Monday, October 20, 2014

Children Who Murder

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 London.

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 Australia 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 Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, 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.

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 New Zealand. She changed her name and began writing after serving her sentence.

Willie Bosket of New 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 Boston. 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.


  1. Interesting blog, John. Sadly there have been more recent cases too, I just find it incredible that such a thing could happen.

    1. Thanks, Margaret. Some statistics indicate an increase in child violence today. Maybe. But then it could be the modern variety of media gives us wider access to the reports.

  2. Hi, John,

    I had read about Anne Perry's case some years ago and was surprised. I suppose it gave her first-hand knowledge of adolescent crime. It is frightening to think that children are capable of great violence but as a former teacher I am well aware of it.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jacqui. Perry publicly acknowledged her role in the case after it was leaked to the press. There was also a film, though the names were changed.

  3. Halloween movies are too often based on such, too.

  4. Thank you so much for the historical perspective! It steams me when people lament *what the world is coming to*. Our worst behaviors have always been here and I think they always will. Who knows how old Cain was when he slew Abel? Probably pretty young.

  5. I agree Kaye. People have been the same throughout history. It's just that we have more options for learning about their behavior these days.

  6. Wow... great post! But yea... it's pretty heartbreaking to see people who are intended to be naive and innocent commit such crimes...
    The Journeys of My Beating Heart