The Villisca Axe Murders (2023)

The Villisca, Iowa home where two adults and six children were slain June 10, 1912.

The Villisca Axe Murders (2)
Montgomery County in Iowa

The Villisca Axe Murders (3)Villisca in Montgomery County

Multiple Murders

Josiah B. “Joe” Moore, 43
Sarah (Montgomery) Moore, 39
Herman Moore, 11
Katherine Moore, 10
Boyd Moore, 7
Paul Moore, 5
Lena Stillinger, 12
Ina Stillinger, 8
508 E. 2nd St.
Villisca, IA
Montgomery County
June 10, 1912
Case summary compiled by Jody Ewing

The Villisca Axe Murders (4)

Josiah B. “Joe” Moore

Sometime around midnight between Sunday, June 9, and Monday, June 10, 1912, a person or persons entered a modest house in Villisca, Iowa, and bludgeoned to death eight people sleeping there, including two adults and six children aged 5 through 12. The killings became known as the “Villisca Axe Murders,” and are easily the most notorious murders in Iowa history.

The Villisca Axe Murders (5)

Sarah Moore

The murders spawned nearly ten years of investigations, repeated grand jury hearings, a spectacular slander suit and murder trial, and numerous minor litigations and trials. The horrific crime made and broke political careers.

Legislation was written in response to the murder, including the establishment of the current State Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s predecessor.

The Night Before the Murders

The Villisca Axe Murders (6)

Herman Moore

(Video) The Villisca Axe Murders

On Sunday evening, June 9, 1912, Josiah (Joe) Moore and his wife Sarah took their four children, Herman, 11, Katherine, 10, Boyd, 7, and 5-year-old Paul to the Children’s Day service at the Presbyterian Church. Accompanying them were Lena (12) and Ina Stillinger (8), neighbors who had asked their parents’ permission to stay overnight with the Moore children.

The Children’s Day service was an end-of-the-year Sunday school program. Sarah Moore was a co-director and her children performed their little speeches and recitations along with the other Sunday school members.

The service ended with a social mingling that lasted until at least 9:30 p.m. When parishioners left on that cloudy, damp and cool night, no one suspected that neither the Moores nor their overnight guests would be seen alive again.

The Villisca Axe Murders (8)

Paul Moore

They walked the three blocks to their home. Cookies and milk ended the festive evening, and all went to bed.

Sometime after midnight, the killer or killers picked up Joe’s axe from the back yard, entered the house, and bludgeoned to death all eight of its occupants.

The Villisca Axe Murders (9)

Lena and Ina Stillinger

By 7:30 a.m. on June 10th, Mary Peckham, an elderly neighbor to the west, became concerned that the Moore house seemed quiet and deserted. She called Joe’s brother Ross, a local druggist, who arrived at about 8:00 a.m. to look around. His cautious inspection of the downstairs revealed two figures covered with a sheet in the back bedroom, and he also saw blood on the bedstead.

The Villisca Axe Murders (10)

(Video) Our Haunted Night at Villisca Axe Murder House (SOLVED)

Boyd Moore

Ross stepped back and away from the crime scene and called Joe’s hardware store, telling employee Ed Selley to fetch Marshal Henry “Hank” Horton, because something “terrible had happened.”

Hank arrived about 8:30 a.m., went through the house, and found — as he told Ross when he came out — “somebody murdered in every bed.” The partially cleaned murder weapon was left leaning against the south wall of the downstairs bedroom where the visiting Stillinger girls were found.

“Bizarre” Murder Scene

The killer had added two bizarre touches to the murder scene. The first was a four-pound piece of slab bacon leaning against the wall next to the axe. The murderer also had searched dresser drawers for pieces of clothing to cover the mirrors in the house and the glass in the entry doors. On the kitchen table was a plate of uneaten food and a bowl of bloody water.

The funeral procession for the Moore family and Stillinger sisters. (Courtesy photo – “The Funeral in the Park”)

All the victims were found in their beds, their heads covered with bedclothes, and all had their skulls battered 20 to 30 times with the blunt end of an axe.

The ceiling in the parents’ bedroom and the children’s room upstairs showed gouge marks, apparently made by the upswing of the axe.

Though Lena Stillinger’s nightgown had been pushed up and she’d been left exposed, doctors concluded she had not been sexually abused. Lena also had a bloodstain on her knee and an alleged defensive wound on her arm.

