Jesse Pomeroy was born in 1860. He was considered a
natural born fiend. His crimes made this identification not unreasonable.
He was raised by his mother in South Boston. Not very much is known
about his life before he was eleven years old. Thats when he started to
torture other children.
Between the winter/fall of 1871, Jesse trapped
and attacked seven other younger boys. He'd take them to a hidden spot
where he would strip them and tie them up. He severely beat some of the
earlier victims, then he started to use a knife and even poked pins into
Pomeroy had a hairlip and a completely white eye, so
identifying him would be pretty easy. After being caught he was sent to
a reform school and was supposed to be there till he was twenty-one. He
understood the idea that if he was good, he'd get let out early. He was
released after only a year and a half. Now instead of just wanting to
inflict pain on others, he was homicidal.
In March of 1874 he kidnapped
a little girl and killed her, a month later he done the same to a four
year old, but he was so severe on the boy that he nearly decapitated him.
The police placed Jesse as the apparent killer. When they asked him if
he killed the little boy (his body was the first to be found) Jesse
replied "I suppose I did."
Pomeroy was only 14 at the time of
this. Most people wanted him killed, but the governor wouldn't go for it.
He instead decided on giving him a lifelong sentence in solitary
confinement. He spent forty-one years in solitary, before getting some
contact with other inmates. He died in 1932 at the age of seventy-two.
About as vicious a teenager ever
recorded. Young Jesse Pomeory grew up in one of the worst slums of South
Boston in the late 1800's. By the time he turned 14 years of age, he was
convicted of numerous murders, and was one of the worst multiple killers
in the country's history, sentenced to spend the rest of his life in
Brought up by his widowed mother, a
dressmaker, Pomeroy was not an easy child to miss in the area. He had a
harelip and one of his eyes was completely white. And, according to one
source, he also suffered from light mental retardation.
Not much is known of his early
childhood, but by the time he reached 11 years of age, he began
torturing other young children.
In the two years of 1871 and 1872,
Pomeroy trapped and attacked seven boys, all younger than himself. In
each case he took each one to a secluded space where he stripped the
victim and tied him up.
The first victims were severly beaten,
punched and kicked until covered with bruises. However, Pomeroy then
began utilizing his knife in the attacks, slashing and poking with the
blade, drawing blood as his victim was tied down.
Because of his appearance, it wasn't
long before the police got an idea about who the culprit was, and they
proceeded to arrest the twelve year old where he was sentenced to the
West Borough Reform School where he was to be held until the age of 21.
Instead of the nine year sentence
however, Pomeroy was let go after just two years. While serving his term,
he stayed on his best behavior and led the ward officials into thinking
that he was indeed reformed. He understood very well what he had to do
to get out of there as soon as possible, and he made sure he stuck to
his plan. This is a great example of how the idea of "revolving door"
imprisonment has been around a lot longer than people believe.
When Jesse was released, he was far
from "well". As a matter of fact, Pomeroy was now ready to take his
crimes to a new level. He was ready for homicide.
In March of 1874, ten year old Mary
Curran disappeared, her body found mutilated and savagely beaten. A
month later four year old Horace Mullen was taken by Pomeroy to
marshland outside of town, where the child was slashed repeatedly.
Police found the body, with the head almost decapitated, the next day.
Police began investigating the murder,
and quickly saw Pomeroy as a potential suspect. When they approached the
young boy, they found him carrying a bloodstained knife. They also noted
that his shoes were covered in mud, and his footprints matched those of
the murder scene. When they asked him if he killed the boy, Jesse
replied almost matter of factly, "I suppose I did."
When Pomeroy's mother moved out of her
house soon after, laborers working on the flooring found the decomposing
remains of Mary Curran buried in the basement's earthen floor. Pomeroy
easily confessed to that murder as well.
As if that wasn't enough for the
police, Pomeroy then confessed to the murder of 27 other victims. When
officers began to dig around the home where he grew up, they discovered
the remains of twelve other bodies.
Found guilty of murder, Pomeroy was
sentenced to spend the rest of his days in prison, where he languished
in solitary confinement until he died in 1932 at the ripe old age of 72.
An interesting sidebar to all of this
is that during Pomeroy's trial in 1872, moralists tried using the young
multiple murderer as an example of declining moral standards that they
felt were prevelant at the time. They particularly blamed the popular
"Dime Novels" of the day, with their garish stories of blood and immoral
lifestyle, much in the same way that evangelists and preachers try to
use music and the media as an excuse for youth rebellion today.
However, for the evangelists in the
Boston area, their ideas of Pomeroy's vicious crimes were quickly thrown
out the window when Pomeroy stated that he never read any of the Dime
BORN : 1860
DIED : 1932
VICTIMS : between 14 and 29
In this era where we are constantly hearing about how
criminals are getting younger and younger I thought I'd add Jesse
Pomeroy to the site just to prove that kids have been killing other kids
for a long time now.
Jesse was born in 1860 in South Boston. He had some
very striking physical abnormalities, namely a bad hair lip and one eye
that was completely white. He also suffered from some sort of
retardation. No doubt he had to endure some shocking abuse in his early
life as we all know just how cruel kids can be, but unfortunately we
don't really know much about the first eleven years of his life.
What we do know is that at the age of eleven, in 1871,
he started to show some very scary signs. He would take smaller children
into the woods and make them strip off all their clothes. He would then
tie them up and torture them. At first he just beat his victims, but as
he grew more confident he started to cut them, and once repeatedly poked
pins into a small boy. After he had tortured seven children in this way
he was caught by police (I guess not many people fit the description
given of Jesse)
At the end of 1872 Jesse was sent to the West Borough
Reform school, where he was supposed to stay until he turned 21.
But with good behaviour Jesse was released just one
and a half years later. And he had a whole new plan. If the kids he
tortured were dead they couldn't give a description to police. It was
In March, 1874, Mary Curren went missing. The ten year
old girl found herself in the company of Jesse Pomeroy for a few hours
until he became bored with his new toy and killed her.
Then, just one month later, Jesse found a new
plaything, four year old Horace Mullin. Jesse took the boy to some
marshland outside of the city and slashed him viciously with a knife
until he died. The boy was nearly decapitated.
When the body was found police didn't take long to
narrow the suspects down, and on top of that list was the fourteen year
old, known child torturer, Jesse Pomeroy.
When he was picked up by police he was carrying a
bloodstained knife, had mud from the marsh where Horace Mullin was found
on his trousers and was wearing shoes that had the same sole print as
ones taken from the crime scene. I don't think Jesse was going to get
away with this one.
And neither did Jesse, as when police asked him if he
killed the four year old, he said, "I suppose I did."
In July of that year Jesse's mother moved house, and
the landlord decided to do some renovations, which included digging up
the basement. He found the body of Mary Curren. When police asked Jesse
about this new development he admitted to killing the girl.
Jesse also admitted to killing 27 others, 12 of which
he buried around his mothers house.
With no real defence Jesse Pomeroy was found guilty of
the two original murders, and despite his age was sentenced to death.
Luckily the state realised this was a little harsh for a 14 year old
retarded boy, so they commuted it to life in prison, with the added
penalty of being kept in solitary confinement for the rest of his
existence. This is truly one of the more horrific sentences I can think
of. I honestly think he would have been better off being hung. Can you
imagine, at 14 years of age, being told you will never again have human
contact? Disgraceful decision.
After forty-one years alone, and countless suicide
attempts, common sense prevailed and Jesse was moved to an asylum, where
he finally allowed out to see other prisoners, although what social
skills he ever had must have been totally gone by that time so what
interaction there was must have been far removed from normal.
He eventually died in the asylum in 1932, at the age
The Wacky World of
Pomeroy (November 29,
1859–September 29, 1932) was the youngest person convicted of the crime
of murder in the first degree in the history of the Commonwealth of
Jesse Pomeroy was born
in Charlestown, Massachusetts, to Thomas and Ruthann Pomeroy. He was the
second of two children; his brother Charles was a year older.
Reported attacks in 1871–1872
In 1871–1872, there
were reports that several young boys were individually enticed to remote
areas and attacked by a slightly older boy. However, no one was ever
arrested. There must have been some discord in the Pomeroy household, as
Ruthann and the two children moved to South Boston in 1872.
Pomeroy's attacks on
young boys continued, and he was finally arrested and his case heard in
front of a juvenile court judge. Pomeroy was found guilty and sentenced
to the Boys Reform School at Westborough, Massachusetts, for his
minority (i.e., until he turned 18). The Boston Globe covered
this story; the last line of the article: "It is generally concluded
that the boy is mentally deficient."
Despite the severity
of Pomeroy's crimes, he was released after serving only 15 months. The
police and court system were attacked after Pomeroy's murders were
revealed. It was pointed out that no other boy in the Westborough Reform
School had committed crimes like his. His young victims were subjected
to horrible brutality and many were left scarred for life.
