Welcome to Freaky Friday. Today we’re going to look at another early American serial killer, Jesse Harding Pomeroy.
Jesse Pomeroy’s case is unusual for two reasons:
- He had only two known victims.
- He was convicted of murder at the age of fourteen.
Jesse Pomeroy was not the first child who killed other children. British and German records document earlier cases of children who killed. Jesse Pomeroy is, however, the oldest documented American record of such a young murderer.
Jesse’s Grim Childhood
Jesse Harding Pomeroy was born in 1860 in Boston, Massachusetts. His family was lower middle class and lived in Boston’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Many people have sad childhoods and go on to be normal, productive citizens. Jesse Pomeroy’s childhood might have contributed to what he became, and it might not have. But it certainly didn’t help.
Jesse had two big strikes against him.
Jesse’s father was an mean drunk. He observed an odd ritual when punishing his children. He stripped the children naked before beating them.
Jesse, as the predator, would recreate his father’s punishments on his victims. He also masturbated during his attacks. This suggests Jesse had mentally tangled up his father’s bizarre punishments and sexuality.
The second strike against Jesse was his physical appearance.
He was blind in one eye. The blind eye was completely white with no iris or pupil. Jesse’s mother claimed the smallpox vaccine caused the deformity, but there are also claims that a childhood virus caused it.
Jesse odd appearance was exacerbated by a larger than normal head and features that were too large for his face. He rarely smiled, which added to the overall effect of his unusual appearance.
To make matters worse, Jesse suffered from bouts of uncontrollable episodes of shaking.
He was likely a target for neighborhood kids. This might have determined who Jesse chose as victims.
The Pomeroy family was unable to keep pets. Each time they got a family pet, it ended up suffering a brutal fate.
Mrs. Ruth Pomeroy, Jesse’s mother, got a pair of birds. She later found them with their heads twisted off. Jesse was also caught torturing a neighbor’s kitten.
Eventually Jesse worked up to attacking humans. His first attacks did not end in murder, but the cruelty of them is shocking.
Jesse’s first known human victim was four-year-old William Paine. A pair of good samaritans found Young William hanging by his wrists in an outhouse.
The boy was naked, and his little body bore the marks of a severe beating. The poor boy was unable to help the police identify who did this horrible thing to him.
The Evil Continues
Jesse began attack young boys following a sixty to ninety day cycle. He lured his victims away from help using various ruses. He offered to show them something interesting or to pay them for some simple service.
As Jesse gained more experience, his attacks escalated in brutality. He threatened to cut off one boy’s penis. He threatened to kill another boy if he told who hurt him.
Police knew of the attacks but had no accurate description of Jesse. During this time, Ruth Pomeroy moved her family to another part of the city.
It didn’t take long for Jesse to start looking for more prey. His violence became more brutal than ever.
Jesse Pomeroy added biting and stabbing to his repertoire. He even attempted to cut off the penis of one victim but was interrupted. Amazingly, Jesse still had not committed a murder. All his victims so far had survived.
Police Close In
One of these victims, a boy named Robert Gould, was the first victim to give police an identifying characteristic of his attacker. Little Robert said the boy who cut him and beat him had one eye that looked like a white marble.
A few days after Robert’s attack, Jesse—for reasons unknown—sauntered into the very police station were Robert was answering more questions. Robert pointed out Jesse, and police chased the boy down.
Reform School for Jesse
Ruth Pomeroy’s swore that her Jesse would never do such awful things. Apparently, she’d forgotten about him killing her lovebirds.
When confronted, Jesse told police that he couldn’t help himself. He was sentenced to the House of Reformation in Westborough until he was eighteen. At the time he was taken into custody, Jesse would have been about twelve-years-old.
Jesse was apparently smarter than he looked. While at reform school, he was a model resident. He never got into any sort of trouble. The only weirdness he got into was asking boys who received corporal punishment to detail their experiences for him.
He was released after less than a year-and-a-half.
Back in Business
Once out of reform school, Jesse worked in his mother’s dressmaking shop. About six weeks after his release, he was faced with temptation.
A little girl named Katie Curran came into the shop looking to buy a notebook for school. Jesse lured her into the basement where he murdered her by slitting her throat. He then stabbed her repeatedly and hid the body under a pile of ashes.
Katie wasn’t found until much later when her body was very decomposed. It is unknown exactly what Jesse Pomeroy did to Katie. But it is interesting to note that her corpse was decapitated and the genital area was mutilated.
The Beginning of the End
Jesse revisited his old tricks of luring children into isolated areas so he could attack them without interruption. Most children refused Jesse’s offers.
Young Horace Fielding was too naive or inexperienced to know a monster when he saw one. Jesse lured Horace—who was only four-years-old—to a secluded area near Dorchester Bay. People who saw Jesse luring Horace to his death noted an expression of extreme excitement on Jesse’s face.
Once Jesse was confident he was alone with Horace, he slit Horace’s throat. When that didn’t kill Horace, Jesse stabbed the boy until he hit his windpipe. The coroner would find eighteen stab wounds to Horace’s chest.
Soon after the body was found, Jesse was a suspect. Police took him into custody.
Using techniques that would become the basis of forensic crime investigation, police linked Jesse to the crime scene using casts of his footprints. They matched the mud on his boots to the mud at the crime scene. Jesse’s knife was found to have blood on it, and he had scratches on his face from the attack.
When taken to view little Horace’s corpse at the funeral home, Jesse broke down and confessed. Jesse would later recant his confession. The press vilified Jesse. The public wanted to see blood.
Jesse’s mother and brother were ostracized and had to go out of business. When Ruth Pomeroy’s dressmaking shop was rented by a new tenant, Katie Curran’s badly decomposed corpse was found.
There was no doubt who killed the little girl, but whether Jesse’s mother and brother were accomplices came into question. Jesse eventually confessed to Katie Curran’s murder to clear his mother and brother. He said he killed her to see how she would act.
Controversy erupted over Jesse’s sanity. He was examined by mental health professionals. They reached the conclusion that he knew right from wrong and that he would always be a threat to society. They concluded Jesse was insane.
The jury who heard Jesse’s case convicted him. At this time, such a conviction carried the death sentence. However, the state of Massachusetts had never executed such a young offender. Even the jury was horrified as the prospect of executing a child and begged the court for mercy.
At the time of his sentencing, Jesse was fourteen-years-old. During his sentencing, he appeared bored.
To Hang or Not To Hang
In order for an execution to be carried out, the Governor of Massachusetts had to sign the death warrant and set the date of execution. Governor William Gaston put off making a decision. The public was furious, and Gaston’s lack of action probably cost him the re-election.
Gaston’s replacement, a man named Alexander Rice, had promised to execute Jesse Pomeroy. By the time Rice was forced to take action, public outrage had died down. Rice was able to quietly commute Jesse’s sentence to life in prison, which was to be spent in solitary confinement.
Life in Prison for Jesse
Jesse finished growing up in prison with almost no human contact. His only visitor was his mother, Ruth, who was allowed to see Jesse once a month. After Ruth’s death, Jesse had no visitors.
He passed his time studying. Jesse eventually learned to write in several different languages. Because he had no human contact, other than with guards, he could only speak English. He wrote extensively.
Jesse enjoyed plotting escape plans. He tried to escape from prison numerous times. One escape included Jesse funneling gas into his cell and almost blowing himself up.
In 1917, Jesse was released from solitary confinement into the general prison population. He delighted in approaching younger prisoners and revealing his identity and crimes.
In 1929, he was moved to Bridgewater Prison Farm so he’d have access to better medical care. Two years later, he died. He requested that his body be cremated.
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