Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Axe Murder House of Villisca, Iowa

The people of Villisca, Iowa, population 1,344, are friendly to strangers. They wave, say “good morning,” and nod when you pass them on the street. But Villisca wasn’t always peaceful.

In 1912, the Moore Family and two children staying the night were killed by someone wielding an axe. The event almost crushed the friendliness of the town; the murders have never been solved.

Darwin and Martha Linn bought the axe murder house years ago when they became worried a vital piece of local history may be torn down. Since then, they’ve found they bought something besides the building – they bought ghosts.

“I haven’t been pushed or my hair hasn’t been pulled,” Darwin said, but he knows the spirits of the Moore family are still in the house.

Janet Arnold and Jennifer Sparks of the ghost hunting group Spirit Chasin’ Ladies of Kearney, Mo., have visited the axe murder house several times and are convinced it’s haunted.

“When Michelle (Daley, another member of the group) and I were there last year, we were asking a lot of questions and the attic door opened and closed a few times,” Jennifer said. “We didn’t go into the attic. I don’t like what I feel; I truly feel the killer is in the attic.”

The last time the Moore family was seen alive was at the annual Presbyterian Church Children’s Day, June 9, 1912. That night J.B. and Sarah Moore’s children invited friends Lena and Ina Stillinger to stay the night.

The next morning a neighbor was hanging laundry on the line and noticed the Moores hadn’t stirred so she called J.B.’s brother Ross. Ross later arrived to open the door and found his relatives butchered. The Moore family, J.B., 43, Sarah, 44, Herman, 11, Katherine, 9, Boyd, 7, Paul, 5, and the Stillinger sisters lay in their beds, their skulls crushed.

A number of people were suspects, from a drifter to a traveling preacher to a business rival of J.B.’s, but none were convicted of the murders. Maybe that’s why the spirits remain.

But the Linns didn’t realize there was something supernatural in the house until a paranormal investigator contacted them.

“I didn’t even know what a paranormal investigator was when one called in 1998,” Darwin said. “I told him to come down and look at the house.”

The night the investigator came to Villisca, he found about 80 locals sitting in lawn chairs in the yard of the small, two-story white house … waiting for him.

“I told everyone in the country,” Darwin said. “I even put an ad in the paper telling he was coming.”

The investigator gave all 80 people a tour of the house just to get them to go home so he could get to work.

Since then the house has become a tourist attraction, the summer of 2007 being one of the busiest Darwin has seen. Many people are just curious, but many others are there to try and find ghosts.

Cindy Howard gives tours at the house and she knows the ghosts are there.

“I just took a group on a tour from Omaha,” she said. After she led them up the narrow staircase to the Moore’s bedroom, someone opened the attic door and, “all of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe.”

Police thought the killer hid in the attic.

As Cindy raked the air for breath, someone on the tour shut the attic door and Cindy’s breathing returned to normal.

Ghosts thought to be in the house range from the Moore family to the Stillinger children to something big and dark in the attic many believe was the killer, although some psychics have said it was never human.

Tours of the axe murder house, 508 E. Second St., can be arraigned through Darwin Linn at The Olson Linn Museum, 323 E. Fourth St., 712-621-4291. Daytime tours are $10, and midnight lamplight tours, Sunday through Tuesday, are $22.

Copyright 2008 by Jason Offutt

Got a scary story? Ever played with a Ouija board, heard voices, seen a ghost, UFO or a creature you couldn’t identify? Let Jason know about it: Jason Offutt c/o The Examiner, 410 S. Liberty, Independence, Mo. 64050, or Your story might make an upcoming installment of “From the Shadows.”

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