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Blood, Gore, Tourism: The Ax Murderer Who Saved a Small Town

100 years ago, someone killed 8 people in an Iowa home. Can unsolved brutality revive a dying town?

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Surrendering himself, Kelly spends four months in jail refusing to talk. Then in late August Kelly is coaxed into a confession. For a few hours three police officers threaten him and place him in a cell with two men — a newspaper reporter and another police officer — posing as thieves. The two men berate Kelly until he confesses:

I went down stairs to the front door and left the house by the front door. I walked across to the Presbyterian Church. I did not intend to go any further but my mind was working on a sermon on a text called ‘Slay Utterly.’ As I had been hearing and reading sermons on that text, and a voice said ‘go on’ and I went on because I was in the grip of something I did not understand, and I felt God wanted me to slay utterly and I did not know where I was going or where I was. I got down near the end of the street and saw a shadow on the side of the house going from the back to the front and God told me to follow that shadow. I walked on a little bit further still thinking about my sermon and wanted to know where that shadow began. I went hunting the shadow, to the back of the house. I did not know who lived there, but I kept hearing that voice, ‘slay utterly.’ I said, ‘Yes, Lord, I will,’ [and I] was walking around in the darkness around the house trying to find the shadow and accidentally saw an ax. I picked it up and went to where the shadow went, for God wanted me to follow that shadow. I went around toward the front door. A voice says, ‘Go in, do as I tell you; slay utterly.’ I saw no light but I had to do as God told me and I dare not turn back because somebody was urging me on, I did not know who, I did not know where I was. I went right ahead because I heard that voice and as soon as I got in the house someone whispered ‘Come up higher’ out of the Bible and I went up a flight of stairs because I thought I was going up Jacob’s Ladder. I walked through the middle room into the further room. I don’t know what I went there for, only I was driven by an impulse and a voice. I saw some children lying there. The Bible says, ‘Suffer little children to come into me’ and I said ‘They are coming Lord.’ Before I knew what I was doing I started sending those children somewhere, I did not know, and I had to do as God told me and slay utterly. And so to obey God, I used the ax, and did not realize where I was hitting them, only I was trying to do what God wanted me to do. After killing the children, I went to the room where the parents were, and I don’t remember which of them I struck first, as my head was all wrong and I kept hearing voices, I slayed utterly, by using the ax, led by this impulse that I did not seem able to control. I then went downstairs, and wanted to lay down and rest and saw a room, and went in not knowing who was there, but I found two children in bed, and God said, ‘More work yet.’ Before I knew what I was doing, I had continued my sacrifices, by killing these two children, with the ax, as I had to offer blood sacrifices. To the best of my memory, I left the ax in the house and returned to the Ewing house, and went back to bed and I got up in the morning and caught the 5:19 train for Macedonia arriving home about 7:30.

 
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