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Eleven Year Old Murderer, Wesley Elkins

Updated on June 27, 2011

11 Years Old

Few stories are more horrifying than that of Wesley Elkins. He was only 11 years old when he brutally murdered his parents in July of 1889. News of the crime sent shock waves across the nation.

It was on July 17th the bloody bodies of John and Hattie Elkins were found in the bedroom of their remote rural farmhouse, having been slain in their sleep. John Elkins had been killed by a gunshot fired at close range and his wife had been beaten to death. The crime, perhaps the most sensational in the history of Clayton County, Iowa, had authorities baffled since the Elkins were known as quiet, peaceful people.

The Elkin family lived about four miles southeast of Littleport and early on that fateful morning young Wesley was seen by a neighbor driving a one-horse buggy along a narrow dirt road near his home. The neighbor stopped the lad to inquire if everything was alright seeing his clothing was spattered with blood. To his dismay, Wesley informed him his father and stepmother had been killed by an unknown intruder who had shot his father and “pounded to death” his stepmother. The neighbor also noticed an infant baby girl lay unharmed in the wagon.

Initially the coroner ruled the senior Elkins had been victims of a homicide committed by an unknown assailant and a $500 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest. However, about a week later discrepancies began creeping into young Elkin’s accounts of the incident. Wesley was arrested and held as a witness. On August 1, he confessed to the murders.

Wanted to be On His Own

According to Wesley, he had wanted to be on his own for quite a while and had run away several times only to be found and brought back home by his father. That was all the youth offered in the way of a defense. He further explained he had begun planning to kill his parents several days prior.

Wesley then detailed the events. On the day of the murders, Wesley had found a club in an old granary on their farm which he hid in his room. At around 3:00 AM he had waken and crept into his parent’s bedroom where he found them fast asleep.

“I went back to my room and took the rifle from the wall where father always hung it, and went back to their room and put the muzzle within about two feet of father's face and fired” Wesley said.

The boy went on to tell how he killed his stepmother. “I ran back to my room and grabbed the club which was on a chair near the door, ran back to their door and saw mother had jumped out of bed and was stooped over as if to light a lamp. When I struck her on the back of the head with the club, she kind of sprawled backwards upon the bed, and I struck her several times more until I was sure she was dead.”

Wesley then said he took his baby sister from her bed and threw the club outside in some weeds. “I then went and hitched up the old horses and took the baby and drove down by Potters and they stopped me" he said.

In January, 1890, the young boy was tried and found guilty. However, since Wesley was so young he was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor instead of capital punishment at Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Some years later it was reported Elkins was a dangerous prisoner and had homicidal tendencies. He was “the terror of the penitentiary” as the report stated. However, the Prison warden had taken a keen interest in the Elkin case and his observations concluded Wesley was a model prisoner.

Wesley spent the next 12 years in prison studying and gaining an education. About this time he had applied for parole and the details of his bloody past were once again making headlines. If he was to be freed, he was in for a hard battle as many were vehemently opposed to his parole. Some expressed fear the young man would return home to exact revenge.

In 1902, the Elkin case went to the floor of the Iowa legislature where it was hotly debated whether Wesley Elkins deserved a second chance. The public followed the case with intense interest. They wanted to know if Wesley Elkins was a born degenerate or the product of a harsh childhood.

The debate continued for several days, but his parole was finally approved by a slim vote. Within a few days, the necessary papers had been signed.

After almost fourteen years in prison, the 24 year old walked out of the Anamosa State Penitentiary a free man. For the next ten years, Elkins led a peaceful existence taking college preparatory classes. He later moved to St. Paul, Minnesota and found employment with the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Because of all the media attention his case had received many people recognized him and knew about his past. But Elkins remained a model citizen the rest of his life. He reunited with family members, and bought a home. At the end of his parole term in 1912, the governor of Iowa issued him a complete pardon.

Elkins moved west around 1920, and eventually settled near San Bernardino, California. In 1922, he married 28 year old Madeline Lazarus from Hawaii. She worked as a stenographer and he became a poultry farmer. Madeline passed away in 1959 and he died two years later at 81 years old. Local papers carried a short obituary saying only he had lived in the area for thirty-three years. There was nothing mentioned about his infamous past.


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    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      ccbrookes, I appreciate your comments.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Like the other readers I'd never heard of this story before. Really well-written and very informative.

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      An interesting hub. It is impossible to know of course but I wonder if something was going on that no one knew about in the family home.

      Anyway I am voting up.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thanks so much Martie. BTW, I didn't know you wore hats. :)

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Interesting story. Obviously Wesley Elkins did not realize, at the age of 11, the wrongness of his deed. He was blinded, actually bedevilled, by his own urge to be free. My hat off again for you, JY – your hubs are always worth the read.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      That's why I wrote it. I had never heard of it before either. But thanks for the kudos.

    • Silver Q profile image

      Silver Q 

      7 years ago

      Wow! I had never heard this before. Interesting hub!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Wow, I never heard of this case before. It is so strange when young children murder. Thanks for sharing. This was interesting and I voted Up and Useful.



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