The True Story of Young Wesley Elkins and His Struggle for Redemption
by Patricia L. Bryan; Thomas Wolf
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Pub Date 21 Jul 2022 | Archive Date 21 Jul 2022
University of Iowa Press, University Of Iowa Press
On a moonlit night in 1889, Iowa farmer John Elkins and his young wife, Hattie, were brutally murdered in their bed. Eight days later, their son, eleven-year-old Wesley Elkins, was arrested and charged with murder. The community reeled with shock by both the gruesome details of the homicides and the knowledge of the accused perpetrator—a small, quiet boy weighing just 75 pounds.
Accessible and fast-moving, The Plea delivers a complete, complex, and nuanced narrative of this horrific crime, while shedding light on the legal, social, and political environment of Iowa and the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“The Plea is not just an impeccable piece of historical scholarship, but a gripping work of narrative nonfiction. Devoid of any taint of sensationalism, the book vividly reconstructs the fascinating, long-forgotten case of an eleven-year-old committing parricide, the boy’s long struggle to rehabilitate himself, and his ultimate redemption. An immensely readable and thought-provoking book—one with particular relevance in our own age of increasing juvenile homicides—it will captivate both American history buffs and fans of true crime.”—Harold Schechter, author, Manic: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer
“Bryan and Wolf are not only superior scholars but also superior storytellers of the highest order. Meticulously researched, The Plea grips and surprises start to finish—revealing layers of justice and injustices, both personal and political and more. True crime aficionados will be enthralled.”—Art Taylor, Edgar Award–winning author, The Boy Detective and the Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense
“Thanks to their scrupulous research, Patricia Bryan and Thomas Wolf offer a fascinating, richly detailed, cinematic account of the life-sentence conviction of eleven-year-old Wesley Elkins for first-degree murder, his struggle for pardon or parole, and his life after release from prison. As a bonus, thanks to the rich context they provide, readers will learn about many other significant issues in Iowa history, including the history of the state penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa, and the evolution of penal practices, legal and social attitudes regarding child offenders, and even the broader social and political history of Iowa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”—Marvin Bergman, former editor, The Annals of Iowa
Average rating from 5 members
This was an intriguing book. Anyone interested in criminal law would be fascinated by this case. This is a good reason to believe that our process has gotten better since the days of Wesley.
Patricia Bryan and Thomas Wolf’s book The Plea, is a story of tragedy and redemption. The primary focus of the book is the life of Wesley Elkins. It follows the passage of his life as a young boy living in Iowa, his conviction of murder at age eleven to his eventual triumph over much adversity. In the course of the book the reader is exposed to many issues related to Wesley’s story, such as the pursuit of justice, the role of media influence, political control, nature versus nurture, criminal reform, social justice and the power of gossip to name a few.
Bryan and Wolf’s detailed research uncovers the sad story of a young boy whose experience of abuse and instability leads to an horrific crime, which results in his incarceration. The authors account of the subsequent discussions in newspapers and private letters debating Wesley’s guilt or innocence and his character, the details about local gossip, as well as explanations of the frustratingly long road of repeated appeals for a pardon were informative and fascinating. The many interesting, influential and altruistic characters that were part of Wesly’s life and story brought warmth and relief to an initially bleak story. The coverage of his later life was gratifying and provided an encouraging message about the power of hard work and the human spirit to overcome many obstacles.
I enjoyed The Plea very much. and and would recommend it to others.
Thank you to NetGalley and University of Iowa Press for the eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review
What a fascinating book! I'd never heard of this case before. Wesley Elkins committed a horrific crime as a child and was sent to prison at 11 years old. This was long before juvenile court and detention centers. I can't imagine how hard it must've been to survive, and remarkably thrive, after what he experienced.
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