There seem to be places in this world that are saturated with mysterious forces and the paranormal, some may even say tainted. For whatever reasons these locations hold close to them tales of ghostly phenomena and supernatural activity, as if these forces are part of them. Mostly this can be seen with those locales that have seen horrible tragedies, suffering, and death, and certainly qualifying are those houses where terrible murders have been committed, often called “murder houses” and the bane of real estate agents everywhere. Considering their dark histories it is perhaps not surprising at all that many of them are said to be very haunted, and here we will look at some of the more insidious of these dens of evil.
Perhaps one of the most famous, and indeed most haunted murder houses of all is located in the small, quiet town of Villisca, Iowa. Back in the early 1900s this was a peaceful small rural town, where everyone knew each other and people left their doors unlocked, but this was set to change on June 11, 1912, when they would be rocked by a brutal, horrific murder the likes of which no one there had ever seen. In the early morning hours, Josiah and Sarah Moore, their entire family, and two friends of their daughter were viciously slayed in their beds with an axe. Oddly, only Josiah would be killed with the actual blade of the weapon, with the seven other victims, six of them children, ruthlessly bludgeoned to death with the blunt side.
Authorities arrived to a sickening scene of blood splatter and bodies strewn about, and they soon found the murder weapon, an axe which had belonged to Josiah himself, in one of the guest rooms next to a slab of bacon. Weird clues and details abounded, such as the fact that there were cigarette butts in the attic suggesting the killer had hidden there waiting for his chance to strike, a bowl of bloody water, and blankets covering every mirror in the house. There was also a half-eaten meal left out, which it was believed the killer had made for himself after his grim deed had been done. Although there were some suspects over the years, including a traveling minister named Reverend George Kelly, no one was ever successfully convicted of the murders and they have never been solved.
The house, chillingly simply called the “Villisca Ax Murder House,” is in modern times a museum for morbid curiosity seekers, and over the years since the murders it has gathered a reputation for being intensely haunted. In fact, for years after the murders everyone who tried to live here soon moved out because of the ghostly activity, including all manner of phenomena including disembodied children’s laughter or conversely screams, as well apparitions of the murdered children and the sound of their little feet running about. There is something more ominous reportedly here as well, including a shadowy axe wielding entity and a general air of malevolence, and the presence in the house is said to be very hostile, especially in the area of the attic.
An example of a rather sinister occurrence in the house happened in November of 2014, when a Robert Steven Laursen Jr., 37, was there with some friends on an amateur ghost hunting mission. At some point at approximately 12:45 AM he began panicking into his walkie-talkie, and ended up found with self-inflicted stab wounds after something allegedly took him over and made him do it. Fortunately, he survived the encounter. Indeed, many of the visitors who come through are ghost hunters, the house has appeared on such big name paranormal shows as Ghost Adventures, and they don’t usually go away disappointed, with the owner of the house, Martha Linn, saying of these visitors:
They play with the children, they hear voices, they get pictures of anomalies. I have notebooks from just the last two years full of what overnight experiences people have had. Very few of them go away without experiencing something.
The house is open to guests and you can even book a room there for the night, if you dare. Speaking of gruesome murders and haunted murder houses in small towns, there is also one located in the town of Millstadt, located just across the Mississippi River from the city of St. Louise. It was here where on March 19, 1874, a local German immigrant named Benjamin Schneider went over to his neighbor’s house, the home of another German immigrant, Carl Stelzenreide and his family, only to find the premises dark and still and the livestock unfed. Upon letting himself into the silent home to see if there was anything wrong, he found Carl Stelzenreide, age 70, his son, Frederick, Frederick’s wife, Anna, and their children, Carl, 3, and Anna, 8 months, all dead around the house in various states of horrific carnage. Many of them had been savagely beaten to the point of being unrecognizable and several of them had had their throats cut, with Carl Steltzenreide himself practically decapitated with an apparent axe.
Police arrived to find blood everywhere, painted across walls and pooled up on the floor, and the walls were also tattooed with the chips and indentations of some sort of bladed weapon, likely an axe. Unbelievably, standing amongst all of this gruesome bloodshed was the family dog, which had been completely untouched even though it had been known to be very aggressive towards strangers. It would be this clue that would lead authorities to suspect the murderer had been someone who had known the family, but there were few pieces of concrete evidence to support this. They were able to find leading away from the house some unusual footprints made by boots that had been cobbled with heavy nails, as well as a track from the heavy weapon being dragged and a bloody pack of chewing tobacco, but other than this there was not much to go on.
Although two suspects were bought to trial for the shocking murders, a Frederick Boeltz, who was the brother-in-law of Frederick Steltzenreide, and a John Afken, they were not convicted due to a lack of evidence, and the murders were never officially solved. I know what you might be thinking right about now, and yes, of course the house is haunted, and these hauntings continued on even when the original structure was torn down in 1954, continuing right on up to modern times. According to the book Bloody Illinois, by Troy Taylor, in the 1990s the modern home on the property was rented by a Chris Nauman, who said of his own experience there:
It was 6 o’clock in the morning, and there was a loud knock on the door. At the same time, my girlfriend heard someone walking up the steps in our basement. A cold shiver ran up my spine.
When they investigated, not only did they find no one there, but they would also discover that it had happened on the anniversary of the murders, March 19. This sort of phenomena allegedly continued on for years, always at around the same time of year, and it was eventually enough that they moved away to get away from it all. The same thing was reported by a later owner, Randy Eckert, who lived there in 2004 and along with his wife and dog were terrorized by frequent ghostly occurrences, spookily always at around the anniversary of the murders. Is there some stain upon this house, perhaps the events of that dark night of murder and mayhem playing out again and again, as if etched upon a tape?
