1912, the Moore family hosted a couple of their daughter’s friends for the night after a church service. The streets of Villisca were unusually dark this evening due to a dispute between the city council and the local power plant. The girls didn’t want to head back home in the dark so after a quick call to the girl’s older sister, they got the ok to stay at Moore’s house this evening, for their safety.
That was the last time anyone outside of the house would hear from the Moore family ever again.
On any other day, Josiah Moore would usually have been leaving for work in the morning while his wife Sara would be doing household chores. The kids would usually be making plenty of noise by now and with the homes so close together the neighbors would have observed the ruckus, but on this morning, the Moore home remained silent.
Mary Peckham called Josiah’s brother Ross to inquire about the mysteriously eerie quiet over at the Moore house on the morning of June 10, 1912. Ross Moore headed over to the modest home at 509 E 2nd St with his spare key in hand. He and the concerned neighbor Mary entered the home to find a gruesome scene that is still considered to be the most heinous crime in the history of Iowa.
They contacted the marshall and had him head over to investigate the scene. The marshall headed into the home to find the 8 bloody bodies, some unrecognizable, the murder weapon leaned against a bedroom wall, and a slab of bacon placed next to one of the victim’s beds.
There are many theories surrounding this murder, and although there have been many suspects, the horrors of the Villisca ax murder house still remain a mystery over one hundred years later.
Villisca Ax Murder Theories
There are quite a few famous ax murderers but none quite as mysterious as the Villisca ax murder house suspects. There is a lot of information out there about the murders and many suspects that are quite interesting to read about. The only thing more interesting than the suspects themselves is the theories about what could have led to the events that took place in the Iowa home.
Some of the most interesting points of this case are the rumors about affairs between Sarah Moore and several different men in the town. The handling of the case and the many different motives coming forward. There were even confessions given by one of the suspects as well as trials that ended in a hung jury and an acquittal. With so much irregular activity surrounding this case, it seems to me that the more you dig into this true crime story, the more it seems like fiction.
Another interesting aspect of this case is that the crime scene was tainted by a mob of locals who wanted to get inside and see what had taken place, touching as well as taking evidence. The pack of bacon that was left at the scene, next to one of the young girl’s bodies. This is one of the most talked about pieces of evidence and when writing this story I was encouraged to use the word “Villisca ax murders bacon” because it was such a popular topic.
While I have my own theories about what happened I just can’t seem to make sense of the pack of bacon. Some say this was a message left by the killer. It was common knowledge that Moore had taken away accounts from a previous employer who was outwardly annoyed by the shaft to his business.
Could this possibly be a dig at Joe Moore who was rumored to have had an enemy in town due to a competitive business venture? A message to let everyone know who really brings home the bacon? That theory seems too shallow to some because if the intended recipient of the message was Joe Moore, he wouldn’t be receiving it but maybe this was a warning to others to not make the same mistake that Joe did.
There are even more disturbing theories about the Villisca ax murders bacon, one that claims the killer used the greasy substance as a lubricant for a sex act with one of the young female victims. While everyone would like to see the Villisca ax murders solved, I don’t think we will ever get definitive answers as to what role the bacon played in this tragic story.
Villisca Ax Murder House Suspects
There are many viable suspects in this case and FF Jones, the man who was rumored to be a business rival of Joe was at the top of many people’s lists. Although this seems unlikely considering FF Jones paid out of his own pocket for bloodhounds to sniff out the real killer. It’s easy to dismiss the idea that the real killer wouldn’t have helped the search so some sleuths drew the conclusion that Jones may have hired someone to do the murders for him.
A curious crowd followed the hounds on their pursuit of the killer and they looked on as the pack of dogs lingered at Jone’s house for a few extra sniffs before eventually heading to the Nodaway river in a nearby town. This is where investigators found clothes and a bloody handkerchief. The hounds repeatedly returned to this area but nothing else was found aside from some footprints and a trail that turned cold.
One of the most interesting suspects in my opinion was Rev George Jacklin Kelly. He was one of the last to see the Moore family alive and proved to be a sexual deviant after the murders. Through letters, he harassed an underage girl and was picked up by police for watching women through their windows. Oddly enough, he was charged with murdering only one of the victims that night at the Villisca house, Lena Stillinger. With this and many other pieces of evidence, the reverend was ultimately “cleared” of the murders.
There are a bunch of other suspects and the caretaker of the home will gladly go over his theories with you during a visit. You can even use my affiliate link to pick up a book about The Villisca Ax Murders here and familiarize yourself with this story before visiting Villisca, Iowa.
Villisca Ax Murder House Tours
Are you interested in touring the home where the ax murders took place? You can explore the home and even sleep at the crime scene!
You and five of your bravest friends can stay the night in this rumored-to-be-haunted house for a fee of $428. Or you can just take the house tour which doesn’t require reservations, Tuesday through Sunday from 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm for $10.
Parking in front of the home is free but guests should be respectful of neighboring properties when choosing a space on crowded days. This tour allows visitors to explore the house and barn without a guide so if you plan your trip accordingly you may get some alone time with whatever spirits reside inside. We visited on a Tuesday at 2:00, there were only a couple of other visitors at this time. I asked the caretaker about the typical traffic that comes through the area and he said the weekends can get pretty busy with hundreds of people visiting this historic location at one time.
Where is the Villisca Ax Murder House Located?
The Moore home is located at 508 E 2nd St, Villisca, IA 50864.
This Queen Anne-style home is a quick stop off of the highway and well worth a visit for those interested in seeing this crime scene for themselves. You may not find much else to do in the town of Villisca but a trip to The Josiah B. and Sara Moore House makes this area, almost two hours outside of Des Moines, well worth the detour.
Where Are the Villisca Ax Murder House Victims Buried?
The bodies of the Moore family can be visited at Villisca cemetery located at 2512 Union Ave, Villisca, IA 50864. This is also where two of the other victims, the Stillinger girls are laid to rest, a couple of rows behind the Moore family. Here you will also find one of the suspects F.F. Jones buried just another row back behind the girls.
Have you ever visited the Ax Murder house in Iowa? Please leave a comment and share your experience, I’d love to hear it!
More Unique Travel Ideas
Every state seems to have a few places that are known to be haunted or cursed. One of my favorite Iowa haunted locations is The Black Angel of Death In Iowa City. If you haven’t read about that one yet be sure to check it out. You may also understand my morbid curiosity after reading that post.
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