In February 1874 at
the age of 14, Pomeroy was paroled back to his mother and brother in
South Boston. His mother ran her own dressmaking shop, and his brother
Charles sold newspapers.
In March 1874, a
ten-year-old girl from South Boston named Katie Curran went suddenly
missing. On April 24, 1874, the body of four-year-old Horace Millen was
found on the marsh of Dorchester Bay. Immediately, the police detectives
sought out Pomeroy.
Late in his life,
Pomeroy still held that he committed the crime. However, his right to
due process was farcical. He was taken to view the body of Millen and
asked if he committed the murder. At the coroner's inquest, Pomeroy was
denied the right to counsel.
The case of
Commonwealth v. Pomeroy was heard in the Massachusetts Supreme
Judicial Court (Suffolk County, Boston) on December 9 and December 10,
1874. At the trial, the Attorney General argued for a verdict of guilty
in the murder of first degree. In his closing arguments, however, he
urged an alternative charge of murder with extreme atrocity, which,
according to Massachusetts law, is first degree murder, but differs from
the original charge in the requirement of premeditation.
Pomeroy was pronounced
guilty on December 10, 1874, with the jury's recommendation of mercy on
account of the prisoner's youth.
Charles Robinson, filed two exceptions which were overruled in February
1875, at which point Pomeroy was sentenced to hang until dead.
After the trial
It remained for the
Governor to sign the death warrant and assign a date for Pomeroy's
execution. However, Governor William Gaston refused to comply with this
executive responsibility. The only legal means of sparing Pomeroy's life
was through the Governor's Council, and only if a simple majority of the
nine-member Council voted to commute the death penalty. Over the next
year and a half, the Council voted three times: the first two votes
upheld Pomeroy's execution, and both times Governor Gaston refused to
sign the death warrant.
In August 1876, the
Council took a third vote, anonymously, and Pomeroy's sentence was
commuted to life in prison in solitary confinement. On the evening of
September 7, 1876, Pomeroy was transferred from the Suffolk County Jail
to the State Prison at Charlestown, and began his life in solitary. He
was 16 years and 10 months old.
In 1917, Pomeroy's
sentence was commuted to the extent of allowing him the privileges
afforded to other life prisoners. At first he resisted this, wanting
nothing less than a pardon, but he eventually did adjust to his changed
circumstances, and even appeared in a minstrel show at the prison. In
1929, by this time an elderly man in frail health, he was transferred to
Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he died on
September 29, 1932.
M RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC/Sad.
Sadistic slayer of street children; set prison fire that killed three
Condemned on two counts, 1876 (commuted to life, 1878); spent 41 years
in solitary; died in prison, 1932.
Jesse Harding Pomeroy
by Mark Gribben
Jesse Harding Pomeroy was a sociopath, a serial killer.
Though he killed only two people, he brutally tortured many others
during his short time of freedom and would probably have killed many
more if not stopped. And he was only 14. Despite his age and his
relatively low body count, he took great pleasure in hurting his victims
and then slaughtering them without a thought.
that Jesse Pomeroy started killing at such a tender age isn't as unusual
as most people think, even for the late 19th century, when he was born.
Children who kill have been around as long as there have been children.
mid-18th century, 10-year-old William York was sentenced to life service
in the British navy for killing a 5-year-old housemate who wet the bed
the two children shared. York tortured the girl first, slicing her wrist
down to the bone, doing the same to her elbow and then opening her thigh
with the knife. The judge, commuting the recommended death sentence,
presumed the harsh treatment in store for the boy in the navy, then
heavily infused with convicts, was sufficient punishment.
a 12-year-old named William Allnut was convicted of murdering his
grandfather by arsenic poisoning (and injuring many other members of his
family unfortunate enough to have used the tainted sugar bowl). He was
sentenced to hang, but because of his youth, was spared and spent the
rest of his life in a British prison.
years later, also in England, a 14-year-old victim of bullies struck
back at his tormenters and killed them both with shots from a pistol he
brought from home. The boy, Alfred Dancey, was transported to Australia.
A century and a half later, Luke Woodham brought a gun to his
Mississippi school and killed two people (as well as his mother at home)
in retaliation for the teasing he suffered.
Carneal, also a victim of schoolyard taunting, opened fire on a school
prayer service in Paducah, Ky., killing three and wounding five.
two youngsters in Liverpool were sentenced to 12 months in prison for
manslaughter after one of them killed a playmate with a brick in a rage
over a game gone bad. The other boy helped the killer dump the victim's
body in a nearby canal.
12-year-old German girl, Marie Schneider, was convicted of killing a
3-year-old by pushing the tot out a second-story window in 1886. "She
was known as a sadistic and dishonest child who never lost an
opportunity to bully and torture younger children," according to Angus
Hall, editor of Crimes and Punishment.
Pomeroy was also a cruel youngster who reveled in the pain and terror of
his victims. Like Marie Schneider, Jesse never passed up a chance to
inflict suffering on a younger child. He got pleasure from tormenting
those weaker than himself and seeing them fearful and in agony. As in so
many other cases, his crimes started with beatings and torture, but soon
became much more deadly.
The Look of Evil
Criminologists and biologists have tried for decades to link appearance
to criminal propensity. Around the time Jesse Pomeroy was beginning his
second decade in prison, Charles Darwin published The Descent of Man
(1884). In that book he referred to "atavistic characters," or the
reappearance of a characteristic in an organism after several
generations of absence, usually caused by the chance recombination of
genes. In other words, a human born with a vestigial tail, for example,
could be considered a throwback to an earlier phase of human
development. Less sophisticated readers took this to mean that people
who resembled apes -- perhaps they had a low forehead or were extremely
hairy, or they just plain looked odd -- were subhuman.
Italian criminologist Lombroso seized Darwin's ideas and termed the
phrase "stigmata of degeneration" to predict criminal behavior. People
who looked "less evolved" were perhaps not thinking with the higher
brain functions of homo sapiens and therefore more likely to act
on criminal impulses that cultural training requires most of us to
forgo, Lombroso speculated. Further research showed Lombroso's stigmata
of degeneration were present in noncriminals in almost equal proportion
to the criminal population, and the Italian was forced to revise his
ended up hypothesizing was that "in almost all cases, it was not the
unfavorable environment which led to the commission of crime, but the
biological predisposition to commit it, externally advertised by the
presence of stigmata," wrote biologist and social scientist M.F. Ashley
Montagu in "The Biologist Looks at Crime."
made the simple research error of confusing correlation with cause. This
is the difference between saying, "Where there is smoke, there is fire"
and "One often finds smoke and fire together, but not always."
does appearance and its correlation to criminal behavior have to do with
looked different from other children, and those differences were so
severe that it wasn't difficult to make the leap that because he was
"malformed," he was subhuman. Most notably, Jesse's right eye was almost
his molestation victims described it as a "milky" or white-hued marble,
and in Harold Schechter's authoritative biography of Pomeroy, Fiend,
he reports that "many people (according to some accounts, his own
father) could barely look at it without a shudder."
mother blamed the cataract on a reaction to a smallpox vaccine, but
others claim a viral infection as a baby left him blind in the eye.
Regardless, the absence of an iris and pupil gave the poor boy an evil
aura even before his acts became public.
the incarceration before Jesse’s murder trial, a writer for the
Boston Globe described Jesse's features this way: "They are wicked
eyes, sullenly, brutishly wicked eyes, and as in moments of wandering
thought the boy looks out of them, he seems one who could delight in the
writhings of his helpless victims beneath the stab of the knife, the
puncture of the awl, or the prick of the pin, as he has so often
nothing interesting in the look. It is altogether unsympathetic,
was also sensitive to his larger-than-normal head. He asked a nearby
cellmate locked in the cell next to his in the city jail if the boy
thought he looked strange, a telling question that might explain some of
Jesse's anger: "What do you think of me, my appearance? Do I look like a
bad boy? Is my head large?"
bigger than many of the boys his age and was plagued with facial
features that seemed large even on his hulking frame. His mouth, despite
a thin upper lip, was much wider than appropriate for his face and in an
1874 etching of the boy, taken from a booking photograph, his ears
appear overly large and stick out noticeably from the sides of his head.
Add to his appearance the fact that he rarely smiled, preferred solitary
play and suffered epileptic-like shaking episodes, and Jesse Harding
Pomeroy was an easy target for the other children in his neighborhood.
was a thriving city in the late 19th century when Jesse Pomeroy was born
in 1859, the second son to Charles and Ruth Pomeroy, a lower middle
class family in the city's Chelsea section. The Pomeroys were not a
happy family. Charles drank and had a mean temper. He once used a horse
whip on young Jesse when the boy played truant.
behind the outhouse to the young Pomeroy children meant a savage beating
that often ended in bloodshed. Charles Pomeroy would strip his children
naked before a beating, somehow helping Jesse forge a link between
sexual satisfaction, pain and punishment. Jesse would later recreate his
father's abuse on his young victims.
