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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Urban Legends – Unsolved Axe Murders lead to Haunted House in Villisca, Iowa

Murder of 8 People

Villisca Ax Murder House early 1900's photo
Villisca Ax Murder House

June 11, 1912 is a day in history that will never be forgotten. On this day, an innocent group of eight people were brutally bludgeoned to death in their sleep with no clear motive or murderer. A family of six and two friends of the children’s were staying in the home the night of the 10th after returning from church at 9:45-10 p.m. Similar to many of the people living in Villisca, Iowa at the time, the Moore family did not lock their doors when they were away for Church. This is possibly when the murderer entered their home awaiting their return. Police were led to believe that the killer was hiding out in the attic before the killings due to cigarette butts being found up there. When a neighbor realized the family hadn’t started their daily chores on the morning of the 11th, she called Russ Moore, Josiah Moore’s brother. Russ Moore went over to the home and checked the inside and found a horrific sight. He immediately called the police who figured out the series of events.

The first person who was bludgeoned that night was Josiah Moore, he was said to have been most brutally attacked with the blade of their family’s own axe. Next was Sarah Moore who was murdered with the blunt end of the blade like the rest of the victims. Their kids were killed next along with the family friends, Ina Mae Stillinger who was 8 and Lena Gertrude Stillinger who was 12. All of the victims were said to be asleep when they were attacked except for Lena who was found with defensive wounds on her and in a strange position on her bed.

There were a few odd things about the crime scene. The family’s axe was left on the ground in the guest room where the Stillinger sisters were staying, and next to it was a piece of slab bacon weighing four pounds. Also, the killer had covered all the of the mirrors in the home with blankets or clothes, what does that mean? It was found that after the murders the killer had cooked himself a meal but left it untouched. Near the plate of food was a bowl of bloody water in the kitchen. These strange details left many dumbfounded and confused.

Suspects

Picture of suspect serial killer Henry Moore in old newspaper clipping
Suspect #2 was serial killer Henry Moore

Investigators were quickly called to the home after police saw the sight of the obvious homicide. They quickly ruled out a murder suicide because the wounds of each victim could not have been self inflicted. There were many suspects but the one that they honed in on was Reverend George Kelley. He was a traveling minister that had been in town for one night and performed the service the Moore’s had attended that evening. He was not able to explain what he was doing when he was out of town from 5-5:30 a.m. the next morning. He was reportedly very interested in the murders and had been in and out of trouble with the law in the past. He had sent obscene materials through the mail and had a stay at a mental hospital. In 1917 he was arrested for the murders and confessed but later recanted his confession. Eventually he was tried and acquitted for the murders as many people didn’t think he was mentally or physically capable of murdering the 8 people. No one else was ever convicted or tried for their murders, so the case went cold.

Newspaper article from the early 1900's alerting people of the murders that took place.

Paranormal Activity

Similarly to many other houses with mass murder, there are people who believe ghosts are haunting this home. Families have tried to live in this home after the murders but never lasted long in it. In 1994 Martha Linn bought the home and restored it to use it as an attraction. You could visit the house for a tour or stay overnight in it. It was featured on many ghost hunting shows and has had every type of paranormal activity imagined. People have reported disembodied footsteps, voices and apparitions, strange shadows, things moving of their own accord, and overall just bad vibes.

Among the most mysterious events was a Ghost Hunter stabbing himself during an overnight stay in the house. He was rushed to the hospital on November 8, 2014 with a self inflicted stab wound to his chest. From what the police understand he had called for help from his friends on his mobile two way radio. The rest of his party had found him with the injury. The stabbing took place around the same time that the murders in 1912 had occurred. It’s such a popular destination for people to investigate the paranormal on their own, especially since it has the title of one of the most haunted places in America. Martha Linn has even said that she has seen guests interact with the spirits of the victims in the home.

