Monday, March 30, 2015

Crime Tidbit: Jesse Pomeroy, The Boy Fiend and Why We Are Fascinated By Him

Did you know that the youngest serial killer in American history lived in Massachusetts and was already killing by the age of fifteen?

Jesse Pomeroy (Source)
It's true. Jesse Pomeroy, known as the Boy Fiend, was born to working class parents in November 1859. He was bullied a lot as a child because he was born with one all white eye.

His father was an alcoholic and an abusive drunk. He often beat Jesse for minor infractions. That lasted until one day when he took a belt to Jesse and his wife caught him. Jesse's mother chased him away and he never returned, but the damage, it seemed, was already done.

Pets and other small animals in and around the house began to suffer violence no one else actually witnessed. When Jesse was caught torturing the neighbor's cat, it was finally explained.

Soon animal cruelty wasn't enough for Jessie. He stripped, beat, and strung a four-year-old up by his wrists at an outhouse. Luckily, the child survived. A second, seven-year-old victim was also lured to a secluded spot, stripped, and beaten. This child's teeth were knocked out and his eye was blackened, as well as being whipped. 

Pomeroy as an older man. (Source)
And all that before Jesse was thirteen.

He assaulted at least two more victims in 1872, both youngsters who described Jesse getting sexual release during the attacks.

In March of 1874, he committed his first murder, luring a ten-year-old girl into the downstairs room of his mother's shop. He tortured the girl and then murdered her when he grew bored. Her body was hidden--not well--in an ash heap.

A month later he took a young boy outside the city and stabbed him to death, extensively mutilating the body afterward.

Eventually Jesse was caught, tried, and sentenced to death by hanging. However, due to his age, the governor refused to sign the death warrant. He spent the rest of his life in prison and died in the Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane at the age of 71.

What is our culture's fascination with serial killers all about? Are we all just a little sinister at heart? Do we all secretly yearn for drama?

Perhaps, but I think it's a bit more noble than that. While we should always celebrate and remember the victims, rather than giving the killers fame, I do think it's important that we try to understand these kinds of people. I think our fascination with them is three fold.

1) Good vs. Evil - While Sauron and Voldemort are all well and good, they are, unfortunately for us avid readers, fictional baddies. Serial killers are the true, realistic embodiments of evil, which captures our interest and fear.

2) They behave in ways much different than the majority of the population. Their behavior defies normal human understanding, which presents a mystery. And as we all know, a mystery to us mortals often proves irresistible. We can't not investigate it.

3) We are interested in for the same reason we are interested in all fictional characters, good or bad, real or fantastical, historical or contemporary: by studying human behavior, especially against the backdrop of interesting circumstances (read: great stories), we can find greater understanding of ourselves. 

I often hear people remark that they don't like people's fascination with serial killers because it ignores the victims, who should be celebrated and remembered, while celebrating and giving fame to the perpetrator. 

While I agree with this sentiment whole-heartedly, I do think that understanding serial killers is important. It helps us understand ourselves and our society--hopefully so we can improve both--as well as showing us what is worth protecting. 

Check out Street Games, my foray into the mind of a serial killer walking the underbelly of the a dark, inner city landscape, while a young woman searches for her lost brother.

Why do you think we are so obsessed with serial killers?


  1. I think part f our fascination is that social norms have changed. Throughout history there have been serial killers, etc. and that was just part & parcel life. Not every dead body was investigated, or even buried. But as the world as a whole becomes more civilized, serial killing has become frowned upon.

    Also, I think there is some truth to the idea that simply being watched by some authority figure modifies your behavior. You would act differently if there was little chance you would get caught and punished. For some, if not many, the idea of being free to kill those we think deserve it is only a fantasy as we don't want to spend our lives in prison. I think some people follow serial killers to live that life vicariously.

    1. Good points. Very interesting. I prefer to think that the majority of people are decent enough not to do such things even if they could, but I see your point. It's one great big study in sociology. Thanks Susan! :D

  2. I gotta say it's fascinating alright even though it's insanely disturbing. Those kind of horrific acts would have been even more damaging back in the 1800s when medical technology for things like skin grafts were impossible. I hope they never make a movie out of that story although I'd never see it.

    1. Very true. Thank goodness for the miracle of technology in our lives. If they made a film, I'd probably see it. I'm just a sucker for this kind of story. I'm sure I'd be all freaked out afterwards and regret it, though. :D Thanks Maurice!

  3. Just scary what people are capable of doing, how twisted their minds can become.
    And like Maurice, I'd never see that film either.

    1. It definitely is! This kind of story makes all my villains seem downright vanilla. Truth is definitely more twisted than fiction. Thanks Alex!