It happened back in the early 1900’s in a small rural community in Iowa called Villisca, set in the hills of Southwest Iowa and a town of about 1,300 population today, but in the early 1900’s it was a busy, growing community of about 2,500 in population.
Josiah “JB” Moore was a prominent business man and owned a John Deere franchise implement company in town and along with other competition. He married Sarah Montgomery and they had 4 children. They were well-liked in the community and at church and were considered friendly and neighborly.
On June 9, 1912 the family attended the Presbyterian Church with the Stillinger family and also for a children’s program that evening, Sarah Moore was in charge of it. One of the Moore daughters invited her friends of the Stillinger family – Lena and Ina May for a sleepover and they accepted the invitation. The family walked home from church with their invited guests and arrived home about 9:45 pm.
The next morning the Moore’s neighbor noticed they had not started their usual morning chores and was concerned. At about 7:00 am or so she walked over and knocked on the door, but no one came to answer the door. She tried the door and found it locked. She called Josiah’s brother, Ross Moore and asked him to come check on his brother and his family. He came and attempted to roust someone out of bed, but no response. He could not see through the windows because the curtains were all pulled closed, so finally he used his keys to enter the home and quickly returned to tell the neighbor to call the sheriff.
What he had seen was quite brutal – the whole family and the two young girls who were there for a sleepover were murdered in the middle of the night beaten with an axe. It is believed the murders happened after midnight of June 10, 1912. All the victims had their faces covered up with bed linens/clothes and the axe was found in the guest bedroom and it was believed the Stillinger children were killed last. The police lost control of the crime scene with so many curious towns people in and out of the house that things were tampered with. One piece of evidence was a bowl of bloody water that was setting on the kitchen table near a plate of uneaten food.
There were many possible suspects and many questioned, but to this day the crime has gone unsolved.
The home went through 8 different owners until 1994 when Mr. and Mrs. Darwin Linn purchased the home and renovated it to its current condition and in 1998 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It is open for tours and sleepovers.
Some say it is not so, but many believe it is haunted and has been named one of the top 10 most haunted places in America. Some have witnessed strange things, voices of children, etc. Guess one would have to visit to find out.
To this day there is division in the town about who committed the crime. My grandmother’s sister used to live in Villisca and I remember them talking about the murder that happened in that little town. Truly sad when crimes are never fully solved – it is tragic for the families who are left to grieve the horrible way their loved ones died without ever knowing the truth. There is no closure there.
To read more about this crime, please visit this website for more history. A Small Town Iowa Murder…