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Elkins murders 1889, Elk twp


Posted By: Sharyl Ferrall
Date: 4/21/2007 at 01:35:57

The following news articles from all over the country, tell the tragic story of young John Wesley Elkins, who was convicted of the crime of killing his father & stepmother in Elk Township. They are presented in cronological order:

Decatur Daily Despatch
Decatur, Illinois
Thursday morning, July 18, 1889

Killed in Their Bed
Special to Decatur Despatch, Dubuque, Ia. - John Elkins and his wife, tennants on the farm of Allen Parker, in Clayton county, about seven miles north of East Edgewood, were brutally murdered in their sleeping room about 3 o'clock this morning. Elkins was killed with a rifle which he had in the house, and which, after being used, had been hung back in its place on the wall. Mrs. Elkins' head was beaten to peices with a heavy stick and her body was horribly broken and mutilated. Suspicion rests strongly on two sons of Elkins by a former wife with whom Elkins has had frequent quarrels. The eldest of the boys, who is about twenty-three years old, has been living away from home a great deal and the other, aged about eleven, slept in the barn last night, contrary to his usual custom. Elkins is supposed to have had about $300 in the house which has not yet been found.


Decatur Daily Despatch
Decatur, Illinois
Friday morning, July 26, 1889

The Elkins Tragedy
Dubuque, Ia., July 25 - Although Gov. Larrabee has offered a reward of $500 for the arrest and conviction of the murderer of John Elkins and wife on the night of July 17, at their home near Edgewood, no new clews have thus far been obtained. Thoses most thoroughly conversant with the facts in the tragedy hold firmly to the opinion that Wesley, the 11-year-old son, committed the deed without assistance. He has not yet been seen to shed a tear or display the least emotion over the terrible affair. It has been thought best to place him under arrest and he is now closely confined.


Decatur Daily Despatch
Decatur, Illinois
Saturday morning, July 27, 1889

The Boy Confessed
Special to Decatur Despatch. Mason City, Ia., July 26 - On Wednesday night of last week John Elkins and his wife were brutally murdered in their home in Elk township, Clayton county. At first suspicion rested upon a cousin as the perpetrator of the crime, but yesterday, Wesley Elkins, a son of the murdered man, a lad only 11 years old, confessed he killed his father and stepmother. He said:
"I had some difficulty with my father and the night of the murder I slept in the barn. Between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning I went into the house and took down the rifle which was hanging near where my father, mother and sister were lying. I placed the muzzle of the rifle near my father's head and fired. This frightened my step-mother and I went into the kitchen, seized a club, went back into the bed room and killed her. I stayed around the house about thirty minutes, then decided to arouse the neighbors. I took the bodies from the bed, removed the blood stained clothing and went to the neighbors and arounsed them." The murderer has not yet reached his 12th year. He bears an intelligent look and many now, notwithstanding his confession, believe his story is told to shield some one else.


Chillicothe Morning Constitution
Chillicothe, Missouri
January 14, 1890

Boy Murderer Sentenced
Elkader, Iowa, Jan. 13 - Wesley Elkins, the twelve-year-old boy who a week [sic] ago murdered his father and step-mother in Elk township, this county, and made a complete confession of the crime, pleaded guilty to murder in the first degree before the district court in session here, and was sentenced by Judge Hoyt to imprisonment for life at hard labor. He [illegible] no feeling when the sentence was pronounced. He is undoubtedly the youngest life criminal sentenced in this State. The judge has ordered that the confession shall not be given to the public, owing to its sensational character.


Mitchell Daily Republican
Mitchell, South Dakota
January 23, 1890

A Young Convict.
Des Moines, Iowa, Jan 23 - Judge Hoyt, of the Clayton district court, has passed sentence upon probably the youngest life convict ever sent up in this country. His name is John Wesley Elkins, and the offense charged was that of the murder of his father. He also murdered his mother at the same time. He was indicted for both offenses, but as he pleaded guilty to the first the other was not tried. The boy is only 12 years old.


