Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Record-Setting Boy Fiend Of Boston

As one of the blogs I link to below states, we have become accustomed to the idea that children who kill other children are a new phenomenon. We think of the British ten-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who abducted and murdered a toddler named (of all things) James Bulger back in the nineties, or of the many cases where children commit homicide in the inner cities of the good old U.S.A. In fact, child murderers are nothing new. One of the earliest on record was a native Bostonian. I present to you Jesse Pomeroy, who was born in Charlestown in 1859 and died in Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in 1932. The picture here, which depicts the "Boy Fiend" in his later years, clearly shows that Jesse was a nasty piece of work.

Jesse Pomeroy seems to have been blighted by nature, having been born with a harelip and a bad eye, alternately referred to as a "marble eye" or a "milky eye". He also may have been feeble-minded, but somehow I doubt this - as other sources attest that he was "very intelligent" and had an enough initiative during his incarceration to write a fairly readable autobiography. What is more likely is that he was himself severely taunted or bullied as a child, and that was the catalyst of his precociously psychopathic behavior.

He started his career at the age of twelve, when he and his family were living in Chelsea. He allegedly assaulted a number of boys between the ages of seven and eight, stripping them naked and flogging them, and doing other unpleasant things such as breaking their noses, knocking out their teeth and threatening to cut off their penises. He was not caught at that time, but his mother - suspecting her own son of these misdeeds - moved the family to South Boston, where she opened a dress shop. Perhaps in unconscious rebellion against a parent who clothed others for a living, Jesse continued to tear off the clothes of his younger peers. He assaulted two other young boys, this time stabbing them with pins and penknives, biting bits of flesh off their buttocks, and even - in the case of one six-year-old - attempting, "unsuccessfully, to cut off his penis." To top it all off, he quite literally rubbed salt in their wounds after he was done. The sheer carnal greediness of his violence suggests both cannibalism and homosexuality, or possibly some unholy combination of the two. Or it manifested something else entirely, a compulsive hatred that drove him to try to destroy these boys - as symbols of his own tormentors - through one means or another. Both boys miraculously survived the abuse. Jesse was eventually apprehended and sentenced to a period of six years in a reformatory. He was released on probation in January 1874, at the age of fourteen.

Jesse was freed at the height of his puberty, which could only have enhanced the psychosexual component of his violence, and his crimes predictably escalated. He expanded the range of his victims in both age and gender, striking less at age peers of his younger self but at those who seemed the most vulnerable. He murdered both a ten-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy. Both corpses were "stabbed and mutilated". He was apprehended for these crimes as well, and tried as an adult. The defense argued not guilty by reason of insanity, but that didn't work - it rarely does - and he was found guilty of first degree murder. He barely escaped execution. As it was, he set a record (apparently still unbroken) for being the youngest person ever convicted of murder in Massachusetts. He spent the next fifty-three years in Charlestown Prison - forty-one of those years in solitary confinement. That long stint in solitary may have been in punishment of his frequent escape attempts, but here too he set a record. Only the Birdman of Alcatraz ever spent more time in solitary than Jesse Pomeroy. He was transferred to Bridgewater State Hospital for reasons of ill health in his early seventies - a mere forty years before Albert DeSalvo himself went there to die.

Jesse Pomeroy (Wikipedia)
Jesse Pomeroy "Boston Boy Fiend" (Murder by Gaslight)
Jesse Pomeroy (The Wacky World of Murder)
Jesse Pomeroy The Boy Fiend (Celebrate Boston)
The Autobiography of Jesse Pomeroy

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