The True Story Behind America’s Most Haunted House

·4 min read
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Villisca Axe Murder House
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Villisca Axe Murder House


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When Darwin and Martha Linn bought the three-bedroom farmhouse at 508 East 2nd Street, in Villisca, Iowa, in 1994, they planned to turn it into a historical museum. Almost dollhouse-like in its simple layout, the home has the ubiquitous look of countless other cozy farmhouses across the country. The Linns wanted to revive the home and bring it back to its former glory (a status that came to an abrupt halt in 1912...more on that in a minute) to function as an interactive time capsule and a glimpse into what domestic life was like for the average Midwestern family in the early 20th-century. The walls had more to say though, and the Linns were ready to listen (I for one, haven't been able to get a good night's sleep ever since I heard the true story behind it—so reader, beware).

Photo credit: House Beautiful
Photo credit: House Beautiful

Soon after the Linns bought the home, they got an influx of requests from some unexpected inquirers: paranormal investigators who wished to visit the house to commune with the ghosts of the deceased victims who once lived there. While the couple hadn’t even heard of this profession, they quickly realized the little white Villisca farmhouse—possibly the most familiar-looking house in the most familiar-looking town in the country—was haunted, and that the museum should reflect its deep, dark history...

Over a century ago, on one terrible evening in 1912, eight people—the home’s occupants, Josiah B. Moore (43) and his wife Sarah Moore (39); their four children, Herman (11), Katherine (10), Arthur (7), and Paul (5); and their two young guests, Ina (8) and Lena Stillinger (12)—were murdered in the house in a grisly case that rattled the small but bustling town...and then went cold. Some of the most unsettling details about the crime scene, aside from the sheer brutality and tragedy of it, include a hidden attic, a door locked from the inside, and linens covering every window and mirror in the house.

And while every suspect and lead eventually turned into a dead end, the story of the Villisca House didn't actually stop there: The residual hauntings, whether understood as the actual spirits of the victims or the symbolic trauma of an unsolved tragedy, go on and on and on.

The house change hands a few times over the past 100 years, and the reported ghost encounters just keep accumulating. Things like disembodied giggles and screams, unexplained movements, a strange fog moving from room to room when the train passes through the town at the time of the murders, and strange behavior from visitors that indicate the possibility of possessions are just some of the activities that indicate a paranormal presence at the Villisca Axe Murder House. So while what happened there in 1912 makes it a terrifying place to be on its own, ghosts or no ghosts, it definitely continues to earn its title as one of America's most haunted houses.

Today, the Villisca Axe Murder House serves as a paranormal hotel, where groups of six of fewer can pay $428 to book an overnight in the house. Accommodations are spare—in fact, it's recommended that guests pack their own sleeping bag (not that they'll be getting much sleep). When we spoke to Martha on the phone, she informed us that she simply hands the guests the keys when they arrive, and then leaves them alone for the night. But that's the real key: They probably won't be alone, if it really is as haunted as it's rumored to be.

Photo credit: Flickr
Photo credit: Flickr

As for Martha herself, she doesn't like to talk about her own ghost sightings in the house, as to not color the experience of the guests. She did, however, share this comment with us when we asked her who she thinks the ghosts are: "I feel like there's something there... If indeed there are spirits, you have to realize that six of them are children... I don’t know if the murderer still exists there, but there have been a few things that've happened that aren’t exactly calming... but I don't like to dwell on it." For anyone who isn't feeling quite as bold, tickets are available for daytime tours for $1o a person.

Curious to learn all the details of the Villisca Axe Murder House and why it's one of the most haunted places in the world? Listen to this week's episode of our haunted house podcast series, Dark House, for exclusive ghost stories and insights into the notorious home's haunted reputation.

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