The New Atlas
Vale, Malheur Co., Oregon
February 6, 1890

Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 23.
Judge Hoyt has passed sentence upon the youngest life convict ever sent up. His name is John Wesley Elkins and he is only twelve years old. On the night of July 17 he shot his father while he was asleep and killed his mother with a club. His infant sister he carefully dressed, took a buggy with him and started for his grandfather's, where he told a story of murder by unknown men. He was not suspected at first, but his peculiarly calm behavior led to his arrest a week later. He confessed and said he had desired to leave home, but his parents objected.


Arizona Republican
Phoenix, Arizona Territory
February 28, 1898

Des Moines, Ia., Feb. 27 -- In the senate yesterday a big petition signed by 1,300 citizens of Clayton county against the pardon of Wesley Elkins, the boy murderer, was presented. It was in Clayton county that the crime was committed.


Nashua Reporter
Nashua, Chickasaw, Iowa
Sepember 21, 1899

R.B. Curtis, the much married man, who has been doing a five-year sentence in the penitentiary at Anamosa, has been given his liberty, providing he conducts himself properly and does not subject himself to a breakage of the rules of the prison, he having served sufficient time to be paroled. Curtis made quite a record for himself while imprisoned editing the Anamosa Prison Press, and he was freely scored by the press of the state. He also wrote and published a book pretending to relate his career, but it was suppressed by the prison authorities. Wesley Elkins, the boy murderer from Clayton county, will succeed him as editor of the Prison Press.


Davenport Daily Republican
Davenport, Scott co. Iowa
January 25, 1902

Contest Over Elkins Pardon
Des Moines, Jan. 24 - One of the hardest fights before the present general assembly will be the one against the pardon of J. Wesley Elkins, the boy murderer of Clayton county. This fight will be led by Senator H.C. Bishop, of Elkader. In the upper body and by representative J.C. Flenniken of Strawberry Point in the lower body. Both of these members have defined their position on the subject and say that they will do all in their power to defeat any effort to release Wesley Elkins from Anamosa penitentiary. Senator Bishop says that in a few days petitions from the citizens of Clayton county against the pardon will commence pouring into the assembly.

He says that leading citizens and attorneys have been working on these petitions for three weeks past, and that they will represent at least 90 per cent of the citizens of Clayton county. Senator Bishop does not believe that ten per cent of the people living in Clayton county can be found to favor this pardon. Personally he found but one citizen who declared in its favor and he says he made an effort to probe sentiment thoroughly. Within the next two weeks Senator Bishop expects to make visit to Anamosa penitentiary in company with the legislature for the purpose of seeing and talking with Wesley Elkins, and of consulting the prison authorities regarding him.


Des Moines Daily Leader
Des Moines, Polk co. Iowa
February 14, 1902

House Proceedings
Flenniken of Clayton presented a remonstrance of prodigious size against the pardon of Wesley Elkins


Des Moines Daily Leader
Des Moines, Polk co. Iowa
Wednesday morning, March 19, 1902

Interest in Elkins Case
The application for a pardon of Wesley Elkins, the Clayton county boy murderer, has developed interest this session so extensive that it seems almost certain a pardon will be granted at another session, if not at this time. Within the last few days some new literature has been distributed among legislators by the friends of this movement, in refutation of certain charges that have been made concerning Elkins' conduct as a prisoner in the Anamosa penitentiary. The three wardens who have served as executives of the penitentiary during the twelve years that Elkins has been there all testify to his excellent record as a prisoner and join in the belief that if released under parole he would prove the lenity was not mistaken.

On the other hand, there has been brought up by the discussions at this session a number of new objections to giving Elkins freedom. One of the most remarkable of these is contained in the account which the people of Clayton county give, by way of bolstering their claim that Elkins was born a degenerate, and that degeneracy can never be educated or cultivated out of him. To a proper understanding of the attitude of the Clayton county people and of the violent prejudice which exists all over that county against giving Elkins his freedom, it is necessary to recount something of the history of this famous case.

