Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From the comments...

Sherri in comments asks a good question that I haven’t really addressed: Why not Rev. Lyn Kelly? Any of you who have read about the Villisca crime know who Lyn Kelly was and those of you who don’t need to get over the Villisca Axe Murders blog and study. In brief, Lyn Kelly was a tiny, weird little preacher who was in Villisca on the night of the murders. Rev. Kelly was absolutely howl-at-the-moon crazy and had a bit of a peeper’s fetish. He’d been busted in one town for peeking in a window, arrested in another town for trying to hire a young lady to type and pose nude for him and in another town had cornered a young girl and spent the better part of an hour trying to talk her into undressing for him. His relationship with his wife was more like that of a mother and it is believed the two never consummated the marriage. But was Kelly a psychopath?  

Looking at two of the crime scenes you can draw a few conclusions without needing to be a trained profiler. In Colorado Springs the killer acted strangely. Think Jack the Ripper on the night known as the double event. A run-of-the mill breaking and entering crime gone wrong would have the killer fleeing the scene after the first murder and getting away as fast as possible. Instead the unsub went to the neighbors’ house and killed them as well. The risk involved was substantial with houses all around the area, trolleys clanging down the street and men walking to work. Absolute calm had to be maintained through all of it. In Ellsworth, while the chance of discovery wasn’t as great, it was still there. The killer apparently made an attempt to break into another house but was interrupted by the owner (in this case it was Marshall Merritt) but this near brush with discovery did not dissuade the killer at all. With Bill Miller’s axe in hand, the killer walked south among other houses for quite some distance until he came to the Showman house. If the bloodhound trail was accurate, he hid in some bushes behind the house in order to observe. After he killed the family he washed his hands, wiped the axe down and posed Pauline. He then stepped out the front door, hopped a train and left town. In order to do this there had to be an escape strategy other wise the entire getaway would have been based on whether or not a train was passing by. Did he wait inside the house until a train came or did he lounge on the front porch? Or did he have an idea of how long to stay inside before hopping the train?  

Judging by the way Kelly reacted while in jail and during the trial it is clear he couldn’t handle high pressure situations. He shrank in his chair during the trial and while he had some peculiarities with regard to children it seems he just didn’t have the nerves required to break into a house without waking anyone, kill the occupants without waking anyone and then escape unnoticed through town. Now Dr. Epperly knows a lot more about Rev. Kelly than I do and I look forward to reading the upcoming book once it comes out but based on what I know I just can’t see Lyn Kelly as being able to pull any of this off.


Anonymous said...

Kelly is a difficult proposition in a lot of ways. On one hand, the evidence pointing to him in the Villisca case (and a lot of it applies in other cases too) is extremely compelling - an obsession with looking at young girls posing naked, a history of peeping Tom behaviour, pronounced mental illness, repeated confessions. Looking at Villisca in isolation, it's hard to believe anyone else was responsible.

Your observation about Kelly not having strong enough nerves to carry out the crimes is interesting, but I would say that Kelly's history of window-peeking would point to a certain level of nerve - he clearly had sufficient sang froid to run the risk of being caught (which he apparently was on a number of occasions). The suspect's unwillingness to encounter conscious victims might also point to a character like Kelly who prefers observation to confrontation.

In my opinion, the biggest X against Kelly is that, while he showed great interest in the Villisca case, he never made reference to any of the other murders in his confessions or elsewhere. If all (or at least some) of the Midwest murders were the work of one man (and I think given the evidence, this is a safe assumption), Kelly's intense focus on Villisca alone would indicate that he's not our guy.

Anonymous said...

I've never been completely happy with Kelly as a suspect, because although he seems to fit the bill for the Villisca murders so well, I've never seen anything to link him to any of the other crimes, which I'm certain (largely thanks to your excellent blog) were the work of the same man. I would, however, like to share with you a circumstantial and largely speculative observation about Reverend Kelly and fourteen common traits of serial killers:

1. Over 90 percent of serial killers are male.
An easy one to start with, and obviously a big check for Kelly.
2. They tend to be intelligent, with IQs in the “bright normal” range.
His work as a travelling preacher would suggest he was at least literate, which at that time might indicate a modicum of intelligence.
3. They do poorly in school, have trouble holding down jobs, and often work as unskilled laborers.
Until fairly recently, the priesthood (and certainly itinerant preaching) would have been considered the go-to career for bright young men who had done poorly at school. The itinerant aspect would suggest he had trouble holding down more steady ministerial work.
4. They tend to come from markedly unstable families.
Speculation, but with the exception of his wife, he would appear to have left behind a family in England, or not had one to begin with.
5. As children, they are abandoned by their fathers and raised by domineering mothers.
Again, speculation, but Mrs Kelly seems to have been a sort of replacement mother-figure to her younger, immature and diminutive husband, which may indicate an issue.
6. Their families often have criminal, psychiatric and alcoholic histories.
Impossible to know, but nothing to contradict this.
7. They hate their fathers and mothers.
Impossible to know, but nothing to contradict this.
8. They are commonly abused as children — psychologically, physically and sexually. Often the abuse is by a family member.
Kelly and his wife are described as having "never had normal sexual relations". To me this seems indicative of some kind of sexual trauma on one side or the other, and in a time when wives would have had little say in the matter, I would suspect the trauma was Kelly's.
9. Many serial killers spend time in institutions as children and have records of early psychiatric problems.
Impossible to know, but it would appear that he spent time in psychiatric institutions later in life.
10. They have high rates of suicide attempts.
I may be wrong, but I'm sure I remember reading about Kelly's suicide attempts (or at least talk of suicide) around the time of the grand jury.
11. From an early age, many are intensely interested in voyeurism, fetishism, and sado-masochistic pornography.
By all accounts, Kelly was obsessed with observing naked young women and girls. We have evidence of window-peeking and soliciting women to pose nude for him, coupled with the above mentions of an abnormal sexual relationship with his wife.
12. More than 60 percent of serial killers wet their beds beyond the age of 12.
Impossible to know, but nothing to contradict this.
13. Many serial killers are fascinated with fire starting.
Kelly confessed (falsely I believe) to arson of a barn during his time in Iowa. He seems to have been fascinated by it (at least enough for a detailed confession) and may have been responsible for other fires.
14. They are involved with sadistic activity or tormenting small creatures.
Impossible to know, but nothing to contradict this.

As I say, purely circumstantial, but it's perhaps revealing to note that of the fourteen common traits of serial killers, ten seem to chime with what we know about Kelly, and the other four are now permanent unknowns. I appreciate that this kind of profiling is very vague and often misleading, but I thought I would submit this for discussion.