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Jesse Harding Pomeroy- The Boy Fiend
Descriptive accounts by himself of his murders are truely vile. The dude did all this shit before his 17th birthday. Here's the link but go to the tab "information" and read the period write up right from his own words. I read something about this dude years ago.. in prison he spent 15 years at least scratching stone with nails, staples, bottle caps, ffs, to make an escape but never made it. Died old right where they put him. Thank God Almighty, sheesh. Hope someone enjoys the read. 'fhsirgo
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Re: Jesse Harding Pomeroy- The Boy Fiend
Jesse Harding POMEROY
A.K.A.: "The Boy Fiend"
Characteristics: Juvenile (14)
Number of victims: 2 - 10 +
Date of murders: March 18/April 22, 1874
Date of arrest: April 24, 1874
Date of birth: November 29, 1859
Victims profile: Katie Curran (female, 10) / Horace Millen (male, 4)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on two counts, 1876. Commuted to life to be served in solitary confinement in 1876. Commuted to life imprisonment in 1917. Died in prison on September 29, 1932
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 ones flesh.
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 prison.
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 Novels.
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 that simple.
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 of seventy-two.
The Wacky World of Murder
Jesse Harding 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 Massachusetts.
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.
Pomeroy's attorney, 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.
Pomeroy, Jesse Harding
SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC/Sad.
VENUE: Boston, Mass.
VICTIMS: 20+ alleged
MO: Sadistic slayer of street children; set prison fire that killed three fellow inmates
DISPOSITION: 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.
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, 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.
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, 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 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.
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.
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.
The 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 theory.
What he 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."
Lombroso 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."
But what does appearance and its correlation to criminal behavior have to do with Jesse Pomeroy?
Jesse 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 pure white. One of 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."
His 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.
During 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 delighted in.
"There is nothing interesting in the look. It is altogether unsympathetic, merciless."
Pomeroy 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?"
Jesse was 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.
Boston 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.
A trip 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.
The 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.
Like many 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.
His first known victim was William Paine.
Near 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.
Entering 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.
The men 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.
Billy was 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.
Sadly for the children of Chelsea and South Boston, it wasn't.
In 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.
Once the 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.
Like 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.
With 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 again.
In early 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.
The 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
Keeping 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.
By this 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.
It was 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 something.
A sickly 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.
"You have told three lies," Pomeroy told the cowering, naked child before he beat him with a leather belt.
Pomeroy 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 stomach.
Apparently sated, Jesse left the youngster alone and fled, but not before biting another piece of flesh from George's buttocks.
This last 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.
Jesse's 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.
As Austin 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.
The 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 to Schechter.
When 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.
Six days 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.
As 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
Like so 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.
On Sept. 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.
For an 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.
Joe 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 block.
They 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.
The 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.
Justice was swift.
The next 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.
Jesse also testified in the hearing, offering only the meekest excuse for his acts.
“I couldn't help myself,” he said, hanging his head in shame.
The 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.
The newspapers reported that both Jesse and Ruth Pomeroy were in tears as he was led away.
Hard 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 the troublemakers.
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.
In this 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."
Jesse 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.
They 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.
Shortly 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.
His time 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.
There was 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.
"Eager to 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, oozing pulp."
On the 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.
But the 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.
The 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."
Despite 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."
So, less 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.
For the parents of two youngsters, the ignorance would have tragic consequences.
Six weeks 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.
A 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 Pomeroys.
As the boys talked, 10-year-old Katie Curran, dressed in a black and green plaid dress, ragged overcoat and scarf, entered the store.
"Do you 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.
Jesse said he had one notebook left, but it was marred by an ink spot on the cover.
"I'll let you have it for two cents less," he said, his one good eye taking in Katie's appearance.
Jesse 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.
"There's a store downstairs," Jesse said to Katie. "There might be some there. Let's go look."
Katie 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 tricked.
By then it was too late.
"I 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."
The 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.
The most disturbing remnant was the savage brutality by which Jesse attacked the girl's abdomen and genitals.
When he 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.
"I sent her over to Mrs. Pomeroy's," Thomas Tobin said.
That news 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 Curran.
"I understand he was completely rehabilitated in reform school," Captain Henry Dyer said. "Besides, he only hurt little boys. He never attacked a girl."
The 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.
Again she went to the police.
"The Kohr 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."
Adams 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.
As the 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.
When a 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.
Jesse's 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.
He 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.
They 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.
Fate was 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.
It was 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.
Horace 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 bakery.
Along the 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.
Horace 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.
A number 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.
The 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.
A boy 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.
Finally, 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
Jesse 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.
Heading 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.
Startled, 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 some adventure.
Jesse 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.
“Lets rest for a minute,” he told Horace, who was still unaware of the danger he was in.
When 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 the assault.
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.
The deep 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 excruciating death.
Horace 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.
The 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.
