|Villisca Axe Murder House|
All of the victims were found in their beds, apparently asleep throughout the entire ordeal. It was suggested by the coroner that the killer returned to the bed of J.B. and Sarah to inflict additional blows. The axe used to kill the family and the two visiting Stillinger girls was found in the downstairs guest bedroom, where the sisters Lena and Ina May had been sleeping. It is suggested that Lena may have been sexually assaulted, because her undergarments had been removed and there were defensive wounds on her arm, but an examination showed no signs of sexual trauma. All of the victims’ faces, along with the windows and mirrors in the house, were covered with either curtains, blankets, or clothing after the murder.
The crime scene was extremely mismanaged; an estimated one-hundred people entered the scene of the crime throughout the time of the investigation. It is unknown what damage was done or what evidence may have been compromised by this.
Fourteen witnesses of differing relationships to the victims were called to testify on June 11. These included the coroner, the Marshall, and multiple relatives. No one was able to identify a possible suspect.
The house in which the murders took place was originally built in 1868 on lot 310, and the Moore family purchased it in 1903. After the murders, the house went through the possession of eight people, the most recent acquisition occurring in 1994 by Mr. Darwin Linn, who, along with his wife, successfully restored the house to its original condition at the time of the murders. In 1998, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was also given the Preservation at its Best award by the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance in 1997.
Prior to the renovation in 1994, there were at least three recorded paranormal happenings in the house. Former tenants said that they had seen the figure of a shadowy man with an axe standing at the foot of their bed. As one report goes, a closet door opened and closed one evening, and, later that night, the tenants were seen and heard by neighbors around 3 a.m. running out of the house, screaming. In addition, there are reports that other tenants’ children woke up at night to the sound of children crying. Those tenants often returned home to find their clothing taken from their dresser and closet and strewn about the room. The father of the children was said to have been sharpening a knife in the kitchen when it flew from his hands and stabbed his chest. The family departed the house that day and did not return.Multiple paranormal investigations were conducted at the house, resulting in many electronic voice phenomena (EVPs), videos, and photographs that suggest that the house is haunted.
Breakdown of Paranormal Activity
The first experience of paranormal activity in the house occurred in the early 1930's. The house was a rental at the time and it's occupants were a young couple by the name of Homer and Bonnie Ritner.
According to their marriage license, Homer and Bonnie were married on November 5, 1930. It was soon after their marriage that Homer moved his young wife into the house. Bonnie was expecting a child and young Homer was somewhat strapped for cash. A laborer, Homer paid a deposit and his first month's rent. Shortly after moving into the house, however, Bonnie began hearing noises during the night. She repeatedly told Homer someone was in the house.
Night after night, Bonnie awoke to see an image of a man with an axe at the end their bed. According to the story, Bonnie was hysterical and apparently Homer had quite a time trying to calm her. In desperation, he took her to see Doctor Cooper who informed him that if she continued to become so distraught, she was in danger of losing her child.
In an attempt to calm her, Homer took to staying awake during the night while she slept. With Homer sitting in a chair at the end of the bed, Bonnie could rest. Their financial situation was poor at best and in Homer's mind, moving was not an option. Working all day and sitting up all night, however, began to take its toll on him as well.
One night as he sat at her bedside, Homer began hearing the noises his wife had complained of hearing. When Homer heard someone walking up and down the stairs, he too became frightened. The next day, he went to find the person who had rented him the house in hopes of getting his money back. Homer ended up in the pool hall then run by Bert McCaull.
The story goes that Homer was attempting to explain his dilemma when the bartender took a cigar box from under the counter and told him it contained a piece of the skull of J.B. Moore. Homer went to the bar, looked into the box and bolted from the pool hall. He returned to Lot 310 only long enough to pack his wife and their belongings. They returned to Clarinda to live with relatives until the birth of their child. Apparently, Homer did not recover either his original deposit or his first month's rent.
Most townsfolk dismissed the story, blaming the condition of Homer's wife for her dementia and Homer's lack of sleep for his. Homer Ritner died in 1988.
The second known incident of paranormal activity in the house on Lot 310 occurred after John and Allie Geeseman purchased the home and was told to Darwin by Dale Miller of Shenandoah, Iowa. The Geesemans were his grandparents. According to Mr. Miller, his grandfather, John refused to sleep in the house and actually had a bed made up in the barn. As the elder Geeseman was known to have a terrible temper, most townsfolk were led to believe that the Geeseman marriage was a little rocky.
Miller, however, attributes his grandfather's choice of living quarters to a story he heard often as a young boy. "My mother's sister and her husband were staying with Grandma and Grandpa Geeseman at the time," said Miller, "apparently throughout the evening, the door from the front porch that led into the parlor kept opening. They'd get up and close it and a few minutes later, it'd swing open again.
According to the neighbours, about 3:00 A.M. both of the guests were seen flying down the sidewalk with their nightshirts blowing out behind them. This man weighed over 300 pounds, I can imagine that was quite a sight," Miller recounted in a recent interview. Whether or not it was the opening door that caused the Geeseman's visitors to flee or something else was never known. Although John and Allie never discussed any paranormal occurrences, it makes us wonder what one would have had to experience to choose a bed in the barn rather than in his own home.
The third reported incident occurred between 1963 and 1971 when the house was owned and used as rental property by the Villisca State Bank. The family renting the house consisted of two young girls and their parents. The girl's father was a truck driver and was gone from the home for long periods of time.
During his absence, the girls often awoke to the sounds of children sobbing and crying in the night. They returned to their bedroom occasionally to find dresser drawers open and their clothes strewn about the room. Although the girls shared their experiences with their parents, they were met with disbelief, until one evening their father was sitting at the kitchen table sharpening his pocketknife. When the knife flew from his hand and stabbed into his palm, he packed up his family and they left the house that night. The girl's returned for a visit to the house on the 90th Anniversary of the Villisca Axe Murders and shared their experiences with other visitors.
This article has been previously published in `Haunted Earth`s Ghost Tales` which is being merged into this blog.