Pomeroy family was unable to keep pets in the house because strange,
violent things seemed to happen when no one was looking. Harold
Schechter reports that Ruth Pomeroy had wanted a pair of lovebirds to
brighten up the dreary home, but she feared what would happen to them.
The last time the family had birds they both ended up dead, their heads
completely twisted off their bodies. After Jesse was discovered
torturing a neighbor's kitten, there was no way Ruth would allow another
pet into their home.
killers, Jesse Pomeroy grew weary of torturing animals and began to look
for human targets. Naturally, he selected victims who were smaller than
himself. His attacks had an eerily familiar appearance; he acted out and
enhanced what he experienced at home.
known victim was William Paine.
Christmas Day 1871, two men lumbered up Powder Horn Hill near the
Chelsea Creek in South Boston. Nearing a small cabin, they heard a soft
cry, barely louder than a whimper. As they approached the building,
really nothing more than an outhouse, Schechter reported, the sounds
grew louder and clearer. It was a small child.
the building, the men were shocked by what they saw. Billy Paine, no
more than 4 years old, was hanging by his wrists from a rope lashed to
the center beam of the outhouse. He was nearly unconscious and
half-naked. The cold weather had turned his skin pale and his lips blue.
His hands, purple due to the blood trapped by the bindings, stood in
sharp contrast to the rest of his shock-whitened skin.
quickly cut the boy down but not before gasping at the signs of the
brutal beating young Paine had suffered. His back was covered in welts,
red and ugly against his flesh.
in no condition to give police any clue to the identity of his attacker,
and the police filed the awful report with the fervent prayer that it
was an isolated incident.
the children of Chelsea and South Boston, it wasn't.
February of 1872, Tracy Hayden, 7, was Jesse Pomeroy's next victim, and
he was lured to Powder Horn Hill with the promise of "going to see the
soldiers," according to Schechter.
two boys were alone, Pomeroy, who was barely a teenager at the time, set
upon the diminutive Hayden and bound and tortured him as mercilessly as
he had Billy Paine. Hayden's front teeth were knocked out, his eyes
blackened and his nose broken by the enraged Pomeroy.
Billy Paine, Tracy Hayden was stripped and whipped with a switch,
leaving deep welts, and Hayden told police that his assailant, whom he
was unable to describe other than having brown hair, threatened to cut
off his penis.
nothing more to go on than a description of a teenage boy with brown
hair, police were powerless to stop the assaults. But they knew they had
a deviant on their hands and they could only assume that he would strike
spring 1872, Jesse attacked again. This time, promising 8-year-old
Robert Maier a trip to see Barnum's circus, Jesse took the boy across
the fens to his favorite lair and attacked. Stripping Maier and beating
him with a stick, Jesse forced the youngster to repeat curse words as he
was assaulted. Maier reported to police that Jesse was fondling himself
as Maier withstood the ferocious beating. Achieving sexual satisfaction
at the height of Bobby's suffering, Jesse freed the youth, threatened
him with death if he told anyone and fled.
police, faced with numerous angry and fearful Boston parents, began a
massive manhunt, questioning hundreds of brown-haired south Boston
teenage boys, with no luck. The "inhuman scamp," as the papers called
the unknown pervert, eluded the dragnet, and became almost a bogeyman to
the youngsters of the city. Parents warned their children not to talk to
any strange boys and, as word spread, an inaccurate description replaced
the one police were using: the new assailant took on a devilish
appearance, now described as having red hair and a wispy red beard.
Unbeknownst to anyone, the real monster, Jesse Pomeroy, at 12, was as
smooth-skinned as a young girl.
The Marble Eye
with his 60-to-90 day cycle, Jesse struck next in mid-July of 1872,
luring an unwary 7-year-old to the outhouse on Powder Horn Hill with the
promise of two bits for running an errand. The assault was similar to
previous ones: the boy was stripped, bound, whipped and beaten until
Jesse achieved orgasm. Then, promising to kill the boy if he left the
outhouse, Jesse fled into the swamps.
time, a $500 reward was posted for information leading to the arrest of
the "fiendish boy" who committed the "diabolical outrage," according to
the Boston Evening Transfer. The anger stirred by the lurid press
accounts and the $500 bounty prompted vigilantes to begin patrolling the
streets of Chelsea in an effort to find the miscreant who was torturing
the city's young boys.
"It is a
good thing for the inhuman scamp that his identity is unknown just now,"
the Boston Globe wrote in a late July editorial.
just a few days after the Globe's editorial that Ruth Pomeroy
decided to move her family from Chelsea to less expensive accommodations
across the Chelsea Creek in South Boston. Schechter surmises that she
suspected her younger son was connected to the assaults, but throughout
her life, Ruth Pomeroy demonstrated the fiercest loyalty to Jesse,
refusing to believe that her boy was capable of the monstrous crimes for
which he was imprisoned. It is just as likely that she moved her two
children away from Chelsea for economic reasons. Still, when she saw
that the boy torturer had moved his operation from Chelsea to South
Boston at the same time her family relocated, she must have suspected
7-year-old, George Pratt, was wandering along the South Boston shoreline
looking for treasure when he was approached by an older boy who offered
him 25 cents to help him with an errand. Like Jesse's last victim, the
thought of how much candy two bits would buy must have clouded Pratt's
judgment, because he agreed to accompany Pomeroy and ended up being
bound and tortured.
told three lies," Pomeroy told the cowering, naked child before he beat
him with a leather belt.
escalated his violent attack, this time biting a chunk of flesh from
Pratt's cheek and tearing at the boy's skin with his fingernails. He
then took a long sewing needle and began stabbing deeply into the
child's body. Finally, he tried prying open Pratt's eyelid to stick the
needle into the boy's eye, but Pratt managed to roll over onto his
Apparently sated, Jesse left the youngster alone and fled, but not
before biting another piece of flesh from George's buttocks.
attack was clearly the work of a demented mind, and the police rounded
up every "feeble minded" youth they could find in the city, but none of
the victims could pick their attacker from the lot. The city roiled with
anger at the police, and the vigilantes stepped up their patrols.
next two assaults showed his further descent into depravity. Less than a
month after he molested George Pratt, Pomeroy kidnapped and assaulted a
6-year-old boy named Harry Austin who was stripped and beaten like
Pomeroy's previous victims. This time, however, Jesse didn't stop at
just beating the boy with his belt. With his victim bound helplessly,
Jesse took out his pocket knife and stabbed the child under each arm and
then between his shoulders.
lay writhing beneath him, Pomeroy then knelt down and tried to cut off
the boy's penis. But Pomeroy was disturbed in his assault and fled
before he was able to finish the job.
attacks increased in ferocity and frequency, despite police attempts to
find the attacker. Just six days after Austin was attacked, Jesse lured
Joseph Kennedy, 7, to the marshes near the bay and viciously beat him.
Like Austin, Kennedy was attacked with a knife and then Jesse forced the
boy to kneel and "ordered him to recite a profane travesty of the Lord's
Prayer, in which obscenities were substituted for Scripture," according
Kennedy demurred, Jesse slashed the boy across the face with his knife
and dragged him to the waterfront and washed his wounds with salt water.
later, a 5-year-old boy was found lashed to a post near railroad tracks
in South Boston and told about an older boy who lured him to the remote
area with a promise to see soldiers. When they were alone, the boy
stripped and beat him and slashed his head with a knife.
Pomeroy placed the edge of his knife against the boy's throat, he was
startled by approaching railroad workers. Pomeroy fled. The boy, Robert
Gould, gave police their first good lead in the case. He described his
attacker as a large boy with an eye like a white marble.
Arrest and Conviction
many other serial killers who are caught by a seemingly simple twist of
fate, Jesse Pomeroy's first arrest occurred almost by accident. The
Boston police were convinced that it was only a matter of time before
the Boy with the Marble Eye turned from sadist into homicidal maniac.
The Boston police conducted a classroom-by-classroom search of the
Boston school system with the victims of Marble Eye in hopes of getting
lucky and finding the sadist.
21, 1872, the police came to Jesse Pomeroy's school with Joe Kennedy and
went from room to room with the principal. Kennedy was unable to
identify his assailant in any of the classrooms and Jesse Pomeroy
narrowly avoided detection.
unknown reason, on the way home from school that very day, Pomeroy
walked into the South Boston police station where detectives were once
again questioning Joe Kennedy. Since Jesse never expressed much remorse
during his life for his crimes, it is unlikely that Jesse was overcome
by pangs of guilt. A more likely explanation is that he was engaged in
some sort of game with the police. Other sociopaths have been known to
beg police to catch them before they kill again, like the Lipstick
Killer, William Heirens, who scrawled a plea for help to his pursuers in
lipstick on a mirror in the room of a victim. Perhaps Jesse wanted to be
caught, knowing that what he was doing was wrong, but he was powerless
to stop himself.
