The UK, and later the world, was stunned when a toddler was taken from his mother in broad daylight and murdered. The collective shock was magnified hugely when it was revealed that the two killers were only children themselves. James Bulger, often called Jamie in the press, was just 4 years old when he was murdered by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. As if that wasn’t shocking enough, there are plenty more chilling facts to be discovered when you dig a little further into this case.
One of the worst things about the murder of Jamie Bulger was the fact that it was difficult to decide whether or not his killers should be held responsible. Many difficult questions had to be asked at the time of the trial and also in subsequent years. How old do you have to be before you can reliably know right from wrong? How about before you understand the permanent consequences of actions? And if you commit such a terrible crime at such a young age, is it ever going to be possible to rehabilitate you?
The stains of what they have done will certainly be on the killers’ hands for the rest of their lives. This case is shocking not just in terms of what they did, but also in terms of what happened to them after the trial. While there was one innocent young soul who was lost in the middle of all of this, what is of most concern is what to do with the killers now.
15 They Were So Young
The first thing that was really chilling about the murder of Jamie Bulger was the age of his killers. At first, police had CCTV images which showed the two boys leading Jamie by the hand out of the shopping centre they took him from. When they circulated these images, they described the perpetrators as “youths”. At that time, everyone was expecting them to maybe be teenagers. When the pair were caught and their ages were revealed as 10, it sent another shockwave through the press. It’s unthinkable that anyone could be a killer at such a young age. While they are certainly not the only child killers in history, the pair do have the dubious honour of being the youngest convicted murderers of the 20th century. They were sentenced when they had both become 11 years old, but that did not make the trial any less shocking. That was in November 1993.
14 They Selected Their Target
When the two boys – Jon Venables and Robert Thompson – walked into the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle (in Liverpool), they did so with a purpose. These were not two boys who saw an opportunity and decided to create some mischief. They actually went in there with the intention of abducting a young boy from his parents. One of them later admitted that they had sinister motives from the very beginning. They said that they wanted to lead a child to the busy road which ran alongside the shopping centre, and then push that child in front of the oncoming traffic. It’s clear that they had destruction in mind, and did not care who their victim was, so long as they were young enough to be easily overpowered by the two 10-year-olds. They also committed crimes on their path to the abduction, stealing items such as sweets, a can of blue paint, a troll doll, and some batteries from various shops.
13 They Tried Another Boy
Although Jamie Bulger was the unfortunate victim who they managed to lead away, this was not their first attempt at taking a child. It was actually only revealed some time later that they had made at least one unsuccessful abduction attempt earlier in that same day. The 12th of February 1993 was the fateful date, and they found another boy in the shopping centre who was unattended for just a moment. He was only 2 years old. They tried to lead him away, but at the last moment, his mother turned around and spotted them. She then reclaimed her child and prevented them from making off with him. It was only her quick actions that saved her son from the same fate that awaited Jamie. Sadly, that was not the case for their next attempt. Jamie’s mother, Denise Bulger, was unfortunate enough to not spot the fact that her son was missing until it was too late – another chilling part of this story.
12 It Took Only A Moment’s Distraction
Any parent hates to think of what could happen to their child if they take their eyes away from them for even a moment. However, since we are all human, with our own responsibilities and needs, every parent must at some point or other trust their child to be safe alone. Denise Bulger was inside the A. R. Tym butcher’s shop in the centre at 3:40pm when she was momentarily distracted from her child. It was only a moment – but she never saw her son again. Although she did notice almost immediately that he was gone, there was no telling which direction he had been taken, or any chance of spotting him amongst the crowds. Thompson and Venables took him on a long and meandering walk which covered 2.5 miles across Liverpool, so as soon as they were gone from the centre, she had little hope of catching them – even with the police on hand.
