Thursday, May 8, 2014

Somebody Murdered in Every Bed, Part l


Past midnight on June 10, 1912 a horrific crime was committed that remains unsolved today. Villisca, Iowa at the turn of the century was the typical peaceful American small town.

Villisca Axe Murder House
June 9th was a Sunday and Josiah “Joe” Moore a Villisca businessman accompanied his wife, Sarah, and their 4 children, Herman 10, Katherine 10, Boyd 7, and Paul 5 to the local Presbyterian churches’ Children’s Day service. The Moore children among other Sunday school attendees performed speeches and recitations.

The Moores, their
children and the
Stillinger girls.
It was a special night made more exciting by the fact that two neighbor children, Lena 12 and Ina Stillinger 8 attended with the family and were given permission to go home with the Moore children for a sleep over.

The church service ended around 9:30 p.m. and the Moore’s and their 2 guests walked home. The children were treated to milk and cookies and then put to bed for the night.

The church service was the last time these 8 people were seen alive. Even today not all the facts are known including who committed the murders. Tragically, sometime between midnight and the early morning hours each person sleeping in the Moore house was brutally murdered.

Two cigarette buttes where found in the home’s attic so it is speculated that the murderer or murderers waited in this room until the family returned and settled in for the night.

The following morning an elderly neighbor, Mary Peckham became concerned when at 7:30 a.m. the Moore house was unusually quiet and deserted. Joe’s brother Ross arrived and spotted two figures in the back bedroom covered with a sheet--he also saw blood.

The town’s Marshall, Hank Horton was sent for and he announced that there was “somebody murdered in every bed.” The murder weapon an axe that had been partially wiped clean was found leaning against the wall in the back downstairs bedroom.

There are still dents in the ceiling
from the upswing of the axe.
Horton had found the two Moore adults and the six children all in bed, they were covered with bedclothes. Each of their skulls had been bludgeoned 20 to 30 times with the blunt end of the axe.

One Possible Murderer

The Reverend Lyn George Jackline Kelly was tried and acquitted twice for the murders of the Moore family and the Stillinger girls.

In the early morning following the murders he boarded a train in Villisca headed westbound. He allegedly told his fellow travelers that there were 8 dead souls back in Villisca--butchered in their beds as they slept. At the time he made this statement the bodies had not yet been found.

Kelly had arrived in Villisca for the first time on the Sunday morning of the murders. He had attended the Sunday school performance given by the children. Two weeks later he arrived in Villisca again. He posed as a detective and joined a tour of the murder house with a group of investigators.

The authorities initially became interested in him several weeks later after being alerted by several people who had received “rambling letters” from him.

Rev. Kelly
Kelly was the son and grandson of English ministers. He suffered a mental breakdown while still in adolescence. After immigrating to America he had preached at several Methodist churches across the Midwest.

At the time of the Villisca murders he was preaching in several small Iowa towns just north of Villisca. He had developed a reputation for “odd behavior.” He had been convicted of sending obscene material through the mail and had been committed to a mental hospital for a time.

In August, two months after the murders Kelly signed a confession to the murders. He stated God had whispered to him “suffer the children to come until me.”

During his trail Kelly recanted his confession--eleven of the twelve jurors acquitted him. A second jury was convened and Kelly was acquitted again in November.

Several bizarre items where left at the murder scene. The first was a 4-pound piece of bacon that was found propped against the wall next to the axe.

The murderer had taken items from the bedroom dressers and covered all the mirrors in the home. He also covered the entry doors. He left a plate of uneaten food on the kitchen table along with a bowl of water stained with blood.

Henry Lee Moore
suspected of being
serial killer.
Some speculate that the murders were actually done by a serial killer. At the time of the Villisca murders over the course of two years from 1911 to 1912 at least 20 other people had been bludgeoned to death with an axe across the Midwest--none of these crimes were ever solved.

Read Somebody Murdered in Every Bed, Part ll here. I talk about the hauntings that have occurred in the home since the murders.

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