Pennsylvanians were shocked recently when a 10-year-old boy was charged in the murder of an elderly woman. Many viewed it as a disturbing sign of the times.
Shocking? Yes. Unique to our times? Unfortunately, no.
Murders by children are not limited to our historic period. In fact, there’s the notorious case of William Newton Allnut which occurred on this date, Oct. 20, in 1847. William, a lad of 12, was charged in the arsenic poisoning of his grandfather, Samuel Nelme, in
Young William confessed he had sprinkled arsenic on his grandfather’s food in retaliation for the old man having struck him and threatened him with death. At his trial in the Old Bailey,
London’s criminal court, it was discovered
others in the household, including the boy’s grandmother, had also become ill,
apparently due to arsenic poisoning.
Doctors who examined him declared the boy to be of unsound mind, testifying he spoke of voices in his head and other symptoms attributed to mental disease. The surgeon at Newgate Prison disagreed and, subsequently, William was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to transportation and he was sent to
where he later died of tuberculosis.
William’s case is not a solitary example. Nor are such crimes restricted to one sex or a single country.
Mary Flora Bell of
strangled a child to death in 1968, the day before her 11th
birthday. Two months later she and a 13-year-old friend, Norma Joyce Bell (no
relation), strangled to death another little boy. Newcastle
Upon Tyne, England
Anne Perry, known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk novels, then 15, was convicted of participation in the murder of a friend’s mother in 1954 in
Zealand. She changed her name and began
writing after serving her sentence.
Willie Bosket of
York was accused of “several thousand” crimes before
he reached the age of 15 when he murdered another boy and two men to “see what
it was like.” His crime spree led to the “Willie Bosket Law” which allowed
juveniles as young as 13 to be charged as adults.
Jesse Pomeroy was 14 when he was charged with the murder of a four-year-old boy in
Authorities learned later he had also killed a 10-year-old girl and buried her
body in his mother’s cellar.
Horrifying? Yes. Unique? No.