Can children be psychopaths? This is a question that has concerned specialists for quite a long time. Given their developing brains and impressionable personalities, it's practically impossible to diagnose any child as a psychopath. Because of this, there hasn't been a standard test developed for psychopathy in children, but more and more experts are starting to believe that psychopathy is a neurological condition that could be diagnosed in children as young as five.
The idea that a child could have no innate empathy and that some could be manipulative and dangerous to society is one that many people struggle to accept... Until you hear the stories. Of course, children's behaviours are certainly at least in part a product of their environment, which must be considered when understanding some of children's most horrific crimes.
The youngest reported murderer was only three years old, and remains unnamed in court records for her own safety. During her trial, it was revealed that she beat and killed her 22-day old sister as her drunk parents were passed out in the other room. Some don't believe the child was old enough to understand what she was doing – they even suspect the little girl thought of the baby as a doll. But others believe the extent of the beating shows more intent, and was perhaps caused by neglect and jealousy. This three year old may be the youngest murderer on record, but she's far from alone. And what's more, she isn't the most sadistic child murderer out there.
Be warned, these cases are violent and extremely disturbing. In fact, many of these stories are just as bad, if not worse, than some of the most heinous crimes committed by adults...
11 Carl Newton Mahan - 6 years old
It's hard to imagine a 6 year old capable of murder, but on May 18, 1929 Carl and his friend Cecil Van Hoose, 8 years old, were collecting scrap metal to sell for some extra money. Cecil stole Carl's scrap from him, hitting him in face with it. If that were the end of things, it would sound like kids being kids. But that wasn't the end of things and Carl decided to get revenge. Unlike most kids, he didn't hit Cecil back or run to tell his parents; instead, he ran home and grabbed his father's 12 gauge shotgun. He ran all the way back to Cecil and told him, “I'm going to shoot you,” – before shooting the other boy. Cecil died.
At the time, Carl was the youngest person to be tried for murder, which complicated the entire case. People couldn't agree on whether a 6-year old is capable of murder. During the trial, the boy was often seen taking naps on the defense table like many kids would during a long, boring class, and didn't seem to really care that he was on trial for his life. But after just 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury decided to convict the little boy of the lesser charge of manslaughter, sending him away to reform school for 15 years. But a circuit judge later issued a “writ of prohibition” that kept the boy from being sent away - because it was against procedure to put a child of his age on trial in front of a jury. Carl was sent home.
10 Jordan Brown - 11 years old
Though the motive behind this killing is still unknown, jealousy seems to be the most common theory as to why young Jordan Brown would fatally shoot his father's pregnant girlfriend in 2009. The victim was shot in the back of the head while she was lying in bed, and she was discovered after her 4-year old daughter alerted tree cutters nearby that her mother could be dead. Jordan had already gone to school that day, acting as if nothing had happened. Kenzie Houk, the victim, had experienced problems with the boy in the past, and a relative said that he'd talked about killing her before it actually happened. The weapon used was a youth model 20-gauge shotgun that he had been given as a birthday present.
Brown was initially charged as an adult as required by Pennsylvania law, but his lawyers appealed to the state's Superior Court to reconsider his adult status. The case was ultimately moved to juvenile court.
9 Cindy Collier and Shirley Wolf - 15 and 14 years old, respectively.
Teenagers can be trouble, especially when they're with other teens. But all the drinking and practical jokes in the world can't compare to the trouble caused by two teenage girls in California in 1983. While many young girls keep a diary, very few write about how much fun it was to kill someone - as Shirley Wolf did in hers. Shirley and Cindy Collier became friends when Cindy was visiting a friend in a Sacramento group home. Because of commonalities and shared experiences like violent home lives, as well as molestation at the hands of their parents and relatives, the girls hit it off right away. Both girls carried so much pent up anger within them, it caused them to do the unthinkable.
The same afternoon that the girls met, they randomly knocked on the doors of a condominium complex, asking to use the phone or for a glass of water. It alarmed many of the seniors living in the complex, and several locked their doors and windows once the girls left. However, one woman, Anna Brackett, 85, let the two girls in and chatted with them for nearly an hour. Shirley is quoted as saying, “We decided we were going to kill her when we saw her.” When Mrs. Brackett was distracted by a phone call, Shirley grabbed her by the throat and knocked her to the floor. Cindy threw her a butcher's knife from the kitchen and Shirley stabbed her over and over again as the woman begged her to stop. When Brackett told the girl she was dying as she lay there bleeding to death, Shirley merely responded by saying, “Good.”
