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:


  • Marie Hunter says:

    Happy Birthday Sarah!
    My theory on this house (and btw the virtual tour was very creepy!)… it’s those 1/4 round attic windows. I always loved them, they looked so sweet in homes, usually on either side of a brick chimney….and then I saw Amityville Horror….and that house had the same kind of windows…..I think it attracks ‘bad spirits’… so although I like the look of those windows I will never live in a house that has them. There is a really nice looking well kept house here in the Sault, reminds me of Amityville Horror every time I drive by it…. 1/4 round windows in the attic! It’s right near the bridge on Huron Street..check it out next time you are home.

    • housecrazy says:

      Thanks Marie – this house also reminded me of the Amittyville Horror house because of the side quarter-rounds windows. It’s true – there is something creepy about those windows!!

  • Chaz says:

    I see that and can appreciate how very much work it must’ve taken them. When I was a kid that place was a scurvy old dump. A cousin of a cousin rented it from some people, and it had a stairway that was a man killer. His dad actually fell up it one night. Not too much later he about brained himself on the ceiling upstairs and went down them head over heels. (That branch of the family is all clumsy, they can’t help it I guess.)
    Seems like the front porch was where there was a daybed kids had their toy room, and it had a nasty old indoor/outdoor carpet. The kitchen was in the lower-roofed part, and had worn out old linoleum.
    On the kitchen porch where the bump out is was the bathroom.
    See the three windows on that upstairs south (front) bedroom? The side ones were covered over, and the middle one was still there.
    One hot rainy night in summer they had the north kitchen door open and the dog food was against the wall that backed up to the toilet. A s-k-unk came along and thought he hit the mother load! He was about halfway through the dog food and the dogs came loping along and took exception, and the skunk did what they are well-known for all over that west wall! It still stunk when they moved out!
    I kid you not, there were things growing in that cellar! There was a lot of old water heaters and junk down there, and a half rotten door laying on on its side. For reasons I can’t explain, I snagged the knobs off of it. I still have them somewhere, they are white porcelain.

    The only scarey thing in that place when I was a kid was my cousin’s girlfriend “Aaaaaaashley.”

    • housecrazy says:

      Thanks for those recollections Chaz! Makes me appreciate even more all the work the Linn’s did to the house!! You have quite the keepsake in those white porcelain door knobs – that house is so famous now!

  • Farrah says:

    how could you feel peace??!! Thats Crazy!

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