11 There Were 38 Witnesses
It seems ridiculous, but there were a total of 38 witnesses who saw Venables and Thompson with Bulger after they had abducted him. With so many witnesses, how could it be possible that they were not prevented from committing any further crimes? The truth of the matter is that most bystanders simply assumed that he was a younger brother. Venables lead him by the hand and even picked him up and carried him at some points. Although he was crying and had a bump on his forehead, hardly anyone intervened. Just two people stepped forward. For one, they claimed that he was their younger brother. The second time, they claimed that he was lost and they were taking him to a police station. They even walked in the direction of the police station to mislead people further. At one point they went into a pet shop and were thrown out by the owners, who saw nothing amiss in their companionship.
10 His Injuries Were Horrific (Warning: Details Can Be Disturbing)
Not content with merely killing Jamie, after their long walk, Venables and Thompson decided to also torture him. A full picture of what they did has not really been put together, but his injuries tell a harrowing story. Beside a railway line, they started by throwing the blue paint that they had bought earlier into his left eye. They also kicked him and stomped on him, and threw bricks and stones at his struggling body. They placed batteries into his mouth and elsewhere, and dropped a heavy iron bar – part of the railway – onto his head. That alone caused 10 skull fractures, but of his 42 injuries, the pathologist could not be sure which killed him. Most gruesomely, the pair had also removed the 2-year-old’s clothes below the waist, and forcibly retracted his foreskin. Both boys denied any adult motivation in their actions, but both were also reluctant to talk about this aspect – as if aware that it was too awful to admit.
9 They Left Him On The Train Tracks
Being close by the railway tracks meant that the two boys were quickly able to come up with an easy way to get rid of the evidence of their crimes. They assumed that no one would know any different if they made it look like Bulger had been hit by a train. They laid his body across the railway tracks and even weighted his head down with rubble so that he would not move or be displaced by anything else. They then left the area, leaving his body to be cut in half by the passing train. It was not until 2 days later that the severed halves of his small body were found. The pathologist, however, was able to determine that he was already dead by the time the train came and hit him. There was no luck for the killers, however – all of the other marks of violence on his body were still visible, and it was clear that foul play was at hand.
8 The Backlash Was Swift
With such a brutal crime committed on only a 2-year-old boy, it is understandable that the public was furious. All they lacked was a scapegoat, someone to be found guilty of the crime. One boy was detained for questioning on the back of the CCTV footage, but he was soon released as he had nothing to do with it. All the same, he and his family were forced to flee Liverpool after receiving death threats from members of the public who wanted vigilante justice. Those same people also threatened the parents of the boys during their first court appearances, at which as many as 500 protestors appeared. They ended up being moved across the country and being given new identities to escape from it all. If they had not been moved, the fear was that they would be murdered for their sons’ deeds. The same fear caused a judge to give the boys new names even while they were imprisoned.
7 The Evidence Was Sickening
When it came time to convict Venables and Thompson, it wasn’t hard for them to put a case together. It started with a woman recognizing Venables on the CCTV footage. She knew for a fact that he had been skipping school with Thompson that day, and she was able to put two and two together. When they were arrested, forensic testing was done to see if the police could match the crime scene with the criminals. Both had blood on their shoes, and Thompson’s was DNA matched to Bulger. His shoe print was also matched to a bruising pattern on Bulger’s right cheek. They had the same blue paint on their clothes as Bulger’s body, and there was even a paint mark on the toecap of one of Venables' shoes, suggesting the force with which he kicked. The amount of evidence which remained plays testament to the young age of the killers. They never even imagined they would be caught, or thought about cleaning up their shoes.