The Moore-Stillinger funeral services were held in Villisca’s town square on June 12, 1912, with thousands in attendance. National Guardsmen blocked the street as a hearse moved toward the firehouse, where the eight victims lay. Their caskets, not on display during the funeral, were later carried on several wagons to the Villisca Cemetery for burial.

The funeral cortege was 50 carriages long.

The Villisca Axe Murders (12)

Rev. George Kelly

The Reverend

At 5:19 a.m. the morning following the murders, the Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly left Villisca on board the westbound number 5 train and allegedly told fellow travelers there were eight dead souls back in Villisca, Iowa — butchered in their beds while they slept, he said — even though the bodies had not yet been discovered.

Kelly had arrived in Villisca for the first time the Sunday morning of the murders and attended a Sunday school performance by the Stillinger girls before departing early Monday. He returned two weeks later, and, posing as a detective, joined a tour of the murder house with a group of investigators.

(Video) The Horrors of Villisca Ax Murder House

Authorities first became interested in Rev. Kelly a few weeks after the murders after being alerted by recipients of his rambling letters.

The Moore family was buried at the Villisca Cemetery. (Courtesy

Kelly — the son and grandson of English ministers — had suffered a mental breakdown as an adolescent. Since immigrating to America with his wife in 1904, Kelly had preached at Methodist churches across North Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas and Iowa. He’d been assigned as a visiting minister to several small communities north of Villisca, where he developed a reputation for odd behavior. He’d also been convicted of sending obscene material through the mail and had spent time in a mental hospital.

A Grand Jury indicted Kelly for Lena Stillinger’s murder, and he was interrogated throughout the summer of 1917 while in jail awaiting trial.

Lena and Ina Stillinger are buried together at the Villisca Cemetery. (Courtesy photo Hiesela,

On August 31 at 7 a.m., Kelly signed a confession to the murder, saying God had whispered to him to “suffer the children to come unto me.”

Kelly recanted his confession at trial, and his case went to the jury on September 26. The jury deadlocked eleven to one for acquittal. A second jury was immediately empanelled, but acquitted Rev. Kelly in November.

No one else has ever been tried for the murders, and the crime remains one of the most horrific, unsolved mass murders in American history.

Villisca: Living with a Mystery

On June 10, 2004, Fourth Wall Films released a documentary feature film, “Villisca: Living with a Mystery,” which first premiered in Des Moines. Filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle combined period photographs, computer animation, original art, limited re-enactments, and interviews with historians, eyewitnesses, town residents, and forensic experts to shed light on the then-92-year-old mystery and to reveal the face of a new suspect.

The documentary, now available on DVD, features Dr. Edgar Epperly, the historian considered the foremost authority on the Villisca murders.

Ten years in the making, the documentary explores the possibility that the Villisca crime and similar murders in Monmouth, Illinois, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Ellsworth, Kansas, may have been the work of one of America’s first serial killers.

CourtTV reporter Catherine Crier interviewed Kelly Rundle and Dr. Epperly for a program that aired November 21, 2006. The interview is shown below.

(Video) The Villisca Axe Murders House | Crime Scene and Graves

“Villisca” director Kelly Rundle and historian Dr. Edgar Epperly are interviewed by Catherine Crier
November 21, 2006 | CourtTV

The 100-Year Anniversary

On June 10, 2012, a number of Iowa newspapers covered the 100-year anniversary of Iowa’s most highly profiled crime. KCRG-TV9’s piece featured an additional video with a tour inside the notorious home. Both videos may be found below.

100 Years After Iowa Ax Murders, Case Remains Unsolved — KCRG TV-9, Airdate June 10, 2012

Villisca Murder House Tour: 100 Years After Iowa Ax Murders, Case Remains Unsolved — KCRG TV-9, Airdate June 10, 2012

New documentary coincides with 101st anniversary

A new documentary about the slayings made its debut Monday, June 10, 2013, on Facebook. Rockford, Ill., filmmaker Stuart Wahlin premiered The Ax Man Enigma: The real-life inspiration behind “Slay Utterly” to coincide with the Villisca murders’ 101st anniversary.

“Villisca is the most well-known in this series of crimes, largely attributable to the popularity of paranormal TV shows that have featured the house where the murders occurred,” Wahlin said in a Rock River (IL) Times article published June 7, 2013. “But what few people realize is that the Villisca crime scene was not unique.”

During a two-year period (1911-1912), a rash of eerily similar ax murders swept across the Midwest. Leaving unique crime scene signatures in his wake, it is believed the “Ax Man” may have been responsible for at least two-dozen murders, said Wahlin. No one was ever brought to justice.