History of the Case.
John Elkins, father of Wesley Elkins, was a Clayton county farmer, living in an obscure part of the county. His wife, the mother of Wesley elkins, is given a very bad character by those who knew her. It is said that shortly after Wesley's birth she deserted her husband and soon after entered upon a life of shame, which was continued until her death. But the part which relates to Wesley Elkins concerns happenings before his birth. The degeracy of Wesley Elkins is firmly believed by the people of Clayton county to be a verification of the Mosaic prophecy that the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children, even unto the third and fourth generations.

Some four months before Wesley Elkins was born, so runs the Clayton county tradition, his mother became greatly incensed against her husband over some domestic difficulties and one day she resolved to rid herself of him. Accordingly she loaded his gun when he was away from home and went down the road to lie in wait until his return, when she intended to shoot him. Some accidental circumstance interposed to prevent the carrying out of her desire, but it is claimed she afterward confessed freely that she had determined to murder her husband. Whether this story is true, it is certain that its repetition has had great influence in shaping Clayton county opinion, and convincing the people that Wesley Elkins was born with the brand of Cain on his brow, and that so long as he lives he will be a menace to society and is only safe behind prison walls. Prof. James E. Hardin of Cornell college, who has taken the most prominent part in the movement to secure Wesley's parole, declares he is unable to verify this story. He admits that it is commonly believed in Clayton county and that it has had much influence on public opinion there. Personally he very much doubts its authenticity.

Wesley a Bright Child.
Wesley Elkins was born on the little backwods farm in Clayton county. All accounts agree that he was an unusually bright and intelligent child, with nothing particular to distinguish him from other children of his age, save that he is reputed to have a violent temper and to have made all of his playmates afraid of him. But all these accounts are general in their terms, and it is not impossible that they grew up and became traditions in the county, rather because of the awful deed of violence which the boy committed at the age of 11 than because there was any real basis for the charges. After Wesley's mother had abandoned her husband and disappeared he married another woman, whom Wesley did not like. His life up to the age of 11 had been very similar to that of any other boy under like circumstances. Dis-pleased at being subjected to the discipline of home life, Wesley ran away from home a few days before he was 11 years of age. His own story is simply that he wanted to be independent and do for himself. His father went after him and brought him back home. He was not punished for running away and his own story is that he was never severely punished by his father but once. But he was indignant at being brought back home, and resolved to avenge himself. On the night before his eleventh birthday, according to his own confession made some time after the crime, he had a violent headache, which made it impossible for him to sleep. He brooded in a childish way over his wrongs, as he viewed them, and about 3 o'clock in the morning, still unable to sleep and driven to desperation by his headache, he got up, dressed himself, went down stairs and out to the barn. Here he found an old German flail, a heavy and vicious looking club of hard wood with which the strength of a child would make it possible to deliver a frightful blow. He took this into the house with him and then got down his father's shotgun and examined to see if it was loaded with ball. He found it was and, taking the club and the gun into the room where his father and mother slept, this child of eleven years held the muzzle of the gun within a few inches of his father's head and deliberately fired the charge into his eye.

The room was dark and Wesley immediately ran out into the adjoining room and started to reload the gun. But before he had done so he heard his stepmother getting out of the bed, and running back into the room seized the flail. In the darkness he was able to dimly distinguish her movements, and seeing her stoop as if to pick up a snatch from a chair which stood near the bed, raised the oaken club and struck her with full force across the back of the head. She sank down on the floor, probably killed by the first blow.

The boy murderer, lighting a lamp, bagan preparations to escape. His father groaned once or twice, and Wesley, fearing that he might not be dead, seized the flail once more and literally pounded his head into a jelly. Then he treated his mother's prostrate body in the same way, smashing the heads of both his parents into such unrecognizable masses that it was not even possible to tell which of them had been shot. The warm blood was splattered all over the ceiling and walls of the room and the bed was fairly soaked with it.

