Vigilante murderers are not heroes. They’re murderers.

By SANDY . . . A disturbing and bizarre story is emerging in the tiny town of Grand Marais, Cook County, Minnesota, population 1,334. It is a story with multi-layered complexity, each layer raising more questions than the one before.

On March 8, 2023, a 27-year-old Grand Marias vigilante, Levi Axtell, covered in his victim’s blood and gore, drove to the sheriff’s office, and with his hand on his head, he said he had just killed Lawrence Scully, 77, in Mr. Scully’s home. Mr. Scully’s body bore defensive injuries, as the Associated Press reports.

The old man reportedly fought back against a killer almost a third of his age.

Good for him.

The weapons were a shovel – wielded up to twenty times against the victim’s head according to Axtell — and a rack of moose horns, items found in the victim’s home. Axtell was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Axtell’s reason for his action is that he believed Scully intended to sexually molest his – Axtell’s – young daughter and her daycare peers and believed Scully had been stalking her.

Apparently, Axtell had held this belief for some time, having made a complaint in 2018 and asking for an order of protection against Scully. It was granted but removed after several weeks because law enforcement investigations found no evidence to support the claim.

Scully’s status as a registered sex offender was certainly known in the tiny town. He ran for mayor in 2014, and media stories then discussed his crime and conviction. It is unclear whether he was ever displayed on Minnesota’s public registry. A search of the database did not return his record nor, incidentally, any current registrant at all in Cook County, Minnesota.

One bizarre twist to this already bizarre story are the postings of a woman named Melissa Axtell, identified as the “believed-to-be” sister of Levi. She expresses gratitude to the people of Grand Marias for their “outpouring” of love and support for Levi upon his becoming a murderer. She is also sponsoring a fundraising page, a page whereon at least one donor used the comment function of the page to call Axtell “a hero.”

The inappropriateness of calling the vicious killer of a defenseless, elderly man a “hero” for committing a violent criminal act pushes the limits of “bizarre” to a new level. One of the media outlets writing about this, while not going as far as the fundraising page comment, includes a quote from a former FBI agent that implies a jury might share this view of Axtell.

“Former FBI agent Jennifer Coffindaffer believes that the jury will be ‘very sympathetic’ to Axtell. ‘I am not excusing his actions. . . But typically, a person who commits a crime like this, for these reasons, is received [sic] a lighter sentence’ Coffindaffer said . . .” Additionally, a YouTube video that calls Axtell a hero has received well over nine thousand views.

This is, of course, not an unexpected twist nor a particularly original one. Several years ago blogger Shelly Stow and member of Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc, (now NARSOL) pointed out that those with sexual offense convictions and in general population in prison have a high expectation of being beaten or murdered, and that expectation is shared by staff and administration. National media carried reports of praise and acclaims of heroism for an Alaskan man who used the registry to hunt down and violently attack registered sexual offenders with a hammer.

James Fairbanks was hailed as a hero in some reports for the coldblooded murder of a formerly convicted sexual offender. And these are all, except for YouTube, mainstream media.

YouTube and other social media platforms are rife with praise and accolades for those who “protect children” by killing “sex offenders.”

The subtext is clear: Those who are on a sexual offender registry – regardless of the offense – or who have a sexual offense conviction are worth less than everyone else; they deserve to be attacked, maimed, or killed; they should be killed; killing someone like that is a noble act, an act of bravery.

This is what the sex offender registry says about every man, woman, and child listed on it.

Would Lawrence Scully have molested a child? We don’t know. We will never know. But among the things we do know are these:

We do not, in this country, take the law into our own hands, in vigilante fashion, and kill someone.

We do not, in this country, kill someone for something we believe they might do, something for which they have not been arrested, let alone convicted.

We do not, in this country, bludgeon and massacre someone to death with shovels and moose horns.

And when we do, it is, literally, murder; it is an unconscionable criminal act. It is not the act of a hero. Heroes die on battlefields saving their comrades in arms. They rush into burning buildings to rescue children. They sacrifice their own lives to stop others from being killed. They spend years of their lives caring for the aged, the maimed and the vulnerable.

They do not wantonly, cruelly, or viciously commit murder.

Levi Axtell is currently in Cook County jail and is scheduled to appear in court on April 10.


Sandy Rozek is a contributor for The Crime Report’s Viewpoints series and the communications director for the National Assc. for Rational Sexual Offense Laws — NARSOL — an organization that advocates for laws based on facts and evidence and for policies that support the successful rehabilitation, restoration, and reintegration of law-abiding, registered persons into society as the path to a safer society. We are a national organization with an interest in both federal, state, and local issues, policies, and legislation related to our interests. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications.

One thought on “Vigilante murderers are not heroes. They’re murderers.

  • March 26, 2023 at 7:26 am

    Sadly, I see no progress in seeking to alleviate post-sentence persecution and/or unwarranted restrictions of those on sex offender registries.


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