The True Story That Inspired The Film ‘The Axe Murders Of Villisca’

January 22, 2017

Written by Kelli Marchman McNeely

Kelli Marchman McNeely is the owner of She is an Executive Producer of "13 Slays Till Christmas" which is out on Digital and DVD and now streaming on Tubi. She has several other films in the works. Kelli is an animal lover and a true horror addict since the age of 9 when she saw Friday the 13th. Email:



Tony E. Valenzuela’s paranormal thriller, ‘The Axe Murders of Villisca’, is now available in select theaters, on VOD, and on Digital HD, as of January 20th. The haunting film was inspired by the true story of the viscous, unsolved murder of an entire family.


The Crime

Sometime around midnight on Sunday, June 9, 1912, a killer or killers entered a home in Villisca, Iowa, and slaughtered eight people in their sleep. The victims included two adults and six children from the ages of 5 to 12.


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The night before the murders, the family had spent the evening in church, then walked the 3 blocks to their home. Sometime after midnight one or more killers entered the residence, one armed with the father’s ax and bludgeoned to death each person in the home.


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By 8:00 am on the 10th, the father’s brother Ross arrived at the house. Upon entering he saw Joe and Sarah Moore’s bodies covered by a bedsheet. Ross placed a call to Joe’s hardware store and told employee Ed Selley to get Marshall Henry Horton and tell him there had been a murder. After the Marshall went through the house he exited and told Ross “somebody murdered in every bed”.

The murder weapon had been cleaned and left propped up on the wall of the room where two friends of the children had been sleeping and now lay left in blood-soaked beds. Strangely, there was a 4 lbs. slab of bacon sitting next to the ax. The mirrors were all covered with clothing. A plate of food and a bowl filled with bloody water sat on the dining room table. Each victim’s head was covered and their heads bashed-in from 20 to 30 hits with the blunt end of the ax.



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The Main Suspect

The morning of the murders Reverend Lyn George Jacklin Kelly boarded a train and told other passengers that eight people had been murdered in Villisca, Iowa – murdered in their beds. The strange thing is, at that time the bodies had not been discovered. Kelly returned two weeks later, posing as a detective and toured the murder scene.




The information about Kelly came to the attention of detectives after someone reported they had received strange letters from the man. It came to light that as a teen he suffered a mental breakdown. He had married and moved to America with his wife from England in 1904. He served as a minister to a community north of Villisca and earned a reputation for strange behavior. He was convicted at one point for sending obscene materials through the mail. He had also spent brief stays in a mental hospital again.

He was interrogated by police and confessed to the killings, telling officers that God had told him “suffer the children to come unto me”. Kelly recanted his confession during his trial on September 26, 1912. The jury was deadlocked, 11 to 1 for acquittal. A second jury acquitted Kelly that November.



No other suspects were ever tried. The brutal crime that left 8 dead remains one of the most horrific unsolved murder cases in America. There is a theory that Villisca murders were connected to several other murders in Illinois, Colorado, and Kansas and were the work of either alone serial killer or a team, but no one ever found concrete evidence of the link.

If you are ever in Iowa, you can stop by the home which is now open for tours.


‘The Axe Murders of Villisca’ puts a paranormal spin on the crime and brings the ghosts of the victims to life.


“On a June night in 1912, eight people—a mother, father, their four children, and two guests—were murdered by an ax-wielding killer in the sleepy town of Villisca, Iowa, a case that remains unsolved to this day. 104 years later, Caleb (Robert Adamson) and Denny (Jarrett Sleeper), two friends who share an interest in ghost hunting, along with Jess (Alex Frnka), the new girl in school who’s already got a reputation, sneak into the house where the infamous bloodbath occurred in hopes of recording paranormal activity. What the trio encounters is far more horrifying than anything they could have imagined. A century after the shocking crime that put Villisca on the map, a supernatural force is waiting to write the next chapter in the home’s bloody history.”

The film stars Robert Adamson, Jarrett Sleeper, Alex Frnka, Riley Bodenstab, Kellan Rhude, Conchata Ferrell, Jon Gries and Urs Inauen. The script was penned by Owen Edgerton. Catch it now in select theaters, VOD and Digital HD.

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