Children are often portrayed as the picture of innocence and naivety. So, when children commit brutal crimes - especially murders - there is often a mix of shock and disbelief among people. When it happens, each detail of those cases is followed by the media.
Those crimes often raise passionate debates about what type of punishment those children can face, how they could have possibly had easy access to guns, and what lead them to commit the crimes. The question if children can be psychopaths has concerned specialists for decades. But we can notice a pattern in those children: most of them have a troubled early life and have faced all types of abuse, negligence, and violence. Unsurprisingly, some of the cases inspired books and movies. Elephant and We Need to Talk About Kevin are some examples who used mass shooting as inspiration.
We selected a list of 15 of the most shocking cases of crimes committed by children and teenagers. Some of them were lead by revenge, other killers were motivated by curiosity or they just “felt like doing it.”
All the names in the list were arrested and convicted, but due to their young age, some of them were released a few years after the crimes. Some cases were so emblematic that they were granted with new identities after leaving prison and getting a new chance.
15 Jon Venables And Robert Thompson
When Denise Bugler went to a shopping center with her 2-year-old son James Bulger, she thought it would be another ordinary day. However, she would not forget that day in February 1993. While they were shopping, the little boy was abducted and that was the last time she saw her son alive. Two days later, his body was found on a rail line.
CCT Images from the shopping mall showed James going away holding the hand of Robert Thompson, who was 10 years old at the time. The little boy was tortured to death by Thompson and Jon Venables, also 10 years old. The police also suspected that James could have suffered sexual abuse, but it was never confirmed.
Both boys were arrested and became the youngest convicted murderers in modern English history and were in jail until they were 18 years old. Because of the case’s visibility, they received new identities after being released.
14 Mary Bell - Strangled Two Young Boys
Mary Bell made the headlines in 1968 when she was accused of strangling two young boys in the United Kingdom. The most shocking detail was that she committed the crime when she was 11 years old.
Her first victim was Martin Brown,a 4-year-old boy. Just a day after her birthday, Bell strangled the boy in an abandoned house. Showing no regrets, she and a friend, Joyce Bell, broke into a nursery and left notes saying that Mary committed the crime. Despite having the same surname, the girls were not related.
Only two months later, Bell found her second victim. Together with Joyce, she strangled the 3-year-old Brian Howe. The body was left in a wasteland, but Mary Bell was not finished. She returned later with scissors, carved an “M” on his chest, cut his hair and his penis.
In 1968, Mary Bell was sentenced to 12 years in prison. During her trial, the press brought out the troubled family life of the girl: her mother was a 17-year-old prostitute, who tried to kill the girl in the past and the father was a thief.
13 Jasmine Richards
Jasmine Richards was 13 years old when started dating the 23-year-old Jeremy Steinke. When her parents, Marc and Debra Richards, found out about their relationship, they have forbidden the girl to meet Jeremy. The solution the couple found to be together couldn’t be worse.
On the night of April 23rd 2006, the bodies of the parents were found in their home by a child who looked into their window. The policed were called and they found out that Marc and Debra were not the only victims. The body of Jacob Richards, their 8-year-old son, was also found in his bedroom.
The police first suspected that Jasmine was kidnaped, but didn’t take long to realize the girl was connected to the crime. The next day, they found Jasmine and Jeremy, who were both arrested for the crime.
In 2007, Jasmine went on trial and was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her boyfriend was tried in 2008 and was sentenced to 25 years.
In October 2003, Liana Friedenbach, age 16, went camping with her boyfriend Felipe Caffé, age 19, in São Paulo. Both believed it would be a great weekend together. But the young couple was abducted by a group of four criminals, among them a 16-year-old known as Champinha, who was said to be the one who planned everything. The group never made any contact with the family asking for money.
Both were tortured for days and Friedenbach was also raped. Caffe was the first to be killed and Friedenbach was killed a few days later. During his trial, Champinha revealed that their initial idea was just to rob the couple, but after being disappointed with the small amount of money they had, they decided to abduct them.
