The House & Town


The crime sent shockwaves beyond the tight-knit community of Villisca. Happening just two months after the sinking of the Titantic, the gruesome crime knocked the historic sinking on the front pages of newspapers everywhere.

At the time, it divided the population, mostly over those who continued to believe that Frank Jones was behind the crime. Moore’s previous boss was a prominent member of the United Methodist Church, so those who believed his guilt left that congregation to join the Presbyterian Church. Residue of the rift between the two continued for years.

Over time, it left a cultural and economic stain, with the name of the town forever entwined with the grisly crime. Lina and Ina’s mother was pregnant at the time and miscarried.

The murders occurred close to the apex of Villisca’s economic prosperity. Following the crime, an influx of the curious came to town, but the steady stream of visitors who came to shop, vist other local businesses and attend the theater slowed. By the start of World War I, the shift to a more industrial economy meant many left to find their fortunes in big cities. As of the 2020 census, Villisca’s population is around 1,200 people.

The armory that was built the same year as the murders, however, remained in use. Villisca’s

Piano inside of the Villisca House

Company F has represented the community, the state, and the country in the 1916 expedition into Mexico, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Villisca is the site of a Pulitzer Prize winning photo that ran in Life magazine, depicting Lt. Col. Robert Moore greeting his family at the depot after returning from service in Africa.

Over the next 90 years, the house at 508 E. 2nd Street had thirteen owners. Among them was the Villisca State Savings and Loan (1963 to 1971), possibly assumed as a foreclosure. The house experienced long periods of vacancy and fell into disrepair by the time it was acquired by Rick and Vicki Sprague on New Year’s Day in 1994.

Presumably overwhelmed by the work needed to keep the property from being condemned, the Spragues approached local real estate agent, Darwin Linn, about buying it a couple months later.

Linn’s second occupation was historian. He co-owned the Olson-Linn Museum in town with his wife, Martha. Intrigued by the home’s history, Linn made a lowball offer with a deadline of midnight, January 1, 1995. To his surprise, the Spragues’ agent called months later to accept. By then, he’d had second thoughts and waited a few months to tell his wife.

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508 E 2nd St, Villisca, IA 50864


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