In June of 2016 a photographer went to the home to take pictures for a sneak peek into the RAGBRAI route that cyclists go on. He took a picture in the attic which is where the killer was said to hide out. People that have seen it looked closely and noted that the front right leg of the chair seems to be floating, many people believe that this is due to the paranormal presence in the home. There is also another image of a board filled with pictures where people have claimed to see floating orbs around different rooms in the house, supposedly those of the victims.

Haunted Villisca House Tour

Sources

https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/entertainment/2016/06/13/photo-inside-villisca-axe-murder-house-seriously-creepy/85833366/

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ppm84g/why-did-a-ghost-hunter-stab-himself-inside-a-famous-axe-murder-house-1118

https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/villisca-ax-murder-house-iowa/

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Urban Legends: Scary Mary at the Golden North Hotel in Skagway, Alaska

As the forty-ninth state of the United States, Alaska is often described by locals as being thirty years behind the contiguous United States—with the days of pioneers and people flocking to take advantage of the gold rush set so recently in the past, it’s not too far-fetched to see how life might be a little slower in the Last Frontier. This also means that the ghost stories that haunt the oldest buildings in the state of Alaska are a little bit more recent and sometimes seem a little bit more vivid.

The Klondike Gold Rush

The Klondike Gold Rush began in the Yukon in 1896, when gold was first discovered, this drew roughly one hundred thousand prospectors into the territory—all of whom decided they would strike it rich. Skagway served as the most direct route to the gold-fields, so most of the traffic flowed through this deep-water port. This, of course, caused the population of Skagway to explode nearly overnight, with a population going from approximately seven hundred residents in 1897 to over ten thousand in 1898, it made it the largest city in Alaska at the time. That rush only lasted about two years and the population dwindled back under two thousand. The times in which the Klondike Gold Rush was underway, created an atmosphere that was rife with chaotic ambition, corruption, lawlessness, disease, shattered dreams, and many untimely deaths. Built at the height of the gold rush in 1898, the Golden North Hotel provided accommodations and refreshments to nearly one thousand prospectors who passed through the city on a weekly basis. It was a breeding ground for ghost stories.

The Origin of Scary Mary

One of the most legendary ghosts in Alaska goes by the name of Scary Mary and her story begins with a Gold Rush expedition. Mary came to Skagway, Alaska as a blushing young woman, already engaged to a prospector that went by the name of Klondike Ike—she checked into the Golden North Hotel where she and Ike became engaged and were set to start their future together. The two lovers spent several days at the hotel before Ike had to return to his prospecting ventures over Chilkoot Pass. Mary’s fiancé, Klondike Ike, set off over five hundred miles to the gold-fields with tremendously high hopes that he would win them their fortune—unfortunately for both Ike and Mary, Ike never returned. Ever the loyal partner, Mary waited for Ike to return home to her—she locked herself in the room the couple had rented, lost in the abyss of worry for her lover, and waited. When the housekeepers of the Golden North Hotel finally broke down the door with concern, they discovered Mary in the wedding dress she had planned to be married in, dead and waiting for Ike to return to her, so that they may marry. In many of the stories, it is said that Mary ended up coming down with a fatal case of pneumonia while waiting for Ike in room 23—other stories imply that after months of waiting for his return, she simply locked herself in her room disallowed any company and refused to eat.

Golden North Hotel in Skagway, AK
Photography by Kira Picabo

First-Hand Experiences

Legends tell us that Mary still hasn’t checked out of her room at the Golden North Hotel and since her death arrived all-too-soon, that she has been checking up on guests in the middle of the night. Her apparition appears as a pale figure and is seen looking through the hotel windows, waiting for her lover’s return from the mountains. There have been reports of cold air pockets when walking through the hallways and a subsequent glimpses of white rushing past them—even more strange are the reports of the unfortunate guest who wakes up to Mary’s ghost hovering above their beds as if checking to be sure that Ike isn’t in bed with another woman.

