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An epidemic that we would rather not talk about - When Kids Kill!
When Kids Kill - Jonathan Paul
Member Name: Jojoborne
When Kids Kill - Jonathan Paul
Advantages: A great read and an amazing insight into the world of Child crime.
Disadvantages: May be a bit too gruesome for some.
When Kids Kill by Jonathan Paul
Being an avid reader of True Crime and having quite a vast knowledge on Serial Killers and their methods I have also read quite a lot of non-fiction regarding crimes and murder carried out by children. I have a Christmas list and birthday list for books, movies and games that gets added to every year and I always receive a nice variety of books from my partner and family. This year was no different and I received some great books on many diverse subjects. One of these books was 'Kids Who Kill' by Jonathan Paul.
I could go into much detail about the debate on whether kids know what they are doing at a certain age or not or indeed whether they are culpable for their acts. That however is for another review and I will only gloss over my opinion here in relation to this book.
Firstly, I will say that the book is well written and well researched and a lot of the contents I was familiar with and recognised the work of other authors when quoted and sometimes when not.
The murders of children or adults by children has been a taboo subject or rather a subject that people shy away from or do not even want to contemplate. I worked as a care worker for young offenders for many years mainly on a one to one basis and I have seen many young lads that I must admit I have thought will end up in jail in later life for criminal acts, including murder. In two cases this has come to pass and in some cases there is nothing you can do to change that damaged gene. I am glad to say that in a lot of cases I have turned children with potentially volatile futures ahead of them into upstanding members of society and adults who are leading a 'normal' life. This said, sometimes there is just something wrong with the wiring from the start or the youngster has been damaged beyond repair. Some people will have the view that rehabilitation can work with every young offender but sadly this is not the case and some of the stories in this book are indicative of a society that has long been spiralling out of control or a t least teetering on the brink of it.
I have always said myself that if I had spoken to an adult the way children do today when I was a child, I would've got a clip around the ear. In today's society, young thugs are too protected; they feel invincible because they know that in this PC correct world that we live in, the balance sways in their favour when it comes to punishment for their wrong doings.
Despite all this, I am still in favour of a young murderer being given a chance at rehabilitation. I don't mean to disrespect the families of victims and indeed my heart goes out to them, but I think that some of these murderers were acting out traits that had been learned through bad upbringing and were abused to the extent that they no longer knew what was right or wrong. One of the most infamous cases in British history is the case of Mary Bell, who I will talk about later in the review. She was the most hated person in Britain after murdering a little boy when she was eleven years old. The press had a field day and we were led to believe she was some sort of monster. Years after the case the truth came out about her upbringing and she was one of the worst cases of abuse on record. This did not make it right for her to murder an innocent little boy but by that stage she didn't see that as being wrong and even in court never really grasped the enormity of her crime. I will state here that I do mean in 'some' cases. There are other cases were the child is simply a devious little swine that should be locked up forever. The case of Damilola Taylor, which I will also mention later on in the review, is a classic example for me. The four obvious murderers or at least two murderers and two accomplices got away scott-free and one was even quoted as finding the murder 'quite funny'.
The one important piece of information for me is that most of us think that these crimes are few and far between but believe me they are occurring on a weekly basis and in their hundreds. Child murders are on record as far back as the seventeen hundreds. Jonathan Paul, the author of 'Kids Who Kill', alludes to the fact that there are hundreds of cases each week but then goes on to say that it is not that bad because if the crimes were so numerous then we would no longer hear about them anymore because they would occur that often that they would no longer all be news-worthy. I totally disagree in the sense that we hear about hundreds of crimes involving children every week, including murder but there are also a lot of crimes that pass us by because the volume of them is simply too great for the press to report them all and the press are always looking out for that sensational, shocking story that grips the nation. Sadly and all too often these stories do come along.