8 Amarjeet Sada - 8 years old
It's bad enough when a child accidentally kills one person. But when they kill multiple times on purpose, it makes the crime an incredibly difficult pill to swallow. And when you consider the fact that little Amarjeet's parents knew of his murderous ways and covered up not one but two deaths, it takes this case to a whole different level.
Amarjeet Sada was eight years old when he was arrested in India in June 2007. He stands accused of killing three babies – two of whom were related to him. The first victim was his six-month old cousin, who he's accused of strangling to death. His second victim, also a cousin under a year old, had been bludgeoned to death. Both of these were covered up by the family, and Amarjeet may have gotten away with his crimes had he not been suspected in killing a neighbor's six-month old daughter as well.
7 Michael Hernandez - 14 years old
What would compel a young man to kill his own best friend? We may never know. Michael Hernandez appeared to be normal and polite, but something darker lurked inside the teenager's mind. The young man convinced a friend of his, Jaime Rodrigo Gough - also 14 years old - to follow him into a bathroom stall at their school. He said he wanted to show him something. But instead, once inside the stall, Michael stabbed his friend several times and then slit his throat. Another boy entered the bathroom after the killing and saw Michael washing his hands, saw the bloody stall – so he notified a security guard. When they came back, Michael was nowhere to be found. He'd slipped out and went back to class, despite the blood stains on his clothing.
When police looked into his life, they discovered a kid obsessed with violence. He even had a journal in which he'd outlined his plans to commit murder. In his notebook, they found a list of three people he wanted to kill as a birthday celebration to himself. Along with Gough, Michael had also planned to kill his older sister and another long-time friend. His plan had been to kill his two friends and prop their corpses up on toilets. He even made notes for himself in the journal, reminding himself to be quick, to remove all the blood and to make sure they were really dead.
6 Graham Young - 14 years old
Like many parents do, Graham Young's father thought he was helping encourage his son intellectually, by investing in a chemistry set for the young lad. Little did he know, his son would turn his fascination with chemistry into something far more sinister – and that it would later result in the death of his own stepmother.
By the time Graham Young - born 1947 - was 13, his knowledge of chemicals and science was on par with post-graduate students; all of it self taught. Graham Young was obsessed with reading about chemicals, often reciting the ingredients in the headache medicine his family took. He'd also often steal nail varnish and other household chemicals to experiment with. While other kids his age probably idolized musicians or movie stars, Young's idol was a poisoner named Dr. Crippen. Over time, Young's experiments went from studying nail varnish to testing out several poisons on his own family – at times even accidentally ingesting some of them himself. Because of the poison, it seemed like a virus had spread through his family, infecting one person after the next. Eventually, his stepmother would die from the poisons – she'd become tolerant to antimony, so he switched over to a heavy metal called thallium to speed up her death. Because her body was cremated (at Young's suggestion ironically enough), there was never any direct evidence that he killed her, so he wasn't convicted of her murder.
He was, however, convicted of poisoning his other family members, which earned him a trip to a maximum-security hospital. Within weeks of his arrival, Young had poisoned one of his fellow inmates with cyanide. Young claimed he could extract the cyanide from laurel bush leaves, but the officials didn't buy it and thus marked the inmate's death as a suicide. Eventually, Young was released from the hospital – and upon his release at the age of 23, promised to kill one person for every day he'd spent in prison. After his release, he managed to poison a few more people before being caught and convicted of two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and two counts of administering poison. He received four life sentences, and died in prison in 1990. Some are convinced that he poisoned himself. They say that he grew tired of prison life and deciding to go out on his own terms. But before he died, he was proud to see a wax figure of himself made and situated next to the figure of his idol, Dr. Crippen, in Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors.
5 Eric Smith - 13 years old
Eric Smith was a redheaded boy with freckles who often rode around town on his bike by himself. When four-year old Derrick Robie was found brutally murdered, no one suspected that a child could have done something so horrible. The brutality of the murder rivals some of the sickest killers out there – most of them at least twice Smith's age.
Derrick's body was found in a small patch of woods not far from his home and the park where he'd been going that day. He had been lured from the sidewalk where he was then strangled and hit in the head with several large rocks. Even worse than that though, it appeared that whoever murdered the little boy had fun playing games with the dead body. After his body had been discovered, police realized that whoever killed the boy had moved his shoes around, covered him with Kool-Aid and even sodomized him with a stick.
