We are so thrilled at Gothic Bite Magazine to have MJ Vieira to count in our family! She is a paranormal expert when it comes to haunting history. Now, come read her first ghostly article!
A Warm Welcome
And, of course, I’d like to thank you, reader, for checking out my content. I’m new to this side of writing so, bear with me while I get my groove.
I’ve decided to take this opportunity with GBM to explore the supernatural realm. Specifically, hauntings, spirits, and things that go bump in the night.
Together, we’ll explore life after death, some famous hauntings, and I’ll share some personal experiences with the other side.
I’ll also be exploring some hauntings here, in my current home state of Iowa, and reporting back to you on who and what I find.
This week’s haunt is the Villisca Ax Murder House.
An Ax Murderer
Let me set the scene: June 11, 1912. A small town in southwest Iowa called Villisca. Not one of the twelve hundred people who lived there was the wiser that they would witness one of the most horrific American murders of the time period.
The Moore’s were a well-known family within Villisca. Josiah and his wife Sarah were active in town and with their local church. With four children, Herman eleven, Mary ten, Boyd seven, and Paul five, the Moore’s were kept busy.
That night, Mary had invited Ina Mae and Lena Gertrude Stillinger—ages eight and twelve—to sleep over after a church event. When neighbors noticed the family had not come out to take care of their livestock in the morning, they investigated.
What Could Happen?
Still, in their beds, the entire household had been bludgeoned to death with the dull side of Mr. Moore’s ax. Josiah received the brunt of the attack, and in the struggle, a boot filled with blood was knocked over, leaving a horrid stain on the wooden floor. It appeared the majority of the killer’s victims were asleep.
But poor Lena Stillinger was believed to have woken up and fought back. She was found with her nightgown pushed up around her waist. There was speculation of attempted molestation of her before her death. *This fact has never been confirmed.
No one knows who killed the six children and two adults. Two smoked cigarettes were found in the attic, leading police to believe the killer(s) had hidden in the attic, waiting for the family to go to sleep, then snuck down and bludgeoned the victims with Mr. Moore’s own ax.
When the bodies were discovered, all the mirrors had been covered by towels. It was as if whoever killed these people couldn’t stand to see their own face.
Who Could Do This?
Over the years, four men were suspected of committing the murders: William Mansfield, Henry Moore, Frank F. Jones, and Reverend Lyn George Kelly. Though Kelly confessed to the murders, he was acquitted after two separate trials, leaving the victims without justice to this day.
Horrific murders of children? Victims without justice? All of this is an excellent recipe for a haunting.
A Murder House For Sale, Anyone?
After the murders, the home was sold and underwent a significant facelift. The newer owners changed much of the home’s original structure. However, now owned by the Linn family, the house at 508 E 2nd Street has been restored to its original state.
And the Linn’s have no shortage of ghost stories. Items move, children’s voices are heard, shadow people have been seen. Photos, EVPs, and videos have all caught the restless spirits. Some say a demonic presence lingers within the walls, which made the murderer do what they did.
Villisca is only an hour and fifteen minutes from my home. For a while, I fought the urge to view the house because to be blunt: ghosts scare the crap out of me. Having had my share of experiences, I didn’t want to tempt fate by visiting the notorious home. However, in October of 2020, I was coaxed into going.
Visiting An Ax Murder House
It was a cold, rainy day when I pulled up to the Villisca Ax Murder House with my friend Kim. With its decorative wood siding and quarter pane windows, the home gives off a foreboding air.
But then, maybe I was projecting. Purchasing tickets for the tour, we gazed at pictures of scratches people had endured while visiting and ghostly-looking mists while talking to the owner. When we finally entered the house, what greeted me wasn’t as scary as it was sad.
I felt an overwhelming sadness press around me as I wandered through the rooms. Toys were scattered, left on the floors for Herman, his sisters, and their friends to play with. Photos of the family are hung around the living room, and as cliché, as it sounds, their eyes seemed to follow me around as I moved to the next room.
I wasn’t indeed freaked out until I went upstairs and saw the attic. You have to crouch down to get under the eves and into the darkroom.
The Evil Remained
Knowing that’s where evil laid in wait put me on edge. I’m not ashamed to admit that I refused to go in. While Kim looked around in the corners of that area, I went back to the parent’s bedroom, where an ax mark is still visible in the ceiling.
I didn’t experience anything other than overpowering emotions within the home. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe the stories that come from the infamous house.
I genuinely hope that the restless spirits of the Moore and Stillinger families find peace. However, I doubt that will happen until the mystery behind the brutal killings is solved.