GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — Brandy Aldrighetti had long known the details of her next-door neighbor's past — a conviction for child molestation decades ago. She kept a stun gun in her home and was always hyper-aware of Lawrence Scully's movements. There haven't been a lot of children who have lived in the Gofer Cabins complex, but she warned the families of those who did.
Aldrighetti said she wasn't surprised when she heard that Scully had been murdered by a man who feared he was stalking his daughter and other children. Levi Axtell, in a bloodied shirt, walked into the police station on March 8 and confessed to beating Scully, 77, to death with a shovel and deer antlers, according to court records. The 27-year-old said he had known Scully for years, believed he had sexually abused children in the past and feared he would again.
Aldrighetti, herself a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a relative, voices support for Axtell.
"To me, Levi is like St. George who slayed the dragon — he killed a monster," she said.
Many in this town of 1,300 on the North Shore of Lake Superior have rallied around the confessed killer — including members of the dead man's estranged family, who have their own accusations of sexual abuse against Scully and have helped with fundraising drives for Axtell's family.
"It's too bad that it came to this," said Amber Lovaasen, Scully's niece who designed T-shirts with slogans that support people affected by sexual assault, the proceeds of which go to Axtell's family. "But nobody is sorry he's gone."
Scully's house is only four blocks from the police station. A wooden sign — "Live on Larry" in block letters — sits next to a trailer on Scully's property on the outskirts of town. Intricate antler carvings, which Scully was known for, sit on a wooden beam. It's the closest thing to a funereal remembrance to Lawrence Scully.
A sign warns against trespassing; another about surveillance. Black plastic garbage bags are stacked alongside the house, some partially covered by tarps. The yard is dotted with satellite dishes, and a Virgin Mary statue faces the driveway.
On a recent gray afternoon, a porch light was on, a window cracked open, but no one answered the door.
Scully is believed to have at least three children, none of whom live in Grand Marais. His son Tim Scully, who lives in Florida, did not respond to messages. Andrew Scully could not be located.
Levi Axtell and Lawrence Scully first officially tangled about five years ago when Axtell petitioned Cook County Court for a restraining order against Scully. He accused the longtime resident of parking near the Cook County YMCA where young children, including Axtell's nearly 2-year-old daughter, regularly walked past his van.
"I fear for my daughter's safety and well-being knowing that Scully is out there stalking and grooming children — like giving them gifts and stuff," Axtell said, according to transcripts from the court hearing. "And while I'm at work and unable to watch out for her, it's very distressing for me."
Axtell didn't have specific instances of harassment. The request was based on things that he had heard second-hand about Scully — a prison sentence, rumors of public misconduct at a local restaurant, that he waved at children when they passed by him
Cook County Judge Michael Cuzzo told Axtell that he couldn't justify a restraining order, but if Scully were to interact with Axtell's daughter, in light of the hearing, the father would have a reason to reapply.
"But what I've also heard from Mr. Scully is that he has no intent of doing anything like that, and I certainly hope that's the case," Cuzzo said at the 2018 hearing. "Because I would hope that we don't have to have people come back into court as a result of acts that may have occurred that may potentially justify the issuance of that harassment restraining order."
Cuzzo, who is currently handling the murder case, is not able to comment for this story. Axtell's family declined an interview request.
Axtell wasn't alone in his suspicions about Scully.
Two of Scully's seven younger siblings have gone to great lengths to avoid contact with their oldest brother — difficult in a town that covers less than 3 square miles. Patrick Scully, 63, and Jon Scully, 70, describe their childhood on a Minnetonka hobby farm as one of torture. They refer to their late parents by their first names, Marge and Al, unwilling to use "mom and dad" because of the decades of mental, physical and sexual abuse at their hands — and what Lawrence was allowed to openly do to them.
"They were not parents," said Patrick Scully, sitting at his kitchen table with piles of legal documents and newspaper articles about his late brother. "They were monsters and they made the trifecta of what Larry is. And Larry just went on and took it to a whole new level."
