An article in The Day Book, Chicago, June 14, 1912, depicting five of the victims and the house. (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library/Wikimedia Commons)
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.