I would now like to give an overview of each chapter of the book but without going into too much detail. Each story is quite in-depth for a book as small as this (two hundred and fifty pages) and you learn things about the cases that you may have not necessarily known before. I would like to give my opinion in some cases as well as a little background on each case.
The introduction starts with a small story to set the tone of the book. It is set in the USA in nineteen twenty-one. 'Three year old John and the little girl who had become his friend - also aged three - were thought to be safe enough, playing in the back yard: what harm could come to them? Then John put a cord around his playmate's neck. He tied the other end round a grindstone and turned the handle slowly but surely until his playmate was dead. When asked why he'd done this terrible thing, he replied, innocently enough: ''I don't like her anymore''.'
Little John was three years old and in most people's eyes innocent. There will be irrational remarks from people who will say he was an evil little sod but he was three years old and in no way knew what he was doing in the sense of murder. Yes he didn't like her anymore and was bored of her but to him in my opinion it was just the same as him pulling the head of an action figure he no longer liked. He was three years old and merely saw his friend as a play-thing and not a living, breathing human being who's life he was about to end.
This is where it is hard to draw the line at what age children are to be held culpable for their crimes. The law in Britain now states the age as ten years old, but do all ten year olds know the severity of their acts? Especially a ten year old who has lived in poverty and been mercilessly abused, both mentally and sexually since birth; are they really in their right mind, merely just lashing out in a form of revenge or acting out what they perceive to be right after witnessing it throughout their childhood so far? It is a subject that will be debated for years to come.
This introduction gives us Jonathan Paul's overview on his thoughts about child murderers and lays the foundation for the stories that follow.
Chapter One - Why Kids Kill
This first chapter is dedicated to the many reasons that could be behind a child resorting to murder. Jonathan Paul has meetings with Dr Susan Bailey OBE, who is a consultant adolescent forensic psychiatrist at the Bolton, Salford and Trafford Mental Health Partnership. She has been an expert witness in many child murder cases, including some that are covered in the book. She makes some very valid points and obviously knows what she is talking about but there are a lot of things open to debate as there always will be with this subject. It is a very interesting chapter and again leads into the following stories rather well. It is good to gain some insight from someone who has worked on the inside in some high profile cases.
Chapter Two - As Time Goes By
Chapter two delves into the archives to give us many examples of child murder dating back centuries and the second page into the chapter lists some of those crimes with quotes. I would like to share a few with you here:
'They were floating about like two drowned puppies' - William Wild, thirteen, referring to his drowning of two toddlers in England in 1835.
'Because she would not let me go to the picture show' - Boys reason for shooting and killing his stepmother in Florida in 1940.
'I took the pram from outside the shop. There was a baby in the pram and I threw it in the water. I just wanted to do it.' - English boy, aged nine, 1947.
'Murder isn't that bad. We all die sometime.' - Mary Bell, eleven, 1968.
We then get the story of Hannah, a six year old girl who along with her eight year old brother accosted a small girl and beat her badly. The girl got away as the Hannah and her brother argued over how to divide the girl's belongings. They were given a good ticking off by authorities and Hannah would go on to murder when she was twelve years old. Hannah became the youngest person ever to be executed in the USA in 1786 at the age of twelve. A ten year old boy was hanged in Louisiana in 1859 but his crime was not recorded.
The chapter then moves on to, for me, the most notorious child-killer of all time, who doesn't get a chapter to himself in the book because it was so long ago and no one has heard of him. The book does tend to stick to the more high profile British cases, which is understandable. I have already written a review on Jesse Pomeroy, the fourteen year old child killer. The review was done on the book 'Fiend' by Harold Schechter, which covers the Pomeroy case most intimately. This kid was a deviant and a sadist and a sociopath and his story is a shocking one. As an adult he spent over fifty years in jail for his crimes as a child. Supporters of the Bulger family (one of the most high profile cases in British history) could have pointed to this case when little Jamie Bulger's killers were released without even having to face adult prison. Pomeroy spent over twenty of these years in solitary confinement. Please feel free to seek out my review to find out more.