Lawrence Scully got his 13-year-old sister pregnant, according to Patrick Scully, who was 4 years old at the time and remembers the waiting room of the abortion clinic. The next year, Lawrence touched Patrick's penis when he was in the shower, Patrick recalled. Jon Scully said he believes the reason he started wetting the bed again as a kid was to keep Lawrence from coming to him in the night.
Their parents did nothing to stop the assaults, the brothers said. It wasn't until after Lawrence Scully was an adult and married that he would face charges for his actions. He was 33 years old when he pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal sexual conduct in Kanabec County Court after molesting a 6-year-old girl. He served about a year in prison and petitioned for post-conviction relief when he was released in 1982.
He ended up in Grand Marais where his parents and Patrick had relocated — and where he continued to live much of his life alongside his parents. He took over the family property after his mother died in 2013, according to his family.
Scully's felonious past might have remained a rumor, passed by word of mouth from longtime residents to new neighbors, if he hadn't run for mayor of Grand Marais in 2014. In the days before the election the Cook County News Herald reported on his conviction. He lost the mayoral bid.
Patrick Scully got a 50-year, 1,000-foot perimeter restraining order against his brother on behalf of several family members — his wife and his brother Jon. It was still in effect when Lawrence died. In the petition filed in 2019, Patrick Scully cited a "life long history of sexual and verbal (abuse) and torture to myself and our 6 other siblings." He said Lawrence also followed his car and watched him from afar, sometimes interrupting both him and his wife at work.
The restraining order didn't keep Lawrence Scully away. He continued to pop up on the periphery at public events, occasionally in a Gandalf costume, watching him, Patrick said.
In late 2020, Alison McIntyre of Cook County Public Health and Human Services filed a petition for a judicial commitment for Scully, who was deemed to pose "a risk of harm due to mental illness." According to court documents, his case worker at the time was Anna Ross, a social worker for Cook County Community Human Services. She was married to Axtell between 2018 and 2020 and shares a child with him.
Ross did not respond to messages.
Scully was briefly given a stay of commitment, but he was unable to meet his conditions and was sent to a mental health facility in Baxter, Minn. He wasn't gone long.
Patrick Scully remembers the phone call he got from his brother about two months later.
"He's back," Jon Scully told him.
Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen said there have been murders in Grand Marais, but he can't recall someone being beaten to death in the way Scully was.
Grand Marais Mayor Tracy Benson described the case as painful in all directions — including two families with long histories in the community.
"These are the people we see at the Post Office, the grocery store, we work with them and share interests, faith communities, volunteer together, [and] raise kids," Benson said in an email. "Our local enforcement and our county attorney's office work under the double weight of their professional services while in their private lives interacting with all as well."
The connection between the confessed killer's family and the victim's estranged family was first forged online almost immediately following the murder. Katrina Axtell, Levi's sister, started an online fundraising campaign. Lovaasen was quick to help out, designing and then selling T-shirts, with proceeds going to the Axtell family and organizations that support survivors of sexual abuse.
Earlier this month, Patrick, his wife, Tracy, and Jon Scully all wore the matching dark T-shirts with the words "Our Connection Is Our Strength. Two Families. One Goal. Stop Childhood Sexual Abuse."
The family has offered to donate proceeds from the sale of their parents' property to help pay for the near-stranger's defense.
"Emotions are strong, no doubt about that," said Eliasen, who knows Axtell and his family and said Scully had often visited his office with complaints. "Given the past of Mr. Scully and even the past of Mr. Axtell, you have people on both sides who feel very strongly."
Around town, people here think fondly of Axtell, who has a big smile and favors dad jokes, they say. They aren't in favor of vigilantism, but they won't miss Scully.
A truck parked downtown had a bumper sticker in its back window: "Love for Levi."
Michael Farnum said he is heartbroken for Axtell, whom he considers a friend.
"I have four kids," he said. "Who knows where I would start and stop. I feel betrayed by the judicial system."
Franklin Smith described Axtell as guy whose family was of utmost importance to him.
"Anyone you talk to will be siding with Levi," he said.