and the Axe-Murder Man
<< Previous 1 2 Next >>
On a quiet
residential street in the small town of Villisca, Iowa, a horrible tragedy
occurred a century ago that continues to leave its effects on this small
town. The walls of this pristine home still protect the identity of a
murderer who bludgeoned to death the entire family of Josiah Moore and two
overnight guests on June 10,1912. What's more, not only do her walls hold
the secret of the killer these many years later, they also
continue to house a number of paranormal entities.
Nestled in the
hills of southwest Iowa, Villisca is a small rural community of about
1,300 people today; but, in the early 1900's, it was a bustling railroad
town with about 2,500 people.
Villisca, Iowa in the early 1900's.
time, more than two dozen passenger and freight trains stopped at the
depot each day and the town sported several hotels, restaurants,
stores, theaters, and manufacturers. Within this
thriving environment lived Josiah B. Moore, one of Villisca's most
prominent businessmen. The owner and operator of the Moore Implement
Company (a John Deere Company franchise), he was a solid competitor
with other area businesses. On December 6, 1899, Josiah married Sarah
Montgomery at the home of her parents and the couple would have four
children – Herman, Katherine, Boyd and Paul.
Josiah was familiarly called, and his wife, Sarah, were well-liked in
the community, active in Presbyterian Church, and described as being
friendly and helpful to their neighbors. On Sunday, June 9, 1912, the
Moore family as well as the Stillinger family attended church. An
annual event was also held Sunday evening called the “Children's Day
Program,” which had been coordinated by Sarah Moore. That evening, 9
year-old Katherine Moore invited her friends, 12 year-old Lena
Stillinger, and her sister, 7 year-old Ina May for a sleepover. The
girls accepted and the after the program ended at 9:30 pm, the Moore
family, along with the Stillinger sisters, walked home from the
church, arriving about 9:45 and 10:00 pm.
morning, Moore's neighbor, Mary Peckham, noticed that the Moores were
not outside taking care of their regular chores and that the house was
unusually still. Between 7:00 and 8:00 am, she knocked on the door
but, received no answer. When she tried to open the door, she found it
locked. Concerned, she called Josiah's brother, Ross Moore. When Ross
Moore arrived, he knocked loudly on the door and shouted, attempting
to raise someone inside the house. He then tried to look through the
windows but found all of the curtains drawn or the windows covered. He
then produced his keys and entered the house, quickly returning to the
front porch and instructing Mary Peckham to call the sheriff.
What he had
seen was shocking. The entire Joshiah Moore family had been murdered,
as well as the two young overnight guests – all bludgeoned with an axe
while they slept. In the upstairs master bedroom lay 43 year-old
Josiah Moore and 39 year-old Sara Moore, both bludgeoned in the head,
their bed linens stained heavily with blood. In the adjacent upstairs
bedrooms, were the Moore children, 11 year-old Herman, 10
year-old Mary Katherine, 7 year-old Boyd, and 5 year-old Paul, who had
also been bludgeoned in the head while they slept. In the main level
guest room, the bodies of Lena Stillinger, age 12 and her sister Ina,
age 8, were also found dead, killed in the same manner as the family.
Marshall Hank Horton arrived quickly, soon followed by other officers.
In the meantime, the gruesome news spread like wild fire and within no
time, neighbors and curious onlookers converged on the house. Law
enforcement quickly lost control of the crime scene and it is said that
as many as a hundred gawkers traipsed through the house before the
Villisca National Guard arrived around noon and cordoned off the home.
investigation tells that the eight victims were killed shortly after
midnight, and all but Lena Stillinger were thought to have been asleep
at the time of their murders. It was concluded that Lena was the only
victim that had attempted to fight off her attacker, as she appeared to
have had a defensive wound on her arm. The attack was so vicious that
the ceilings in the parents' and childrens' bedrooms showed gouge marks
apparently made by the upswing of the axe.
found in the guest bedroom, indicating that the Stillinger girls were
the last to be killed. It was bloody but, an attempt had been made to
wipe it off. The axe belonged to Josiah Moore. All of the curtains in the
house had been drawn. Two windows that didn't have curtains had been
covered with clothing.
Josiah Moore family about 1904, before the two younger boys were born.
All of the
victims faces were covered with bed linens or clothing after they
were killed. Other evidence showed that a pan of bloody water was
discovered on the kitchen table as well as a plate of uneaten food.
No one could
imagine who could possibly commit such a heinous crime and the townsfolk
were first convinced it must be a deranged tramp. Expecting to find the
blood-drenched killer hiding somewhere in the area, a number of posses
were formed on horseback and in autos, searching alleys in the city and
every barn, shed, and outhouse in the vicinity. But, they returned
came the fear that a madman was on the loose and might strike again.
Families partnered with their neighbors to stand shotgun guard all
night and windows were nailed shut. In the ensuing days, every lock in
town was sold out, residents openly carried weapons, neighbors looked
with suspicion upon neighbors, and rumors and accusations ran rampant.
Soon, newspaper reporters and private detectives flooded the streets.
Bloodhounds were brought in and law enforcement agencies from
neighboring counties and states joined forces. The murders began a chain
of events that split the small town and forever changed the course of
the lives of its residents.
One of the
earliest thoughts by investigators was the possibility of a serial
killer. The previous year, a series of horrible murders had taken place
in the Midwest. In the fall of 1911, every two weeks whole families had
been slaughtered in their beds without apparent reason. These included
the families of the Burnhams and the Waynes in Colorado Springs in
September, the killing of a family in Monmouth, Illinois two weeks
later, a culminated in the murder of the Showman family in Ellsworth,
Kansas on October 15, 1911. The next year, another similar murder
occurred in Paola, Kansas on June 5, 1912, just four days before
Villisca. Though there were similarities in these gruesome killings,
interest in the serial killer theory soon faded and was largely
or transient to the small town were also suspects. One such man was Andy
Sawyer. A transient that moved from job to job, he gained temporary work
for the Burlington Railroad on the very morning of the murder. According
to the rail crew, he
purchased a newspaper which headlined the murders and w "was much interested in it." The crew also complained that Sawyer
slept with his clothes on with an axe close by and was a loner.
Afterwards, he talked much about the
and whether or not a killer had been apprehended. He also told the crew
foreman that he had been in
Sunday night and was afraid he may be a suspect which was why he left.
The crews foreman, Thomas Dyer, was
suspicious and turned him over to the sheriff on June 18, 1912. The
foreman would later testify that before he turned Sawyer over to
authorities, that he walked up behind him and Sawyer was rubbing his head
with both hands, then all of the sudden jumped up and said to himself "I
will cut your god damn heads off," while making striking motions with
his axe and hitting the piles in front of him.
Sawyer's name often came up often in Grand Jury testimonies, he was
eventually dismissed as it was found that he was actually in Osceola,
Iowa on the night of the murder. The alibi was extremely tight as he had
been arrested for vagrancy at 11:00 pm that evening.
<< Previous 1 2 Next >>
From Legends' General Store
Print Shop - Travel the trails of
American History with our many
photographs! Just take a look at
our galleries or purchase
downloads at very reasonable prices! Here, you'll see
roadside stops, and lots more. We also provide
vintage images that can be used for personal or