Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse Harding Pomeroy

Prologue

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.

Luke Woodham (AP)
Luke Woodham (AP)

The fact 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.

In the mid-18th century, ten-year-old William York was sentenced to life service in the British navy for killing a five-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.

In 1847, 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.

Three 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.

Michael Carneal (AP)
Michael Carneal (AP)

Michael Carneal, also a victim of schoolyard taunting, opened fire on a school prayer service in Paducah, Ky., killing three and wounding five.

In 1855, 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.

A 12-year-old German girl, Marie Schneider, was convicted of killing a three-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.

Jesse 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.

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