Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Shadow of a Doubt: The Clarence Elkins Story

What She Saw

At the time of his trial, Clarence Elkins was 36. A former press operator, he was charged with raping and killing Judith Johnson, his mother-in-law, and raping and strangling his niece. The potential penalty for this aggravated offense, if convicted, was death. Relevant was the rumor that Clarence and Judith did not get along, and that Clarence and Melinda were having marital problems, although both denied it.

Clarence Elkins
Clarence Elkins

The prosecution's theory about motive was that Judith had been meddling into the Elkins' struggling marriage, and out of frustration he killed her. Why he would then rape her or assault the child seemed poorly addressed by this theory, but there was no other apparent reason for the attack. A friend of Judith's testified that Judith had expressed fear of Elkins and had called him names. Since there was no sign of forced entry and no fingerprints from a stranger (the only one found having been destroyed in processing), this lent credence to the possibility that the attacker was someone who'd been in the home before. However, there was nothing from Elkins, either, that linked him directly to the scene. He claimed he'd been bar-hopping that night and had gone home around 3:00 a.m. Several people had seen him out that night, including friends with a flat tire that he'd helped to fix, but there still remained unaccounted time for him to have left home again to commit the attacks. His alibi was not totally airtight.

Brooke was on the witness stand for about 45 minutes. She could recall little about what had happened to her, apparently having blacked out after she was hit, but Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Becky Dougherty led her carefully through her testimony. She asked Brooke if she was certain about her identification, and she responded, "Yes, because of his face." She scrunched hers up to portray how mean it had looked. Tonia B. testified that Brooke had told her the perpetrator was her uncle.

Defense attorney Larry Whitney wanted the jury to watch and listen carefully to Brooke's testimony. When she'd first described the attack in police statements, she had not identified her uncle. Apparently, she had not known the person, referring to the killer she had seen as "somebody." Had it really been her uncle, she would not have hesitated to say so. Her identification came later, and could have been coached.

Family friend Beverly Kaisak, who had spoken to Brooke the day of the attack affirmed that the child had been uncertain, saying only that the voice had sounded like Uncle Clarence.

Melinda Elkins was present in court, standing by her husband, despite the anger this incurred from her close relatives. Although the victim was her own mother, she knew Clarence was innocent. Nevertheless, he was convicted and given a life sentence, with the possibility of parole in 55 years. Despite the absence of direct evidence, an appeals court upheld the verdict.