The chapter then covers the story of Peter and John, two eight year old boys who murdered a two year old boy in Stockport in nineteen sixty-one. It was another massive case that drew a nation together but is now not really remembered or recognised by anyone apart from people old enough to recall it.
Chapter Three - The Boy Who Loved Poisons
Many of you will recognise the name of Graham Young as an infamous adult serial killer from the sixties but many of you will not realise he was jailed for murder as a child too. Some of you may also have read my review on the movie 'The Young Poisoners Handbook', which was loosely based on the Graham Young story. Graham Young was a British teenager who lived in St Albans and allegedly poisoned family, friends, and co-workers. Graham is highly intelligent, but completely amoral. He is childlike in his grasp of reality and does not seem to have any conscience. He does, however know right from wrong but feels compelled to carry out his heinous crimes all for the sake of his so-called research.
He becomes interested in science, especially chemistry, and begins to read avidly both at home and at his local library. Something of a social misfit, he is fascinated by morbid subjects such as poisons and murder .His family environment is intolerable to him and, in particular, his stepmother torments him and makes him feel inadequate through degrading experiences such as scrubbing him clean in the bath and stripping him down to his underpants in front of guests. He decides to poison those who annoy him, first with antimony and later with the non-traceable and deadly thallium. He is very nonchalant in his acts and although wary of being caught, he flirts with danger by displaying his knowledge of poisons and diagnosing people's symptoms after he has poisoned them.
Even at a very young age he was a racist and a fascist and he worshipped Adolf Hitler and openly wore a Swastika badge, which he would lovingly kiss when he thought no one was looking. The rest of the chapter covers how Graham was caught (twice) and his experiences in a mental institute leading to his apparent cure and his release out into an unsuspecting world when he was obviously not cured.
Chapter Four - The World's Worst
This chapter focuses on the story of Mary Bell. Many of you will be familiar with this name as she is probably one of the most hated people in Britain. Today of course, to the chagrin of most, she is living free with a false identity. I think the crime Mary committed was cruel beyond belief but for me in this case I think that she was only acting out what she had been taught was the norm in her short life so far. She was eleven when she murdered a little boy. This is not an excuse but once you read about her upbringing and the sexual and mental abuse she endured, it is not a wonder she turned out like she did. I also agree with the false identity all these later if not just to protect her own daughter from the vultures who would still seek to romanticise the story for their own immoral gains.
The Bell story is one of those tales that will never go away and will always cause shock when read for the first time but it is the underlying story that is the most shocking. As many of you will know, I am not one for the 'He was dropped on his head as a child', 'He wets the bed' or 'He tortures animals' line of excuse for the reasons a person becomes a killer; but I will say that in some cases it is hardly surprising at all that a person turns out to be a killer when all they have witnessed as a child is mental and physical abuse on both a social and sexual level.
This chapter contains transcripts from the trial and inside information about the case.
Chapter Five - The Killing of James Bulger
One of the main reasons I wanted to read this book was to read some more information on the Bulger case. There are not many of us who don't remember that fateful day in nineteen ninety-three when little two year old James Bulger was led away from a shopping centre by two ten year old boys in Liverpool. Out TV screens were dominated by little Jamie's face for the next few days. Eventually he would be found on railway line, his little body cut in two and his body abused and battered in one of the worst crimes that had been seen by police officers for years.
The news had also been dominated by a grainy piece of footage from the CCTV camera inside the shopping centre that showed James being led away by the two boys.
Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were arrested for the murder and given eight years. Basically, they were put into care and when they were eighteen, they were given new identities and released without having to serve time in an adult prison. It is a fact that many people in England totally disagree with.
For me I always saw Venables as the ring leader and Thompson as the quiet kid who followed along and took part against his will. I based this as many did on the evil photograph of Venables that was put in the paper. He looked like a little Richard Ramirez and I remember many people saying how evil he looked. This gave Robert Thompson an even more angelic appearance. This is where the old cliché 'Never judge a book by its cover' is more prevalent than ever. I never judge people but on this occasion I was guilty of doing so.