When asked about what motivated the killing, Champinha just answered that “he just wanted to.” He is still in prison. The death of the young couple became one of the most remarkable crimes in Brazil
11 Eric Smith
During the summer of 1993, a 13-year-old Eric Smith was biking to a day camp when he saw Derrick Robie, a 4-year-old boy, walking alone in the park. He approached the boy and took him to a wood nearby. There, Smith strangled the boy to death, smashed his head with a rock, undressed the body, and introduced a tree limb into the boy's body. The body was found on the same day.
Smith was arrested and the case shocked the whole country, because of the violence and the age of the killer. In 1994, Smith was convicted for a minimum of nine years (the maximum for killers his age). During the trial, the defense claimed that Smith suffered bullying at school for years and it could have motivated his anger.
Years later, Smith wrote an apology letter to the family and read it on television. He was denied parole eight times since 2002. Smith can try again in 2018.
10 Graham Young
Graham Young had an unusual hobby when he was a teenager: the boy was fascinated with chemistry, especially poison and its effect on human bodies. He spent hours studying the subject in the library and when he was 14 years old, he decided that it was time to go beyond theory and started trying it on people. He started poisoning his family's food in 1961.
All his family started suffering from vomiting, stomach pains, and diarrhea. Later, Young revealed that he accidentally poisoned himself a few times since sometimes he could not tell which plate he put the poison in. His stepmother died in 1962 due to the constant exposure to poison.
A teacher thought that Young's interest in poison was suspicious and went to check out his desk: she found a large amount of poison, drawings of dead people, and essays about killers he admired. The teacher contacted the police and Young was sent to Broadmoor Hospital and was released nine years later. After that, he poisoned more than 70 people and was sent back to prison.
9 Jordan Brown
On February 20 2009, Jordan Brown, 11, left his house, caught the school bus, and went to his classes like any other day. However, later the police showed up at school because the body of Brown’s stepmother, Kenzie Houk, was found at the house. Houk was shot on her own bed and she was eight months pregnant.
Houk's 4-year-old daughter found the body, and asked for help from some workers who were in the street. Initially, Brown told the police that he saw a suspicious black truck before he went to school, but the girl told the police that she saw Brown holding a hunting gun and heard a strong noise after that.
Jordan Brown was charged for the murder of Houk and her unborn son. Family and friends said that they had a troubled relationship and it’s believed that the crime was motivated by jealousy. Brown was released from jail in 2014.
8 Jesse Pomeroy
Jesse Pomeroy had an extensive list of victims when he was 11 years old. He was sent to a reform school in 1859 because he caught and tortured seven small children. Although he didn’t kill anyone, he tied them up, took their clothes off, and poked pins in their bodies. Pomeroy was released for good behavior just a year and a half after he was caught.
In 1959, the police found the body of Katie Curran, a 10-year-old girl, in the basement of his mother's dress shop. He was arrested and convicted of a lifetime sentence. He spent most of his years in solitary and died in prison when he was 72 years old due natural causes.
Pomeroy was also a suspect of the death of a four-year-old, who was mutilated and found in a bay. However, there was never enough proof that could link Pomeroy to the crime.
7 Edmund Kemper
In 1963, Edmund Kemper lived with his grandparents and after an argument with his grandmother, he shot her with a hunting gun and stabbed her several times. When his grandfather was arriving at home, he also shot him. Kemper was only 14 years old. The teenager called his mother to tell her what happened, she called the police and Kemper was arrested.
When asked what motivated the crime, he just that he "just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma,” and killed the grandfather because he didn’t want him to see the body. He was convicted, but his parole was accepted when Kemper was 21, against recommendations of psychiatrists.
Kemper went to live with his mother, with whom he had a troubled relationship. He killed his mother and her best friend three years later. He had other victims and was fond of necrophilia and ate the flesh of one of the women he killed. He was convicted to a lifetime sentence.
6 Josh Phillips
In 1998, Melissa Phillips was cleaning the room of her 14-year-old son when she noticed the leaking coming from his water bed. When she checked it out, she noticed it was blood and found a body hidden inside the bed’s pedestal. It was Maddie Clifton, the 8-year-old neighbor who went missing the week before. She called the police who arrested Josh at school.