Tells a Remarkable Story.
On the bed, between her father and mother, slept their little daughter, his half sister. Here comes one of the strangest parts of the story. [The deed] being completed, Wesley [took the] child, about eighteen months old from the bed, took her to his own room and, removing the bloodstained clothes, dressed her in clean garments. Then he laid down with her in his own bed and waited till daylight, when he went to the barn, hitched up a buggy and started to drive to the house of the nearest neighbor, named Porter. Before reaching the neighbor's place he met some other people, whom he hailed and at once explained that robbers had been to the house during the night, had murdered his father and mother, but left him and the babe alive. His explanation of every detail was perfectly reasonable, indicating a wonderful quickness and ingenuity. When asked why his own clothes were spattered with blood he replied that they had been stained with it when he changed the baby's clothes. He was taken back to the house and in the half-dried pools of blood on the floor in the room where the murder had been committed were found the prints of his own feet. When asked to set his foot into these prints he did so unflinchingly, explaining that when he came downstairs barefooted in the morning he stepped into the room where his father an dmother slept and left his print in the blood.

His story of the murder was commonly accepted for a long time, and he was cared for by neighbors. But as absolutely no clue to the murderer or murderers developed, the finger of suspicion began to be directed at the boy. He was finally taken away to the county seat and cared for by a gentleman who made every effort in talking with Wesley to secure more light on the case. One evening he asked Wesley to go over the entire case from beginning to end, as he had done several times before. In telling the story on this occasion Wesley said that the robbers had shot his father through the head, but had beaten his mother to death with the club. Inasmuch as the condition of the dead bodies had been such that it was not possible to tell which one was shot, this definite statement that the father was shot and the mother clubbed to death led to more questioning. The next day the man asked Wesley how he knew that his father had been shot and his mother killed with a club. Wesley hesitated before he answered, and his hesitation added to the suspicion which by this time was directed against him. He finally said he did not know positively which of the two was shot and which clubbed to death, but he supposed that as his father was the stronger of the two they would make sure of dispatching hiim first by using the gun. His manner of making this explanation convinced his questioner that Wesley knew more about the crime than he had ever told, and that he had inadvertantly put into his account a detail which he could not satisfactorily explain. He was arrested on suspicion and placed in the county jail. A short time afterwards he made a confession, setting forth the facts about the murder substantially as given here.

Confession Caused Excitement.
The confession caused intense excitement in Clayton county, and it is said the people of that region never knew a more impressive and sorrowful sight than was presented in the courtroom on the day he was sentenced to imprisonment for life for the murder.

Prior to being sentenced the boy was confined in the county jail, and among the stories affecting his general character and temper is one to the effect that he tried to murder a cellmate in the jail. This story is that the jailor left in the cell with Wesley a ball bat with which he might play. Being angered with his cell mate one day he seized the bat and, going up behind his fellow prisoner, made a vicious attempt to strike him over the back of the head as he was stooping over, in almost exactly the same position that his mother had occupied when he murdered her.

Another story is that Wesley one day became angered with the little son of the jailer and, calling him to the window of the cell, attempted to destroy his eyes by jabbing a sharpened stick into them. It is fair, however, to say that there is a good deal of uncertainty, as least in the minds of Wesley's friends, whether these stories are true.

His record in the penitentiary is likewise the subject of much controversy. On one hand he is said to have been vicious, violent and unanageable; on the other hand ex-Wardens Barr and Madden and Warden Hunter all give their written testimony that he has been a model prisoner. He has been employed in the prison library and has taken advantage of every opportunity to educate himself, so that now he writes in a most correct and ntelligent fashion. The letters he has written to members of the legislature in behalf of his own application for a parole, and the address which he recently wrote to the people of Clayton county are regarded as most remarkable productions for a boy of 23 years who has had such an experience as he has had, spending more than half of that time in a penitentiary.

A great nummber of philanthropic and humanitarian people, believing that the boy should not be punished throughout his life for a crime committed before he could have reached an age of responsibility, insist that he ought to be given conditional freedom and a chance to disprove some of the charges against him. There is no doubt he would be freed but for the bitter antagonism of the people of Clayton county. They firmly believe he is the most dangerous criminal in the state and that if he were given freedom the life of no man who has opposed his parole would be safe.


