The Villisca Axe Murders

The Villisca Axe Murders of 1912 shall forever be notarized due to the case’s remnant unsolved status, as well as the viciousness of the crime. The Villisca Axe Murders committed in Villisca, Iowa against the Moore Family, Josiah, Sarah, and their children, Herman Montgomery, Mary Katherine, Arthur Boyd, Paul Vernon, and two visiting girls, Ina Mae and Lena Gertrude Stillinger were particularly heinous due to the large number of children killed. What would inspire a person such as myself to look into such a horrible tragedy? Fear, not my own fear, but an inheritance of fear from a father who once feared The Son of Sam. A fear brought on by a boy who grew up with an intense focus on serial killers, to the point that teaching his son, who was recently accepted to a college in rural Iowa, to fear Iowan Serial Killers was necessary. Upon researching Villisca Axe Murders a frightful picture is created not only from the heinous nature of the crime itself, but also due to the Herculean task facing the law in trying to hone in on one of many sickos who may have committed this crime. It is my belief that no one person was charged with this crime due to the number of suspects.

A newspaper documenting the tragedy less than a week after the crime.

Though it is tragic to say at this point ascertaining beyond a reasonable doubt the identity of the killer is nearly impossible. The investigation of the original crime led to the following narrative. The murderer (or possibly murderers) had waited in the attic patiently for the family to go to bed then descended upon the household. They began their terror in the master bedroom where they used the sharp side of the axe for the first and last time on the Moore patriarch Josiah then used the flat end to bludgeon matriarch Sarah. Following the two original murders the murderer went to the children’s room killing all within using the blunt end. The terror continued in the guest room where the Stillinger girls were sleeping. Following their murderous spree they returned to the master bedroom to impart some final blows upon the heads of household. Fortunately, for the victims they all died in their sleep, excluding young Lena Stillinger who based on her location in the bed as well as a defensive wound on her arm may have been awake. Furthering Lena’s tragedy is the fact that she was partially undressed suggesting the murderer may have assaulted her sexually.

Due to the number of suspects with various motives a truly demented criminal was free to kill again.. Among these the prime suspect and most probable perpetrator was a Reverend George Kelly the evidence against him was quite staggering, including a number of confessions he himself made. Earlier in life he had several instances of pedophilic behaviour, and was the reverend for a program the Moore’s and Stillinger girls had attended earlier that day. In spite of his own confession and ability to describe the event in great detail his first trial he faced a hung jury, and was acquitted in his second. Other suspects included a Frank Fernando Jones, an Iowa senator, William “Blackie” Mansfield, who may have been hired by Jones. Mansfield was suspected of having committed many more murders with similar M.O.s suggesting he may have been a serial killer, serial killer or not Mansfield did kill his own family two years later. In a time before forensic investigation methods the best way to find killers was namely through who had means, motive, and opportunity, but given the plethora of candidates meeting those criteria and no forensics to eliminate any of them from the search there was no way to know who did it for sure. One silver lining of this dark spot on history is that it was more important that no innocent man be charged for a crime he didn’t commit than hoping they put the killer behind bars.


Reverend George Kelly

Henry Moore


This crime in itself was quite heinous and vile, but something truly appalling uncovered during this research was the astounding number of suspects who not only could have committed this crime, but also likely committed similar crimes elsewhere and got away with this or similar crimes. Though, for the Moore family and the two Stillinger girls justice still remains unserved, it is likely that the killer did eventually go away for a similar crime.someone who could so calmly commit such brutality likely would kill again, and sooner or later killers always get caught. The hundreds of Iowan cold cases don’t necessarily mean there are hundreds of killers on the street, but rather that for those sorry victims their killer is not serving a sentence that includes punishment for their murder, such as an individual serving 49 life sentences when they confessed to killing 71 people, and thus should be serving 90 life sentences (Green River Killer). When focusing for hours at a time solely on the greater evils humans are capable of I can see why my dad, who grew up facing constant reminders of human evil, would be quick to instill an almost irrational fear of serial killers into me.

Bell, Rachel. “Green River Killer: River of Death”. Crime Library. Archived from the original on May 30, 2014.


Marshalltown and Education


Black voter turnout between 2012 & 2016

1 Comment

  1. Edgar Epperly

    Quinn: I am glad you are interested in the Villisca Axe Murders. It is Iowa’s most iconic murder and stands with Jack the Ripper and Lizzy Bordon in terms of historic murders. There was a man tried for the murder (Lyn George Jacklin Kelly) in fact he was tried twice but acquitted.
    I wrote a book about the entire case, including mini- bios of all the principal actors in the drama. Titled Fiend Incarnate it was released in November of 2021. If you are still interested in the case you might look it up, as it is brim full of information and photographs.

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