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Urban Legends: The Gypsy Curse of Lafayette, OR

It’s said that the town of Lafayette, Oregon has been cursed since the 1800s when a woman was accused of witchcraft and then hung for her alleged crimes. Before her execution, she placed a curse on the town, saying that it would burn down three times–and it has since burned in its entirety twice–those who are wary of the curse she placed wonder when it will happen again! To this day, her ghost is seen roaming the town’s cemetery. Another version of the legend has it that in 1886, a woman and her son killed the woman’s boyfriend, her son was arrested and hanged for the crime–in this version of the story, while her son was being executed, his mother screamed that the town would burn down three times.

Here’s the real story…

Richard Marple, his mother Anna, and his wife Julia moved to Lafayette, Oregon from Corvallis in 1885. Despite the availability of jobs, Richard was unable to keep a job, so he turned to a life of crime–allegedly–but he was suspected of multiple robberies. Between 1885 and 1886, his mother Anna became involved with a local shop owner by the name of David Corker. Unfortunately, on November 1, 1886, Corker was found hacked to death by an ax and his store had been pillaged and town Sheriff Harris brought Richard in for questioning. While Richard was not a fan of Corker–even disparaging the man during his questioning–he maintained his innocence. Evidence of his guilt, including a bloody shirt, a bloody piece of paper, as well as tools that he could have used to break into the store were found at his home. Richard, not relenting, made a claim that the evidence had been planted at his home by the sheriff’s office to frame him.

Neither his mother nor his wife corroborated his alibi and stated that he had not been at home when the murder was being committed; Richard was subsequently convicted of first-degree murder on April 9, 1887. His mother, Anna, was indicted as an accomplice, but a lack of evidence resulted in the charges against her being dropped. By November 11, 1887 Richard was set to be executed by hanging next to the county jail and thirty people bore witness to his death. Sheriff Harris ordered that Richard be executed with a black hood over his head, and Richard desperately yelled one last thing out into the crowd, “Murder! May God judge you all!” Unfortunately for Richard, when the trap door was released, the knot slipped under his chin and instead of breaking his neck, he was slowly strangled to death over the span of eighteen minutes.

It is true that during Richard’s execution, his mother Anna shouted that the town would burn and never prosper–after his death, Richard was buried at the Oddfellow’s Masonic Cemetery in Lafayette. According to sources, Richard apparently confessed his guilt to a fellow inmate while his execution was pending and ended up implicating his mother, stating that she had become involved with Corker in order to gain his confidence. After Richard’s execution, his mother moved to Jackson County for the remainder of her life and was buried in the cemetery there. Several years after she moved out of the area, their home in Lafayette was destroyed and the bloody ax used to kill Corker was discovered. It’s not known whether Anna Marple was a witch or a gypsy, but since she was not buried in Lafayette, it is unlikely that she haunts any of the area’s cemeteries. The fact that she was reported to have cursed the town to burn down and it completely burned down twice may have been entirely coincidental. Fires were actually a commonplace occurrence that people had to face in the years before buildings were constructed out of less-flammable materials.

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Urban Legends: The Haunting of Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

When the Geiser Grand Hotel opened in 1889, it was originally known as the Queen City of the Mines–perhaps just as a nod to the Gold Rush that flurried on its doorstep. At the time of its conception, it boasted state-of-the-art technology, the third elevator built west of the Mississippi River. The four-story clock tower gave the area an air of sophistication, while the two-hundred-foot cupola gave the building more natural lighting that filtered through a stained glass ceiling.

Albert Geiser, a mining investor, purchased the property just after the turn of the century and rebranded the hotel as The Geiser Grand Hotel in 1902. In these early days of the hotel, the Grand was considered a place for wealthy men and women to make their presence known, including one Granny Annabelle, who made herself out to be a sight-to-be-seen. She would make her grand entrance from her residence in room 302, to her permanently reserved chair at the bar, from which she presided over the hotel.

Within the hotel’s basement, there are apparently subterranean windows that open up into underground tunnels that were created in the 1880s–this was during the time of the gold frenzy, and the tunnels led to brothels. They also gave passage to Chinese immigrants who at the time were not allowed to be on the streets at night, were handy during seasons of heavy snow, as well as for stashing booze during the Prohibition years.

