During the quiet Sunday afternoon of June 9th, 1912, the entire Moore family was attending activities at the Presbyterian Church a few miles from their home. Mrs. Sarah Moore actively led the Children’s Day Exercises, which extended well into the evening. As the sunlight faded across the countryside, families gossiped and children innocently played into the evening.
Just outside the Moore’s home, a tall man watched for others as the darkness surrounded him. After stepping onto their property, he pulled the axe out of the overused chopping block and allowed the weight of the tool to feel comfortable in his hand. After walking up the solid wooden front steps, he found the front door to be open. Once inside, he moved through the kitchen area, explored the parlor room with the upright piano and then leaned into the doorway of the scantily decorated parlor bedroom. Satisfied that he was comfortable with the layout of the first floor, he then returned to the kitchen and found the doorway to the curved stairwell that led to the upper floor.
The landing opened directly to a master bedroom, which the intruder assumed belonged the two adults in the house. He moved through the connected doorway to his left that led to a short hallway. As he walked through the darkened hallway, he noticed an open room to his left, which might be used for storage. The end of the hallway opened to another bedroom that contained two beds and a baby crib. The sizable room could easily hold the couple’s four children.
He turned around and returned to inspect the sloped ceiling, attic-like storage area. The coolness of the room comforted him. He found a recessed corner, made himself comfortable and loosened his grip on his newly found axe, which he laid within arms reach. He quickly pulled out two cigarettes and struck a match to light the first one. He knew it was best to smoke them now because the family might be home soon. He puffed a few rings of smoke towards the back window as he waited.
Sunday activities were over and everyone was beginning to start home. Lena Sallinger and her younger sister Irma were walking down the church steps along with their friend, Katherine Moore.
“I’m going to my granny’s house for dinner,” Irma said with a bright smile. The children looked in the direction that the two sisters were about to venture.
“Look,” said Irma’s older sister Lena. She pointed to a clearing in the field, which led into the woods. They could easily see that the kerosene lanterns, which normally gave light to the darkened path, had not been lit.
“I’m not going down there,” Irma said moving closer to her sister. “That’s too scary.”
“But we promised Granny we’d be there,” Lena said sounding reluctant.
Ten-year old Katherine pulled on both the girl’s arms. “Why don’t the two of you come to my house,” she said happily.
The three girls had caught up with Mr. and Mrs. Moore and their three boys. “It’s alright, isn’t it, father?” Katherine asked happily.
Josiah turned and smiled at his wife who nodded in agreement. “I’ll go back in the church and call your people to make certain that it’s okay,” Josiah said. “No need to make anyone worry.”
When he returned to the group, Mr. Moore stated that Lena and Irma’s older sister gave consent and said she would pass along the message. The group of eight then headed towards home on that cool June night. The family returned home about 10:00 pm.
Katherine and the two Sallinger girls chattered excitedly as they prepared to sleep in the first floor parlor bedroom. Mrs. Moore entered the bedroom. “Kathy. Get yourself upstairs with your brothers and not another word.”
Katherine began to object but then thought better about it. “Yes, mother,” she said politely. She then smiled at her friends and ran out the bedroom doorway.
“You’ve got fresh bedclothes, all the doors are locked and the pot is under the bed,” Sarah said. “You should be alright for the night. If you need anything else, just holler.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Moore,” the two girls graciously said in unison.
Sarah smiled at them and thought how nice it would be to have another girl child. She kissed them both on the cheek, blew out the mirror-framed light on the wall and then went upstairs to her family.
The building had no electricity, so the light from the kerosene lamps flickered the across the walls of the different rooms but were usually blown out at bedtime. On lamp was purposely been left on the kitchen table, mostly for the sake of the visitors. By 11:00 pm, everyone in the Moore house was deep asleep, except for one.
The unseen intruder quietly stretched his sore legs. He had waited until midnight before budging from his hiding spot in the attic. He moved out of the room and towards the parent’s bedroom. The wood of the axe felt sweaty but he would not allow the handle to slip through his fingers in the slightest. He stood at the foot of the bed determined to follow through with his plan. His closest prey was Josiah who slept quietly on the nearest side of the bed. The intruder struck him strong and swift with the blunt end of the axe instantly cracking his skull open. As Sarah began to stir, he leaned over and repeated this action with her. Sarah continued to move around so he continued to strike her repeatedly about her head and face. She finally laid still. As the killer moved towards the doorway, a line of blood slid down the bed sheet next to Josiah and landed into an upturned shoe just under the bed.
