As author Tom Robbins wisely states, “There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, and nothing worth killing for.” Yet murder mysteries and serial killers make the front pages of newspapers worldwide every single day. Such stories shake up local communities and capture the interest of entire nations. Recently, the entire world was engulfed in a media frenzy due to the shooting spree that took place in Santa Barbara, California. Elliot Rodger, aged 22, was the perpetrator. Rodger opened fire in a sorority house before taking his tirade out in the open, murdering six innocent people. The horror and cruelty of cold blooded murder never loses its shock factor but the act seems just that much more terrifying when committed by a child.
Child murderers are more common than any of us would like to think, while such cases are often treated delicately by the courts. Many questions arise in the case of a child murderer: What possible motive could a young person – barely a teenager – have for committing a murder? Is the child responsible for his or her actions, or was she or he driven by mental health problems or dangerously corrupting external influences? Should child murderers be tried as adults? The media and the general public are often left divided as to how such children should be treated. Here, we’ve taken a look at some of the most gruesome and shocking murders committed by children, all aged 15 or under. These crimes were unprecedented and terrifying, simultaneously emotive and divisive, and few are really certain whether or not these children received the punishment they deserved. Some graphic descriptions follow.
8. Daniel Bartlam, 14
Daniel Bartlam was just 14 years old when he killed his mother, Jacqueline Bartlam, in cold blood. On Easter 2011, while his mother slept, Daniel murdered her by hitting her seven times with a claw hammer. Daniel set his mother’s body on fire before ringing the police and reporting that a burglar had killed her. Detectives soon noticed inconsistencies in Daniel’s claims and searched his computer, where they recovered a deleted file which detailed his murder plans in the form of a story. Bartlam had no motive, but Jacqueline’s former partner testified that Daniel had a passion for violent films and video games. The 14 year old was sentenced to a minimum of 16 years in prison.
7. Eric Smith, 13
Eric Smith was arrested in 1993, aged just 13, for the murder of four year old Derrick Robie. Smith lured Robie into an isolated park and choked him. He proceeded to drop rocks on Robie’s head and finally sodomised him with a tree branch. Unbelievably, this was the first time Robie’s mother had ever let him travel alone – Robie was walking a couple of blocks to a summer camp. Smith soon confessed to the murder and was sentenced to a minimum of nine years. As of April 2014, Smith – who has been diagnosed with ‘intermittent explosive disorder’ and was bullied as a child – has been denied parole seven times.
6. George Stinney, 14
George Stinney was a 14 year old boy from South Carolina. In 1944, Stinney was charged with the murder of two white girls, Betty June Binnicker (11) and Mary Emma Thames (7). Stinney, who had been seen talking to the girls the day before their bodies were found, was soon caught in a media circus that would see him convicted and executed in less than three months. Stinney was given the electric chair, making him the youngest person to be executed in such fashion in the history of the United States.
However, his family have never given up hope of clearing his name. Recently, many journalists have outlined inconsistencies and a lack of physical evidence to back up the largely circumstantial case that incriminated Stinney. Many believe that Stinney became a victim of the polarising divide between blacks and whites in South Carolina’s Jim Crow era.
Editorial note: In December 2014, over 70 years after his execution, Stinney was exonerated.
5. Alyssa Bustamante, 15
Alyssa Bustamante murdered her 9 year old neighbour Elizabeth Olten in Missouri in 2009. Bustamante slit Olten’s throat and stabbed her before burying her in a pre-dug grave in a woodland. Bustamante attacked Olten when she was walking home from a friends house. The trial heard that Bustamante had severe psychological problems, a difficult family life, and had previously attempted suicide. Despite her mental health, she was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. Bustamante stated that she murdered Olten to see what killing felt like, and wrote in her diary “I just f**king killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they’re dead. I don’t know how to feel atm. It was amazing.”
4. Joshua Phillips, 14
Joshua Phillips was involved in one of the most shocking adolescent murder trials in history, after he murdered his 8 year old neighbour Maddie Clifton. Maddie had left her home at 5:30pm to play basketball, but never came back. Joshua claims that he and Maddie were playing baseball when he accidentally hit her with a ball. Maddie started crying, and Phillips claimed he panicked and hit her in the head to make her stop screaming. Phillips then carried Clifton into his house and hid her body under his bed. His mother found Clifton’s body a week later due to the odour coming from his room. Phillips was charged with first degree murder and was sentenced to life without parole.
3. Mary Bell, 11
In 1968, 11 year old Mary Bell murdered two boys in the town of Scotswood, in North East England. The boys were named Martin Brown, aged 4, and Brian Howe, aged 3. Bell strangled Martin Brown in an abandoned house. A few months later, Bell, with the help of her friend Norma Joyce Bell (they were not related), strangled Brian Howe in the same fashion. The girls also mutilated Howe’s body and cut an ‘M’ into his stomach. Bell was imprisoned until 1980, when she was controversially released with a new identity. Bell has talked anonymously about her acts, citing sexual abuse at an early age as the cause for her criminal behaviour.
2. Paul Henry Gingerich, 12
Paul Henry Gingerich played a central role in the murder of Phillip Danner, the stepfather of his friend Colt Lundy. The murder took place on the 21st of April 2010, when Lundy was 15 and Gingerich was only 12. The pair and their mutual friend Chase Williams (also 12) were planning to run away to Arizona together. Lundy knew that his stepfather would catch them, so Lundy hatched a plan to kill his stepfather. He enlisted the help of Gingerich and Williams; Williams would later get cold feet and would not participate in the murder.
Lundy convinced Gingerich to follow through with their plan, however. The two waited in Lundy’s house for Danner to return home, shooting him four times in the chest when he entered the living room. Gingerich was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison, with the possibility of parole by the age of 18 if he has engaged thoroughly with his rehabilitation programme. The public’s opinion is very much divided in terms of the decision – many state that Gingerich should be freed, believing him a victim of manipulation by 15 year old Lundy, while others believed he should have been tried as an adult and subjected to the full force of the law.
1. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were the murderous duo who became the perpetrators of one of the most notorious murders in British history.
In 1993, three year old James Bulger was waiting for his mother outside a butcher shop in a shopping mall. Bolger was lured away by Venables and Thompson while his mother was distracted. The boys brought Bulger on a long walk along a canal and during this time they were spotted by almost 40 separate witnesses. All witnesses claimed that they believed Bulger to be their younger brother. The pair went on to subject Bulger to physical and sexual assault and then dumped Bulger’s body on some railway tracks and covered him with stones – Bulger was later hit by a train. His body was discovered two days later. Venables and Thompson were cutting school at the time of the murder. They were linked to the murder after they were spotted on the mall’s CCTV with Bulger. The boys were tried in adult court and were placed in rehabilitation units. They were controversially released, under very tight parole agreements, in 2001. The motive behind the killing is still unknown, though at the time many public figures asserted that the boys were influenced by violent movies.
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