100 Years After Iowa Ax Murders, Case Remains Unsolved

By Mark Carlson, Reporter

The Villisca Ax Murder House, 508 East 2nd Street, Villisca, Iowa, on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. (Matt Nelson/The Gazette - KCRG-TV9)

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By Aaron Hepker

VILLISCA, Iowa - A century after Iowa’s most confusing and highly profiled crime, there is still something mysterious about a tiny white framed house in a small southwest Iowa town. The house at 508 E 2nd Street now attracts thrill seekers from all around the world to Villisca. What happened at the house during the overnight hours of June 9, 1912 makes it the sight of Iowa’s biggest murder mystery, which will likely never be solved.

“I’ve had correctional officers come down and leave by midnight, scared to death,” said next door neighbor John Houser, who managers tours and overnights at the house. “When I first came I would look outside and everybody was gone at one, two in the morning, and I thought are people getting bored or what? And then the emails or letters started coming.”

Exactly 100 years ago, eight people were discovered murdered inside the house. Investigators found all eight victims in their beds, axed to death.

“They were hit 15 plus times in the head with an ax,” Houser said. “The ceiling was pretty torn up with ax marks from each back swing.”

The homeowner Josiah Moore and his wife, Sarah, were found in an upstairs bedroom. Their four children were found in their room down a small hallway. Downstairs, the bodies of family friends Lena and Ina Stillinger, were found in a guest bedroom.

In the years following the crime multiple suspect were named, but never convicted. The list of suspected killers included a state senator, a serial killer and a traveling preacher. The crime chased many residents from the town and crippled the entire area.

“The one thing that killed the town is now keeping the town alive,” Houser said. “It was a town of over five thousand at the time, had over 52 retail stores, main stop between here and Chicago on the train line.”

In 1994, Darwin and Martha Linn bought the house and restored it to its original state. Before his death in 2011, Darwin followed a corners report to organize the house in the exact way it sat the morning of June 10, 1912, when the bodies were discovered. Martha Linn now continues to offer both daytime tours and overnight rentals. “The overnights are a big attraction,” Martha Linn said.

The house is now frequented by paranormal activity researchers and ghost hunters. Houser, who moved next door seven years ago, is a firm believer in supernatural activity at the house. “You have unfinished business here, the killer was never found, if there is such a thing (as the supernatural) this is the perfect recipe for it,” Houser said. “I’ve caught the voices, I’ve caught the shadow figures, I’ve caught chairs rocking, I’ve caught every door in this house slamming.”

Overnight rentals, which cost $400, are not limited to ghost hunters. The house has also become a popular destination for everyday thrill seekers. “We found it on the internet and decided we had to come and check it out,” said Peggy Kacher of Cedar Rapids. “This is on the top ten of the scariest places in the United States.”

Kacher has spent three nights in home alongside family members and friends. “I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it for myself,” she said. “We hear the kids laughing, playing, we can also hear them screaming.”

Not far from the house is another tourist attraction, the town’s cemetery. All eight victims are buried at the Villisca Cemetery in Montgomery County. “I’d say every state in the United States have been here,” said Bob Brown, 72, a Villisca resident who maintains the cemetery and pays close attention to the license plates of cars that pass through. “I’ve even seen Hawaii here.”

Brown said he doesn’t know what the next 100 years have in store for the town he has called home his entire life. “When you mention the ax murder house people come from all over the country just to see it,” he said. “I imagine they’ll keep coming.”

WATCH: Villisca Murder House Tour
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