Kennedy and the officer who had accompanied him were in the police
station when Jesse entered. Jesse quickly reversed course and headed out
the door and down the street. It was too late. Kennedy had seen Pomeroy
from across the room and excitedly pointed him out to police who
scrambled after Jesse and caught him before he had gone more than half a
locked Jesse in a cell in the station house and questioned him.
Schechter reports that the questioning was tough and intimidating, but
Jesse stuck to his claim of innocence. After several hours of leaning on
the boy, police gave up and left Jesse to ponder his fate as they
contacted his mother.
police left Jesse alone to cool his heels in the dark cell until after
midnight when they woke him to try again to force a confession. The
officers threatened him with a 100-year jail term unless he admitted his
crimes. At that threat, Jesse broke down and confessed to the crimes.
day, Jesse Pomeroy was taken to the main Boston jail where his victims
each confirmed that he was the boy who had molested them. That
afternoon, Jesse was brought before a magistrate, and each of the
victims again recounted his tale. Ruth Pomeroy took the stand in defense
of her son. He was a good boy, she wept. He was obedient and
hardworking. She didn't mention the incidents with the family pets.
also testified in the hearing, offering only the meekest excuse for his
couldn't help myself,” he said, hanging his head in shame.
juvenile justice magistrate wasted little time rendering his decision.
He ordered Jesse to be held in the House of Reformation in Westborough
until he was 18.
newspapers reported that both Jesse and Ruth Pomeroy were in tears as he
was led away.
work, discipline and vocational training were the preferred methods of
dealing with juvenile delinquents in the late 1800s. The Westborough
House of Reformation was the place where miscreant boys of all ages were
sent if they were convicted of a crime. It was also a place where
parents who found their boys too hard to manage could voluntarily commit
Westborough was a cruel place where the strong preyed on the weak. The
discipline was harsh and whether the House of Reformation could actually
claim to live up to its name of reforming youthful offenders was
debatable. The inmates were expected to work most of the day on tasks
such as brass nail making, chair caning and silverplating, and then were
subjected to a four-hour school day.
Discipline was along military lines. Despite the attempt at reform and a
more humane approach to treatment than in earlier times or in adult
institutions, in any closed system where social deviants are
incarcerated, a jungle-like mentality emerges.
environment, a smart, cruel boy like Jesse Pomeroy could flourish. Most
of the boys who had been sent to Westborough were non-violent offenders,
Schechter reports, citing the massive “History of Boys” -- the volume
that detailed the relevant details of every inmate ever sent to
Westborough. The most frequently cited crimes were shoplifting, breaking
and entering and the vague "stubbornness."
learned very quickly that his only chance to leave Westborough before
his 18th birthday was to demonstrate that he had reformed his ways. The
records show he was a model inmate, who avoided the floggings and
corporal punishments meted out for even the most minor infractions.
chronicle that he took an unusual interest in those punishments, often
seeking out the most recent recipients to extract the painful details.
The history of Westborough also reports that Jesse was mostly left alone
during his sentence; the older boys teased him and the younger boys, who
all knew why he was there, gave him a wide berth.
after he was brought to the reformatory, Jesse was taken out of the
chair shop and assigned as a hall monitor. He thrived in his position of
authority, taking great pleasure in maintaining order in his dormitory.
at the reformatory was quiet; he even opted not to join nearly half the
inmate population who used an unlocked door to escape one afternoon.
that one incident, however. It happened toward the end of 1873, when
Jesse had been in the reformatory for more than a year. He was outside
when a teacher approached him and reported seeing a snake in the back
garden. She asked for his help in killing it.
oblige, Jesse had followed her back to the garden, snatching up a stick
along the way," Schechter writes. "After a brief search, he uncovered
the snake and began to strike it again and again, working himself up
into a kind of frenzy as he reduced the writhing creature to an awful,
outside, Ruth Pomeroy stepped up her campaign to free her son, whom she
considered innocent of all charges. He was too young, she argued, to be
the perpetrator of such crimes. The police arrested the wrong boy. She
wrote letters to the board of overseers of Westborough Reformatory and
to anyone else who might help her son. She (rightly) pointed out that he
had been coerced into confessing and that he should have been able to
talk to a lawyer or at least herself.
one thing that convinced the overseers to free Jesse Pomeroy was Jesse
himself. There was no reason to keep him, they decided, after an
investigator from the state had visited the Pomeroy home and found Mrs.
Pomeroy to be a hardworking, honest and caring woman. Charles Pomeroy,
Jesse's brother, was also considered an upstanding citizen. He had a
very large paper route and when he wasn't delivering newspapers, he ran
a newspaper stand outside his mother's dress shop.
Pomeroys promised to put Jesse to work in the newsstand and the dress
shop, and Ruth was determined to keep a closer eye on her younger son
whose behaviors, the investigator believed, were the result of his lack
of supervision. The broken home had left Jesse "to drift pretty much at
his own will."
the horrendous crimes Jesse had committed, the police in the South
Boston precinct were forgiving. "It isn't best to be down on a boy too
hard or too long," said the captain at the precinct house. "Give him a
chance to redeem himself."
than a year-and-a-half after his arrest, Jesse Pomeroy was released from
Westborough Reformatory and set loose on an unsuspecting public. None of
the authorities thought of warning the neighbors, most of whom thought
the Boy with the Marble Eye had been locked up tight and wouldn't be
coming home until he was at least 18.
parents of two youngsters, the ignorance would have tragic consequences.
after Jesse Pomeroy was paroled from Westborough, on March 18, 1874, he
was opening up his mother's dressmaking shop and his brother's
newsstand, which were located across the street from his home on the 300
block of Broadway in South Boston. It was shortly after 8 a.m. and
children were getting ready for school.
sometime employee of the store, a youth about Jesse's age, showed up as
Jesse was finishing sweeping the store and was talking with Jesse. The
boy, Rudolph Kohr, earned spending money by running errands for the
boys talked, 10-year-old Katie Curran, dressed in a black and green
plaid dress, ragged overcoat and scarf, entered the store.
have any notebooks?" she asked Jesse. Katie had a new teacher in her
school and was excited about getting to class that day. With her
mother's permission, she had run out after breakfast to get a new
notebook for school. Katie was expected home at about 8:30 a.m. to take
her younger sister to school. Katie explained that she had already been
to one store nearby and they were out of notebooks.
said he had one notebook left, but it was marred by an ink spot on the
you have it for two cents less," he said, his one good eye taking in
asked Rudolph if he would run to the butcher’s for scraps to feed the
cats and, taking a few coins from Jesse, Rudolph left the store.
a store downstairs," Jesse said to Katie. "There might be some there.
Let's go look."
nodded and they started down the cellar stairs. Reaching the bottom, she
took a couple of steps into the cellar before she realized she had been
it was too late.
followed her, put my arm around her neck, my hand over her mouth, and
with my knife cut her throat," Jesse would later confess. "I then
dragged her to behind the water closet, laying her head furtherest up
the place, and I put some stones and some ashes on the body."
confession, which would not come for some time, left out several details
that emerged after Katie's body was found. Her head had been completely
severed, and the decomposition of her upper torso made it impossible to
say what other wounds had been inflicted. Katie's dress, slip and
undergarments had been sliced open in the front.
disturbing remnant was the savage brutality by which Jesse attacked the
girl's abdomen and genitals.
had finished, Jesse heard his brother enter the store. He washed his
hands at a pipe in the water closet and ran upstairs. He then went back
to work as if nothing had happened.
Naturally, Katie Curran's disappearance caused concern in the
neighborhood. Within the hour, her mother, Mary, was out in the streets
searching for Katie. It was unheard of for the girl to wander off and
she rarely let her children out of her sight. She went first to Tobin's
General Store, and the proprietor said that Katie had been there and
left disappointed because Tobin's had no notebooks.
her over to Mrs. Pomeroy's," Thomas Tobin said.
almost caused Mary to faint. She had heard of Jesse Pomeroy and feared
the worst. Passing the police precinct house on her way to the Pomeroy
store on Broadway, Mary Curran stopped in and saw the precinct captain.
The man reassured her that Jesse Pomeroy was not a threat to Katie
understand he was completely rehabilitated in reform school," Captain
Henry Dyer said. "Besides, he only hurt little boys. He never attacked a
police sent Curran home with a patronizing tone, telling her Katie had
just gotten lost and within a day authorities would be bringing her
home. A day passed. As the word spread about the girl's disappearance,
Rudolph Kohr told Mary Curran he had seen Katie in the Pomeroys' store.
went to the police.
boy is a known liar," Dyer said. "But I will send Detective Adams over
to the shop to look around. Don't worry, Mrs. Curran."
visited the Pomeroy's store and was met by an unfriendly Ruth Pomeroy.
