Iowa · Massacres/Mass Murder · Newspaper clippings

The Villisca Axe Murders

June 9, 1912
Villisca, Iowa
During the late hours of June 9 and the early morning of June 10, an assailant bludgeons the entire Moore family including their 4 children (aged 11, 10, 7, and 5) and two guests (sisters aged 12 and 8)

All those killed seemed to have been slaughtered in their sleep except for the older of the two guests, who had defensive wounds on her body. The victims were each killed with a fatal blow to the head then, after everyone was dead, struck between 20-30 times with the blunt end of an axe. The victims were unrecognizable after the attacks.

The killer spent some time in the home performing strange acts including: leaving a 4-pound slab of bacon on the floor; preparing a bowl of food (left it uneaten) which was put next to a bowl of bloody water; placing bedclothes over the heads of the victims; and taking clothes and other fabric from drawers within the house to cover all mirrors. Lena Stillinger, the older guest with defensive wounds, also had her nightgown raised and was left exposed, but it was confirmed she had not been sexually assaulted.

Only a few suspects were questioned about the murders. One such suspect was a reverend who allegedly commented about “eight dead souls” killed in their sleep. He made this comment before the bodies had been discovered. He was arrested for the murders in 1917, but acquitted due to a lack of evidence. Another suspect was a man named Henry Lee Moore (no relation to the victims) who was later convicted of murdering his mother and grandmother with an axe.

Despite several suspects, no one was convicted of the crimes, in part owing to the curiosities of neighbors who contaminated the crime scene. Crowds touring the home left their fingerprints on virtually everything, and one even removed a fragment of Mr. Moore’s shattered skull as a souvenir. The case remains open.

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