The 13th Floor

America’s REAL Axe Murder Story: The Villisca Axe Murder House

On June 9, 1912, a murder occurred in Villisca, Iowa that was so brutal that it took the sinking of the Titanic off the front page of almost every newspaper in the country. The victims, Mr. and Mrs. Moore, their four children, as well as Lena Stillinger and her sister Ina, who were overnight guests and friends of the Moores’ daughter, were still in bed. Their heads were all bashed in by a bloody axe rested up against the wall in the downstairs bedroom. The mirrors in all the rooms were covered and kerosene lamps were strategically placed at the foot of the bed in the master bedroom and in downstairs bedroom where the Stillinger girls were sleeping.  The killer was able to enter and leave completely undetected, using a key to enter the home and leaving all the doors and windows locked when he left.

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Historical newspaper reporting the murders with some period Irish xenophobic humor at the bottom.

Newspapers reported that nearly all the almost 7,000 residents who made up the town were in attendance as the victims were laid to rest. The town was so enraged that members of the clergy, public officials, and the local paper were forced to plead for calm if an arrest was made and allow the local law to handle it. Fearing vigilante justice, local law enforcement kept a tight lid on their suspects and who they were questioning regarding the murders.

For the next several decades, the murder house shuffled through seven different owners.  Although each owner put their own renovation on the property, the one thing they couldn’t get rid of were the spirits who still haunted the home. Reports of paranormal activity were no surprise. Many residents recalled waking in the middle of the night to see a shadowy figure holding an axe at the foot of their bed. In recent years, the home has been renovated back to how it looked when the murders occurred.  It is now open as a museum and available for overnight stays. Those who  have dared to “sleep” in the home have reported hearing loud banging sounds accompanied by children’s laughter. On other occasions, guests have seen objects move about on their own.

Photo posted with permission of photographer- Jennifer Kirkland (

Several suspects were considered included a traveling preacher, a state senator, and serial killer Henry Lee Moore. To this day, the crimes have gone unsolved and unpunished.

But the weird events do not end there. In the middle of the night on November 7, 2014, ghost hunter Robert Steven Laursen Jr. was rushed to the hospital. Laursen had gone to the Villisca house for an overnight stay with a group of fellow ghost hunters, an adventure that will run you around $428. Early that night, Laursen was by himself in the northwest bedroom, where the Stillinger girls were murdered. Using the group’s two-way radios, Laursen began frantically calling for help. At the hospital, Laursen was treated for a self-inflicted knife wound to the chest. Police found no sign of foul play nor could they say that the wound was caused by a fall or accident.