Villisca Ax Murder House – What is the history and why would it be Haunted?
Villisca Ax Murder House Ghosts – who are they and why are they there? For this, we need to delve into the tragic history of this, no doubt, once happy home.
Most people would have heard of Lizzie Borden, a young lady from Massachusetts, U.S.A., who was accused of murdering her father and stepmother with an axe on 4th August 1892. But only 30 years later in 1912, a more tragic crime took place across the other side of the country in a little town called Villisca, Iowa. This similar crime, involving murders with an axe, is lesser-known and does not attract quite the same dramatised shows, and documentaries like the Lizzie Borden case does. But in many ways, this crime was far more tragic, and when we visited the house, you can still feel the sadness within the walls.
It was on 9th June 1912 that Josiah and Sarah Moore with their four young children returned home after attending a children’s day at the town Presbyterian church. The Moores were members of the church and Sarah had been helping coordinate the event. Tragically, two neighbours children, Lena and Ina Stillinger asked to sleep this night at the Moores too. Agreeing to it, their parents were never to see them alive again.
The Moores returned home at around 9.30 p.m. and the household retired to bed, not for one minute suspecting that in the small attic that adjoins the main bedroom, a killer was sitting waiting for the house to go quiet. The killer had already found Josiah Moore’s axe outside and now had it ready at his side. It had been easy to let himself into the house, as it was only a small community that all knew and trusted each other, so they felt safe leaving their house unlocked. Settling himself in the attic and smoking his cigarettes (found on the floor), he waited for the family and their two guests to fall asleep.
Once he was satisfied that all were sleeping peacefully, he quietly came out of the attic with the axe in his hand. Only feet away from the attic door is the main bed, where Josiah and Sarah were sleeping soundly. Using the flat end of the axe and raising it he brought it down with force on Josiah’s head. Quickly, he did the same with Sarah before she could stir and wake up. He raised the axe as far up as he could to get more force to the swing, leaving an indent in the ceiling which remains there to this day. He quickly made his way to the adjoining small bedroom, where Herman (11), Katherine (10), Boyd (7) and Paul (5), slept and repeated his actions. Mercifully, there was no indication that they awoke when this happened.
He made his way downstairs into the small back bedroom in which Ina (8) and Lena (12) were sleeping. It was thought that Lena did wake at the last minute, so may well have been aware of what was going on. It is what happened next though, that made the crime all the more chilling. The murderer returned up, and then downstairs once more, to systematically bludgeon his victim’s heads until they were unrecognisable. After finishing this brutal act, he not only covered up their heads but also all the mirrors in the house. Finally finished with his victims, the killer slipped away into the darkness and left one of the most tragic and unsolved mysteries, as the murderer was never caught and convicted.
Ghost Stories of the Villisca Ax Murder House
When we arrived, we were lucky to be hosted by Johnny Houser, a local paranormal investigator, who has been working at the house and researching there for over 15 years. His knowledge of not only the history, but the ghost stories was vast. The Villisca Ax Murder House has now appeared on numerous T.V. shows and become a lot more famous, or should that be infamous. Many have now paid the house a visit to investigate, and there is a mountain of personal experiences for new visitors to read. What made it all the more intriguing for us though, was a lot of the stories told were Johnny’s own experiences there as an investigator.
He began by telling us about the main suspect, Rev. Kelly. Kelly was a self-ordained minister who had recently arrived in the town. Later on, he confessed to murdering all eight. He said it was because, as he was walking in the street that night, and as he drew closer to the Moore house, he heard the voice of God telling him to walk further and follow the Shadow. The shadow he spoke of led him directly to the Moore house and to the Axe in the shed. He then said he was told to “Slay them all”. However, it was also found that Rev. Kelly was possibly schizophrenic and made it all up, so he was never convicted of this crime. Many believe there is a darker presence in the house, something more disturbing and maybe Rev. Kelly did experience this dark shadowy entity that lured him into killing the family.
Johnny told of how he had come in several times only to hear footsteps on the floor above him, so he started staying the night and has now done over 400 lone vigils in there. He said that he hasn’t been able to find a pattern of when it will happen, but believes that the house seems to just be messing with people. He would get names, but different ones each time on his recordings. Upon checking, however, he would find that the names were those listed as suspects, which was half the town. One would ask though, is it messing with investigators or, with not having woken up, the victims really don’t know themselves, who it was?
One of Jonny’s personal experiences that stayed with us for the night, was the time he was upstairs in the children room. He has positioned himself and his friend in a very large closet with the door shut to do an EVP session. Almost straight away, he and his friend heard footsteps downstairs. As they started to come up the stairs towards them, Johnny was convinced that somebody had broken into the house. The heavy footsteps entered the room so he thought he would scare them by suddenly kicking the door open, expecting to confront an intruder, only to find nobody there.