She knew nothing of the body in the basement, but she was aware that the
neighborhood was abuzz with gossip about Jesse. Angry that her boy was
being accused again, she curtly agreed to let Adams search. As he
expected, Adams found nothing amiss in the store.
weeks passed, the police continued investigating every lead, including
the speculation that Katie's father had shipped the girl off to a
convent. She was the product of a Protestant-Catholic marriage, and in a
Protestant town like Boston, anti-Catholic feelings ran deep.
credible witness came forward and swore he saw Katie being lured into a
wagon, police ostensibly closed their investigation, concluding the
unlucky girl had been kidnapped.
bloodlust was far from sated. Oblivious to the danger of being caught,
he continued to try to lure young children into the fens and deserted
buildings of South Boston with promises of trips to the circus, candy
and money. Most of the children were smart enough to refuse the offers,
although in one case he came dangerously close to luring his next victim
into his trap.
approached the 5-year-old boy and asked the youngster if he knew where
Vernon Street was. When Harry Field told Jesse that he did indeed know
Vernon Street, Jesse offered him five cents to take him there.
walked hand-in-hand down the street, Jesse clutching a broom handle in
his free hand. When Jesse and Harry reached Vernon Street, Harry asked
for his nickel. Instead, Jesse pulled the boy into a doorway and ordered
him to keep his mouth shut. He then led Harry through a maze of streets
in search of a good spot to commit his crimes.
on Harry Field's side that day. As the two boys rounded a corner, Jesse
came face-to-face with a youthful acquaintance from the neighborhood who
knew of his reputation. The neighbor yelled at Jesse and as the two
teens started arguing, Harry yanked his hand from Jesse's and fled down
the street. He ran all the way to his house, burst through the front
door and into his mother's arms.
Undoubtedly the anonymous youth who had happened along at just the right
moment had saved young Harry Field's life. The next boy Jesse enticed
was not so lucky.
April 1874 when the Millen family moved to Dorchester Street, right
across the street from the unhappy Curran family. The youngest Millen
child was 4-year-old Horace, who was described as almost angelic in
appearance. He had dark brown eyes, bow-shaped lips and shiny blonde
locks. His mother enjoyed dressing him in fine clothes and on his last
day on Earth he was dressed especially well. He wore a fine black velvet
hat with a golden tassel, a black and white jacket, a red and white
checked shirt with velvet trim and black knickers.
loved sweets and on this chilly early spring morning had succeeded in
liberating a couple of pennies from his mother to spend at a nearby
way he encountered an older boy who asked him where he was headed. The
two set off for the bakery together. The older boy was Jesse Pomeroy.
bought a small cake at the bakery and shared it with Jesse, who
innocently suggested a trip to the nearby harbor. Happily, Horace
slipped his hand into Jesse's and they set off.
of witnesses saw the two boys set off toward the bay. One woman recalled
a look of excitement on the older boy's face that was much too emotional
for someone who was just taking a walk to the bakery. The expression was
so odd, she would later testify, that she went inside to get her glasses
to study the boy in more detail.
second witness, out wandering near some remote railroad tracks in the
marshy area south of the city remembered seeing two brothers come by.
This was about 40 minutes after Jesse and Horace left the bakery. It was
unusual to see children out this far alone, but the older boy looked to
be a responsible lad, so the witness said nothing.
just a little older than Jesse who had been digging clams spoke to the
pair as they crossed a ditch in an area of the marshland known as the
"cow pasture." As gunshots cracked in the distance, Jesse asked the teen
what they were shooting. Wild ducks was the reply. The clam hunter
remembered thinking that the little boy was too well dressed to be
wandering around in the muddy fens.
about 20 minutes later, the last person besides Jesse Pomeroy to see
Horace Millen alive watched the two boys from a distance. This
beachcomber noticed that the older boy kept looking over his shoulder as
if he was being pursued, but the man saw that no one was following the
pair. He shrugged and went back to scouring the shoreline for flotsam.
Death of a Little Boy
decided to torture and kill Horace Millen the moment he saw him. This
time, he decided, there would be no neighborhood bully to interfere.
After Horace bought the cupcake and shared it with his new friend, Jesse
suggested they head to the harbor to see a steamship docked there.
Leaving the familiar neighborhood, the “feeling” that Jesse said was the
driving force behind his hostility grew stronger until he could barely
contain his bloodlust.
across the marsh, Jesse stopped to help Horace across a wide ditch and
met 15-year-old Robert Benson who had been digging clams near the shore.
Benson lived in South Boston but did not know Jesse Pomeroy or his
reputation. Jesse eyed Benson warily, unsure of whether the teen would
confront him or not. As the two closed the distance between them, shots
rang out from across the marsh.
Jesse asked Benson what was the hunters' target and Benson told him
several men were hunting wild ducks. Benson then moved past what he
thought was an older brother leading his overdressed younger brother to
moved away from the direction of the hunters and away from the open
water to a more deserted area. The two boys stopped in a swale, which
afforded them a bit of privacy.
rest for a minute,” he told Horace, who was still unaware of the danger
he was in.
Horace sat down, Jesse took out his pocket knife -- the same blade that
had killed Katie Curran -- and in a white hot rage, grabbed Horace and
slashed the boy’s throat. There was a great deal of blood, but Horace
was still alive. Angered that his first attack had not succeeded, Jesse
went berserk and repeatedly stabbed the helpless youngster over and
over. Horace fought back, but a wounded four-year-old is no match for a
psychopathic teenager with a knife. His hands and lower arms showed
signs of defensive wounds, suggesting that he was alive during much of
Eventually Jesse managed to slice through Horace's windpipe, which ended
the battle. But Jesse wasn't finished. He continued to hack at the body,
especially in the genital area. Jesse punctured the boy's right eye
through the eyelid, and the coroner would eventually count no less than
18 wounds to the boy's chest. Jesse had also attempted to castrate the
boy, mutilating his scrotum.
gouges in the sand made by his flailing legs, the dozen cuts to the
boy's arms and hands, as well as the condition of the hands themselves
-- the fists were clenched so tight in agony that the fingernails were
embedded in the palms -- indicated that Horace Millen had died an
Millen died in the early afternoon, probably not long after lunch. It
wasn't until nearly 4 p.m. that anyone happened along to find his
butchered remains. Two brothers, playing along the beach, ran up the
hill that hid Horace's body from sight. Atop the hill, one boy spotted
what looked like a rag doll at the bottom of the small valley. Upon
further investigation, he realized that it was no lost doll.
brothers summoned the men who were still hunting ducks and the quartet
divided, leaving one adult and a boy guarding the body while the others
split up to look for police.
Millen family had been searching for their lost child since before noon,
and at 5:30 p.m., John Millen went to the police station to report the
missing toddler. He described his son, including the velvet cap, checked
shirt and knee breeches. Police promised to be on the lookout. News
traveled slowly then, and it wasn't until much later that authorities in
the South Boston precinct would learn that Horace Millen (as yet
unidentified) had been found and taken to be examined by a coroner.
presence of a six-member coroner’s jury, the medical examiner set about
checking the mangled body for evidence. Death occurred due to the two
slashes to the neck, either one of which would ultimately have proved
fatal. Cleaning up the body, the coroner counted a dozen defensive
wounds, 18 stab wounds to the torso, a punctured eyeball, and mutilated
genitals. This was the work of a madman, the examiner thought.
their gruesome task was completed, the coroner’s jury issued a report to
the many newspapermen who had gathered at the mortuary hoping for a
story. The police then issued a bulletin to all stations for help in
identifying the victim. It didn't take long for the South Boston
precinct to wire back for more details, and shortly after 9 p.m. a
police officer was dispatched to the Millen home with the awful news.
only one logical suspect: that teen with the strange eye who liked to
torture boys. This crime fit his signature perfectly. The only problem,
newspapermen and police authorities thought, was that Jesse Pomeroy was
safely locked away at Westborough Reformatory. Was it possible there was
another fiend around?
answer came quickly when the Boston chief of detectives reported that
Jesse Pomeroy had been released on parole. Once his home was located,
police in the South Boston precinct were ordered to pick him up
immediately. They found him at home and took him into custody despite
his mother's protests. Jesse reassured his mother that he hadn't done
anything and promised to be home soon.
never spend another night in the Pomeroy house on Broadway.
Pomeroy was taken into an interrogation room and surrounded by six
police officers who peppered him with questions. Where had he been all
day? Who had seen him? Did he know Horace Millen? How had he gotten
those fresh scratch marks on his face?
stood up to the barrage for some time, denying any knowledge of the
crime and offering explanations for how he spent his time. His story
contained large expanses of time that he could not account for, but he
gave detailed descriptions of what he had seen and done during other
times. Most importantly, however, he was unable to offer up an alibi for
his movements between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
officers carefully examined their suspect. He had what appeared to be
marsh grass stuck to his shoes, which were covered with mud. Taking off
his jacket and shirt, Jesse stood before the authorities in his flannel
undershirt. On the front was a reddish-brown stain about the size of a
thumbprint. The police confiscated the evidence.
you scratch your face?" an officer asked.
