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Chronicles of a Paranormal Investigator: The Villisca Episode

"Villisca Ax Murder House" by Tim @ Photovisions is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I don’t recall my first paranormal experience. I’m sure I was just too little for my now middle-aged brain to recollect. Stretching back through my years, I do recall other experiences quite vividly, like the time I saw a shadow man jump from the sky into the top of my neighbor’s evergreen tree and disappear.

As the youngest in a family of 10 people, my eyes and ears were always on queue. High alert. Maybe it was because as a kid, I was afraid of missing out, or maybe it was because I was gifted something unusual. I don’t know. I do know it’s stuck with me, that strange sense of hearing disembodied voices that only show up as electronic vocal phenomena. That strange ability to see shadows at play and floating apparitions. That odd sense of envisioning when and where paranormal activity happens, and sometimes why. Yep—it’s an odd set of skills I’ve honed through the years. I’ve also learned how and when to shut those skills off because let’s face it, no one has time for all that crazy—not when our third dimension is crazy enough all by itself.

The experiences I had throughout childhood basically prepared me for my time as a paranormal investigator with one of my area’s most well-equipped groups, The Rock Island Shadow Chasers. Growing up in a haunted house left me with a lot of questions, as it were. How is it possible to hear children running and giggling in your house when you are the only one home? How is it possible to see a basement door physically rattle in its frame when no one is there moving it? Earthquakes were out of the question in Illinois at the time, so…yeah.

I won’t bore you with the details of my convergence with the team. Instead, I’ll tell you about one investigation that changed me: our overnight stay in the Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa. Ever heard of that place? If not, I can tell you that it is one of Iowa’s most notorious cold cases.

The Villisca Axe Murder

Article regarding Villisca Axe Murder
An article in The Day Book, Chicago, June 14, 1912, depicting five victims of the murders. Public domain.

On a hot June night in 1912, one of the town’s prominent businessmen, J.B. Moore, walked home from a church event with his wife, their four children, and two of his children’s friends: the Stillinger girls. Every one of them was brutally bludgeoned to death with an axe in the middle of the night by the hands of only God knows who. There were theories then, and there are theories to this day, but not a single person was ever convicted of the eight heinous homicides that happened in a small home on a hot summer night in rural Iowa while all the windows were open.

Anyone with just an ounce of curiosity about the macabre or true crime would have their interest peaked by this case. My fellow Shadow Chasers and I were no different. We researched the case for months, leading up to our time in the small rural home that had been renovated by its most recent and late owner, Darwin Linn. We read every online article we could find. We read all the theories on who committed the blood bath. Who could have been so calculating and cold to murder children where they slept?

We read about the claims other teams of paranormal investigators made about their own time in the dwelling. Everything from balls rolling along the floor, to dolls being moved from one room to the next, to people getting touched, to the voices of what some claimed to be the dearly departed Stillinger girls. I didn’t put much stock into other people’s claims, as I knew, and still know, how the human imagination can go ape sh*t with stuff like this. Instead, I tried to be logical and allow our technology to capture what we were hoping would be solid evidence that could help solve a cold case. No such luck, really.

The moment I stepped onto the property, quite literally, I was met with a greedy doppelganger.

“HI!” was loudly delivered breathy and warm into my right ear. I jumped and spun around with a fast retort in kind. I was met with air. My teammates were nowhere near me. That’s when I knew things were going to get interesting.

The Investigation

We continued unpacking our gear and setting up an operational basecamp in the barn. We wired the small home with infrared night-vision cameras and blacked out all the windows with heavy garbage bags and theatre tape. The first place in the house that unsettled me was a small room off the kitchen, what I would call the pantry. I took note of it and told my team lead to place a camera facing directly into it. I didn’t know what, if anything, we would catch for evidence, but I felt the uneasy presence of its occupant. Little did I know at the time what my teammate and I would witness later in our investigation. We waited for night to settle in. We grew uncomfortable as the heaviness of our adventure lay thick on our minds. I smudged myself and my teammates multiple times—just in case.

After much anticipation and set-up, the sun finally set in the quaint rural community of Villisca, Iowa, and the team and I split up into small groups. I was part of a trio first into the house after sunset. We settled into the upstairs bedroom where the Moore children were hacked to death. As we sat in pitch-black darkness, I noticed a small ball of light rise through the floorboards, just inches away from my feet. I was stone silent as I watched this globular mass undulate in figure-eight patterns before dissipating back into the floor. I couldn’t speak while I watched it, I didn’t even think to. As the self-contained ball of light faded into nothingness, I was afraid my eyes had fooled me. But just as soon as it disappeared, my team lead let out a sigh of amazement—he had seen it, too.