There is a lot of E.V.P. captured in the Villisca Ax Murder House, mostly from young children, but never the parents. It always seems to be Ina and Lena, which again makes Johnny wonder if the house is just messing with people, as what better way to disarm you than presenting as one of the children.
We did ask him to stay and investigate with us, but he explained that he doesn’t stay and investigate there anymore, as strange but specific things started happening in his own house which is close by. His wife who is a non-believer started experiencing stuff too, so Johnny decided to make his peace with the Villisca Ax Murder House and promised not to investigate again… which he did say “really sucks!”
Our Paranormal Investigation
And so it was, that it was time for us to investigate the Villisca Ax Murder House and look for the ghosts there. To be honest, this was the hardest investigation we have ever done, not because of ghosts, but because of the sadness of the place. All around the house, the faces of the children look down on you from the multitude of photos, and as a mother knowing what happened, made it very hard emotionally. For longer than Kag Allwood and I should have, we sat in the kitchen chatting, subconsciously delaying doing what we were there to do. Because we were very settled in the kitchen, we finally decided we would start there.
We started by trying for the children. Very quickly our batteries started to drain. They were fully charged when we arrived there and it wasn’t a cold night, which can cause drainage in batteries. At first, it was very quiet with very little response. We did an E.V.P. burst (electronic voice phenomena). On listening back there did seem to be a couple of responses, the clearest seemed to be a male saying “car”. Maybe they wanted us back in the car and gone?
The Estes was a little more interesting. The first word to come out was “Leave”. On asking for a name, it came out with “Henry” and then “murder”. At first, it meant nothing until Kag picked up the information sheet later. We asked if Henry was the murderer and were told immediately to “get out” and “Leave!”. Henry Moore (not related) was another suspect on the list, who was an itinerant. Although not convicted of this crime, he was a suspected serial killer, with the axe being his method of choice. Eventually, he was convicted of the murder, with an axe, of his mother and grandmother several months later. It was thought that he may have been responsible for up to 25 axe murders across several states, including Villisca.
On asking if any of the children were there, we got an immediate “Yes” and the name “Ina”. It was followed by “House”, “Death” and “Us”. This quickly turned back to “get out” and “leave” again before almost a warning, “person here”.
We moved to the lounge. As we talked about the children in the photographs, I thought I heard a child’s voice audibly and as I did the E.D.I. (Environmental Detection Instrument) temperature and air pressure change triggered. Although I don’t tag it in the video, as I was listening back on the headphones, there did seem to be constant voice murmurings, low but there on the recording.
At the time we really didn’t think we got anything at all. It seemed to be very quiet for us and we felt we were just not going to get anything, so we retired to have a quick sleep in the car. Early in the morning we returned more refreshed, went upstairs to the kids’ bedroom, and did another E.V.P. session and Ghostbox. With no E.V.P. resulting, we turned on the ghost box. The first word to come out was Paul. Paul was the youngest of the Moore children. On asking how many children were still in the house it said “two” and “Girls”. On asking the names it came out with “Ina”. Interestingly, as we turned on the Ovilus earlier, it had come out with “Ida” and we questioned that if “Ina” isn’t a name programmed in, would it go for the nearest word. It wasn’t long before the responses turned back to ‘get out’ and ‘leave’. We asked if Henry was there and his name came out before a female voice came back and asked us to leave, “please, please – finish”. Maybe we weren’t being told to leave because they wanted us gone, instead maybe who was there was scared and warning us of the danger. Or… maybe it was all just pareidolia (making sense of random sound), and we were just hearing what we expected to hear. The video is below, so we will let you decide on that one.
So what is going on in the house? Is it haunted? Despite being relatively quiet for us, it certainly felt just not right. It felt like if it truly wanted to, it could arc up quickly and get unpleasant. Could it just be that due to what has happened there, the emotions and feelings have lingered in some way? Just like when you enter a room after an argument, you can almost still feel it? Surely something as tragic as this would leave a powerful and emotional imprint behind, even if just in our psyche.
Jonny said the house seems to be a mirror. If you are a bad person you have bad experiences, a good person… good experiences. It is again as if the house reads you and messes with you. Kag and I had nothing bad happen, so hopefully, that means we are good people! It does seem to be giving people what they are looking for, whether it be a negative or positive experience. We were tired, and deep down really didn’t want much to happen, as we didn’t feel right being there. Maybe, the Villisca Ax Murder house gave us what, we were after… a peaceful experience!
Watch the Villisca Ax Murder House video below
Photos – Alison Oborn and Kag Allwood
©Adelaide Haunted Horizons 2022
No reproduction without permission
Written by Alison Oborn
Author, Paranormal Investigator, Tour Operator