The History of Villisca, Iowa

"We Face the Future with our Past"

In the early 1900's, Villisca Iowa, a midwestern town of 2500, was flourishing. Businesses lined the streets and several dozen trains pulled into the depot on a daily basis. According to D.N. Smith, a Chicago, Burlington, Quincy Railroad employee, Villisca meant "Pretty Place" or "Pleasant View."

In 1912, the town built the only publicly funded Armory in the state of Iowa. The Company housed there participated in the 1916 Mexican Expedition, WWI and WWII, as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During World War II, Montgomery County lost more men per capita than any other county in the United States. Villisca surely contributed several of her own to that number.

Unfortunately for the citizens of this close-knit community, however, these accomplishments will be forever overshadowed by the horrific deaths of eight of their own. On June 10, 1912, the tranquility of this "Pretty Place" was shattered by the discovery of the Villisca Axe murders. The Moore Family, well-known and well-liked Villisca residents and two overnight guests were found murdered in their beds. Little known to it's residents was the possibility that their town was named, not after a "pretty place" but for the Indian word "Wallisca" which means "evil spirit."


Ninety-seven years later, the unsolved murders remain a part of Villisca's past that continues to haunt its future.

While several of Villisca's historic buildings have been demolished, the Axe Murder House, as it is known, has been placed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. Owners Darwin and Martha Linn, have returned the home to its original condition and hope that renewed interest in the mystery may somehow help Villisca heal her wounds and rejuvenate her economy.

Aries Works Entertainment, an Iowa independent film company completed shooting of a feature length film, Haunting Villisca in the summer of 2005. Please visit the Haunting Villisc Movie pages on the right for more information and updates on this project. Published books include, Villisca, The true account of the unsolved mass murders that stunned the nation," by Roy Marshall, and Morning Ran Red, a historical fiction novel based loosely on the Villisca murders, by Stephen Bowman.

In 1943, a photo of Lt. Col. Robert Moore, returning from service in Africa, appeared in the July 26th issue of Life Magazine. The photo (shown below) won a Pulitzer Prize.

Villisca is located in Montgomery County, Iowa, southwest of the county seat of Red Oak and very close to Viking Lake State Park. The county population on July 1, 1999 was 11,707, a decrease of 369 from the 1990 census. Villisca's population in 1990 was approximately 1,332. That number included about 638 families. Villisca covers approximately 4 square kilometers. The largest closest metropolitan areas are Des Moines (the Iowa State Capital) and Omaha, Nebraska.

Although businesses in Villisca are few, the town is rich in history. The county seat of Montgomery County is Red Oak, located just a few miles from Villisca. It was in Red Oak that the trial of Reverend George Lyn Jacklin Kelly was held. Click here for a tour of the Montgomery County Courthouse.

The town newspaper, the Villisca Review, is now online.

Click here to read the most current issue.

More History? Click here to visit Villisca as it was in 1906, just a few years before the grisly murders occured.