Villisca Axe Murder House: Iowa Skillet Cornbread

On our way home from our summer vacation, we decided to take a short detour into the small rural town of Villisca, Iowa. Being a native Iowegian, you simply cannot NOT know the grisly tale of the awful tragedy that occurred in this most unexpected of places on June 10th 1912.

As Iowa history records, the Moore family of seven and two young overnight guests were found brutally butchered with an ax in their sleep. The years following the murder were just as brutal for the tiny town as conspiracy and suspicion plagued its residents. After two trials that left an itinerant preacher acquitted (both times-same guy) amidst various other theories and wayward leads about a train-hopping serial killer, the true killer still has not been identified, and the town is still being haunted by its very gruesome past.

The grave of the victims

2012; the anniversary of the Villisca Ax Murder Mystery. So, of course-we had to be there.

It’s not just about the past. Yes, the case history is intriguing and unbelievably tragic, but what draws us to the house isn’t just about the past. It’s about the presence that still lives within it. You may have seen the house featured on an episode of Ghost Adventures. Zacky B and the Boys did a slightly entertaining piece on the place. We did get pretentious ax shots and over dramatic women brought in to testify to the haunting of the house, but the crew really didn’t discover much. We had better personal experiences both times we visited.

No, not a haunting specter. Just a terrible photo of my youngest zombling exploring the upstairs.

The first time we set foot in the house was several summers ago when the former curator, Darwin, was operating visitations of the house. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, long after the last tour was scheduled, but Darwin was kind enough to allow us inside. My first impression was that of mystification and eerie familiarity as I noticed right away that the front exterior of the Moore home was almost an exact replica of our weathered house in Nebraska. Darwin, his passion evident, shared with us the rather horror novelish history of the murder and the division of the town shortly thereafter. But he forgot to mention anything about the present. It wasn’t until we left the bedroom where two of the children had been murdered that I discovered something strange was going on at the Villisca Ax Murder house.

Creepy master bedroom

While standing in the bedroom, I noticed a low dresser top decorated with vintage toys. One toy, a small rubber ball, was nestled between several other items; unmoving. Upon leaving the room, entering another, and then taking a final glimpse into the bedroom before our final exit, the ball was sitting squarely, unmoving again, in the middle of the bedroom floor. Yes, we were the only (living) people in the house. Yes, we traveled room to room as a group. No, the ball was not rigged as I scooped it up and placed it back in its rightful spot between all the toys. When I mentioned the weird incident to Darwin, a small smile creased his wizened face. He shrugged and said, “things like that happen around here sometimes.” Oh they do? Yikes!?

The Moore family burial site


            Our most current visit was even more eventful. After snapping a few photos of the zomblings in front of an aged framed picture of the Moore family, my hubby pointed out an image that had surfaced in the background. It was distinctly a face; a creepy little demonic leering face that couldn’t be replicated with neither my digital camera or my cell phone camera. IF that wasn’t enough to send us scurrying out the back kitchen door, right?

No, we tromped upstairs, and the hubby instantly began investigating a closet door in one of the children’s bedrooms that kept opening on its own. A little background knowledge is essential here. The hubs is in the construction field. He knows doors, and he knows what makes doors open and close involuntarily. To our delight and dismay (really. It was a toss up between the two), he couldn’t debunk it. He couldn’t come to any logical terms about why the door kept closing on him.

Yep; on him; cuz he actually went inside the tiny unlit closet during his door examination. I’ve watched enough horror to know good things do not happen in small dark spaces. It was definitely time to go!

If your interest in the Villisca Ax Murder story has been piqued or you just like scary ghost stories like me and my crew, I dare you to visit the official site of the house. It’s loaded with history, personal experiences, recorded EVPs, and everything you could want to know about planning your own visit. 

The Recipe: As soon as the leaves turn their beautiful shades of red, orange, and brown and the wind stirs up autumn, we begin to crave Mike’s beer chili and my homemade cornbread. Being from Iowa surrounded by corn, I know traditional cornbread is typically baked in an 8” or 9” cast iron skillet and contains niblets of delicious golden corn in every bite. The finished bread has a crisped top with a dense creamy filling almost making it more of a buttery spoon bread. Smother it with real butter and rich honey, and you’ll have a satisfying side dish staple for all your favorite fall soups, stews, and chilis. Trust me, one hearty bite and you will put your dry, crusty box mix to rest forever….

You can see the tiny nibs of corn peeking through!

Iowa Skillet Cornbread

(Serves 6-8)



8” or 9” cast iron skillet, greased up with veggie shortening

1 ¼ c flour

¾ c cornmeal

¼ c sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 c milk

(1) 8 ounce can cream corn

¼ c canola oil

1 large egg

How To Make It:

Obligatory Reminder: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Have your skillet greased up.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, and baking powder.

2. With a rubber spatula, stir in the cream corn, milk, oil, and egg until just moist. Do not overbeat or you will have icky dry bread nobody wants to eat.

3. Pour the simple batter into the skillet. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until just golden brown.

Serve it up with butter and honey!

Deadgirl’s native Iowa Skillet Cornbread and Mike’s kick-arse chili.