116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In a heinous crime that shocked Eastern Iowa in 2008, Coralville mother Michelle Kehoe slashed the throats of her sons, 2-year-old Seth and 7-year-old Sean, with a hunting knife.
Seth died but Sean survived to tell police what happened Oct. 26, 2008, after their mother drove them in the family van to a remote pond near Littleton. Kehoe, who was 36 at the time, claimed insanity as a defense. A Grundy County jury deliberated for less than two hours before finding her guilty of first-degree murder, attempted murder and child endangerment causing serious injury.
Kehoe is serving a life sentence at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville.
M. Kaye Eisele, a freelance writer from Solon, just self-published a true crime book about Kehoe. She recently spoke with The Gazette about “Horror at Hookanliner” and why she chose to write about this particular crime.
Q: What made you decide to write about Michelle Kehoe?
A: I was living in North Liberty at the time Kehoe committed her crimes, so it was close to home and receiving a lot of local and national coverage. I’d always been interested in true crime and read “Helter Skelter” in seventh grade on a bus from Minnesota to Cedar Rapids to visit a cousin. When Kehoe’s crimes occurred, I just wanted to learn why she did it. I mean, what drives any parent to kill their own child or children. In the end, I felt satisfied that I could tell a fairly in-depth story as to why Kehoe did what she did, though it doesn’t completely explain it. What really could?
Q: How long did you work on the book? Did you pitch the book to publishers or did you set out to self-publish?
A: I began writing “Horror on Hookanliner” about three years after the incident occurred, in 2012. I had a publisher out of South Carolina but they were new to the true-crime publishing arena, and due to the delicate nature of the crimes became skittish to publish. I didn’t feel like looking for another publisher since I was nearly finished with the book, so that’s when I self-published on Amazon Kindle eBooks non-fiction section, where there’s also a paperback available. Next, I’ll be pitching it to true-crime television producers.
Q: Does your book focus on a certain aspect of her life or just after she was charged?
A: My book focuses on Kehoe’s entire life, from her troubled childhood, to 2008, when she took her boys to Hookanliner Pond in Littleton. I delve into how, 10 months before the pond incident, in December, the family’s car ended up in the Iowa River in Iowa City with Michelle, Sean and Seth inside. They were rescued by good Samaritans and it was ruled an accident.
Q: Did you interview Kehoe? Or who from her family did you interview?
A: Since it was during strict COVID-19 lockdowns, I couldn’t meet with Kehoe in person, so we video chatted a few times from the prison in Mitchellville, where she is serving a life sentence without parole. I spent more time interviewing her husband, Gene Kehoe, who has long since forgiven his wife and is in contact with her a few times a week. Their surviving son, Sean, who is now 20, does not speak to his mother. I also interviewed a cousin who was close to Michelle at the time, and a few relatives on both sides.
Q: Did you discover something that helped you understand why Kehoe would do the unthinkable — kill her 2-year-old son and attempt to kill her other son?
A: Kehoe carried a lot of hatred for her stepfather who allegedly abused her, and her mom for sending her away to live with relatives when Michelle spoke of the abuse. As a result, she suffered extensive emotional wounds. She managed nicely for several years, but as time went on, she thought her mental illnesses would never improve, and she assumed her boys had inherited them. Her Catholic religion played a part in that she wanted her sons to go to heaven as they were still too young to reach the age of being responsible for their actions. She also felt doomed and felt Sean and Seth were doomed as well. So in a very twisted way, Kehoe thought she was saving them from hell and hell on earth.
According to court records, her counseling didn’t fully address her mental illnesses or her past, and the fact that she sometimes would go off her psychiatric medications. She also conveyed outward perfection in most things she did, including raising her sons — perhaps overcompensating for her imperfect childhood.
Q: Did you follow her trial or go back and read transcripts?
A: I was working my primary job during the trial, so I couldn’t attend. I purchased some court transcripts, and got some from Gene Kehoe. There was extensive court news coverage, including The Gazette’s coverage, and I’ve read almost every local and national article during my research for the book.
Q: Is this your first book? What is your background and writing experience?
A: Yes. My first book. I’ve been a technical freelance writer for over 10 years. My paternal grandmother was a syndicated country columnist who had her law, teaching and business degrees. She also covered the Scopes trial in her home state of Tennessee. Grandpa Albert had an eighth-grade education and was a published poet and short-story writer. They were farmers. My uncle wrote a political book and a book about my grandparents, and my mom ran our town’s newspaper. Those people have greatly influenced my love of writing.
Q: Do you have plans for a next book?
A: I started my next book last week, which will be about 18-year-old Michelle Martinko, who was fatally stabbed in 1979 in the Westdale Mall parking lot. The cold case went unsolved until 2018 when Jerry Burns of Manchester was convicted of first-degree murder last year. This seems like a natural next step for me, and I attended her same high school, Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. My other Iowa true crime book ideas are listed on my website. I write about Iowa solved crimes, and the reasons why people do such horrific things to one another.
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