Once in the children’s bedroom, he bludgeoned Herman, Katherine and Boyd, who were asleep in their two beds and then Paul, who was sleeping in the crib. As he furiously swung the axe upward, the sharpened side struck the ceiling, leaving numerous gouge marks there. He did this numerous times until the faces of the children were unrecognizable.
After walking through the hallway, the killer then returned to Josiah and Sarah’s bedroom. He proceeded to chop multiple times at Josiah’s face. The father was so badly bludgeoned that his eyes appeared to be missing. While performing this act, the killer unknowingly knocked over the now blood-filled shoe, which spilled across the floor and onto his own shoes.
The killer quietly walked down the curved stairwell towards the first floor bedroom. When he was previously seated in his hiding place, he could hear extra voices coming from that bedroom. He knew that his work was not done.
Twelve-year old Lena lied half awake in her bed. She swore that she had heard creaking boards as if were someone walking around in the upstairs section of the house but it sounded so distant. Her eight-year old sister was on her left side, breathing heavily, which meant that she was fast asleep, as usual. It was clear that someone was coming down the steps from upstairs. Perhaps Mrs. Moore had forgotten something in the kitchen.
With only the moonlight shining through the window near her headboard, Lena saw the dark figure of a man standing in the doorway. Was she dreaming, she thought to herself? He was holding something in his hand but she could not make out what it was. As she moved her right leg off the bed to touch the floor, the man rushed at her. Now she could clearly see the shape of something that looked like an axe in his hand.
Her needs to instinctively protect her sister made her move her body over to cover her. As the killer swung the axe, she held her arm up to her face and cried out as the blade deeply sliced her arm to the bone. Before she could struggle further, the assailant hit her with the axe in her face. The last memory before she blacked out was of the sharp edge tool passing her head and striking out at her sister. His anger was so fierce that he kept wielding the tool of death until the heads of both girls’ heads were nearly cut off from their bodies.
After his attack was complete, the killer noticed for the first time that the older girl’s bedclothes had slid up around her hips. As she lies there with one foot on the floor, he could see that she wore no undergarment, so her private area was completely exposed. He dropped the bloody axe at the end of the bed, stared for a short while and then left the room in disgust. He had not wanted to fight with anyone. He simply wanted to finish his mission. He found a coat hanging in the bedroom’s closet and used it to cover the faces of the girls. He then made certain to cover the dresser mirror.
There was silence throughout the house. He could not leave until he was finished. He first washed his hands in a pan of water that he found on the kitchen table. He returned upstairs and covered the faces of the parents and children with whatever clothing he could find. The sight of his own work sickened him but this was something that he had to do. The killer also had to cover the mirror in each bedroom. Josiah seemed to be a similar body size so the killer changed from his bloody clothing but he decided to take his ruined shirt and pants with him in order to discard them elsewhere.
Some first floor windows had curtains so he drew them closed but those that did not have curtains; he found clothing and covered them so that in the morning, no one could see in the house. He got some of the stored food, made a plate for himself and sat at the table. His stomach growled as he prepared to eat but the smell of the bloodied pan of water turned his stomach. He did not want to vomit so he left the uneaten food he had prepared.
Lastly, he then made certain that the doors and windows were all locked and he then left the house through the front door, firmly locking it with the key he had found. He made his way into the darkness, towards the railroad tracks. A train was approaching, not far in the distance and one way or another he was going to be on it. The killer never looked back at the house. There was no need. He had finished what he had come there for.
When they were all found the next morning, the doctor stated that the killer beat them with the blunt and sharp end of axe beyond recognition, some were hit 25-30xs. The murders, not surprisingly, caused a national sensation, and while many suspects were questioned and even tried – later acquitted – this mass murder remains unsolved to this day. Only the ghosts of the home know the truth about what really happened on the moonlit night of June 9th and the morning of June 10th during 1912 in Villisca, Iowa. Is there any wonder why there would be unhappy spirits haunting the old Moore house?