Villisca, bloody Villisca
Call me a skeptic, but when Lisha, our tour guide at the Villisca Axe Murder House, told my daughter and me that the last visitors had just run screaming from the house, I just could not imagine why.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. The house is just an old house. Granted, 8 people were violently murdered there in 1912 and the killer was never brought to justice, but still.
The Axe Murder House – clearly the most happening thing in Villisca, a small town in southwest Iowa (not far from the intersection of Hwy. 71 and Hwy. 34, if that helps you locate it on the map) – has been featured many times on television channels that cater to viewers who like programs called “Scariest Places on Earth” and “Most Terrifying Places.” I am not one of their loyal viewers. But this quiet little house in Villisca has recently topped the list of best places to hunt for ghosts.
I have to admit that paranormal activity intrigues me. Or maybe it’s the fact that so many people take it seriously that intrigues me. Anyway, we paid our 5 dollars and followed Lisha in her car to The House and took our tour. (You can pay 5 more bucks and go to the cemetery if you want. There’s also a museum on the town square.) Lisha explained that the four Moore children and their parents, plus two overnight visitors with exceedingly poor timing, the Stillinger sisters, were brutally hacked to death by an axe–wielding maniac while they slept in their beds shortly after midnight on the evening of June 9, 1912.
Lisha showed us the interior of the home, restored in 1994 and furnished with items dating from the early 20th century. (She explained that in the interim – between the murders and the paranormal feeding frenzy – the house had been lived in like a regular house). On the small iron bed downstairs, tiny dresses had been laid out to show where the two Stillinger girls had been killed with the blunt end of an axe. She also pointed out where the bloody murder weapon had been left, propped up near the door.
Apparently the upstairs is where all the paranormal action is. Lisha said the prevailing opinion is that when the house was renovated, some of the spirits got stirred up. And with film crews tromping in and out, folks holding séances and trying to communicate with the dead through Ouija boards, and groups spending the night for $300 bucks a pop, some of the spirits are not amused. Lisha said, with a straight face, that there have been a lot of growling sounds and scratching coming from the house lately. She says she, personally, avoids the house at night.
So up the stairs we went. Lisha showed us the bedroom where the childrens’ ghosts play games with the TV crews (there’s a ball-rolling video on YouTube if you want to see it). She reported that a full-body apparition had recently been filmed by a crew in the home’s tiny attic (reportedly the location where the killer hid, waiting for the Moore family and their guests to fall asleep). Lisha herself won’t go into the attic, but I did, and I didn’t see a thing.
But as Lisha and Katie and I stood in the children’s bedroom – the one with a crib and dolls and photos of the family – a very strange thing happened. We were just standing there talking when the closet door closed by itself. I’m not attributing this to the undead, but believe me when I tell you that there was no wind, and nobody (human) touched the door. I’m just saying.
Find out more about the Villisca Axe Murder House at www.villiscaiowa.com/. The website has links to pretty much everything you’d ever want to know. (Can I just say that the thing about the website that makes my skin crawl is not the gruesome crime details but rather the misuse of the word its/it’s? That said, it’s a very thorough site and I recommend it.)
And I should also mention in all seriousness that Villisca is a very pretty little town. I fell in love with some of the big old (presumably unhaunted) houses with wrap-around porches and shade trees. Sweet dreams!