It turns out that Thompson was the aggressor and the bad boy out of the two although Venables did play his part in the murder. It was Thompson who was the instigator, it seems.
In 2011 when Venables was twenty-eight years old he was arrested for having child pornography on his computer. He is now serving time in an adult prison. At the time, this further fuelled my thoughts on Venables and I thought I was justified in thinking he was the bad one. You never hear anything about Thompson after all, so he must have turned his life around and now lives as normally as he can.
The ironic and sad thing is that it was Venables who admitted his part in the murder at ten years of age and did well in care. He was compliant and not considered a danger to anyone when released with his new identity. It seems he could not handle what they had done in the end and turned to a life of drugs and drink. He will now pay for his crimes.
Thompson on the other hand never admitted to the murder of James Bulger until he was sixteen and then still maintained that it was not he who was the main culprit. Stories have now emerged from his time in care. He bragged of torturing animals at one home and was even said to have got into a fight with another child who had killed his own mother. The fight was caused by an argument over who had committed the worst crime. It may be that Thompson has come to terms with what he has done. It may be that he is now twenty-nine years old and walking around like a time bomb waiting to go off. We may never hear about him again or we may hear about him in another shocking tale of murder and depravity. ; Let's hope not.
One thing for sure is the fact that the Bulger case will always be one of the saddest and most remembered cases in UK criminal history.
Chapter Six - Murder on Hungerford Bridge
Timothy Baxter and Gabriel Cornish were two likeable teenagers plodding along on their skateboards along the embankment in London. They decided to take a short cut across the Hungerford Bridge. Halfway across they encountered three youths who were intent on robbing them for the fun of it? Baxter and Cornish said they had nothing worth taking and that was their only crime. Three other youths emerged and Baxter and Cornish called for their help. To their sheer horror, the three newcomers joined in. They were beaten quite badly. Baxter had his head stamped on repeatedly and then they were both thrown over the side of the bridge into the freezing Thames water.
Cornish was afloat in the Thames and kept losing consciousness. He was suffering with hyperthermia and was luckily rescued and revived. Baxter's body was found two days later.
The rest of the chapter details the trail and also gives an insight into the background of all six culprits and the two victims.
Cornish, who was a bright lad, with everything ahead of him, gave up his studies and suffers constant grief over what happened to his friend that night.
When I read about these kids, because that is what they are, just kids, it makes my blood boil. There are hundreds of them if not thousands on the streets of every city around the world. No respect for anything or anyone and it makes me rather sad of what is to become of this world.
Chapter Seven - The Body in the Canal
For me this is just as bad if not worse than the Bulger case. This chapter looks at the murder of a frail old lady by Sarah Davey and Lisa Healey who were fourteen and fifteen year old girls.
I will leave the details of the crime for this one as it may not be familiar to you and I would like you to read it for yourself.
This case was also very high-profile as you can imagine and after the trouble in the Bulger case with press and hate filled mobs outside courthouses, the justice system decided to keep the 'girl A' and 'girl B' tags on this case. They also did that with the Bulger case in that the boys were branded 'Boy A' and 'Boy B' throughout the trail but once convicted their names were given and it created chaos. So to avoid this they did not name the two girls in this case until they reached eighteen.
This has to go down as one of the most awful attacks and murders by two young girls in history. These two are way worse than Mary Bell in my opinion and Mary at least had some diminished responsibility in her case. These two were just evil little sods out for a bit of a laugh.
What makes it worse is one is now free and got pregnant while on day release from prison. She had the baby of a male prisoner, also on day release from another prison; how romantic. The other one is up for parole again soon as she was working as a cleaner on day release but got court stealing valuables belonging to visitors to the hotel at which she worked. Pictures of their cells were released to the press and they had top of the range Televisions and make-up, jewellery and nice clothes.
