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CONVICT DIES IN PRISON WHERE HE SPENT 60 YEARS: Heart Disease Takes Notorious Jesse Pomeroy Sentenced When Boy
When newspapers across the country announced the death of convicted child killer Jesse Pomeroy on July 31, 1933, it was hardly surprisingly that relatively few people even knew who he was. Convicted in 1874 at the age of 15, he would go on to spend six decades in prison, mostly in solitary confinement. Not that he had been completely ignored by the media given his often-colourful antics and bizarre escape attempts which made for entertaining headlines, if nothing else. Through it all, he still managed to outlive virtually everyone who could recall the gruesome reign of terror leading to his being convicted in the first place.
Born in 1859 to a Boston immigrant family, Jesse Pomeroy's early life was certainly grim enough. Not only was his father an alcoholic who seemed incapable of holding a job for long, but Jesse had a congenital milky-white film over his right eye giving him a sinister appearance that made him a pariah at school. Along with was his outsider status among his classmates, he also developed early making him larger than others his age,, and perfectly suited for bullying smaller children. Jesse also grew up dealing with the general intolerance all Irish immigrant children faced in the Boston of that era which added to the anger that he seemed incapable of handling. Even though his mother did her best to protect her son, it became apparent soon enough that something was seriously wrong with him.
Beginning in 1872, police began investigating a series of shocking attacks on young boys. In these attacks, boys aged five to ten were lured away from their homes and taken to out-of-the-way places where they were then stripped naked, tied up, and viciously assaulted. Some of the boys were slashed on various parts of the body, including under the eyes, leaving them disfigured for life. They were then left abandoned to find help any way they could. Public outrage over the assaults led to a reward of $1000 being posted for information leading to an arrest. More than seventeen boys were arrested and released after victims failed to recognize them.
When Jesse Pomeroy was arrested for assault, police quickly charged him for all the other assaults as well His distinctive appearance, including the milky-white eye that so frightened his classmates, meant that victims had no difficulty identifying him. Readily confessing to the assaults, Jesse said that he was sorry but could not explain why he had committed these crimes. One newspaper article detailing Jesse Pomeroy's arrest described him as being "literally possessed of a Devil." Deemed to be sane but too young for an adult penitentiary, he was given a six-year sentence and sent to a outh reformatory in Westboro. After serving less than two years of his sentence however, Jesse's mother petitioned the courts to have him released. Since his time in the reformatory had been exemplary, Jesse was allowed to return home on February 6. 1874. Unfortunately, whatever guarantees his family provided didn't prevent what happened next.
On April 22, 1874, just months after Jesse Pomeroy's release, police found the body of four-year-old Horace Mullen in a marsh near Boston. The body had been horribly mutilated and the head was nearly severed from the trunk. This time, police didn't waste any time pinning the killing on Jesse Pomeroy. When he was arrested at his mother's south Boston home, police found that he was carrying a bloody knife and his boots were covered with marshy soil. Plaster casts of footprints found at the scene of the crime matched the 14-year-old suspect perfectly.
To force a confession out of him, one officer, took Jesse to the undertaker's office where Horace McMullen's corpse lay. On being confronted with the body, Jesse admitted knowing Horace McMullen and, when asked whether he killed him, replied, "I suppose I did." He then made a full confession but admitted that he had no idea why he had killed Horace. Newspapers were understandably appalled by the young murderer, especially since he had brutally murdered a child. Hard questions were also being asked about why he had been released from the reformatory in the first place.
But the story hardy ended there. Not long before the body of Horace Mullen was found, a ten-year-old girl, Katy Curran, had disappeared from Jesse Pomeroy's neighbourhood soon after leaving her parents' home to buy a school-book. While police searched for Katy and at least some witnesses recalled that she had been seen with Jesse Pomeroy before his arrest, no trace of her body was ever found. Jesse Pomeroy's mother, who had been operating a millinery business where Jesse had once sold newspapers,was forced to give up her shop because of all the curious onlookers driving away customers.
All of which led to a local grocer, James Nash, buying the property Mrs. Pomeroy had been renting and making renovations. Workers digging in the basement soon came across a child's remains which police identified as the body of Katy Curran. Once news of the discovery leaked out, crowds began gathering near the home of the Pomeroy family and police soon had to take Jesse's mother into custody for her own protection. Jesse's brother Charles was taken into custody that same night though police ruled out any possibility that they could have been involved.
According to police, Katy Curran had been enticed into the store while Jesse's mother was absent. He then tortured and murdered her before hiding the body in the basement and covering it with ashes. Though it seemed incredible that nobody had ever discovered the body, especially since police already suspected him of being involved, Katy's disappearance would remain a mystery for months. As for Jesse Pomeroy, stories of his suspicious behaviour in jail, including openly asking if there was a reward for discovering Katy Curran's body, raised suspicions but it was only with the body's discovery that police were finally able to get a confession.
News that Jesse Pomeroy had killed two children so soon after being released from a reformatory generated widespread outrage. Not only did Jesse's mother and brother need police protection, but there was also talk of burning down their house. Medical doctors interviewed Jesse and his mother to try understanding how a boy his age could be a compulsive killer and different theories became popular. According to one theory, Jesse had somehow become influenced by his mother's frequent visits to her husband's job in a stockyard while she was pregnant with him. It was commonly believed at the time that any trauma experienced by pregnant women could somehow be impressed onto their unborn children so the idea that Jesse had somehow been "marked" in the womb by the sight of animals being slaughtered seemed plausible enough. Jesse's mother herself dismissed that theory and instead tried to blame the vaccination he received as an infant.
Whatever the explanation, there still remained the question of what to do him. Arguably one of the first true serial killers in U.S. history, Jesse Pomeroy's case was unique in the annals of forensic history.
To be continued.
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