The historic Geiser Grand Hotel of Baker City, Oregon is considered a landmark and a site of incredible paranormal activity, there have been reports of apparitions on many occasions and the hotel staff give ghost stories on Halloween. The hotel’s most famous ghost goes by the name Lady in Blue, who has been seen dressed in a turn of the century gown, walking up and down the main staircase. It is speculated that this beautiful Lady in Blue is actually Granny Annabelle, in her beautiful Victorian gown, where she forever ascends and descends the staircase before disappearing into the wall. Apparently she never had any intention of leaving “the most fortunate place in the country,” as the Geiser Grand Hotel was touted to be in 1906.

Geiser Grand Hotel, Baker City, Oregon
Geiser Grand Hotel, Baker City, Oregon

Haunted Facilities…

The hotel was built in 1889, destined to be extravagant living quarters for mine investors and wealthier people, the Geiser Grand hosts several apparitions on the premises. There have been several reports of a young girl, a 1930s woman wearing a purple dress, a saloon dancer from the 1920s, a former chef who appears headless, a cowboy and his girlfriend, as well as the Lady in Blue. One of the former owners, Maybelle Geiser, who lived in Room 302 is said to be incredibly haunted, with her ghost rearranging the guests’ jewelry and eating their complimentary snacks.

The current owner jokes that while the beds may be comfortable, you should expect to be woken up at least three times a night because of the apparitions.

First-Hand Experiences…

One visitor to the hotel reported having investigated the Geiser Grand a few times and had experienced the most activity in the bar; their report was that the overall experience was as if they had stepped directly into the 1800s, the rooms being magnificent and period-authentic. They were able to capture an EVP, experienced doors opening and closing, but was skeptical that all of the reports were true. A second guest reported having taken photographs of the entire hotel, except for their room, but upon reviewing the pictures they took found that there was a picture of their room–knowing that they did not take it themselves–and saw that there was the figure of an unidentified boy.

Paranormal investigation groups, S.P.I.G. and S.L.A.S.H. regularly take groups through the premises, where the customers were not made aware of the specifics of each haunting before they investigated the rooms. They reported having physical responses to particular rooms, including the library, and the basement, but were unable to determine the identities of any specific spirits.

The Atlantic Paranormal Society (T.A.P.S.) who hosts the television show Ghost Hunters visits the Geiser Grand quite regularly, with the sole mission of gathering evidence to back up all of the claims that have been made. In an attempt to make the process as scientific as possible, they conduct double-blind studies with reliable equipment that doesn’t incite controversy or welcome criticism. During an interview, one of the newer team members, who self-identified as a skeptic, offered up their own experiences. He believed it could have been a coincidence, but also added that it was an experience that he would never forget–during his investigation, he heard the name Wayne several times over the span of a three-hour investigation. A few days later, while researching, he found the name Wayne in a news story–an eighteen-year-old Presley Wayne–who in 1998 had been named Nashville’s Performer of the Year and touted as a rising country music star. The night after his show at the Geiser Grand, young Presley Wayne was found dead, the victim of a gunshot to the head.

Oregon resident, Amy Venezia, travels the country as a professional medium and communicates with spirits regularly. She stayed at the Geiser Grand one Christmas Eve, where she reported experiencing a dark mass floating by her bed. Recounting her story, she felt it was an incredibly frightening experience.

I’m very accustomed to spirits and not scared of much, but this was a very old, strong spirit, a different type of entity, not a typical connection … I was frightened … The spirit was like a big dog that doesn’t know its size when it pounces on you. It was too much for me then. With time though, I see it’s taken me to a deeper level, and that is good. There’s no doubt that hotel is haunted

Amy Venezia, Professional Medium
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Featured Haunted Places

Urban Legends: The Haunting of Hot Lake Hotel in La Grande, OR

The Hot Lake Hotel, originally built in the mid 19th century at the hot springs in La Grande, Oregon. Shortly after being built, the hotel was converted into a hospital, which was unfortunately destroyed in a fire, then was rebuilt as an insane asylum and was inevitably closed down completely. Years after it was closed, it was renovated and turned into the official Hot Lake Hotel, and with the colorful history that it boasted its haunted legend was born. The ghost stories include various sightings of apparitions and strange clouds of fog that suddenly appear, as well as disembodied voices, source-less piano music.

