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Iowa History Daily: July 17 - John Wesley Elkins Murders

Iowa History Daily: Near Bear Creek in rural Clayton County on July 17, 1889, around 2:00 a.m., 12-year-old John Wesley Elkins (Wesley) killed his parents in one of early Iowa’s most notorious crimes. First shooting his father with an old muzzle loading rifle before clubbing his mother to death, Elkins received a life sentence after admitting to the brutal murders.

During the months prior, the Elkins family welcomed a newborn daughter. Wesley often found himself tasked with caring for his new half-sister, according to the common description of the later crime. Fed up with his plight in life, Wesley attempted to run away from home during the weeks leading up to the murders only to have his father bring him home.

On the night of the murder, still discontent, rage welled up in Wesley Elkins as he paced around the family barn. Stewing over his fate, he picked up a piece of wood and headed into the house where he lifted an old muzzle-loader off the wall. Entering the bedroom where his parents slept with his half-sister, Wesley shot his father. With no time to reload, the twelve-year old Elkins beat his mother to death. Sparing the child, he took her to a neighbor’s farm and told a concocted story of home intrusion leading to the violent death of his parents.

Authorities quickly suspected the 4’8”, 73 lb. Wesley and brought him to Mason City for questioning where he admitted to the crimes. “I had wanted to leave home and be at liberty to do for myself for a long time. I once ran away but father brought me home,” said Elkins. “After I was sure they were dead I lit the lamp and took it to my room and then went back and took the baby from their bed, and took off its bloody clothes and dressed it and quieted it.”

Spared from the death penalty due to his age, the young man arrived at Anamosa’s maximum-security prison in 1890 to start serving a life sentence. Working in the library and chapel, he educated himself and after twelve years begged a pardon from the Governor of Iowa Albert B. Cummins on the grounds Elkins was a child at the time of the murders. He went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota before going to work on the railroad. It is believed he never committed another crime. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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