The House & Town

The Murders

An Enduring Unsolved Mystery

Josiah Moore, then 34, was one of the town’s most prominent businessmen who had secured a franchise to the booming John Deere company. Previously, he’d worked nine years for Frank Jones, the owner of a hardware and agricultural supply store and a state politician. Moore set up shop directly across the street from his former boss.

Josiah was part of a large family, most of whom lived in Villisca, including his parents and six of eight living siblings lived in town. The Moore family was deeply interwoven into the fabric of the community.

Josiah married Sarah Montgomery on December 6th of 1899 at the home of her parents. Like the extended Moore family, they had Villisca from Illinois. By 1912, they had four children – Herman (11), Katherine (10), Arthur (7), and Paul (5).

On Sunday, June 9th, the family and the Stillinger sisters attended a special evening children’s program at the newly constructed Presbyterian Church just a five-minute walk from the Moore house.

Two friends of Katherine’s were part of the special program, Ina May Stillinger (8) and her sister, Lena Gertrude (12). The sisters were members of a wealthy family who lived on a large farm about seven miles outside of town. Around 6 p.m., Josiah called the Stillinger family home and asked their oldest sister, Blanche, if the girls could stay overnight.

The Moore family and the two girls got to the Moore house sometime after 9:30 p.m. It’s unclear if they ate or drank anything once they arrived home.

The Moores had added a twin bed into the downstairs sewing room so that Katherine, their only daughter. The Stillinger girls slept there, wedged together in a single twin bed. Katherine joined her brothers in an upstairs bedroom next to their parents.

Sometime after midnight, someone wielding an AXE attacked J.B. first. Sarah was next, and like the rest of the victims, she was bludgeoned only with the blunt end of the AXE.

Dark attic of the Villisca House

Leaving the parents dead, the murderer went into the adjacent room and killed the four Moore children, then headed down to the parlor bedroom where he killed the Stillinger sisters.

Then, in a chilling encore, the murderer went back upstairs and savagely attacked the already dead bodies of the Moore family, whacking Josiah an estimated 30 times and rendering the other victim’s faces unidentifiable with further beating. He took such ferocious swings it left marks on the walls and ceilings.

Then, the killer walked around the home, ritualistically covering all the mirrors – a common practice during wakes and funerals at the time – and covered the victims with pieces of cloth or clothing. He closed all the window blinds, and on the two windows without them, draped pieces of the family clothing.

He returned to the girls’ room downstairs, where he left the AXE – believed taken from the Moore’s own coal shed — and leaned it up against the wall. He washed his hands in a pail of water, made himself a plate of beans and tucked into some bread before he left, locking the door with a house key behind him around 5 a.m.

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