In a town of only 1,200 people, lays a house that has a dark past, and continues to be the topic of paranormal investigators who reside in Iowa.

In 1912, between the evening of June 9th and the morning of June 10th, eight people fell victim to a horrendous and gruesome murderer who has never been officially identified.

The victims, the Moore family, and two family friends were found dead the morning of June 10th.

June 9th

The Moore family were an affluent family in the town, and well liked by most. On June 9th, the family participated in their church's Children's Day Program, which was actually coordinated by the mother, Sarah.

Afterward, the family invited two friends to the home, making those who were in the home and victimized the following:

  • Josiah Moore (43)
  • Sarah Moore (39)
  • Herman Moore (11)
  • Mary Moore (10)
  • Arthur Moore (7)
  • Paul Moore (5)
  • Ina Mae Stillinger (8)
  • Lena Gertrude Stillinger (12)

The family came home from the event that ended around 9:30pm with the two guests, did what any family would do during a sleepover, and went to bed.

ParanormalPat via YouTube
ParanormalPat via YouTube

The Murders

At some point in the night, the killer (or killers) nabbed Josiah's axe from the backyard and waited for their opportunity. According to Wikipedia, two cigarettes were found in the attic, suggesting that the killer was waiting up there until the family returned home and went to bed.

All eight victims were bludgeoned with the backside of the axe, with the majority of the victims determined to have been hit between 20-30 times, all in their beds.

In the upstairs bedrooms belonging to the children and parents, gouge marks could were found in the ceiling, caused by the upswing of the axe.

Two of the deaths stood out differently than the rest: Josiah, who was the only victim hit with the blade of the axe. The reports say he was attacked so viciously, that they weren't able to locate his eyes.

According to Iowa Cold Cases, 12-year-old Lena Stillinger's body was found laying crosswise on the bed, suggesting she wasn't asleep during her murder. Her nightgown was pushed up, her undergarments removed, but doctors concluded that she hadn't been sexually abused.

Lena also had a bloodstain on her knee, and a defensive wound on one of her arms.

The funeral for the family and the two Stillinger girls was held in Villisca's town square on June 12th. Thousands attended the funeral, and National Guardsmen blocked the roads as the hearse moved toward the firehouse where the bodies were.

The caskets were carried on several wagons to the Villisca Cemetery for burial.

Discovery of The Massacre

Around 7:30am on June 10th (the day after the murder) a neighbor, Mary Peckham, had noticed that the Moore's hadn't come out of the house for their morning chores. Worried, she called Josiah's brother, Ross, who came around 8am with his spare key to the house.

Walking into the house, Josiah discovered the bodies of the Stillingers and called for Marshall Hank Horton.

Hank arrived around 8:30am, walked through the home, and when he came out, told Ross there was "somebody murdered in every bed," according to Iowa Cold Cases. 

The partially cleaned axe was found leaning against the wall of the bedroom where the Stillinger's bodies were.

The Weird Parts

Aside from the fact that they killed eight people, the killer left behind some strange clues.

First, a four-pound piece of slab bacon was left behind, leaning against the wall next to the axe. On the table in the kitchen, a plate of uneaten food and a bowl of bloody water.

The murderer went through the dressers to find clothes, which they covered all of the home's mirrors with. Every one of the victims' bodies were found in their respective beds, with their heads battered 20-30 times, but covered with the bedsheets.

ParanormalPat via YouTube
ParanormalPat via YouTube

The Reverend

Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly is possibly the most convincing suspect in this case. According to ICC, the Reverend boarded the westbound number 5 train at 5:19am. On the ride, he told his fellow passengers about eight dead souls, killed in their beds.

How could he possibly have known about the bodies, especially 3 hours before they were discovered? I'll leave that up to you to decide.

Reverend Kelly was in the town the night of the murders. He was described as peculiar, and believed to have suffered a mental breakdown when he was younger. Accused as a peeping tom and reported several times for approaching young women and girls, asking them to pose nude for him. Surely, this was why he was a travelling minister.

In the weeks after the murders, Kelly showed an obsession with the murders, constantly contacting investigators and the victims families.

About two years later, in 1914, he was arrested for sending "obscene material through the mail" as he sexually harrased a woman who had applied to be his secretary. He was sent to St. Elisabeth's Hospital, the national mental hospital in DC, according to Wikipedia.

In 1917, Kelly was arrested and even confessed to the murders. He later rescinded his confession, but went to trial anyway. He was acquitted.


The house where the murders took place is still standing today, preserved by Johnny Houser, who owns and operates the property. Ghost tours are available, and you can even stay the night. It's known as one of the most haunted sites in Iowa.

Johnny Houser
Johnny Houser

"Visits by paranormal investigators have provided audio, video and photographic proof of paranormal activity. Tours have been cut short by children's voices, falling lamps, moving ladders and flying objects. Psychics have confirmed the presence of spirits dwelling in the home and many have actually communicated with them, and skeptics have left believers," the house's website reads.


Johnny Houser
Johnny Houser

A listener spent the night in the house, and played Happy Birthday for his friend. Playing back the audio, they heard a voice whispering, "You need to quit."

Villisca is located about two hours southwest of Des Moines.

Just last week, Buzzfeed Unsolved visited the house, and recorded their experience.

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