Davenport Daily Republican
Davenport, Scott co. Iowa
March 29, 1902

No Pardon for Elkins
Des Moines, March 28 - The house committee on pardons, by a vote of 8 to 7, decided to deny the application of Wesley Elkins for a pardon. Three of th emembers of the committee were absent, and it is understood had they been present the vote would have been a tie. The case has been argues at great length before the committee and a great deal of feeling had been worked up over the matter. A minority report will be filed by seven of the members of the committee and the matter will be fought out on the floor of the house. The vote in the committee was by secret ballot. This is the last case before the committee.


Iowa Recorder
Greene, Butler co., Iowa
April 1, 1902

Pardon for Elkins Recommended. The house in the Wesley Elkins case by a vote of 48 to 35 voted to recommend him to the governor for parole. This ends one of the longest and hardest fought cases in the history of he Iowa legislature. Elkins' pardon case has been before numerous legislatures. Elkins, who is 21 years old, murdered his father and stepmother when only 11.


Humeston New Era
Humeston, Wayne co. Iowa
April 9, 1902

Elkins Gets a Pardon - House Finally Concurred With Senate in Pardon
Des Moines, April 5 - The house yesterday reconsidered its action of Thursday and concurred in the senate resolution granting a pardon to John Wesley Elkins, who in 1889 murdered his father and mother. The vote was 48 to 39, while the vote of Thursday was 47 to 46 against. A telegram was sent to Elkins at once. It was said in the legislature that his incarcertion was illegal from the beginning, because his age was 12 years, and the courts have held that a child under 14 years cannot be held legally capable of crime. The action of the legislature was a great victory for Senator Whipple, who championed the pardon.


Davenport Daily Republican
Davenport, Scott co. Iowa
April 11, 1902

Clayton County Resents Pardon
McGregor, April 10 - Clayton county does not take kindly to the action taken by the state legislature in the Elkins case. The people of this county fail to see why so much eloquence and fuss should be made over a young man whose only achievement was the killing of his father and step-mother in a most brutal manner and in cold blood. That a whole legislature should have spasms and hysterics about the hardship of prison life for such a young man is more than common people can comprehend. The only way they can account for it is on the theory that the young murderer has been made a fad by reiterated agitation, until many people have come to believe that the state of Iowa has been guilty of an outrage against Wesley Elkins. It is no secret tha the Clayton county authorities may arrest Elkins if they get hold of him or it is within their power under the law.

Davenport Daily Leader
Davenport, Scott co. Iowa
April 11, 1902

Wesley Elkins Cared For - In a Good Home and Will be Given Opportunity to Show His Worth
Des Moines, April 11 - Friends of Wesley Elkins, the boy murderer, whose parole has been recommended to the governor by the legislature, met with the governor to discuss his future. They said that he will be placed in an excellent family and given permanent employment. He has written a letter to Senator W.P. Whipple, who was largely instrumental in securing his parole from the legislature in which he expresses the belief that he will justify the legislators who voted for him and will convince those who opposed hiim that they were mistaken.


Des Moines Daily Leader
Des Moines, Polk co. Iowa
April 17, 1902

Will Soon Be a Free Man
Wesley Elkins of Clayton county will be released from Anamosa prison the coming week. He will probably be given his liberty next Wednesday or about the middle of the week. The papers in the case will be made up in the next few days, and according to the present calculations the parole will be signed by Governor Cummins next Saturday. Warden Hunter will be notified at once and as soon as the customary civilian's clothes can be made for Elkins he will be let out. Ordinarily this requires three or four days. The governor will also act on the other conditional pardons recommended by the legislature next week, and intends to sign up the paroles at that time. On leaving the penitentiary, Wesley Elkins will be taken charge of by Professor Harlan of Cornell college. He will be placed under stringent restrictions by the terms of the conditional pardon. The provisions of the resolution passed by the senate are that if after ten years of liberty Elkins has conducted himself as he should, he will then be given a full pardon. Additional terms required by the governor will be that he shall not allow himself to be place on public exhibition, that he will make regular reports to the governor whether he is in school or at some employment, and that he will not return to Clayton county, the county where at 11 years of age he murdered his father and stepmother. Professor Harlan will see to it that the young man goes to school at Mt. Vernon for a time. While the restrictions imposed by the governor will be more rigid than those on other persons paroled the young man is ready to bear them and has written a letter that he is willing to live up to any terms the parole may contain.