"Shaving," came the reply.
hesitated when they asked if he owned a knife, but then admitted he had
one at home. A sergeant was dispatched to the house to find it and
returned a short while later. The knife, with a three-inch blade, was
clogged with dirt and there appeared to be dried blood on the handle.
coroner left with the weapon to see if it fit Horace Millen's wounds,
Jesse was taken to a cell, where he promptly fell into a peaceful
morning, detectives set out upon the fens with Jesse's boots and
Horace's shoes in an attempt to place the boys at the crime scene and
other places leading to it. Of course, Horace's footprints could be
found at the swale, and a meandering trail of prints, one large, one
small, led back toward the railroad tracks.
what would eventually be standard police procedure, the detectives
tracked the prints to a place called McCay's Wharf, where they used
plaster of Paris from a bricklayer's shop nearby to make casts of the
as the plaster was sufficiently dry, we lifted the casts out carefully,"
wrote Detective James R. Wood in his account of the case. "There was a
peculiar indentation on the plaster sole impression of one of the larger
footprints. Further examination satisfied us that those prints could
have been made by only one pair of shoes.
were the shoes we had taken from the feet of young Jesse Pomeroy."
with the evidence that Jesse had at least been present at the crime
scene, the officers rushed back to the South Boston precinct and awoke
the 14-year-old prisoner for additional questioning.
Displaying a sociopath's typical cool demeanor in such a situation,
Jesse continued to deny involvement.
putting you under arrest for the murder of Horace Millen," announced
Capt. Henry Dyer, who just months before had supported Jesse's parole
from Westborough and who had days before, dismissed Mary Curran's pleas
to bring in Jesse Pomeroy for questioning in the disappearance of her
can't prove anything," he said.
him they could link him to the crime scene and then suggested that if
Jesse was innocent, he would not object to going to the funeral parlor
to view Horace Millen's body. Jesse hesitated, then said he did not want
to go. No matter, Dyer said, ordering Detective Wood to take Jesse down
to the undertaker's.
Confronted with the fruits of his crime, Jesse broke down and admitted
killing Horace Millen. Then, his next statements to police indicated he
had no concept of how serious an offense he had committed.
sorry I did it," he wept. "Please don't tell my mother."
Wood asked Jesse if he knew what would happen to him now.
somewhere, so I can't do such things," he said.
suspect in custody and a confession, the East Coast press trumpeted the
news of Jesse's guilt. There was no concern for libel or the concept of
innocent until proved guilty. In fact, there was no talk of anything
even remotely resembling mercy for a youthful killer who was clearly
Pomeroy seems to be a moral monstrosity," proclaimed the Boston Globe.
"He had no provocation and no rational motive for his atrocious conduct.
He did not know the little lad Millen at all, but enticed him away, and
cut and hacked him to death with a penknife merely for sport."
typical knee-jerk reaction, the parole system came under fire and the
press blasted any public official who had anything to do with Jesse's
The Boy Fiend
process of justice moved slowly in Jesse's case, even though it was
never out of the newspapers for long. There were stories about Jesse's
confession, his family, his past crimes, there were completely bogus
stories purporting to be interviews with the defendant the press had
dubbed "The Boy Fiend," and there was even a faked "autobiography" of
Jesse Pomeroy that admitted his foul deeds.
after Jesse's arrest, the coroner held an inquest which determined
Horace Millen's cause of death and established that authorities had
probable cause to charge Jesse Pomeroy with the murder. Before the
inquest, Jesse had an opportunity to meet with attorneys and the few
supporters he had and recanted his confession. When he was called to the
stand in the inquest, he denied everything and recounted a much more
convincing story of how he spent the day of April 21, 1874. The evidence
against him, however, was sufficient to warrant the charges and he was
indicted for first-degree murder.
penalty in Massachusetts for murder was death by hanging, but the state
had never executed anyone as young as 14-year-old Jesse Pomeroy.
Massachusetts, however, had never had anyone as young as Jesse commit
such a heinous crime. So even before he went to trial there was some
discussion about what should happen to the boy fiend.
Pomeroy and her son Charles, things were bad on the outside. They lived
in close proximity to the Millen and Curran families (and although Katie
Curran's body had not been found, Jesse was the prime suspect on the
street). Business at the Pomeroys’ shop fell off drastically, as the
only people who ventured in were curious onlookers who wanted to see
where the boy fiend had worked. Ruth Pomeroy didn't make life easier for
herself, for she continued to insist on Jesse's innocence and blamed the
grieving families for her son's fate.
more than a month had passed since Jesse's arrest when it became clear
that the Pomeroys would have to shut down the store. Vacating the
building across Broadway from their home, Ruth Pomeroy and her son
continued trying to eke out a living with little success.
Unfortunately for them, their former co-tenant in the building across
the street was enjoying great success in his business and decided to
expand. To do so meant that the basement of Ruth Pomeroy's former shop
had to be refurbished. It didn't take long for workmen to find the
remains of Katie Curran, now foul with the odor of decay.
it was due to the workmen's shovels or Jesse's rage is unknown, but
Katie's head was severed from her body. Her upper torso was further
along in the decomposition process than her lower extremities, so it was
difficult to see how badly she had been hurt. Her genitalia, however,
had been a particular target of her murderer, who in his brutality had
almost completely dissected them from her body.
no need to wonder who had committed this atrocity. The only question
left to solve was whether his family had known of his acts. Ruth and
Charles Pomeroy were taken into custody as accessories to murder.
Another reason for their confinement was to protect them from the crowd
which had gathered on Broadway and was crying for vigilante justice.
Confronted with the news of the discovery and of his family's arrest,
Jesse seemed unperturbed.
know anything about it," he said, shrugging.
detectives gave Jesse two days to think over what had transpired and
then returned to give him a final opportunity to clear his mother and
brother. It was then that Jesse confessed to killing Katie Curran. He
recounted the murder, step by step, in chillingly sharp detail, noting
that his mother and brother had absolutely no knowledge of the homicide
until the day Katie's body was found.
was asked why he killed the girl, Jesse gave a blank look and said, "I
don't know." Then he paused, appeared to see something in his mind and
replied, "I wanted to see how she would act."
coroner's inquest was quick and to the point. Katie had been murdered
and the likely suspect was Jesse Pomeroy. Now he stood accused of two
murders. It looked all the more likely that 14-year-old Jesse Pomeroy
would be the youngest person ever executed in the state of
The McNaughton Rules
thing that could save Jesse Pomeroy from the gallows was to show that he
was legally insane at the time he committed the crimes. "Insanity" is a
legal, not medical, term, and this makes the affirmative defense of
insanity a risky and difficult position to prove.
concept of legal insanity is gauged by what are called the "McNaughton
Rules" after the case that spawned them. In England during the 1830s,
Daniel McNaughton stood trial for killing the secretary to Prime
Minister Robert Peel. McNaughton was a lunatic who imagined Peel was
part of a conspiracy to kill him although he had never seen the prime
minister. McNaughton went to Peel's residence at Downing Street and
attacked the first man he saw, who happened to be Peel's assistant.
clear from testimony at McNaughton's trial that the man was mentally
disturbed and the jury was troubled by this fact. In a bit of
enlightened jurisprudence, they didn't want to hang a sick man, and
acquitted McNaughton, who was immediately ordered by the court into a
uproar over McNaughton's acquittal prompted the creation of the
McNaughton Rules and the concept of legal insanity. The rules created
the means by which the jury or judge could establish that a defendant
was incapable of understanding the charges against him, unable to assist
in his own defense or, more importantly, unaware of the difference
between right and wrong at the time he commits the offense. This is the
difference between David Berkowitz and John Hinckley. Berkowitz, whose
mental defects made him think the devil, in the shape of his neighbor's
dog Sam, was ordering him to kill, was mentally ill. He knew, however,
that what Sam was telling him to do was wrong and did it regardless of
the consequences. Hinckley, on the other hand, did not know it was wrong
to shoot President Ronald Reagan to gain the favor of a Hollywood star.
question for Jesse Pomeroy's lawyers was whether their client was just
plain sick or if he was legally insane. For them it was the difference
between life and death.
press and the public called for his head, the doctors began examining
Jesse to find out what was going on inside his mind.
biological perspective, crime is a normal behavior. "Crime consists of
an act that offends certain very strong collective sentiments," wrote
Emile Durkheim in Rules of Sociological Method (1950). Assuming
the sentiments existed in every individual -- everyone considered it
immoral to steal, for example -- "crime would not ... disappear; it
would only change its form, for the very cause which would thus dry up
the sources of criminality would immediately open up new ones.
a society of saints. Crimes, properly so called, will therefore be
unknown; but faults which appear venial to the layman will create there
the same scandal that the ordinary offense does in ordinary
the biologist, refers to this concept of the normality of crime this
way: "Criminal behavior is a form of behavior which, like most others,
serves the purposes of the organism, but which has been arbitrarily
delimited by a social group and termed 'criminal'...The 'criminal'
behavior which is socially recognized still remains behavior that from
(the criminal's) standpoint, cannot be differentiated from any other
some criminals who cannot be reformed. Some choose a life of crime and
no threat of punishment can deter them. Others are forced through
circumstance to resort to crime as a means of survival. Still others are
pathologically unable to get off the track of committing crimes. Jesse
Pomeroy was probably one of these last criminal types. When he was
released from Westborough, he had not been reformed, nor had his
bloodlust been sated.