6 Thompson Was A ‘Pied Piper’
Throughout the case, it was clear that Thompson was being highlighted as the ringleader of the two. Child psychiatrist Dr. Eileen Vizard testified that she thought Thompson knew the difference between right and wrong, and that he was suffering post-traumatic stress after his actions. The judge described their torture of Bulger as being of “unparalleled evil and barbarity”, and recommended that the boys stay in custody for “many, many years to come”. Venables’ solicitor, Laurence Lee, later had more to say about Thompson. He called him one of the most frightening children he had ever seen, and also compared him to the Pied Piper. He painted a portrait of an evil boy leading others astray to do his bidding. The Bulger family and psychiatric experts which they consulted also believed that Thompson was an undiagnosed psychopath. Is he really the only evil one of the pair? Later happenings may suggest otherwise.
5 They Took New Identities
After their identities were revealed, Thompson and Venables quickly became public enemies number one and two. There was little chance of them having anything resembling a normal life, and even in custody, their lives were in danger. For that reason, they were given new identities immediately, concealing their names even when they were held at secure units. In 2001, after spending just 8 years inside, it was judged that the two boys were eligible for release. They have a witness protection-style arrangement, with their names and those of their families being concealed in new locations. Although they have been revealed a few times over the years, there is little chance of them being recognized off-hand. Firstly, they both lost their Liverpool accents in detention. In Thompson’s case, he has not been publicly recognized since he was 18 – at least not on public record. By this time, he could simply look like another person on the street.
4 The Case Won’t Lie
Even though we are now more than 20 years after the murder, the case just won’t lie. It’s constantly being raked over by the media, with lots of controversy over the two killers and their new identities. Although it is against the law to reveal them, plenty of people over the years have shared images that they think show them as adults, and even their new names. In some cases, they have wrongly accused innocent people. Several people have been handed suspended sentences for doing so. One woman from Margate has to be the worst person associated with the case, outside of the killers themselves. She found Denise, Jamie’s mother, on Twitter in 2016, and started sending messages to her. She posed as one of the killers and also as Jamie’s ghost. She was given a 3-year sentence which was reduced to 2 and a half years on appeal. Her sick messages no doubt brought everything back for the grieving mother.
3 Venables Was Arrested Again
Even though Thompson was the one focused on during the trial, Venables has since shown his true colours all the more clearly. In 2010, he was arrested and sent back to prison again, though at first it was not revealed what he had done. Later, it was made known that he was charged with possession and distribution of indecent images of children. Even though he was constantly monitored by probation officers, he managed to download 57 such images, some of which depicted horrific assaults on children as young as two. He was caught when he tried to destroy his hard drive, using a knife and a tin opener. His suspicious probation officer had police take the computer away, which led to them discovering the images. He was released again in September 2013, after what seemed a very brief prison stay for a known murderer and pedophile. He was given another new identity to use.
2 Venables Continued To Offend
It became clear during his time in prison that he had actually broken the terms of his probation on more than one occasion. He was arrested in 2008 for having a drunken street fight with another man, and the same year also saw him receiving a caution when he was found in possession of cocaine. It also came out that in 2001, aged 17, Venables had been engaging in a relationship with a female worker at his secure unit which resulted in her losing her job. He had a number of young girlfriends, although his probation officers presumed he was having what is known as a delayed adolescence. He began to drink excessively, take drugs, and got to Merseyside – which was against the terms of his probation – when supervision was relaxed. He has also told friends of his real identity on two separate occasions. It seems that Venables just can’t – or won’t – stop being a menace to society.
1 Where Are They Now?
The chilling truth about where the two killers are now is that we just don’t know. There have been so many false accusations of people who look somewhat like them in the past that it’s hard to sift the truth from the lies. Added to the complication is the fact that they could live anywhere in the country, and that they could have any name. Without their Liverpool accents, there’s no clear key which would give a clue as to their real identities. Since he has apparently not gotten into trouble since 2001, there’s no way of knowing what Thompson looks like now even from police records. Shockingly, they could be anywhere – and anyone. All we do know about them is that they were born in August 1982 – Venables on the 13th, and Thompson on the 23rd. We also know that Venables has more of a criminal record to his name. Other than that, finding them is nothing more than grasping at straws and searching for needles in haystacks.