“The documentary is really aimed at educating people about the case, while also generating interest in our upcoming feature film,” Wahlin added, noting The Ax Man Enigma’s release also coincided with a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign for Slay Utterly, a modern crime thriller inspired by the case. That film is slated for a 2014 release.

Wahlin, a former Rockford journalist, was awarded Best Director at the Prairie State Film Festival in Chicago last year for his film, Hand of Glory.

Other Updates

In June 2017, the new fictional horror film, “The Axe Murders of Villisca,” was released on the popular streaming site Netflix. A Daily Nonpareil article published June 12, 2017, said Netflix describes the film as, “Three ghost-hunting teens get more than they bargained for when they break into a historic home where eight people were murdered over a century ago.”‘s Damond Fudge reviewed the film, and said the incident is used as a springboard, of sorts, for the film’s story, which is set in the present day and “more interested in being a standard haunted house tale than a study of a tragic small town horror.”

Fudge said of the film:

While there are some good things to be found during the short, 74-minute runtime, they’re outweighed by a lot of awfulness. The movie, as a whole, is a jumbled mess that leaves a lot of unanswered questions. . .

Read his deftly written review here.

Sources and References:

Copyright © 2022 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(Video) (Part One) The Villisca Axe Murders: Crime Scene w/ Edgar Epperly


Who committed the Villisca Ax Murders? ›

Detroit, March 28, 1931 -- George Meyers, 48, prisoner in county jail here awaiting sentence for burglary, has confessed to the axe murder of six persons - a man, his wife and their four children - in Villisca, Iowa, 18 years ago, it was learned here tonight.

What happened Lena Stillinger? ›

In brief, on June 10, 1912, in the town of Villisca, Iowa, Josiah Moore, his wife Sarah, kids Herman, Mary, Arthur and Paul, along with guest children Ina and Lena Stillinger were murdered in their beds with an axe.

What is Villisca Iowa famous for? ›

Villisca is a city in Montgomery County, Iowa, United States. The population was 1,132 at the time of the 2020 census. It is most notable for the unsolved axe mass murder that took place in the town during the summer of 1912.

Where did the villisca AXE murders happen? ›

Coordinates:40.9308091°N 94.9739235°W The Villisca axe murders occurred between the evening of June 9, 1912, and the early morning of June 10, 1912, in the town of Villisca, Iowa, United States. The six members of the Moore family and two guests were found bludgeoned in the Moore residence.

How many murders go unsolved in Iowa? ›

Through the years, around 2,122 of those murders have been solved, unfortunately leaving approximately 748 unsolved murders in Iowa alone.

Where can I watch Villisca living with a mystery? ›

Watch Villisca: Living with a Mystery - On Demand Online | Vimeo On Demand on Vimeo.

What happened to Josiah Moore? ›

History. Josiah Moore and his family bought the house in 1903 and lived there until 1912. On the night of June 9, 1912, the six members of the Moore family and two house guests were bludgeoned to death in the residence.

How old was Lena Stillinger? ›

'Somebody murdered in every bed': The night of the killings

Lena Stillinger, 12, and Ina Stillinger, 8, who were visiting the family, were the daughters of J.T. Stillinger, a wealthy farmer living southeast of Villisca.

Is the AXE murders of Villisca on Netflix? ›

IOWA — If you're looking for the next thriller to watch on Netflix, look no further: Iowa's own Villisca Axe Murder house is the inspiration behind the newest Netflix horror film The Axe Murders of Villisca. After a California native went on an overnight visit to the home, he was inspired to create the film.

What is Clarinda Iowa known for? ›

The town is named for Clarinda Buck, who according to legend carried water to the surveyors while Page County was first being surveyed. The best known national firm in Clarinda for many decades was Berry's Seed Company, a mail order farm seed distribution business founded in 1885 at Clarinda by A. A. Berry.

When was villisca founded? ›

- A Brief History of Villisca. Our city began as a small settlement called The Forks, positioned between the Middle and West Nodaway River. The first plat of the town was laid out in 1858 by D. N. Smith of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (C.B.&Q.)

What is Red Oak Iowa known for? ›

Red Oak became the trade center for the area with industries such as meat-packing, a brewery, a glove factory, buggy manufacturing, a cannery, flour mills, and a brick and tile works.