Scary windows at the murder house
Image courtesy of Audrie Roelf.

Adjacent to the children’s bedroom was the attic. My team lead was diligently intrigued by this space and insisted on an audio session in the place. I, however, refused, as the hair on the back of my neck told me not to go. While I can’t speak to my team lead’s personal experiences, I can say that he was shaken. He and another teammate witnessed visual craziness that caused all the color to drain from their faces, their voices to stutter, and their hands to tremble. I’m thankful I listened to my neck hair.

After their wild experience, we took a break outside and sent in the other members of our group. I re-smudged myself and our team lead. He needed it, as I could tell that something had settled into his mood and altered his energy and his aura into what I would call a darkened nature.

When my small group went back into the house, we took up seats in the kitchen. My team lead sat directly across from the pantry, and I sat to the right by the stove. We began to ask our usual investigative questions.

“Is there anyone with us tonight?”

“Can you tell us who you are?”

“If there is anyone with us? Can you come close to this K2 meter on the floor? It will light up when you come near it, and we will know that you can hear us.”

As our eyes adjusted to the total darkness, the K2 meter started going bananas. One green light. One red light. Then the whole bar lit up and stayed that way. Our surprise just got more intense when our team lead let out an “Oh…Oh my. Um, Molly, can you switch seats with me?” I switched seats with him, apprehensively, because I would be facing into the pantry—that nasty, evil, little room.

I sat down and stared into the blackness of the wretched pantry and waited. While my teammates asked their probing questions, I witnessed what I can only describe as an other-worldly shadow man appear from the right-side wall of the pantry. It was huge. It was ominous. And it was darker than the dark that was already present. I stared at it and felt the thing, the creature, the shadow, the whatever it was, attempt to soak itself into my soul, and I shut my eyes and said “NO!” This startled my teammates, and my team lead replied with “Oh, you saw it, too, huh?” I gathered up my stuff and headed out the door for another smudging.

The thing about being sensitive is that sometimes things can get very overwhelming. Sometimes things can flood the senses, and as a sensitive person, I must be able to shut that down when I need to shut that down. Normally, this is a non-issue, as I’ve worked on this ability for more than 30 years. My ability to shut things down was hampered in Villisca. The presence of melancholy has been manifested there a thousand-fold, and it feeds off the humans who gather in its space and whips up whatever will heighten a human’s fear so it can feed some more. It is hungry and insatiable.

After a good re-smudging, we went back into the kitchen. I didn’t want to but felt it the best thing to do because I was there anyway. I couldn’t just get up and leave my group. We’d traveled together, and our equipment was strung out anyway. The right thing was to finish the investigation and pack up. I should have called it a night and sat out in the barn to monitor cameras.

I wouldn’t face the pantry again. I refused. I tried to turn off that weird ability of mine, but it was on a rollercoaster ride. As my teammates asked their questions geared toward whether the Stillinger girls were around, I felt a breath in my left ear. It sighed with satisfaction. I felt my hair move. Then, I watched a little girl’s skirt with no feet walk out of the pantry door and directly up to my side. I felt a tug on my pant leg, and that was when I had enough. I called it quits and told my team I was done. I wanted them to be done too, as I could still sense my team lead spiraling down the melancholy turmoil. He was being affected.

Interior of a child's bedroom in the Villisca Ax Murder house, decorated to the historical period of the time of the murders.
“Children’s Room Villisca” by Jennifer Kirkland is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

When the sun finally rose, and we were packing up our equipment, I looked at my team lead, whose eyes had glassed over and whose posture had drooped considerably, and I knew at that moment that I didn’t care if we had caught a damn thing as evidence. The oppression in that house of tumult was evidence enough for me. It took six months for my team lead to snap out of the virulent depression he cascaded into from that investigation, and I slept for four solid days upon my return home. I didn’t speak of that night for weeks. I couldn’t. I didn’t want whatever dwelled within the structure to feed on me. There had to be distance laid between us. Time had to pass to fade that connection.

Do I believe whatever resides within that house of axe murder horror to have ever been human? No. I don’t. Do I believe that the horror of awful deeds committed there more than a century ago has attracted something else? Yes, I absolutely do. I also believe it will sow chaos, depression, and loss into anyone unknowing enough to let it.

Do I believe that the Moore family and Stillinger girls are at peace? Yes, I do. I think they have been at peace for a very long time, and I am very thankful for that.

This article was written by a guest author, paranormal investigator Molly Roland.

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This article was written either by a Guest Author or by an assortment of Horror Obsessive staff.

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