"alienists," as practitioners in the specialty of mental disorders were
called back then, examined Jesse -- two for the defense and one for the
prosecution. They talked to Jesse for many hours over 14 interviews
trying to probe the boy's mind.
Tyler became closest to Jesse during the interviews. On their first
meeting, Jesse told Tyler all about his history of molesting younger
children and blamed the attacks on "a sudden impulse or feeling" which
came over him.
told the alienist that preceding each crime he experienced a sharp pain
on the left side of his head which subsequently passed to the right side
and then back and forth. The pain prompted the violence, he claimed.
feeling which accompanied the pain was that I must whip or kill the boy
or girl, as the case was, and it seemed to me that I could not help
doing it," Schechter reports Jesse telling the doctor.
writes that Jesse freely confessed his crimes to the three doctors until
he received a note from his mother urging him "not to say I did it
unless I did, and to say I didn't if I didn't." He began denying his
role in the killings saying he heard a voice in his head calling on him
to stand up and defend himself, for he was innocent.
months before he went to trial, Jesse recanted his confessions and in a
conversation with Tyler, adamantly denied having anything to do either
murder. No amount of prodding, then or ever, could change his mind.
report issued by Tyler stated that Jesse "envinces no pity for the boys
tortured or the victims of his homicide, and no remorse or sorrow for
up his report by stating two conflicting opinions. First, he said, Jesse
could discriminate between right and wrong. Second, he said, the boy
was, and forever would be, a threat to society. He needed to be
"carefully restrained of his liberty that others might not be
endangered." He finished by saying in his opinion, Jesse Pomeroy was
Trial and Verdict
in the case of Jesse Pomeroy were not in dispute. Although Jesse denied
killing Horace Millen, his attorneys were not hoping for freedom for the
boy. Keeping Jesse out of the hangman's noose would be victory enough
for his lawyer, Charles Robinson.
part, Jesse assumed that he would be put in jail for perhaps five years,
until he was grown, and then allowed to join the Navy, which would teach
opened on Dec. 8, 1874, before a packed courtroom in Boston. It was the
event of the season and made front page news in every paper from
Montpelier, Vermont, to Charleston, South Carolina. Despite its
prominence, it was a brief and unexciting affair, a miserable denouement
to a tragic life. It took less than an hour to seat the jury, and
opening arguments began immediately. The prosecutor, John May, began
with a dry recitation of the murder statute, recited an equally
uncompelling account of the evidence against Jesse Pomeroy, and ended
with a request for jurors to do their duty fearlessly and faithfully.
began calling witnesses who could place Jesse with Horace on the day of
the killing, those who found the body and the police who tracked the
footprints and matched them to Jesse's boots. Next came the police to
whom Jesse had confessed and then recanted, and a jail minister who also
heard Jesse's confession.
Throughout the sometimes boring, sometimes gruesome testimony, Jesse sat
stoically at the defense table, with a look of boredom and nonchalance
on his face. When a witness was recounting how Jesse had told him he
murdered poor Horace, Jesse sat with his head back and hands laced
behind his neck as if he were pondering what to do on summer vacation
rather than fighting for his life.
prosecution rested, Robinson took the floor for his opening arguments.
excruciatingly lurid detail, Robinson recounted the life and crimes of
Jesse Pomeroy, bringing up his prior bad acts as well as the murder of
Katie Curran, for which he was not on trial. After he finished with the
litany of offenses, he turned to the question of Jesse's sanity.
could not control his impulses. He was unable to rein in his demons,
Robinson said. He would be a menace for as long as he walked the earth,
and because of this, the legislature had created a law to protect
not the death penalty, Robinson said, but the statute regarding legal
insanity: "When a person indicted for murder or manslaughter is
acquitted by a jury by reason of insanity, the court shall order such
person to be committed to one of the State Lunatic Hospitals during his
laid the groundwork for an insanity defense, Robinson began calling
witnesses who could back up his assertion. The first witness was Ruth
Pomeroy. Under intense questioning by Robinson, Ruth Pomeroy recounted
the number of childhood illnesses that had left Jesse insane. Most
notable was the sickness he suffered just before his first birthday, a
brain fever which prompted a three-day delirium followed by an
unexplained shaking of the head. From then on, Jesse suffered from
numerous mental ailments: insomnia, dizziness and frequent violent
headaches. Ruth Pomeroy testified that her youngest son was “addicted to
dreaming extravagant dreams, which would haunt him the following day,”
witnesses followed similar lines of testimony. Neighbors described how
he had a peculiar desire to hurt animals and that sometimes during play
he would run off holding his head as if in great agony. Another told of
witnessing Jesse stabbing a small kitten, while his school teacher took
the stand and described a boy prone to loud outbursts in class and
disruptive behavior that, when punished, elicited cries of injustice
from Jesse. He wasn't to blame, he would tell his teacher. He couldn't
Additional key testimony came from the victims of Jesse's molestation.
The last victim, Robert Gould, still bore the scars on his face from
where Jesse's knife had cut him. The victim’s pitiful tales of the
cruelties inflicted by Jesse Pomeroy might well have backfired on
Robinson, who had hoped they would help prove his client's insanity.
Instead, they may have caused such anger in the jury that the 12 men
would never stand to acquit Jesse, no matter how crazy he was.
Robinson called the alienists to the stand.
testify, Dr. Tyler reiterated his assertion that Jesse was insane. He
was a lunatic, the doctor claimed, because of his lack of motive, his
seeming indifference to the crime and its consequences, and the
barbarity of his offenses. Whether Jesse knew right from wrong when he
committed the crimes was irrelevant, the doctor said. Lunatics can have
their own sense of morality, he claimed.
cross-examination, Dr. Tyler's assertions were shredded by prosecutor
May, who got the alienist to admit that Jesse showed no other signs of
madness beyond his crimes and that the love of violence could be a
motive in and of itself.
second doctor, although he claimed that Jesse was "not responsible when
he committed the acts charged against him," also admitted under cross
the fact that Jesse fled after committing the crimes "so as to escape
punishment, was clear evidence of his power to distinguish between right
prosecution's appointed alienist, Dr. George T. Choate, contradicted the
two defense doctors. He called Jesse cunning and deeply manipulative and
said the boy was free of mental defect.
closing arguments the next day, the jury retired to ponder Jesse's fate.
After five hours of deliberation, breaking once to have questions of
premeditation answered by the judge, the jury reached a verdict. The
jury found Jesse Pomeroy guilty of first-degree -- premeditated --
murder. The sentence for such a crime was mandatory: death by hanging.
jurors, however, requested clemency for the boy on account of his age.
This was, however, only within the power of the governor to grant, and
the judge had no choice but to condemn the prisoner.
Sentencing was delayed several weeks because of post-trial motions, but
in mid-February 1875 Judge Horace Gray looked down on a calm, almost
bored Jesse Pomeroy, and urged the boy to "turn your thoughts to an
appeal to the Eternal Judge of all hearts, and a preparation to the doom
which awaits you." He then ordered Jesse taken to prison to await
punishment in 19th century America was typically swift, with the average
time from sentencing to execution rarely extending beyond one year. But
for a teen like Jesse, then 14, there was considerable argument against
carrying out the punishment. Massachusetts had never executed anyone so
young, and calls for clemency came from all corners. Equally strong,
however, were the cries for justice for Horace Millen and Katie Curran.
decision was left to Gov. William Gaston, who did what any good
politician would do. He appointed a committee to study the question and
report back. When the committee came back hopelessly divided, Gaston
turned to the people for a public hearing. After listening to a day of
testimony from both sides, Gaston thanked the people and his committee
and said he would take the matter under advisement.
weeks passed, during which another Boston child died at the hands of
another mentally disturbed young man, this time in his 20s, and public
outcry for a decision in the Pomeroy case grew to a fever pitch. Gaston
brought his committee back together for more debate and a final vote. By
a vote of 5-4, the committee recommended letting Pomeroy's sentence
stand. As soon as Gaston signed the death warrant, Jesse would hang.
