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Villisca Axe Murder House
Villisca, IA

We went to the Villisca Axe Murder House because we love a good true crime story. But we have to admit, apart from the words "Axe Murder," we knew nothing about the crime in question, and were rather "ho hum, blood and guts" when we arrived.

Turns out there are tours - once one calls the phone number on the handwritten note on the door of the town's dusty and disorganized museum, and summons either owner Darwin or in our case, tour guide Cindy - which take you first to the cemetery where the victims and possible culprit lie, and then to the house itself.

The bare story is this; in 1912, a family of six (plus two visiting children) was murdered in their beds, with, you guessed it, an axe. The killers were never caught, not for lack of trials, it seems.

But as Cindy started revealing the story, it turned from tragedy into pure soap opera. There were so many twists and turns, we kept interrupting poor patient Cindy to exclaim and ask for more clarification. "What, wait, wait - which spouse was sleeping with whose other husband/wife? And who got pregnant by whom? And how does the jealous boss figure in it? Can you do a chart explaining this? And the evil minister found the bodies but did what with them? And what was that about a slab of bacon?"

Toss in that Cindy's best friend grew up in the house but failed to mention the whole, you know, ghastly murder until both were in junior high and we were riveted. Cindy said she never went back into the house again, until she started doing the tours. Oh, and the neighbors absolutely hate the sign proclaiming it "THE AXE MURDER HOUSE" finding it morbid and in poor taste. Fancy that.

The final factoid was that the town was so terrorized by the crime (and lack of ability to catch the killer) that they banned black people from the town limits after sundown, a law that stayed in effect until about twenty years ago. Please see above paragraph about how exhibits that educate about segregation and racial injustice remain so important, because twenty years ago was not all that long ago.

Tours (either individual or group) must be arranged in advance by calling the number above and only run from April through November.

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