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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.



Sources:
"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.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Compelled to Die.

Little Murders
In the autumn of 1889, Mrs. Nathaniel Strang, of Moserville, Michigan, began to exhibit signs of insanity. The extent of her condition came to light on November 18 when she tried to kill herself and her eighteen-year-old daughter Maud with aconite, a poisonous herb, because she feared that murderers were after them. A doctor was called in time to save both women.

In spite of this incident, Nathaniel left his wife and daughter alone again two days later. This time, Mrs. Strang poured two tumblers of Paris green, a compound used to kill rats and insects. She drank one herself, then pointing a revolver at Maud’s head, forced her to drink the other.

When Nathaniel returned home, Mrs. Strang told him what she had done. Nathaniel quickly summoned the doctor once again, but it was too late, the poison had already begun working. Mrs. Strang died in agony at midnight. Maud, who had watched her mother’s horrible death, begged the physician to save her life, but there was nothing he could do. She died an hour later.

Sources:

"A Horrible Suicide." New Haven Register 21 Nov 1889.
"A Mother's Crime." New Castle Weekly News 27 Nov 1889.
"A Mother's Terrible Deed." Michigan Argus 29 Nov 1889.
"Compelled to Die." National Police Gazette 7 Dec 1889.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Butler Fratricide.

The Murder of Henry Butler - Portrait of his Killer.
On October 6, 1879, Henry Butler went to visit his younger brother, Robert, at the King farm outside of Bradford, Pennsylvania, where Robert boarded. The brothers exchanged warm greetings, they had not seen each other in four years. They made plans to visit a third brother in Hornellsville, New York, then all three would go together to see their father. But first, they would have a night on the town.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

James E. Eldredge.

James E. Eldredge
James E. Eldredge left his home in Canton, New York in the spring of 1856. He returned six months later with a new name and a duplicitous personality to match. All those around him soon learned to distrust anything the young man said—all except his fiancĂ©, Sarah Jane Gould. She remained trusting to the end, when Eldredge poisoned Sarah Jane to pursue her younger sister.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Heathenish Murder.

Little Murders
(From New Haven Register, New Haven, Connecticut, September 4, 1879)



A Heathenish Murder. 

A case of “voudooism” and murder is reported from the very heart of New England. On Sunday last, Freddy, the two-and-a-half-years-old son of J. W. Smith of Springfield, Mass., died of arsenical poisoning. The person who committed the murder and who has been arrested or the crime is a mulatto woman of 25 years of age, named Julia or Lizzie Shepard. She claims to have come to Springfield from Madison, Connecticut and she has for some weeks been employed as a domestic in Springfield. The facts in the case regarding the alleged poisoning are as follows: The Shepard woman, coming to this city three weeks ago in search of a friend named Smith, went to J. W. Smith’s and, though finding it the wrong family, was permitted to remain, being of respectable address. The child Freddy was much thrown in with her, as Mrs. Smith was sick and he seemed to be constantly “ailing,” vomiting much accompanied with violent contraction of the leg and arm muscles. These attacks were especially noticeable after the child had taken milk, which the woman often gave him. Miss Shepard would express great solicitation for the child, but after a time the boy conceived such a dislike for her as to scream whenever she approached him. She also said that he was too handsome to live, and would die at a certain time. The family were naturally alarmed, and secured prescriptions from two physicians, and the boy appeared to mend. But on Sunday afternoon the child suddenly died after violent spasms, and the Shepard woman left. A chemical analysis showed evident traces of arsenic, and there seems to be no doubt that the child died of the effects of that poison. After the woman’s arrest, a bottle containing arsenic was found in her trunk. What lends additional force to the charge against her is, that a robust six-year-old boy in another family, where she went on Tuesday, was the same night attacked with symptoms similar to the Smith boy’s though he recovered the next morning. A pudding she carefully prepared for the family on that day is preserved for the chemist. Miss Shepard had also washed and ironed all of her clothes, intending, she said, to leave town soon for Troy. She is an unusually smart, attractive and neat-appearing woman, and is withal rather stylish, and she protests her innocence of the cause of her imprisonment. The father of this second child says he caught her face suddenly off its guard Tuesday, and found her regarding him in a manner that he describes as devilish in the extreme; and he suspects that the pudding was for his benefit. No motive can be imagined for the crime, except that the murderess wanted to be considered a Voudoo prophetess, a character both dreaded and revered among the more ignorant colored people of the South, and that to achieve the religious honor she predicted the death of the Smith child and, to clinch the fact of her gift of prophecy, used the arsenic to secure its death. That such a horrible a crime for so shameful a motive could be committed at all seems almost incredible, but there are many well authenticated cases of similar affairs among the barbarous blacks of Africa, as well as among the southern negroes. It is to be hoped that the case will be thoroughly sifted to the bottom and, if guilt is shown, that a speedy hanging affair may occur at Springfield. The ordinary hates, malice, rivalries and lusts of men and women are plentiful enough causes of murder without counting so fanciful a reason for murder as the desire to gain the character of a prophetess. The Freeman murder at Pocasset was a religious affair. This Springfield murder seems to be a heathenish affair although the motives are not altogether dissimilar. Trifling with human life in all such cases should be punished with the highest penalty of the law.




"A Heathenish Murder" New Haven Register, 9 Sep 1879.