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Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Boy Murderer.

11-year-old John Wesley Elkins (who went by Wesley) got out of bed around 2 a.m. on July 24, 1889, went outside the family’s Iowa farmhouse and down to the road to make sure no one coming. On his way back to the house he stopped at the corncrib a picked up a club—a heavy piece of a wooden flail—and brought it back to his bedroom. Wesley took down an old muzzle-loading rifle that was hanging on the kitchen wall, loaded the rifle, then went into the room where his father, stepmother, and infant half-sister were sleeping. He put the barrel of the gun near his father’s head and pulled the trigger. Knowing he did not have time to reload the rifle, Wesley went to his room and got the club. Then as his stepmother was leaning over his father, trying to understand what had happened, he beat her to death with the club.

Wesley took the infant, splattered with blood, out of the room, and cleaned and dressed her. Then he hitched up the buggy and started for his grandfather’s house, stopping on the way to tell the neighbors that an assassin had murdered his parents; he had taken the baby and fled for their lives.
The neighbor went to the Elkins’s house where they found the bodies of 45-year-old Mr. Elkins and his 25-year-old wife. Mr. Elkin’s head had been blown to pieces, and Mrs. Elkin’s head was beaten to a jelly. They sent for the police where were immediately skeptical of the Wesley’s story.

Wesley Elkins, around the time of the murder
Under questioning in Mason City, Iowa, Wesley quickly broke down and told the police the whole story. His reasons, however, did not seem to fit the severity of the crime. Wesley had been unhappy at having to care for his half-sister so often and wanted to set out on his own.  He had run away from home several times but each time was brought back. He thought his only way out was killing his parents. Wesley was slight of stature—four feet eight inches tall, weighing 73 pounds—and had never caused trouble. He was intelligent and well-spoken as he calmly told his story. Some believed Wesley incapable of such a deed and thought he was covering for someone else.

John Wesley Elkins was indicted for first-degree murder. At his trial the following January,
Wesley Elkins, after his release.
Wesley pleaded guilty and told his story once again. Judge Hoyt sentenced him to life at hard labor in Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Wesley was believed to be the youngest person to date to be sent to prison in America, and his life sentenced prompted heated arguments. Some felt that no 11-year-old boy belonged in prison regardless of the crime, others felt that Wesley should be sent to the gallows.

Wesley Elkins used his time wisely while at Anamosa. He worked at the prison library and at the chapel and became proficient with the written and spoken word. In 1902, twelve years into Wesley’s sentence, after bitter debate Governor Cummins issued him parole papers. Wesley left the prison a free man.

Following his release, Wesley led a full life. He first settled in St. Paul, Minnesota where he worked on the railroad. Then in 1922, he married a Hawaiian woman in Honolulu. Eventually, he became a farmer in San Bernardino, California, where he resided until his death in 1961.

"A Boy Murderer." Evening Star 27 Jul 1889.
"A Brilliant Beginning." National Police Gazette 9 Nov 1889.
"A Young Fiends' Confession.." New York Herald 20 Oct 1889.
"Double Murder by a Boy." New York Herald 27 Jul 1889.
"Murdered his Father and Mother." Daily Illinois State Register 27 Jul 1889.
Anamosa State Penitentiary: The Strange Case of Wesley Elkins.
"To Prison For Life." Kalamazoo Gazette 23 Jan 1890.
"Wesley Elkins." Wheeling Register 13 Jan 1890.


Tish says:
April 30, 2016 at 11:04 PM

Great story.

Tish says:
April 30, 2016 at 11:05 PM

Great story.

mycatisaudrey says:
May 1, 2016 at 10:49 AM

Such an interesting story. It would've been easier to kill the baby instead of his parents, so he obviously saw it as innocent. I wonder if his parents were also abusive in some way, making him less sympathetic towards them.

Adeline the Strange says:
May 2, 2016 at 12:05 AM

He seems to fit the profile of the 'callous unemotional' type adolescent rather than an abused kid, though.

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