Ten miles outside of La Grande, in Union City, lies the Hot Lake Hotel–the area referred to as Hot Lake was discovered in 1912 by Robert Stuart who was part of the Wilson Price Hunt party. Before being discovered by the explorers, Native American tribes would bring their injured or sick to the hot springs to be nursed back to health on the neutral ground. It wasn’t until the 1840s that the hot springs at Hot Lake became a resting place for families who were traveling along the Oregon Trail. The original hotel at Hot Lake was constructed in 1864 and faced the bluff, instead of the lake, and it had bathhouses, a post office, a dance hall, a barbershop, and even a blacksmith. While the history between its construction in 1864 and 1884 is unknown due to its isolated nature, it was finally put on the map created by the Union Pacific railroad, which linked the state with the transcontinental system and attracted visitors from all around the globe.

Hot Lake Hotel in 1920s
Hot Lake Hotel in 1920s (Image courtesy of the Oregon State Library)

In 1917, a man named Dr. Phy purchased the hotel and it took on a second purpose as a hospital on the third floor, with a surgery ward and recovery rooms for patients. It was renamed as the Hot Lake Sanatorium and eventually added modern x-ray facilities, was host to radiation therapies, as well as experimental treatments in the hot springs for various ailments. By 1924 the hospital/resort combination was attracting 124 new guests every day, with three hundred rooms, and dining facilities that served over one thousand guests. Its downfall came on May 7, 1934 when a fire broke out and all but the brick portions of the building were destroyed. The depression and debilitating fire caused the business to not recover for over seventy years, ownership changed hands multiple times, but every owner struggled to get the business back to its heyday.

With the second World War, the Hot Lake Hotel was converted into a pilot school and nurse training center, but when the war was finally over in 1953, the location was officially licensed for giving nursing care. It operated as a nursing home and an insane asylum until 1975 when it was closed; it was reopened as a restaurant, and country-western club for two years and then was promptly closed after the business failed. Dr. Lyle Griffith took over the location in 1983, with the establishment of the Hot Lake Company and operated a bath and massage business–an RV park was also built on the premises in 1989, but the business closed once again in 1991 and the building fell into major disrepair.

Haunted Facilities…

The reputation of Hot Lake Hotel, however, by this time had become one of extreme haunting–having such a history as a hospital and sanitarium, it’s fair to assume that quite a few people died on the premises. The years have lent to quite a few witnesses alluding to the haunting of the facilities, having heard and viewed things they could not explain all over the premises, including apparitions walking the grounds, strange voices, whispering, as well as footsteps within the hotel. One apparition, in particular, that is regularly reported is believed to be the ghost of a man who worked as a gardener and ended up committing suicide.

First-hand experiences…

A brother and sister drove to the state just to see the Hot Lake Hotel in 2000 and toured the facility on their own. They felt that the abandoned location was quite eerie, but did not report any real apparitions. The piano that is heard playing without a pianist was originally owned by Robert E. Lee’s wife and was then acquired by the hotel, it was placed on the third floor, and to this day the piano is heard playing itself. One of the owners, Donna Pattee, her husband, and their caretaker Richard Owens reported having several strange experiences while they lived on the second floor during the 1970s; they heard screams and cries coming from the third floor–previously the surgical floor, as well as watching rocking chairs moving on their own. The building was officially put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. In 2003, the Hot Lake Hotel was purchased by the Manuel family and they spent indeterminable millions of dollars to restore the property over the next seven years. They formally opened the gallery and foundry for visitors in 2005 and began offering tours of the location during the restoration process.