What did poor old Lillian Lilley have once these two murders finished with her? Nothing!
Chapter Eight - Blood Brothers
This is the story of two young brothers, Derek King, who was thirteen and his younger brother Alex, who was twelve. They killed their father with a baseball bat and then tried to burn the evidence.
This is one of those stories that you have to take at face value as there are so many discrepancies in the events leading up to the murder. The boys have always maintained that they were abused by their father and could take it no more; to make their lives easier, they had ended his. One of the stories is that Alex, the younger brother was homosexual and his father did not like this fact. His older brother in sticking up for him battered their father with a baseball bat. They tried to burn the house down but the fire failed to reach the room that their father's body was in.
I tend to think that is was Derek, the older boy who wanted rid of their Father, because when they were questioned the younger boys stories of their Father's beatings ranged from once to hardly ever to frequent. It is obvious that he was coached by his older brother and failed miserably at remembering when to say what.
It still remains a chilling story and one that residents of Escamba County, Florida will remember for years to come.
Chapter Nine - Blood Lust
Often with child killers it emerges that the culprit had been suffering from mental problems. These problems are often hidden to their family and friends and only become apparent after a crime has been committed. In the case of Matthew Hardman, who was seventeen at the time of his arrest for the murder of an old lady, it should have been obvious way before he escalated his already strange behaviour to commit murder.
Matthew wanted to be a vampire and was a member of many vampire sites on the internet. He believed that if he drank someone's blood he would become immortal and thus fulfil his dream of becoming a vampire.
He lives in the famous Welsh town with the long name,
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerchwyrndrobwilli̴ 3;antysiliogogogoch. Sorry, I couldn't resist.
The woman he killed, a Mrs Leyshon, was found with twenty-two stab wounds to her body; two of them through her heart. Her legs had been propped up and her stockings removed to allow the blood to drain into carefully placed saucepans and bowls below her. One of the bowls had red lip marks on it where Matthew had drunk her blood. The saucepans had been placed in a ritual like manner on silver platters and in certain formations marking certain cult traditions; Matthew followed the Kahlo movement which is devoted to the deceased surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
Matthew used to draw and scribble a lot himself and the sketches would always be of decapitation or death and invariably vampire or gothic related. Kahloists would probably distance themselves from the fact that they have anything to do with vampires but the artwork of Frida Kahlo would no doubt appeal to many vampire lovers and collectors of vampire art.
The story of Matthew Hardman is a sad one and another case which begs the question 'Should we listen more and should we be more aware of our children's strange tastes or hobbies?' Matthew came from a pretty normal home but was just twisted by his obsession with the morbid, with death and with becoming a vampire himself. Could he have been cured or helped? Maybe, maybe not but an old lady's life could possibly have been saved.
Chapter Ten - No Angels
The last chapter in the book or at least the last story in the book is one that saddens me to this day and is probably still right in the general public's thoughts.
It is the story of the horrible and totally unnecessary death of little ten year old Damilola Taylor on the twenty seventh of November 2000.
Damilola had only been in the UK for a few months and had started a new school a couple of months ago. He was a well-liked little boy who always had a smile on his face and the wonderment of a little boy who was on an adventure in a wondrous new world. His family had moved to London from Nigeria in the hope of finding a better life for themselves and their family.
Damilola was on his way from school on the day in question, when he was confronted by four youths. This was a regular occurrence in some estates in London and the youths were seeking money or a mobile phone. Damilola had neither. All he had was his nice new puffer jacket that he Father had worked hard to buy him. The boys were obviously not amused by the fact that he had nothing to offer, so one of them smashed a bottle and cut Damilola on his thigh, deeply. The bottle was twisted as the youth knew this would open the wound more and cause more pain. Damilola was jumping up and down in distress and calling for help. It was at this time that it is belived that one of the youths stuffed a marble down Damilola's throat to choke him or shut him up.
