The Villisca Axe Murders

On a quiet summer night in Iowa, eight people were bludgeoned to death while they slept in their beds.

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  • Photo Credit: Jo Naylor / Flickr (CC)
villisca axe murders
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  • Josiah B. Moore and his wife Sarah Montgomery (Moore)

    Photo Credit: Jo Naylor / Flickr

The grisly Villisca Axe Murders of June 10, 1912 shocked the surrounding community – both for its random brutality, and the string of bizarre clues left behind at the scene of the crime. A heavy slab of bacon was discovered in the downstairs guest room, beside a broken key chain and the gory murder weapon. A bowl of bloody water sat beside a plate of uneaten food on the table in the kitchen.

Creepier still? After his killing was done, the murderer draped cloths over the crushed faces of his victims. He then maneuvered through the home and ceremoniously covered each mirror and exposed windowpane with linens pulled from dresser drawers.

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Who could have committed such a heinous act? Theories abounded, yet there was never enough evidence to convict anyone of the crime. Some accused Frank F. Jones, an Iowa State Senator and business rival of Josiah Moore’s, of hiring a contract killer to execute the Moore family. Others pointed to a violent man named Henry Lee Moore (no relation), who had bludgeoned his mother and grandmother with an axe in the months after Villisca and was suspected of additional slayings.

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Others still pointed to Reverend George Kelly, a traveling minister who actually confessed to the crime in 1917. Kelly was in Villisca at the time of the killings and even posed as an inspector from Scotland Yard to get a closer glimpse of the murder scene. He was also a rumored sexual deviant who struggled with mental health issues his whole life. Soon after signing his confession, the Reverend recanted. He was tried twice for the killings and eventually cleared of all charges.

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  • Photo Credit: Jennifer Kirkland / Flickr (CC)

To this day, the Villisca Axe Murder case remains open, enticing amateur sleuths around the globe. The grisly tale also attracts tourists with a taste for macabre. The Moore homestead in Villisca is now a museum. For around $500/night, you can even rent the house for a spooky sleepover.

[via Smithsonian; Stuff You Missed in History Class; Iowa Cold Cases]

Featured image via Jo Naylor / Flickr (CC); Additional photos via Jo Naylor / Flickr (CC); Jennifer Kirkland / Flickr (CC)

Published on 28 Jan 2015