At age eleven, it’s probable that you were more interested in dolls, Lego or action figures as means to keep you entertained.
Not Mary Bell. At age eleven she wanted to hurt someone. Her first victim was four year-old Martin Brown who she strangled to death in an abandoned house. Brian Howe, who was three years-old, was her second victim. He was also strangled to death but horrifically, Bell later returned to the crime scene to further mutilate his body.
Not all children who kill are as cold-hearted as Mary Bell appears to be. In some unfortunate cases, the child is branded a killer by pure accident. Take the shooting of Charles Vacca, for example – Vacca was fatally shot by a nine year-old girl who he was instructing at the shooting range where he worked.
Nonetheless, the thought of a child – the supposed manifestation of innocence – taking a life is enough to send chills down your spine. And, you might be surprised to hear that there isn’t just one type of child killer. Children can be divided into categories determined by experts based on their traits, situations and motives. Join us as we explore just some of these categories.
Just for fun: killing for the thrill of it
The idea of anyone killing for fun is troubling in itself. The thought of a child doing so, however, is sure to disturb you beyond much else.
Perhaps the most famous case of this is the murder of two year old Jamie Bulger by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were both ten at the time. CCTV footage shows the pair leading Bulger out of the shopping centre and away from his mother who he was with. Not long after, Jamie Bulger’s battered and lifeless body was discovered on the tracks near a disused railway station. In total, he suffered forty-two injuries, including ten skull fractures caused by blows from an iron bar. During questioning, they both said that they’d continued the attack because “he just kept getting up”. There was no indication of premeditation – it appeared that they’d simply come up with the idea of taking a child, and then unable to think of a way to end it, they decided to kill him.
It’s all relative: killing family members
Children might be motivated to kill members of their family for a variety of reasons. They might retaliate in response to abuse, they might do it for some perceived advantage or they might be encouraged to by another family member.
In the case of David Brom, the motivations behind brutally axe-murdering his entire family are not quite as clear. Sixteen at the time, after killing his parents, sister and brother, he skipped school with a friend and bragged about his crimes. During the trial, Brom pleaded not guilty by reasons of insanity but as this was clearly a cop out and he was convicted of murder in the first degree.
Insane in the membrane: pathology and mental illness
Many people are skeptical about the possibility of children suffering mental illness, but they can certainly suffer depression and even paranoid schizophrenia, just like adults. And, if these go unchecked, the results can be fatal.
Take Sam Mazie, for example, who at age fifteen was assisting police in the investigation of a forty three year-old man who had been sexually abusing him. His parents were seriously concerned about Manzie’s mental health and desperately tried to get him help for fear he would become violent. Their worries were dismissed by a doctor who said that they were overreacting. This was on the 24th September. By the 27th September, Manzie had raped and strangled eleven year-old Eddie Werner to death.
“Safe” learning environment: school killings
Unfortunately, it is likely that you are no stranger to the concept of children going on a killing spree in their own school. This is, sadly, an issue that can be considered somewhat of an epidemic in the United States.
These crimes, often shootings, are usually driven by a desire to right a perceived wrong done to them by their peers. They see this as the final vengeance and the only way out of the situation. Fourteen year old Michael Carneal was constantly bullied at school – his classmates said he had “Michael Germs” and would steal his lunch. It was this that supposedly motivated him to open fire on a prayer group at his high school, killing three.
Sadly, Carneal’s is just one story that follows this pattern.
We’re all in this together: group killings
There are two predominant forms of group killings that children, especially teenagers, may fall into: those who kill as a part of a gang and those who take lives as a part of a cult.
Gang killers, as you might expect, tend to be teenagers who have joined a gang as means to fit in and are pressurised from within the gang to kill. This could be as a part of an initiation process, or perhaps, in cases of robberies or gang warfare. Resistance to commit violence is considered weak by other gang members and thus driven by their desire to be a part of the group, and these young people comply.
Next, cult killings tend to be driven by a number of factors. Some believe, for instance, that human sacrifice is a means to increase their powers. In these cases, such as that of Rodrick Ferrell, killing is a means to an end. This sixteen year-old took the lives of his girlfriend’s parents so that he could steal their car and drive his cult members to New Orleans. Just like gang killers, the children that participate in these killings tend to be driven by a desire to fit in and be a part of something “special”.
Your turn: Can you think of any other reasons children might kill? Do you have any other stories of killer kids to share? Let us know in the comments below.