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Villisca Axe Murder House
Photograph: Courtesy Villisca Axe Murder House

The scariest real-life haunted houses in the U.S.

Feeling brave? Plan to visit these super-scary, real-life haunted houses in the U.S. this Halloween season.

By Selena Fragassi, Tolly Wright and Sarah Medina
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Americans love to be scared and the haunted house is a Halloween season staple. But these real-life haunted houses in the U.S. aren't just fleeting autumn pop-ups. These haunted homes, located in towns across the U.S., are the crime scenes for true tales of ax murders and massacres, lost children, and angry demons and ghosts—they're guaranteed to give you more shivers than even the best Halloween movies, especially if you're brave enough to stay the night at one of these frightening abodes. (We also know about some haunted Airbnbs, if you're into that sort of thing.) Staying in this Halloween? Embark on a virtual ghost tour of the most haunted places in the U.S. from the safety of your home.

RECOMMENDED: The spookiest haunted hotels in America

Haunted houses in the U.S.

Villisca Axe Murder House
Villisca Axe Murder House
Photograph: Courtesy Villisca Axe Murder House

1. Villisca, IA: Villisca Axe Murder House

On June 10, 1912, Josiah and Sarah Moore, their four children and two visiting guests were bludgeoned to death inside this quiet Iowa home. The crime remains unsolved and much of the home is still preserved exactly as it was on that fateful night. The house doesn't have any running water or electricity, which provides that special ‘ambiance’ for the many who have shelled out $400-plus to stay the night. But visit the Villisca Axe Murder House at your own risk: In 2014, a paranormal investigator who booked a room wound up stabbing himself by morning.

2. Atchison, KS: The Sallie House

Legend has it that the cause of all the mayhem at one of the most disturbing haunted houses in America stems from a little girl who was the victim of a botched appendectomy during a house call at the turn of the century. A family who lived in the Sallie House in the 1990s documented their experience on the TV show Sightings, which talked of flying objects, frequent apparitions and scratching, and gouging and shoving, mainly directed at the male owner. The home is now vacant but is a popular pick for paranormal researchers, and anyone can book the house to stay the night ... if you dare. 

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LaLaurie House, New Orleans
LaLaurie House, New Orleans
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. New Orleans, LA: LaLaurie House

American Horror Story: Coven reignited interest in this famous French Quarter haunt. In the series, Kathy Bates plays real-life socialite and serial killer Madame Delphine LaLaurie, who orchestrated a torture chamber for slaves at the Royal Street mansion from 1831 until 1834, when responders to a fire uncovered her dark secret. LaLaurie's victims are said to haunt the property to this day—passersby say they can hear shouts, moans and weeping, and some say they have seen ghostly faces from the upstairs windows. Yet, the house's ghastly history hasn't stopped wealthy buyers. Before losing the home to foreclosure in 2009, actor Nicolas Cage owned the house and today a wealthy oil tycoon is said to hold the deed. 

Lizzie Borden B&B
Lizzie Borden B&B
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Fall River, MA: Lizzie Borden House

Lizzie Borden is still laughing about getting away with murder—according to some. Late at night she can be heard cackling at the top of the stairs near where she gave her stepmother "forty whacks." But she's not the only spirit who haunts the scene of the 1892 crime. Both of her axed parents are said to stalk the grounds, as does a maid screaming for help, according to guests of the now museum and B&B. Lizzie Borden House attracts guests from all over the world, especially for the anniversary re-enactment every August. 

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Bell Witch Farm
Bell Witch Farm
Photograph: Courtesy Bell Witch Farm

5. Adams, TN: Bell Witch Farm

Note: this venue is temporarily closed 

It's the age-old tale of neighbors at war: A woman named Kate Batts believed her neighbor John Bell cheated her out of some land, and so, lying on her deathbed in the early 19th century, she swore she would haunt him forever. The Bell family said they experienced physical attacks, heard chains dragged across floors, noises in the walls and saw odd-looking animals on their farm, including a dog with a rabbit's head. Today you can tour the property's cave and reconstructed cabin and stop by for the annual Bell Witch Festival.

Lemp Mansion
Lemp Mansion
Photograph: Courtesy Lemp Mansion

6. St. Louis, MO: Lemp Mansion

Even all the beer in the world won't necessarily lead to happiness. Case in point: The Lemp family, purveyors of Lemp Brewing Company, a stalwart in St. Louis before prohibition hit. Four members of the family killed themselves between 1904 and 1949, three of them inside the 33-room Victorian mansion where they allegedly still reside, haunting guests of the converted restaurant and inn. It has since been turned into a restaurant and inn where you can spend the night and even partake in a ghost tour. 