Gaston remained resolute in his unwillingness to execute Jesse. His
stand probably cost him re-election, and in 1876 Alexander Rice, who
during his campaign pledged to hang Jesse Pomeroy, was elected governor
1876, two years from the time of Jesse's trial, when hunger for his
blood had subsided in the general public, Rice called together his
advisors and revisited the fate of Jesse Pomeroy. The people were
distant enough from the time and place of his crimes to accept
punishment less than death, the counselors argued, but the punishment
must still be severe.
agreed. Quietly, without much press attention, he commuted Jesse's death
sentence to life in prison. To make the sentence more than just life
behind bars, Rice ordered that Jesse serve the sentence in solitary
confinement. Essentially, the governor ordered Jesse Pomeroy buried
passed. A new century dawned and soon cars replaced the horses on
Boston's streets. The living victims of Jesse Pomeroy faded into
obscurity as they grew up and tried to live normal lives. The families
of Horace Millen and Katie Curran moved on with their lives, to the
extent that a parent who buries a child can move on.
Pomeroy lost a son as well, but once a month she was permitted to visit
him in the Charlestown prison where he had been walled up. She was the
only visitor Jesse ever received.
endured a mind-numbingly boring existence in his small world of concrete
and steel. He ate alone in his cell, he exercised alone in a solitary
yard and periodically was allowed to bathe. He was allowed access to
reading material and, always a bright boy, turned into a voracious
learner. He could write in several languages, but having no one to
converse with, could speak only English.
nothing else to do, Jesse put his mind to escape. Over the years he made
several attempts to dig his way out, once stopping up the gas line in
his cell to try to blow up the door (some claim this was a suicide
attempt) and once even succeeding in getting out of his cell.
people he ever saw were the guards who patrolled by his cell door and
once a month, his mother. When she died, he received no visitors.
Periodically the story of Jesse Pomeroy would resurface in the papers
and a reporter would call the prison to check on his condition. They
were not allowed to interview him. Throughout his imprisonment, Jesse
Pomeroy considered himself innocent of his crimes and believed he was
wrongly convicted. He showed no remorse or pity for his victims.
came and went, wardens were assigned to Charlestown prison, met their
most infamous prisoner and moved on.
years in solitary.
in 1917, four decades after he was entombed, Jesse's sentence of
confinement in solitary was relaxed and he was allowed to move to the
general population. For some time, he enjoyed being the prison's most
notorious inmate. He loved approaching new inmates, introducing himself
and asking them what they knew about him. Most had grown up hearing of
the infamous Jesse Pomeroy and were either disgusted or frightened when
they realized who this old-timer was. This pleased Jesse to no end, the
fact that people still knew who he was and had heard of his exploits.
the time came when young men sent to Charlestown prison had never heard
of Jesse Pomeroy and he became just another old face in the anonymous
prison crowd. This was the ultimate punishment for a sociopath like
Jesse Pomeroy, and gradually his health began to deteriorate.
71-year-old Jesse Pomeroy was removed from the general population at
Charlestown and taken by automobile to Bridgewater prison farm, where he
could receive better medical care. It was his first and only ride in a
car and he showed no sign of excitement or curiosity. "This prison
inmate ... is a deadened creature gazing with lusterless eyes upon a
world that means nothing to him," one reporter wrote.
Pomeroy died at Bridgewater two years later. He was dismissed in the
press as "the most friendless person in the world," and "a psychopath."
years in prison, almost all of it spent in solitary confinement, Jesse
Pomeroy's final wishes were that his body be cremated and his ashes
scattered to the four winds.
wonder that Jesse Harding Pomeroy isn't more commonly encountered in
popular and scientific crime literature. After all, nearly every group
interested in juvenile or criminal justice could adopt the 14-year-old
killer as a poster child.
penalty groups could point to Jesse's lifelong absence of remorse as
proof of the lack of rehabilitation prison affords convicts. Anti-death
penalty advocates could show how it is possible to remove a killer from
society without executing him, or how mercy can be afforded to those who
commit even the most heinous crimes.
of a harsh approach to juvenile crime can point to Jesse's recidivism as
proof that coddling delinquents doesn't rehabilitate them. Those who
prefer a more humanistic approach to juvenile crime can show how severe
punishment rather than re-education turns out angry and ill-suited
youths who seek to lash out at the society that imprisoned them.
blame environment over biology for criminal behavior can point to
Jesse's poor home life as the prime motivator for his criminal career,
while those who seek a biological explanation can use his sociopathic
personality as evidence that neuropathology causes criminal behavior.
commentators who want to blame media exposure to violence can use
Jesse's apparent taste for the sensational dime novels of the late 19th
century as proof that media can lead children to commit violent crimes,
although their opponents can point out that the level of violence in
those dime novels doesn't begin to approach the violence we see on
television, in the movies and in our video games.
it is because Jesse Pomeroy doesn't fit into anyone's preconceived
notions of a juvenile criminal that no one has adopted him as the
standard bearer for their theory. Knowing his love of attention, and the
pleasure he derived from his own notoriety, perhaps the fact that he has
been mostly forgotten by society is its own kind of justice.
Contemporary accounts in the newspapers, the
Boston Post, Boston
Globe, Boston Journal and Boston Herald
April 24, 1874. "The Boy Murderer"
Richard M. and Richard Merrett. 1843. "Report of the Trial of Daniel
M'Naughton." London: Henry Renshaw.
David. 1969. Sociology: The Study of Human Interaction. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf.
Emile. 1950. Rules of Sociological Method. Glencoe, Ill.: The
Angus, editor. 1973. Crimes and Punishment: A Pictoral Encyclopedia
of Aberrant Behavior. London: BBC Publishing.
Foster, Harry R. Hoffman and William H. Haines. 1947. "Psychiatric Study
of William Heirens." Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
Evanston, Ill: Northwestern School of Law.
M.F. Ashley. September, 1941. "The Biologist Looks at Crime."
of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
Katherine. 2001. "School
Killers." The Crime Library.
Harold. 2000. Fiend: The Shocking True Story of America's Youngest
Serial Killer. New York: Pocket Books.
Jr., Robert E., Undated. "Centennial Celebration: Doing Justice to
Juvenile Justice." Reno, Nev.: National Council of Juvenile and Family
Harding Pomeroy: The teenaged killer
Jesse Harding Pomeroy, the "Boy Fiend,"
was one of the youngest serial killers ever known. Though
hardly 14, he had led himself into the world of killers who
liked to play around with their ‘toys’ before finally
destroying/killing them. This is his story.
Horrified vacationers stumbled across the body of four year-
old Horace Millen on the beach at Dorchester Bay, near
Boston, in April 1874. The child’s throat had been cut and
he had been savagely stabbed no fewer than 15 times. Before
he died, the boy had been savagely beaten. It was the work
of a monster, and police immediately launched a full scale
hunt for the killer.
They were looking for a grown man, but some cross
referencing in the official files produced the name of Jesse
Harding Pomeroy: a boy of 14 who has been reprimanded and
sent to a special reform school two years earlier for
beating up young children. Fights among youngsters were
commonplace, but the name of young Pomeroy, only just out of
the primary school, had been remembered by the authorities
because of the extraordinary amount of unnecessary force he
When police called on Jesse Pomeroy, his answers to
questioning immediately aroused suspicion. He was arrested,
brought to court and convicted. But Pomeroy’s was one of the
most remarkable cases of murder ever. For, though sentenced
to die, he was to live for another 58 years and the first 40
years- until he was 55- was spent in solitary confinement.
The American public refused to take a chance on someone who
had already displayed the most vicious cruelty. When
arrested, he had been at liberty only 60 days after spending
18 months in the Westboro Reformatory. The magistrate who
sent him there remarked on the savagery of the beatings he
had handled out to children younger than himself and a short
while after his trial for the Millen killing, it was
established that just five weeks earlier he had killed nine-year-old
Katie Curaan. He had buried her body in the cellar of a shop.
At the Millen trial, Jesse Pomeroy pleaded innocence by the
way of insanity but it did him no good. He was convicted and
sentenced to death. There were those who, because of his age,
urged that his death sentence be commuted to life
imprisonment but they were shouted down by the masses who
demanded a swift execution. As it turned out, Pomeroy’s life
was spared only because of the legal complexities governing
death sentences in the state of Massachusetts.
Although a judge had passed a death sentence on him, the law
required that the state governor of Massachusetts set the
date of execution and sign the death warrant. Governor
Gaston, in office at the time, refused possibly for
political reasons to do anything at all: he would neither
sign the death warrant nor commute young Pomeroy’s sentence.
He compromised with an order, signed and sealed, that
Pomeroy must spend the rest of his natural days in solitary
confinement. That order stood until long after Governor
Gaston had passed away himself.
It was 1916, when Pomeroy was 54, before he was finally
released from solitary and allowed to mix with other
prisoners at Charlestown Prison. He had survived what must
have been a superhuman ordeal by burying himself in studies.
He read an immense number of books, and he wrote a lot
If he had been mad at the time of the beatings, there was no
longer any sign of it in the writings in these later years.
One of the manuscripts he spawned was an autobiography which
chronicled his early life, the crimes of which he had been
convicted and an attempt he made to break out of jail.
Pomeroy died in the prison in which he had spent all his
life, on 29th September, 1932. He was 73 and had spent more
than 60 of those years behind bars.