Another notorious haunted murder house sits atop a bluff in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. The house itself is a beautiful, Spanish Revival style 12-room, 5,050-square-foot home with sprawling terraced gardens, expansive lawns, a glass conservatory, bar, ballroom, three baths, and all commanding a gorgeous view of the surrounding area. Yet this outwardly handsome home holds a dark history coursing beneath its comely veneer, and it all begins in the 1950s, when it was purchased by a Los Angeles physician named Harold Perelson, who moved here with his wife, Lillian Silver, and his three children, Judye, Debbie and Joel, into what was supposed to be their dream home. Unfortunately, it would soon turn into a nightmare, as dark clouds began to gather on their horizon.
On the night of December 6, 1959, the by all accounts calm and mild mannered doctor took a ball peen hammer and bashed his wife’s skull in as she slept next to him. He then stalked off to find his 18-year-old daughter, who he would attack and viciously beat before she somehow managed to escape. The other children awoke, but the bloodied Perelson didn’t attack them, merely telling them to go back to bed. He then locked himself away into one of the bathrooms and injected himself with a lethal concoction of water, acid, tranquilizers, and a barbiturate called pentobarbital. The brutal murder by such a respected and well-known physician was big news at the time, and it has never been ascertained exactly why he did it.
That sprawling house, with the taint of murder upon its halls, was purchased by an Emily and Julian Enriquez the following year, but they only used it for storage and never lived there. The house then stood abandoned up there on that lonely hilltop for the next 50 years, accruing all manner of spooky legends. It was said that mysterious lights and shadow figures could be seen roaming the area or past the darkened windows, as well as disembodied screams that reverberated through it at night. It was long said that if one was brave enough to look inside they would see all of the furniture owned by the Perelsons exactly as it had been left, covered with a film of decades’ worth of dust, as well as a 1950s style TV and even a Christmas tree, all precisely where they had always been as if waiting for someone to come home at any moment. Those who actually trespassed and entered the house were said to be besieged with an intense, malevolent dread, and to see visions of being chased by a man with a hammer, and the “Los Feliz Murder House” in general had quite a sinister reputation indeed.
In 1994 the house was inherited by son Rudy Enriquez, who also never moved in or changed the interior in any way, merely letting it rot away up on that hill, where it sat overgrown with weeds and uninhabited except by perhaps the ghosts claimed to be there. Then in July of 2016 the house was bought for $2.3 million at a probate sale and the new owners have moved out all of the old items and furniture, expressing interest in renovating it and living there. It is unknown what paranormal phenomena they might have encountered, if any, but now that it is inhabited the days of macabre curiosity seekers snooping around the property looking for ghosts have come to an end.
Speaking of buying one’s very own haunted murder house, let’s take a look at a mansion that also happens to lie in the Los Feliz neighborhood, and which has a grim history all its own. On August 10, 1969, the notorious cultist Charles Manson and his followers came to this sprawling home at 3311 Waverly Drive, and proceeded to torture and murder the owners, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. It was a random, senseless crime, with the middle aged couple having never even met Manson or their other killers, but when the bloodbath was over they would be stabbed dozens of times, and the walls would have upon them scrawled in blood the words “Rise,” and “Death to pigs.” The couple had never done anything to deserve this, had no known enemies, and it was thought that they just had been in the wrong place at the wrong time when their killers had been out thirsty for blood after just having committed their more famous murder of actor Sharon Tate the night before.
It was partly because of this random nature that the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were so shocking at the time, and truly illustrated how dangerous Manson and his followers were, igniting mass panic among the populace. When the house recently went up for sale after the previous owners moved out it was thought that it would be a tough sell considering such a gruesome history of death, and there were also the numerous rumors of paranormal activity surrounding the property. One Stephen Shapiro, chairman of Westside Estate Agency, would say of his own strange experience with the spooky home he was trying to sell:
In my experience, iffy people buy those kinds of houses. I’m not the type of person that relies on astrology … or believes in the occult or afterlife, but I couldn’t go in the house. I got out of the car and I felt it in the motor court. I could feel evil.
Well, they found the perfect buyer, because the home has been purchased for a cool $1.9 million by none other than the host of the TV show Ghost Adventures, Zak Bagans, who has experienced strangeness at the property as well. Of course, in his line of business he welcomes that, and indeed besides the gorgeous views and otherwise beautiful home this was the main reason he stepped in to buy it. Bagans said of the murder house and his purchase of it:
There was a very, very strong energy in the house. I love to investigate spirits and places. This is a beautiful place with a very dark history. If I’m spending time there and come into contact with anything, that’s the world I live in.
Looking at such places, it is hard not to wonder if there is anything to the paranormal aspects of these cases, and if so what could be behind it all. One idea long thrown around by researchers of the paranormal is that places of great tragedy or suffering can somehow absorb these emotions, or even imprint these events upon them, like an image on film. In this sense it is not even ghosts really, but rather the vestiges of these horrible events etched into the reality of these places, to play out in an endless loop. It could also be the spirits of these murderers and victims, tethered to the locations where they met their demise, perhaps not even realizing that they are dead at all. When dealing with evil locations there is also the idea that some quality of the land itself has permeated these places, perhaps in some way even causing the evil that has occurred here. Or maybe it is all spooky myth and urban legend crafted among these tragic locales, their murders making them larger than life and allowing them to take on a like of their own. Whatever the case may be, they are certainly not the kinds of places most would want to spend the night in.