|“||Put me somewhere, so I can't do such things.||”|
— Pomeroy, in reply to what he thought would be done with him
Jesse Harding Pomeroy, a.k.a. "The Boston Boy Fiend" and "The Boy Torturer", was the youngest person convicted of first-degree murder in the history of Massachusetts, being fourteen years old.
Pomeroy was born in Boston in 1859, the second son of Thomas Pomeroy, an alcoholic dockyard worker, and his wife Ruth. Pomeroy was intelligent but had trouble socializing with other children because of the large size he had for his age, periodic epileptic seizures, and the fact that he was born with a whitish membrane over his right eye, similar to a cataract. He disliked sports and spent most of his free time reading violent tales of the Indian Wars. When he played with other children, it was often as an Indian in "Scouts and Indians" games, where he would reenact torture methods he had read about. Pomeroy was also subjected to horrific physical abuse by his father from a young age. The common punishment was to be taken to the outhouse, stripped naked, and struck with a belt until blood was drawn. Before his tenth birthday, Pomeroy killed his mother's songbirds by tearing their heads off and was later caught torturing a neighbor's cat with a knife.
Crimes, Arrest, and Incarceration
Pomeroy's first human victim was four-year-old William Paine, who was found in an isolated outhouse of Powder Horn Hill on Boxing Day 1871. He was hanging from the ceiling by a rope tied to his wrists, semi-undressed, and suffering from hypothermia. He had been hit repeatedly with an unconfirmed blunt object. In the following months, three more young boys announced that they had been lured to the same place by an older boy with brown hair, who fondled himself while he tortured them. The news caused outrage in Boston and prompted police to post a $500 reward for any clue leading to the arrest of the criminal. However, it was misreported that the perpetrator behind the string of tortures was a young adult with red hair and a pointy beard. On July 20, 1872, only two days before Pomeroy tortured his last victim in Powder Horn Hill, he received his most severe beating yet from his father. Ruth had enough and chased Thomas out of the family home with a knife. A few days later, she and her children moved to South Boston, where Pomeroy's attacks became closer in frequency and more violent.
Pomeroy scratched George Pratt with his nails, stabbed him with a needle, and bit chunks out of his cheek and buttocks, repeatedly stabbed Harry Austin with a pocket knife and attempted to cut off his penis, slashed Joseph Kennedy's face and forced his head into saltwater, and slashed Robert Gould's scalp, also trying to slash his throat and kill him when he was startled by people approaching and fled. After Gould described his attacker as a "big boy" with a "milky" eye, the police enlisted Joseph Kennedy to accompany them in a tour of Boston's schools as a way to identify the attacker. Though Pomeroy evaded them when they visited his school, he entered the police station as the officers were returning and then left immediately, with no reason behind his actions. Kennedy recognized him as he left and Pomeroy was arrested in the street nearby. After spending the night in a cell and being threatened with a 100-year prison term if he didn't cooperate, Pomeroy admitted his guilt in all of the attacks and was sentenced to live in the Westborough Boys Reform School until he turned eighteen years old. However, he demonstrated good behavior at the institution. Through the efforts of his mother, who was convinced that Pomeroy was framed, he was granted an early release a year-and-a-half into his sentencing.
Six weeks later, on March 18, 1874, Pomeroy was tending to Ruth's shop when ten-year-old Katie Curran walked in and asked if they carried notebooks. Pomeroy told Curran to come downstairs to see if they had any left. Once in the cellar, he slashed her throat and stabbed her genitals repeatedly "to see how she would react". He then hid the body under a pile of ashes behind a water closet, washed himself, and returned to work. On the following month, he tried to lure young boys again, but could not convince any or they were whisked away by people who knew of his reputation. After the stabbed and mutilated body of four-year-old Horace Millen was found in a marsh out of the city, Pomeroy was arrested. He confessed while being held by the police, but recanted after being assigned a lawyer. Amidst backlash, Ruth was forced to sell the shop, which led to the discovery of Curran's body.
