Once Martha recovered from the shock of learning she was now co-owner of one of the most notorious homes in America, the two historians set about getting the funds to restore to the home to its original condition at the time of the murders.
Their hope: by restoring the home, the renewed interest in the mystery might somehow help Villisca heal its wounds and rejuvenate the town’s economy.
This proved to be no small task. Sometime between 1936 and 1994, the house underwent quite numerous changes. The front and back porches were closed in, plumbing and electricity were added and the outbuildings were removed or replaced.
Using a combination of old photographs and interviews with neighbors, the Linns pieced together the physical journey of the home.
They removed vinyl siding and undertook the painstaking efforts of restoring and repainting the original exterior wood. They stripped the home’s functional plumbing features and electrical fixtures. They removed the front and back patio enclosures and restored the outhouse and chicken coop in the backyard. The pantry had been converted to an indoor bathroom – that too, had to go, to bring the home back to the way it was in June 1912.
In recognition of the Linns’ work, the J.B. Moore home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. They were also recognized by the prestigious “Preservation at its Best” award from the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance in 1997.
The Linns opened the house to the public for the first time in the late 1990s, offering daytime tours and overnight stays. In all their years of ownership, they never advertised. Their tours included a colorful narrative of the era, an overview of the murders and the subsequent controversy the town found itself embroiled in.
In the early 2000s, the Linns tried to compile a list of all the rental tenants. They found the process almost impossible due to the high number of renters who abandoned it after short periods of time, sometimes just a couple of weeks. They did uncover some curious stories. In the 1960s, for example, local lore says a man who was in the kitchen preparing dinner who reportedly saw a flash of light, went into a daze and woke up with the knife stuck in his hand. After a trip to a doctor, the family quickly packed up and left.
Owner Martha Linn remained tight-lipped about her own experiences, but more than one ghost hunting blogger noted that she refused to step into the home after dark. When you read the next section, you might understand why.