The Villisca Ax Murders
By | October 30, 2021
One of the coldest cases in Iowa may also be its most haunting. An astounding eight people lost their lives in a single night in Villisca thanks to a crazed madman with an ax. The victims, six of whom were children, were all found in their beds and likely asleep at the time of the attack. How is that possible? How could a person sneak through a house unnoticed while committing so much gruesome violence?
The victims comprised the Moore family (including Josiah, a successful and well-liked businessman; his wife, Sarah; and their four children, aged five through eleven) and two other girls, the eight- and twelve-year-old Stillinger sisters, who picked a very unfortunate night to have a sleepover. Though the Moores were known as churchgoers and pillars of the community, Josiah had run into his fair share of conflicts during his years running his business, and Sarah's extended family featured a few rough characters.
The Villisca Ax Murders
On the night of June 9, 1912, a mysterious figure crept through the Moore house, first striking upstairs in Josiah and Sarah's room before continuing on to the children's. Interestingly, Josiah was the only one killed with the sharp end of the ax; every other victim was bludgeoned with the blunt side, suggesting that perhaps the attack was personal against him. The Stillinger sisters, who slept downstairs, may have been the only ones to wake during the attack, as they were the only ones not found tucked in their beds. Twelve-year-old Lena Stillinger, who was found in a state of undress and bearing defensive wounds, is believed to have fought off an attempted sexual assault before she died. The victims were discovered the next morning by Josiah's brother, who had been called by neighbors concerned that they hadn't seen the Moores perform their typical morning chores outside.
The police couldn't determine how the murderer entered the house, although it was not uncommon at the time for families in rural areas to leave their doors unlocked. However, the fact that the murderer struck Josiah's upstairs bedroom first led them to believe that the killer had some knowledge of the home's layout. More disturbing were the two fresh cigarette butts found by a chair in the attic, possibly meaning that the killer had patiently waited for hours until the family went to sleep before sneaking down to the second floor. Additionally, all the mirrors in the house had been covered, and a four-lb. slab of bacon was left on the floor in the room where the Stillinger girls slept. The unremorseful killer even took the time to have a nice meal at the kitchen table before taking the keys and locking the house as he left.