On a quiet residential street in this small town sits an old white frame house. On a dark evening, the absence of lights and sounds are the first indication to visitors that this house is different from the other homes that surround it. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice her doors and windows are tightly closed and covered. An outhouse in the backyard suggests that this house does not occupy a place in the 21st century but somehow belongs in another era or another story. A weather-beaten sign warns rather than welcomes. This is the “Murder House”.
The Villisca axe murders occurred between the evening of June 9, 1912, and early morning of June 10, 1912, in the town of Villisca in southwestern Iowa. The six members of the Moore family and two house guests were found bludgeoned in the Moore residence. All eight victims, including six children, had severe head wounds from an axe. A lengthy investigation yielded several suspects, one of whom was tried twice. The first trial ended in a hung jury and the second in an acquittal. The crime remains unsolved.
If you haven’t gotten your hands on Genesis: The Awakening yet I highly recommend you stop what you’re doing (yes, that includes reading this blog post) and snatch that thing up!
For those of you who have read Genesis, you’ll know that the Villisca Axe Murder house in Villisca Iowa is central to the plot of the story. A murderer is on the loose in the small collegiate town where our heroes Victoria Bouchard and Grim Reaper Kaizer Dresden reside, and if Kaizer doesn’t move quickly to eliminate the threat, the powerful immortals who cursed him to live on earth will be beating down his door looking for answers.
Despite all the interference from Archdemons and nosy siblings, Kaizer and Victoria are eventually led back to the Axe Murder house where a demon has set up camp, using the souls of the damned victims as bait. As they leap through a portal into the nightmarish realm the demon calls home, our genius heroine speculates that perhaps the original axe weilder was really a servant of the devil all along.
If you don’t know much about the axe murders, here are FIVE secret facts that they won’t tell you in history books.
5: Villisca (Wallisca) is a Native American word which means “evil spirit.”
According to “The Dictionary of Iowa Place Names” Villisca got its name from the Sac and Fox Indian word “waliska,” meaning evil spirit. White settlers of the region mistook the name for meaning “Beautiful View” or “Pretty Place”. When they discovered their mistake, they were quick to cover it up. But there’s no doubt the name left a dark stain on the town, mostly due to the brutal murders that followed.
4: The main suspect was a Reverend.
The Rev. Lyn George Jacklin Kelly, the only man tried for the eight Villisca axe murders of 1912 and a preacher with a well-documented reputation for deviant sexual behavior, served as minister at the Carroll Presbyterian Church for nearly a year following the internationally notorious slayings, as southern Iowa officials
focused on other suspects.
To be sure, the nearly century-old still-unsolved southern Iowa murder spree is one of the creepiest, compelling episodes in the history of the state, and the fact that more Iowans, particularly in the western part of the state, don’t know about this case is evidence of a breakdown in the teaching of Iowa history.
3: The murder weapon is on display.
You can view the head of the actual axe used in the murders if you visit the Axe Murder house in Iowa today. You can also book investigations and overnight stays at the house, for a fee…if you’re brave enough.
2: There were neighbors sleeping next door when the Moores and Stillengers were killed.
Mary Peckham, the Moores’ neighbor, became concerned after she noticed that the Moore family had not come out to do their morning chores. Peckham knocked on the Moores’ door. When nobody answered, she tried to open the door and discovered that it was locked. Peckham let the Moores’ chickens out and called Ross Moore, Josiah Moore’s brother. Like Peckham, Moore received no response when he knocked on the door and shouted. He unlocked the front door with his copy of the house key. While Peckham stood on the porch, Moore went into the parlor and opened the guest bedroom door, where he found Ina and Lena Stillinger’s bodies on the bed. Moore immediately told Peckham to call Hank Horton, Villisca’s primary peace officer who arrived shortly thereafter. Horton’s search of the house revealed that the entire Moore family and the two Stillinger girls had been bludgeoned to death. The murder weapon, an axe belonging to Josiah, was found in the guest room where the Stillinger sisters were found.
Mary slept peacefully in her bed the night before. Most historian’s find this often overlooked fact extremely strange. In the quiet early 1900’s, it’d be almost impossible to not hear a single sound when eight people are being brutally murdered.
1: Reverend Kelly confessed to the crimes but was not indicted.
One major reason students of the case today and prosecutors in 1917, including then Attorney General Horace Havner, believed Kelly to be the killer is an obvious one: He confessed to the crimes in a signed statement, saying God called him from the Villisca preacher’s house to commit the murders.
“I was lying in bed at the home of Reverend Ewing on the night of the murders and heard a voice say, `Rise, Peter, slay and eat,’” Kelly told investigators, according to Marshall’s book.
In his confession Kelly also would say: “I thought I was the grandson of God. I am ready to do it again.”
At one point Kelly told his interrogators, according to court documents, that “I killed the children upstairs first and the children downstairs last. I knew God wanted me to do it this way. `Slay utterly’ came to my mind, and I picked up the axe, went into the house and killed them.”
What do YOU think happened all those years ago? Let me know your theories! And don’t forget, you can read my take on the Villisca Axe Murder’s in Genesis: The Awakening!