Pomeroy admitted his responsibility of Curran's death only after he was told by investigators that Ruth and his older brother were being arrested as presumed accomplices. Though Pomeroy stood trial for Millen's murder and not Curran's, this newest development convinced his lawyer to drop the innocent plea and aim to get him acquitted for reason of insanity. The jury was not convinced of the reasoning. In February 1875, Pomeroy was found guilty of Millen's murder and sentenced to die by hanging, the only penalty for this charge at the time. However, the execution was delayed for a year and eventually commuted to life in solitary confinement after two governors refused to sign the death warrant. For the next forty-one years, Pomeroy's sole interactions were with the guards and Ruth, who visited him once a month until she died. In 1917, Pomeroy was allowed to join the rest of the prison population. In 1929, he was moved to a prison farm due to his deteriorating health. He died from natural causes there in 1932. He was 72 years old at the time of his death.
Excluding Curran, whose murder was a crime of opportunity, Pomeroy targeted lone boys aged between four to eight years old. He would lure them to isolated areas using different ruses, such as going to see some spectacle together or hiring them to help him with an errand. Once they were alone, Pomeroy would tie them, strip them naked, and torture them by hitting them with a belt, stick, or his own fist while he masturbated. He escalated to slashing and stabbing with his fifth victim and was ready to kill by the eighth, but he was prevented from doing so by passers-by. After his institutionalization, he changed his M.O. to killing his victims by cutting their throats before stabbing their genitals repeatedly. Though he threatened some of his victims with castration, he only carried it out with his last victim, Horace Millen.
- December 26, 1871: William Paine, 4 (tortured by beating)
- February 22: Tracy Hayden, 7 (tortured by whipping)
- May 20: Robert Maier, 8 (tortured by beating)
- July 22: Johnny Balch, 7 (tortured by beating like the previous victim)
- August 17: George Pratt, 7 (tortured by whipping; sticking a needle in his chest, cheek, arm, and genitals; biting off pieces of his face and buttocks; and scratching at his skin)
- September 5: Harry Austin, 6 (tortured by beating, slashing, and stabbing under his arms and shoulder blades; also attempted to cut off his penis)
- September 11: Joseph Kennedy, 7 (tortured by beating, stabbing, and pouring saltwater onto his stab wounds)
- September 17: Robert Gould, 5 (tortured by beating and slashing his scalp; intended to kill by slashing his throat)
- March 18: Katie Curran, 10 (fatally slashed her throat; stabbed her abdomen and genitals post-mortem)
- April: Harry Field, 5 (attempted)
- April 22: Horace Millen, 4 (slashed his throat to the point of near-decapitation, stabbed six times in the chest, and partially castrated post-mortem)
On Criminal Minds
While Pomeroy was never directly mentioned or referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for the following unsubs:
- Season Two
- Jeffrey Charles - Both were killers with birth conditions that made interaction with other children difficult (Charles had a severe allergy to dairy, while Pomeroy suffered from epilepsy and a pale eye), were abandoned by one parent and cared by the other alone, lured other children away and beat them, committed their first crimes when they were twelve years old, and visited a police station while their crimes were being investigated.
- Season Nine
- Jeremy Sayer ("Safe Haven") - Both were adolescent killers who had one sibling considered the 'good' one, were abandoned by their fathers, began committing other crimes (including sexual ones, though Sayer's is never specified) before their murders began (which also included assault and killing animals), and gained the trust of their victims (children in Pomeroy's case, families with children in Sayer's) before tying, beating, and stabbing them.
- Season Ten
- Jerry Tidwell ("Beyond Borders") - Both were killers who were abused by their fathers (often with a belt), subjected their victims to the same abuse after tying them up, killed for the first time in their teens, and both resumed their crimes after a period in which they were institutionalized minors.
- Wikipedia's article on Pomeroy
- Murderpedia's article on Pomeroy
- Radford University's summary on Pomeroy's life
- Murder by Gaslight article on Pomeroy
- Pomeroy materials in the City on Boston Archives
- Killers Without Conscience article on Pomeroy
- Prezi presentation of Pomeroy by Meagan McCormick
- About.com article on Pomeroy
- SK Central's article on Pomeroy