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7. Gettysburg, PA: Farnsworth House Inn

The waiters at this inn won't be the only ones dressed up in Civil War-era clothes—expect to see some long-dead Confederate soldiers clad similarly as well. During the Battle of Gettysburg, many of the South's soldiers hid and died, which explains the one-hundred-plus bullet pocks in the brick walls. After the fighting in the area was over, the house became a hospital for soldiers. Whether at the inn or in the area, learn about some of the weird supernatural occurrences during a ghost tour or plan to stay the night—it's still an inn to this day. 

 Winchester House
 Winchester House
Photograph: Courtesy Winchester House

8. San Jose, CA: Winchester Mystery House

Her husband developed the "gun that won the West"—which came back to bite Sarah Winchester in the butt. After losing her husband and a young daughter, the widow Winchester consulted a spiritualist who alleged the family was being haunted by Native Americans, Civil War soldiers and others killed by the famous rifle. It was recommended that Winchester move west and use her $20 million inheritance to continuously build a home to appease the spirits. What was erected between 1884 and 1922—now known as the Winchester Mystery House—was a sprawling 160-room mansion with haphazard architecture that leads touring guests to nowhere, though there are spirit guides.

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9. Virginia Beach, VA: Ferry Plantation House

Note: This venue is temporarily closed 

A total of 11 reported spirits have been known to haunt the grounds of this Southern plantation, including passengers of a ship wrecked ferry, a former slave and Grace Sherwood, a woman who was accused of being a witch and was tried by ducking in the 1700s. These days, when you visit the historic house-museum to admire the Federal-style architecture, listen carefully and you might hear Grace yelling at her dead dog, Tobias.

10. New York, NY: House of Death

The city that never sleeps is probably just too afraid of the House of Death to close its eyes—the famous brownstone off of Fifth Avenue is reportedly terrorized by a whopping 22 ghosts. The most famous is writer Mark Twain, who lived here from 1900-1901; the most heartbreaking is the six-year-old girl beaten to death by her father, criminal prosecutor Joel Steinberg, in 1987. In addition to sightings of Twain and the young girl, residents say they have seen visions of a lady in white and a gray cat.

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11. Salem, MA: Joshua Ward House

This brick mansion, built for prominent merchant Joshua Ward in 1784, is at the exact site where Sherriff George Corwin—a major figure in the Salem Witch Trials—lived, died and was buried in 1697 (though later exhumed). Corwin was known as "the strangler" for the 19 men and women executed for witchcraft under his watch. He is said to still creep around the grounds, with some visitors claiming they have been "choked" by him, and he's apparently not alone: One of his victims was famously captured in all her disheveled glory by a realtor taking photos of the property.

12. Southington, CT: Snedeker House

The drama the Snedeker family experienced in the 1980s living in this haunted house (and former funeral home) was crazy enough to be turned into a popular horror flick in 2009 called The Haunting in Connecticut. During a two-year span, both of the Snedeker parents claimed to have been physically assaulted and sodomized by demonic spirits, and said their son Philip was often visited by a creepy man with long black hair. 

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13. Los Angeles, CA: Los Feliz Murder Mansion

In 1959, Dr. Harold Perelson beat his wife to death with a hammer in this L.A. mansion, severely wounded his daughter and then drank a glass of acid to off himself. The Enriquez family bought the dilapidated structure at auction years ago and used it only for storage purposes. In the spring of 2016, the house was finally cleared of the clutter—much of it dating back to the mid-20th century—and put up for auction. It was sold later that year, and in 2019 was put back on the market for the cool price of $3.5 million. As for paranormal activity, occasional trespassers found items—including wrapped Christmas presents—that appeared to have been left behind by onetime residents.

14. Cleveland, OH: Franklin Castle

On Cleveland's Franklin Boulevard, locals still whisper rumors about the original owner of the 20-plus-room 19th century dwelling. In just a few short years in the 1890s, the mansion became the place of death for four of Hannes Tiedemann's adolescent children and his wife. Though Tiedemann was never found guilty of any wrongdoing, today some people claim he hung his 13-year-old illegitimate daughter and made it appear like a suicide and that he killed his mistress in a secret passage. Known as "the most haunted house in Ohio," the castle is rumored to be visited by ghosts.

 

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Molly Brown House Museum
Molly Brown House Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Visit Denver/Steve Crecelius

15. Denver, CO: Molly Brown House

The "Unsinkable Molly Brown" was one of the only people to survive the Titanic, but she wasn't entirely unstoppable: She died in New York in 1932. It's said Brown (along with her husband and mother) still haunts the prized Victorian home, acquired in 1893, where she spent much of her adult life and which is now a museum with artifacts from her life. Visitors say they have seen apparitions in the dining room, rearranged furniture and similar strange occurrences in the former room of Brown's child, Catherine, who died at a young age. 

See more ghosts in these U.S. cities

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