By Dr. Edgar V. Epperly
Late in December of 1913 Jessamine Hodgson, a woman in her early thirties, answered this advertisement in the Omaha World Herald:
"Girl stenographer typewriter wanted by gentleman for literary and artistic work on problem novel (high class) for publication in east. Spare time work, some can be done at home, some at employer’s. Must be interested in literature and fine arts; well educated; confidential work. Must be willing to pose as model for book pictures, as required by artists. Strictly honorable dealings. Liberal to right party. Reply confidentially to 0680 World Herald."
That answer to the blind ad provoked great excitement in Reverend Lyn George J. Kelly, a Methodist minister in Winner, South Dakota. Pastor Kelly, suspected by some as being the 1912 Villisca, Iowa Axe Murderer, had, that Fall, been expelled from the Omaha Presbyterian Seminary. Jobless, he reverted to his Methodist roots by accepting the Methodist pulpit in Winner. Arriving in late Fall, 1913 he had just settled into home and church before placing an advertisement in the Omaha newspaper.
Jessamine’s reply surely induced a shiver of anticipation in Kelly’s disturbed psyche and he lost no time in responding. His letter began:
“This is Friday morning, January 2--I received your letter this morning--and I am hurrying to reply at once. This letter is strictly and mutually secret and confidential.”
We do not know what the body of his letter contained but in the words of the Grand Jury that indicted him for sending it through the mail:
“That said letter was obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy and was so obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy as to be offensive to this honorable court and improper to be spread upon the record thereof.”
The court did include Kelly’s concluding sentence:
“I am a favorite with everyone, especially with the girls, they like me, they trust me and I have never wronged one yet. ~Lyn Geo. J. Kelly, Reply quickly and freely. Replies treated secret.”
He then affixed a two cent stamp and mailed it to:
Miss Jessamine Hodgson [street address omitted], Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Jessamine apparently read this four-page epistle with less anticipation than the Rev. Kelly had when he wrote it. She failed to heed Kelly’s admonition to keep the letter confidential. Instead she took it to her minister, Reverend Jones. He in turn contacted Deputy United States Marshal W. A. Groneweg.
Together the two men hatched a plan to send Kelly a bogus reply. Jessamine wrote this response to Kelly, which Jones and Groneweg then edited. Jessamine’s edited letter has been lost, or at least is undiscovered. Whatever was written in response to Kelly’s first letter successfully stimulated him to draft a feverish reply.
Dated Friday afternoon, January 23, 1914, Kelly opened with another plea for secrecy:
“Please Jessamine, treat this and all our other communications as strictly secret. I faithfully promise you I shall never utter a word about your correspondence or your relations with me. Our relations together of work and pleasure shall be kept a secret, with me forever. I want you to be faithful to me, Jessamine. Never breathe one word of what we do together alone.”
Again the body of the four-page letter was judged by the Grand Jury to be so “obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy as to be improper to spread upon the record.” And, again they allowed the closing section into the record.
Kelly ended with a post script:
“When you write, just tell me you will be willing to pose in the nude or perfectly bare. Then you can also address me as “Dear Lyn” as we have begun to be friends, and sign “Jessamine” at end. Nothing but the very best kindnesses awaits you.”
Too excited to wait for a reply, Kelly sent another letter on Sunday afternoon, January 25, 1914. As in the other letters a bland opening paragraph was followed by an “obscene, lewd, lascivious and filthy" middle, which in turn proceeded a rather mundane ending. Kelly closed this four-page letter:
“Now I am only human. I must not boast, sometime I may do wrong. I may yield to temptation sometime, who can ever tell? None of us know what we will do. I am eagerly awaiting your picture and letter. (This is certainly a clue as to what was in Jessamine’s bogus response.) I hope you will come to Norfolk (Nebraska) to be with me 2 or 3 days anyway. I will be as good to you as I can, but we may fall in love with one another if we work long enough. I will be in Omaha soon to stay. We will meet at the depot and then go out to supper and so on. Say, won’t it be just fine to go out together up there to supper, to moving pictures, etc.? We won’t go anywhere but the best places. I am sure you will keep whatever is done between us always a strict secret. I will. Affectionately, Lyn.”
Alas, Lyn was never to step down from the Omaha train into the arms of Jessamine. Instead, on the 30th of January, 1914, Walter McQueen, Deputy United States Marshal, stepped into the small office where Kelly supplemented his meager preaching salary by offering stenographic services.
McQueen made small talk until a very nervous Kelly asked him, “What do you want?” McQueen answered, “I guess it is you I want.” He arrested Kelly for sending obscene letters through the mail.
It would be four three years later in the fall of 1917 that Lyn George J. Kelly would find himself sitting in the Montgomery County Courtroom standing trial for the 1912 Villisca ax murders of eight, and specifically the violent death of 12-year-old Lena Stillinger, whose young body was found nude below the waist and sexually posed after her death.