When investigators spoke to Smith, the kid not only didn't seem bothered by the crime, he almost seemed happy about it. He looked positively upbeat, as if he enjoyed the attention of being talked to by the police. The fact that he seemed calm and complacent during the entire investigation didn't set well with people. And to this day, it still doesn't. He was sentenced to second degree murder and is still incarcerated today.
4 Alyssa Bustamante - 15 years old
Most girls write about crushes, their friends, or a million other benign things in their journals - but Alyssa Bustamante is not like typical teenage girls. The 15-year old from Missouri instead used her journal to write about the thrill of killing 8-year old Elizabeth Olten. On October 21st, 2009, Olten was walking home from a friend's house when she disappeared. The eight year old was never seen alive again. Olten's parents called 9-1-1 only 45 minutes after she'd been expected home, but by that time, it was too late.
Alyssa had grabbed the little girl, beaten her, strangled her, stabbed her and had finally slit her throat. She dumped the child's body into a grave she'd dug in the woods a week before the killing. After she killed the little girl, Alyssa returned home and proceeded to write about the experience in her journal. Among the disturbing things she wrote were gems like, “I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they're dead. I don't know how to feel atm. It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the 'ohmygawd I can't do this' feeling, it's pretty enjoyable. I'm kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now...lol”
Considering the fact that Alyssa had dug two graves, some wonder if her initial targets weren't her two younger brothers. She'd uploaded videos of her intentionally trying to hurt them on YouTube on at least one occasion. Others hypothesise that perhaps Alyssa had intended to murder a second victim. Either way, she was caught and ended up leading investigators to the crime scene herself. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
3 Mary Bell - 11 years old
It really doesn't get more sadistic than young English girl Mary Bell, born 1957. Little Mary Bell and her friend Norma Bell (no relation) were found to have murdered and mutilated two young boys in 1968. The first victim was named Martin Brown, and he was a four-year old who'd been found dead in an abandoned house. There was no obvious cause of death, so it was assumed Brown's death had been an accident. But notes started showing up that said things like “Fuch of, we murder, watch out” and 'We did murder Martain brown, f***of you Bastard.” A few days after the murder, Mary showed up at the Brown house asking to see Martin. When his mother told her he was dead, she replied, “Oh I know he's dead. I wanted to see him in his coffin.”
Two months later, three-year old Brian Howe disappeared, and Mary and Norma offered to help Brian's sister find the little boy. The two girls led her to a pile of concrete blocks and said that he might be there. Brian's sister didn't think he was, and left. Little did she know though, that her brother's body had in fact been lying there, only to be later discovered by police. Mary and Norma were hoping to watch the sister's response to finding her brother's body.
The boy had been strangled, and his legs, stomach and genitals had been mutilated. The letter “M” had also been carved into his stomach – though, it looks to have originally been an “N” (possibly for Norma) that was changed to an M by a second hand.
1 Jesse Pomeroy - 14 years old
Jesse Pomeroy was a hard kid to miss. He had a cleft lip and one eye that's described as being all white. Having features like that, it's easy to understand why he was easily identified after his first crime. At the age of 11 years old, between 1871 and 1872, Pomeroy trapped and attacked seven boys. He stripped the victims and tied them up, initially beating them and covering their bodies with bruises. However, he eventually grew bored with simply beating them, and later turned to attacking them with a knife, slashing and poking his victims with it. He was arrested for the crimes at the age of 12, convicted and sentenced to reform school where he was supposed to be held until the age of 21. However, he was let go after just two years for good behavior, convincing the officials he was reformed.
But Jesse was far from being reformed. Free to do as he pleased again, and no longer content with merely torturing his victims, he took his crimes to the next level. In 1874, he savagely attacked and killed two children. Ten-year old Mary Curran had been mutilated and beaten, and four-year old Horace Mullen had been slashed so savagely that he'd was nearly decapitated. When police approached Jesse, he was carrying a bloodstained knife. When they asked him if he killed the boy, Jesse responded coldly, “I suppose I did.”
As if that's not bad enough, Pomeroy confessed to killing 27 others. The remains of 12 additional victims were found at the home where he grew up, making him one of the youngest serial killers of all time.