My visit to the Villisca Iowa Ax Murder House



photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

The name of the house just leaves your blood cold.

I first saw the Villisca Iowa Ax Murder House on some haunted house show on cable TV in 2010. I was so taken with the house – and it’s tragic history – that I decided the next time I drove through Iowa, I was going to visit that house.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

So in the summer of 2010, when we were driving back from Canada, we detoured a couple hours off the interstate to visit this infamous old house.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

In case you’ve never heard of the Villisca Ax Murder House, I’ll give you a little background…

On the night of June 10, 1912, in the small town of Villisca, Iowa an entire family of six and two of their child house guests were bludgeoned to death with an ax while sleeping in their beds by an unknown assailant. The crime was never solved. True story.

You can read all the details on the crime, the victims and the investigations here.

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It puts a chill down my spine to think about the horrible murders that occurred 100 years ago TODAY – also, the crime occurred on my birth-date (June 10th!) and the mother’s name was: Sarah. *shivers*

Sarah Montgomery Moore, image from:

So I feel a weird connection to this place. The crime was abhorrent, even by today’s desensitized standards, and the fact that the murderer was never caught is highly disturbing. The house is forever marred by the horrific events that occured there 100 years ago.

However, the small white Victorian-era home still stands on a quiet corner lot on the outskirts of Villisca and it has been meticulously restored to period detail by it’s current owners, Darwin and Martha Linn. They bought the house in 1994 and spent several years undoing the shoddy patchwork of the modern “updates” the house suffered over the years.


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photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

I am in awe of the tender loving care and attention to historical detail the Linn’s have poured into this ill-fated house.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Below is a description of some of the work they did:

Work on the home included the removal of vinyl siding and the restoration and repainting of the original wood on the outside, the removal of the front and back enclosures, the addition of an outhouse and chicken coop in the back yard and the removal of all electrical and plumbing fixtures. The pantry in the original house had been converted into a bathroom and was also restored to its original condition. Using testimonies given during the coroner’s inquest and grand jury testimonies, the Linn’s have placed furniture in approximately the same places it occupied at the time of the murders.

– from:

Huge kudos to Darwin and Martha Linn for undertaking such a sensitive and accurate restoration!

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

When we visited Villisca on a very hot and humid day in late July of 2010, we unfortunately never got to go inside the house because it was not open for tours that day. We even called an on-call tour guide but she was out of town. So we had to settle for just exploring the grounds, admiring the exterior, and trying to peek through the lace-covered old windows.

photo credit: Lupe Felix

We had my two young kids with us – my son couldn’t read yet and my daughter was only a year old – so they were blissfully unaware of the macabre history of the place. To them, mom and dad were just “house-hunting” as usual. Although, Noe says he was a little “creaked out” by the look of the sign.

photo credit: Lupe Felix

Originally built in 1868 by a gentleman named George Loomis, the home was acquired in 1903 by local businessman Josiah B. Moore.

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Josiah, his wife Sarah, and their four children (Herman, Katherine, Boyd and Paul) lived in the home until thier untimely deaths nine years later. Also present on that fateful night, were two young friends of daughter Katherine; Lena and Ina Stillinger.

Although we weren’t able to get any interior pictures, you can take a very thorough virutal tour of the inside at the house’s official website here.

photo credit: Lupe Felix

Oddly, when I was on the back porch – where the picture (above) was taken  – I felt a strange sense of peace.

photo credit: Sarah Felix Burns

Most people who have been to this house report feeling dread and terror and the ghosts of those who have passed there. Granted, I never went inside the house, but to me it felt peaceful, content, quiet. Almost as if the house was grateful for being rescued, restored and loved by it’s current owners.

A sigh of relief from a house that had hosted such horrible events 100 years ago today.

photo credit: Dawn Frary, Street Photo Company


References for the Villisca Iowa Ax Murder House:

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