Davenport Daily Republican
Davenport, Scott co. Iowa
April 18, 1902

Pardon For Wesley Elkins - Governor Cummins Issues One for Boy Murder Hedged Around With Strict Conditions
Des Moines, April 17 - Governor Cummins today issued a conditional pardon to Wesley Elkins, the boy who 12 years ago was given a life sentence for the murder of his father. The pardon was issued on the recommendation of the legislature, made at the instance of Prof. Harlan of Cornell college, Mount Vernon, Ia. The conditions laid down by the Governor are very strict, and he reserves the right to revoke the pardon any time they are violated. The young man will live with Prof. Harlan for the present.


Des Moines Daily Leader
Des Moines, Polk co. Iowa
April 18, 1902

Governor Cummins Fixes Nature of Parole
The release of Wesley Elkins, who murdered his father and stepmother in Clayton county at the age of 11 years, will be made tomorrow. He will be let out of Anamosa prison Saturday and will be turned over to the care of Professor Harlan of Cornell college. Governor Cummins sent the parole away yesterday, mailing it to Professor Harlan personally. The latter had requested the privilege of delivering the parole to young Elkins with his own hands and in view of the large interest he has taken in the case, this wish was gratified.

Professor Harlan will take the young man to Mount Vernon, Linn county, at once, install him in his own home and send him to college. Elkins has been at Anamosa since January 14, 1890. He entered at the age of 11 and is now 23. Warden Hunter has notified the governor that he is ready to release Elkins and others recommended for parole at a monent's notice, and in transmitting the parole to Professor Harlan Governor Cummins named Saturday next as the date for the release. The conditions of the parole are as already printed in these columns. The condition imposed by the assembly was that if at the end of ten years Elkins had lived up to the conditions in all respects he should be given a full pardon. Other conditions set forth in the parole are in the following language:
First - That he shall not enter the county of Clayton, in the state of Iowa, nor visit in either of the counties adjacent thereto
Second - That he shall not enter any employment, the principal object of which is to exhibit himself to satisfy the curiosity of those who may desire to see him
Third - He shall in all respects conduct himself as an honorable, orderly and peaceful citizen. He shall avoid evil associations, obey the laws, and abstain from the use of intoxicating liquors; nor shall he frequent places where intoxicants are sold or kept for sale.
Fourth - He shall communicate to the chief executive at least once each month, giving a brief account of the nature of his work or study
Fifth - Until otherwise directed, he shall reside in the county of Linn, state of Iowa, and he shall not remove therfrom without the written permission of the chief executive of the state
Sixth - The chief executive reserves the right to make further provisions and conditions with respect to his residence, conduct and employment, as may from time to time be required by circumstances.


Ottumwa Daily Courier
Ottumwa, Wapello co. Iowa
August 5, 1903

Goes to Minnesota
Des Moines, Aug 5 -- Wesley Elkins, formerly of Clayton county, the young man whose conditional pardon was recommended by the last general assembly, and granted by the governor, is now out of the state for the first time in his career. He has gone to Prairie Grove, Minn., where he is spending the summer with his brother and sister on a farm. His brother and sister wanted him to come and see them and Governor Cummins granted the necessary permission, thinking it would benefit the young man physically to get an outing. Young Elkins will return to Iowa about September 1, and will resume his studies at Cornell college at Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

John Wesley Elkins was born July 12, 1879. After being paroled from the Anamosa prison, he attended Cornell college, and then removed to Minnesota where he attended the University of Minnesota, graduating with honors. He secured a position as a clerk with the St. Paul railway company. His September 1918 draft registration card gives his nearest relative as being Mrs. Georgia Ellis, sister, in St. Paul, Ramsey co. Minn. Mr. Elkins married in 1922. He died on March 7, 1961 in California.

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