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Indiana State Library 315 West Ohio Street Indianapolis, IN 46202

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This event is free and open to the public.  Registration is required.  Please register here.  Indiana librarians will receive 1 LEU for attending.

Parking validation will be available for attendees who park in the Senate Avenue parking garage directly across from the library and bring their ticket in for validation.

Murderer in the Family Tree -- The Madness of John Terrell: Revenge and Insanity on Trial in the Heartland

Terrell’s presentation will cover his research in state archives, libraries, courts, county offices, historical societies, cemeteries, property records and newspapers, all with the objective of finding the surprising story of the people and times of the murder and the events that followed.

Session Details

While busying himself in the early months of the pandemic by exploring family genealogy, Stephen Terrell stumbled upon a murderer in his family tree -- his great uncle’s sensational murder of his son-in-law that made headlines across the nation. What followed was nearly four years of research and writing that culminated in a historical true crime book, The Madness of John Terrell: Revenge and Insanity on Trial in the Heartland, which will be published in October by Kent State University Press.

In early 1900s Indiana, John Terrell was the wealthiest man in Wells County, thanks to oil discovered on his farm. But when his youngest daughter, Lucy, became pregnant by Melvin Wolfe, an abusive cad, the result was a forced marriage that quickly failed amid incest, abortion demands and attempted suicide. It became too much for John Terrell.

On a summer Sunday afternoon in 1903, John Terrell ambushed Wolfe along a roadside, then followed the wounded man to a doctor, where he broke into the operating room, put a shotgun to the injured man’s head, and fired. The next day, the murder made headlines in hundreds of newspapers across the nation, including on the front page of the New York Times.

But the murder was only the beginning. Terrell’s life and fortune quickly unraveled in a tumultuous spiral of murder, a sensational trial and a descent into madness. For more than a decade, the controversy divided a community and ensnared five judges, two Indiana governors, a noted priest and the Indiana Supreme Court.

Stephen Terrell is a retired Indiana attorney with a passion for writing. He has written three novels, numerous short stories and articles, and is a columnist for the American Bar Association’s Experience Magazine. His historical true crime book, The Madness of John Terrell, Revenge and Insanity on Trial in the Heartland, will be published in October by Kent State University Press.

Event Details