On the evening of June 9, 1912, parents Josiah B. Moore and Sarah Moore walked home from a church event with their 4 children, Herman, Mary Katherine, Arthur, and Paul. Two friends of Mary Katherine's, sisters Ina Mae and Lena Gertrude Stillinger were also with the Moore family and were planning on spending the night at the Moore home. The family returned to their home around 9:30pm and it is assumed everyone went to bed, with the Stillinger sisters staying in the guest bedroom downstairs.
Sometime during the night, an unknown assailant crept down from his hiding spot in the attic of the family home. He took an axe that belonged to Josiah and slashed Josiah over and over until his face was so disfigured, his eyes were not found at the scene. Using the blunt end of the axe, the murderer then killed Sarah, Herman, Mary Katherine, Arthur, and Paul. Finally the assailant made his way down stairs and attacked the Stillinger sisters beginning with Mae. It is believed that Lena woke up during the attack on her sister, as she had defensive wounds on her arms and her undergarments were missing when her body was found.
The following day, a neighbor went to check on the Moores after noticing they had not done their morning chores or let their chickens out. The neighbor notified Josiah's brother, Ross, that she hadn't seen the family and that the door was locked. He was able to open the door using his spare key and he found the bodies of the Stillinger girls with the bloody axe on the floor next to their bed.
Reverend George Kelly was a traveling minister who was in Villisca on the night of the murders. He confessed to the crime, but only after being questioned by police for an extended period of time. He was tried for the murders, but the trial resulted in a hung jury. At the second trial he was found not guilty and acquitted on all counts. There were several other suspects but no one else would be tried for the murders. The case remains officially unsolved.