The 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.
In the 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.
Once 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.
There was 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?
The 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.
He would never spend another night in the Pomeroy house on Broadway.
Jesse 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?
Jesse 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.
The 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.
"How'd you scratch your face?" an officer asked.
"Shaving," came the reply.
Jesse 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.
As the 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 slumber.
The next 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.
Employing 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 prints.
"As soon 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.
"Those were the shoes we had taken from the feet of young Jesse Pomeroy."
Armed 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.
"We're 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 daughter.
Jesse remained calm.
"You can't prove anything," he said.
Dyer told 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.
"I am sorry I did it," he wept. "Please don't tell my mother."
Detective Wood asked Jesse if he knew what would happen to him now.
"Put me somewhere, so I can't do such things," he said.
With a 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 psychologically troubled.
"The boy 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."
In 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 early release.
The Boy Fiend
The 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.
Shortly 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.
The 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.
For Ruth 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.
A little 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.
Whether 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.
There was 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.
"I don't know anything about it," he said, shrugging.
The 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.
When he 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."
The 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 Massachusetts.
The McNaughton Rules
The only 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.
The 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.
It was 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 mental institution.
The 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.
The 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.
While the press and the public called for his head, the doctors began examining Jesse to find out what was going on inside his mind.
From a 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.
"Imagine 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 consciousness."
Montagu, 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 normal behavior."
There are 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.
Three "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.
Dr. John 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.
Jesse 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.
"The 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.
Schechter 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.
Two 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.
The final 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 his acts."
He summed 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 insane.
Trial and Verdict
The facts 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.
For his 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 him discipline.
The trial 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.
May then 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.
Once the prosecution rested, Robinson took the floor for his opening arguments.
In 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.
Jesse 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 society.
It was 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 natural life."
Having 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,” Schechter writes.
The next 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 help it.
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.
Next Robinson called the alienists to the stand.
First to 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.
On 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.
The 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 and wrong."
The 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.
Following 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.
The 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 execution.
Capital 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.
The 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.
Many 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.
But 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 of Massachusetts.
In August 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.
Rice 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 alive.
Years 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.
Ruth 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.
Jesse 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.
With 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.
The only 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.
Governors came and went, wardens were assigned to Charlestown prison, met their most infamous prisoner and moved on.
Forty-one years in solitary.
Finally, 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.
But soon 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.
In 1929, 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.
Jesse Pomeroy died at Bridgewater two years later. He was dismissed in the press as "the most friendless person in the world," and "a psychopath."
After 58 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.
It's a 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.
Pro-death 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.
Backers 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.
Those who 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.
Social 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.
Perhaps 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
Boston Globe. April 24, 1874. "The Boy Murderer"
Bousfield, Richard M. and Richard Merrett. 1843. "Report of the Trial of Daniel M'Naughton." London: Henry Renshaw.
Dressler, David. 1969. Sociology: The Study of Human Interaction. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Durkheim, Emile. 1950. Rules of Sociological Method. Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press.
Hall, Angus, editor. 1973. Crimes and Punishment: A Pictoral Encyclopedia of Aberrant Behavior. London: BBC Publishing.
Kennedy, 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.
Montagu, M.F. Ashley. September, 1941. "The Biologist Looks at Crime." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
Ramsland, Katherine. 2001. "School Killers." The Crime Library.
Schechter, Harold. 2000. Fiend: The Shocking True Story of America's Youngest Serial Killer. New York: Pocket Books.
Shepherd, Jr., Robert E., Undated. "Centennial Celebration: Doing Justice to Juvenile Justice." Reno, Nev.: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
Jesse 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 had used.
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 himself.
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.
Jesse Harding Pomeroy
Jesse Harding Pomeroy Living in Confinement
The doors of the Charleston state Prison, Massachusetts, clanged behind him fifty years ago when he was a stripling age of 17. Today he is a grizzled old man of 67. Although he spent 20 years of his time in solitary confinement, Jesse Harding Pomeroy (above), America's most noted "lifer", does not feel that the world has passed him by. He still hopes to see a trolley car, to ride in an automobile, to fly in an airplane. August 11, 1925
Jesse Harding Pomeroy
Jesse Harding Pomeroy, 1929.
Jesse Harding Pomeroy
Jesse Harding Pomeroy's mother.
Katie Curran, 10.
Horace Millen, 4.
Since we broke up, my ex has had the clap so often it's more like applause.
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Re: Jesse Harding Pomeroy- The Boy Fiend
Mozart, Hinton, Pascal, Pomeroy: Every field has its child prodigies. Why not serial killing? Is this human nature in its natural state?
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Re: Jesse Harding Pomeroy- The Boy Fiend
I can't believe I never heard of him.
Great team work!
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Re: Jesse Harding Pomeroy- The Boy Fiend
Generation Why did a really great podcast about him (still online I believe, worth looking up).