Josh said that the week before he was playing baseball with the girl when the ball hit her eye. Phillips said that he took the girl inside the house, but panicked because she didn’t stop crying and he was afraid of his father's reaction. He strangled Maggie with a phone cord, hit her with a baseball bat and stabbed the girl to death. Phillips escaped the death penalty because he was 16 years old when he went on trial, but he was charged with a lifetime sentence with no possibility of parole.
5 Christian Fernandes
In March 2011, 13-year-old Christian Fernandes was asked to look after his 2-year-old brother David Galarraga. A few months before Fernandes broke David's leg while playing wrestling with the boy. Once again he became physically abusive and smashed David’s head against the bookshelf twice. David was unconscious and Christian told this to his mother, Biannela Susana, when she arrived home. Susana only cleaned David’s face and changed his clothes. She waited four hours before asking for medical help and the boy died two days later.
Mother and son were charged for David’s death. Susana plead guilty on David’s death, but Christian Fernandes was found guilty of manslaughter and aggravated battery and will be released on his 19th birthday in January 2018.
The trial raised a lot of questions, because Christian Fernandes was exposed to abuse, violence, and negligence during his whole life.
4 Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson
Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson were 11 and 12 years old when they planned a crime that shocked the whole world. In 1998, Johnson managed to get his parents' van and then went to Golden's grandparents' house. They loaded the car with guns that the grandfather used to keep unlocked and drove to their school. At the lunchtime, they pulled the fire alarm and opened fire against teachers and students.
The aftermath is well known: four children were killed and ten people were wounded. Both boys were arrested and charged for the shooting. During the trial the student Cadance Porter revealed that Johnson joked about the shooting one day before. The boy said that he had "a lot of killing to do" and that they would know on Tuesday if they were destined to live or die.
Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson were convicted and released a few years later. They are the only living U.S. mass school shooters who are not currently in prison.
3 Alex And Derek King
On November 11, 2001, the firefighters arrived in a house on fire in Escambia County. In one of the rooms, they found the body of 40-year-old Terry King. At first, they thought the men died because of the smoke, but after a closer look, the firemen noticed that there were several injuries to the body.
The police were called and the neighbors said that King used to live with his sons Derek King (13) and Alex (12). The boys were found 16 days later and confessed to the crime.
According to them, the idea of the crime came from Alex, but Derek executed the plan. When Terry King felt asleep, his son used a baseball bat to beat him to death. To hide the evidence, they set the house on fire and ran away.
The boys said that the crime was motivated because they didn’t want to be punished for running away. The young killers said that their father was mentally abusive. Both were charged with the crime and went to a juvenile detention center.
2 David Brom
In 1988, the police arrested David Brom, then 16 years old, for killing his whole family in Minnesota. After a fight with his father, Bernard Brom, the boy used an axe to kill him, his mother Paulette, and his siblings Diane (14) and Rick (9). The only person who wasn’t killed was Joe (19), who wasn’t living at the house.
The person who called the police was the administrator of Brom’s school after they heard a rumor among the students that the boy killed his family the night before. Brom was arrested the day after and according to the police, he didn’t resist, wasn’t confused and didn't question why he was being arrested. The boy was charged with the first-degree murder of his family.
Brom got a lifetime sentence and he can ask a parole when he is 70 years old. The song “David Brom Took An Axe” is about the case.
1 Cindy Collier and Shirley Wolf
The media often referred to Cindy Collier (14) and Shirley Wolf (15) as “ baby-faced killers.” In 1983, their name made the headlines after they killed an 85-year-old woman in California.
Before committing the crime, they knocked on several doors with different excuses: asking for directions, to use the phone, or asking for a glass of water. A witness said that he and his wife felt very uncomfortable with the girls' presence and felt something was wrong with them.
But they found Anna Brackett, 85, to be their perfect victim. Wolf strangled the victim and threw her on the floor and Collier stabbed her to death. Brackett’s son found her body just a few minutes after the girls ran away.
The policed soon found the girls and in her confession Collier said: "To honestly tell you the truth, we didn’t feel any badness. Then after we did it, we wanted to do another one. We just wanted to kill someone. Just for fun.We both felt excited. I had done something I had never done before.”
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