Museums and History · Roadside Iowa · Southwest Iowa

Forgotten Iowa Meets the Ax


Villisca, IA: Montgomery County (Our 39th County!)

A couple months ago, I signed on to be a speaker at Iowa History Day in a little SW-Iowa town organized by The Forgotten Iowa Historical Society. When I heard which town the conference would be in, I knew I had to go. There’s many reasons to make a trip to this part of the state and we’ve made many. However, this would be the first time in my life that I’d finally be descending into the infamous Ax Murder House.

The eerie placement of early 20th century toys, antiques, and furniture are all over the house and made to look close to what an Iowa family home from 1912. Each room was more chilling than the last. The attic was the most haunting to me. The killer spent hours there waiting for the family to come home and eventually falling asleep. The window’s glow in our picture from the afternoon sun, illuminating the single chair where the murder waited patently. It was then when I realized some very spooky connections to another murder that would take place in Amityville, NY.

We gathered around the living room and listened to the heartbreaking story of the victims killed in the house, most of them children. The tour guide went into to detail on just what happen and outlined many of the theories behind the investigation. One of the suspects actually confessed to the crime. Reverend George J. Kelly would eventually tell authorities that he indeed committed the murders. Many who have studied the case believe he was the most likely culprit, but, due to his mental illness, his testimony was deemed unworthy and he was never charged. This is when things start to match up with Amityville. Both George Kelly of Villisca and Ronald DeFeo claimed that a spirit instructed them to commit the murders. Both groups of victims were killed at night in their sleep with no evidence of disturbance, or self-defense. George Kelly, assuming he was the killer, used and ax, in Villisca, while Ronald DeFeo used a rifle. Though a rifle would be much louder than an ax, the Amityville victims still appeared to be in a position of sleeping when they were discovered. Same as the Villisca victims decades earlier. Not one victim seemed to be awoken by others being killed either down the hall or right by them in Amityville and Villisca. Then there’s the eyes. Not human eyes. The iconic windows in each house are similar in style and seem to by watching over the area. Pictured below to the left is Villisca and the right is Amityville. (Amityville picture from If the story of demon telling these men to kill is true, you may wonder if it was the same one.

I scratched the Villisca house off our list and shook off the goosebumps. We made our way to the town square and relaxed a little before it was time to speak at the Iowa History Day conference down the road. After getting educated on one of Iowa’s most notorious cold cases, you tend to want a little distraction. Villisca had us covered with homemade pie at T.J’s Cafe and some local produce shopping in the park from Fulton Family Farm. Sweet tooth deactivated and half of supper prep picked up for later. Did I mention the creepy widows on the house? Sorry, still not over all that.

The local community center was buzzing with history buffs that traveled from all over the state. Discussions covered the Mormon Pioneer Trail, Iowa’s culinary history, and much, much more! Just after my speech, shameless blog advertising, and charming anecdotes, my cousin Adam Goodvin of Corning, IA, led a presentation on Iowa’s French Icarian Heritage in nearby Adams County. Now that’s some serious family Iowa knowledge dropping! (Spellcheck corrected “knowledge” for me when I wrote that. Stupid “k” anyway.)

This was the second Iowa History Day hosted by the Forgotten Iowa Historical Society and I hope to be a part of many more of their conferences. History can be lost so easily these days and there is a desperate need for more folks devoting time to preserving it. Iowa is state that has amazing folks that do an incredible job of keeping this culture alive. Take the long way and don’t pass up too many roadside historical markers. Absorb your surroundings and ingest as much history as you can whenever you can. It’s up to all of us to tell the story of Iowa with every listening ear we can find. Team Goodvin urges all of you to click on The Forgotten Iowa Historical Society and become a member of this group of history lovers.

A Civil War veteran’s grave site at Villisca Cemetery.

Thanks for reading! -Team Goodvin

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