Is there a movie about the Villisca AXE murder house? ›

'The Axe Murders of Villisca' is a ghost story based on the house where the notorious and still unsolved 1912 axe murders took place. Three outcast teenagers break into the house in search of answers, but discover something far beyond their worst fears.

When were the villisca AXE murders? ›

Did Jashya found? ›

NEW YORK -- The mother of Jashyah Moore, the 14-year-old girl who went missing from her home in New Jersey nearly a month ago, was arrested the day after the teen was found safe in New York City. Jamie Moore, 39, faces child endangerment charges, and authorities have accused the mother of physical abuse and neglect.

Who is Jamie Moore? ›

Jamie Moore is a 3X GRAMMY-nominee and gifted songwriter-producer. Rising to the top of Nashville's songwriting community, his breakout success came in 2016, with his first #1 co-penning Florida Georgia Line's 2X PLATINUM “May We All” (feat.

Was the Axeman of New Orleans real? ›

The Axeman of New Orleans was an unidentified American serial killer active in New Orleans, Louisiana, and surrounding communities, including Gretna, from May 1918 to October 1919.

Who famous is from Clarinda Iowa? ›

Dick Carson was born on June 4, 1929 in Clarinda, Iowa, USA. He was a director, known for Wheel of Fortune (1983), The Merv Griffin Show (1962) and Get Smart (1965). He was previously married to Karlyn Kuper and Patricia Ann Gundy. He died on November 19, 2021 in Studio City, California, USA.

How do you pronounce Clarinda? ›


What is Winterset Iowa known for? ›

Winterset is also the birthplace of American film icon John Wayne, and the award-winning John Wayne Birthplace & Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the legendary actor. It is also home to the Iowa Quilt Museum. The Madison County Chamber of Commerce is here to assist you with your visit.

What is the zip code for Villisca Iowa? ›

What happened in Red Oak Iowa? ›

A 12-year-old Iowa girl who was struck and killed by a police vehicle that was headed to an apartment fire had been on her way to a grocery store to buy snacks with a gift card she got for Christmas, her older sister said. Gracie Redd, 15, described Vana Marie Redd as “amazing," KMTV reported.

Is Red Oak native to Iowa? ›

Red oak is native to all of Iowa, except the northwest corner, although it is relatively rare in the northwest portion of its native range. Red oak occurs on a wide variety of sites ranging from stream terraces to dry ridges; but it is most frequently found on moist, well-drained slopes.

Is Red Oak Iowa a good place to live? ›

Red Oak Reviews

It's an ok town! If you like the small town environment it's great! The school district is moderately effective in teaching students and preparing them for life.

Where can I watch villisca AXE murders? ›

Watch The Axe Murders of Villisca | Prime Video.

Is the Pembroke murders still alive? ›

John Cooper, the real-life serial killer behind the Pembrokeshire Murders is still alive. He is now 76 years old and still serving time in prison.

Who was responsible for the Pembrokeshire murders? ›

The Pembrokeshire Murders is a British three-part television drama miniseries based on the Pembrokeshire murders by Welsh serial killer John Cooper. In 2006, newly promoted Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins decided to reopen two unsolved 1980s murder cases linked with a string of burglaries.

How long did John Cooper get? ›

Footage from the television game show Bullseye in May 1989, in which he appeared as a contestant, was later used as evidence against him, comparing his image with a sketch of a suspect in the Dixons' murder. Cooper was sentenced to 14 years in 1998 for robbery and burglary. He was released from prison in January 2009.

Will John Cooper ever be released? ›

Cooper was arrested in May 2009 and convicted in May 2011 – sentenced to a whole life order, meaning he will never be released from prison.

What happened to John Cooper's son Adrian? ›

Not much is known about Andrew, but he left home at 15 due to his difficult relationship with his evil dad John Cooper. He has a younger sister Theresa, but very little is known about her. Originally named Adrian, he changed his name to Andrew to distance himself from his father and there are no photos of him.

How factual was The Pembrokeshire Murders? ›

The show is in fact based upon a true story and take many cues from the true-crime book written by Wilkins and Jonathan Hill titled 'The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer'.

How many murders are there in Pembrokeshire? ›

There were 1,285 incidents of theft (theft crime rate 1,014) in Pembrokeshire in the year ending July 2021. The chance of being involved in an incident of theft in Pembrokeshire is about a 1.01% chance per year. The murder rate or homicide rate in Pembrokeshire is 2.4.

How many died in Pembrokeshire murders? ›

Cooper killed four people in total and carried out a series of sexual assaults and robberies.


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