The youths then fled the scene and left poor little Damilola in agony. The poor boy managed to crawl thirty yards towards his home, which was only two hundred yards away. He was found by a van driver who tried to revive him and called nine, nine, nine. The van driver was talked through what to do by the operator until the ambulance arrived. The police arrived first and tried to revive him as well but it was all in vain and it became apparent after his death that if he hadn't have bled to death then he would've choked on the marble that was placed in his mouth.
In the trial four boys were arrested and named 'Boy A', 'Boy B', 'Boy C' and 'Boy D'. Their names have never been released to the public and all four of them walked free from the court room. No one has been arrested for this poor little boy's murder; because that is what it was, murder!
Two of the boys arrested were twins and while in custody awaiting trial they admitted to stabbing him but said they never intended to kill him. I say that is utter rubbish. To cut someone on a main artery in the upper thigh and to twist to maximise damage, says to me that you knew exactly what you were doing. The criminal history of the four boys reads like a 'Burglars 101' of petty theft. They were renowned around their area for being trouble makers. One of them even said he had threatened a ten year old with a knife before. That age old term 'Circumstantial evidence' came into play and nothing could be pinned on the suspects. It didn't help that a substantial reward was offered for information leading to convictions, because the prosecutions main witness was a young girl that turned out to be a drunk like her mother and about as an unreliable person.
The boys were also said to show no remorse and one of them even said he thought that Damilola's death was quite funny.
Give me ten minutes in a room with these four and I will show you justice, believe me. In all seriousness though, the law really is an ass and surely it is about time that we change some of these age-old rules that so often let people get away with crimes that it is obvious they have committed.
At the time this book was published in 2002, there were crimes being reported as carried out by children on a weekly basis. The crimes ranged from theft, burglary and assault to murder. It is a growing problem and there is one thing I disagree with the author on, which I spoke about earlier in the review, about crimes no longer being newsworthy as we become accustomed to them.
I personally believe that kids are given too much leeway these days at too early an age. When I was fifteen I was down the park playing football or at home watching TV or reading a comic. Fifteen year olds these days are deciding which off-license to visit, whether to have sex with that girl from down the road without a condom or not, where their next dope is coming from or what house to break into next. Society is dipping in the poorer areas and we are led to believe that it is all because of the recession or the financial climate. That is a load of bull and while it obviously hasn't helped, children from poorer areas are led by example; sadly the example in most cases is out of work parents who depend on benefits to buy their alcohol and cigarettes. A lot of teenagers are left to fend for themselves and take to the streets to find food, money, drink and drugs in any way they can.
The years to come will spawn many many more Jon Venables and Robert Thompsons and even more callous young deviants like the Damilola murders and the Hungerford Bridge group. It is a sad fact but a true one and I can only see it getting worse. The police force simply do not have the man power to control it and the courts need to be revamped and the law seriously changed in some cases so that we have a solid rule for every different type of crime no matter how out there it may seem.
The age of consent needs to be properly addressed and these young murderers need to spend time in an adult prison for their crimes and need to be properly monitored. Venables and Thompson were both banned from Merseyside for life but it became clear that when Venables had been rearrested in 2011 that he had been back there frequently. In other words a child murderer who had lived a cushy life in care and not even attended adult prison had been let out onto the streets at eighteen with minimal supervision, which eventually dwindled to nothing. He had no support and nothing to do but regret his awful past. Dwelling on this he took to drink and drugs and eventually turned to what he was accused of; an interest in violence towards children and an unhealthy sexual interest , which combined made it look like he had learned nothing from his care stay and eventually evolved into what we all thought he was all along.
I will leave you with an excerpt from the final chapter which I think tells its own story and one that we can all relate to having seen something similar. This final section is in Jonathan Paul's own words and I claim no credit for its writing.
Author Jonathan Paul says that we must acknowledge the responsibility we have as parents or adults. A child's understanding owes much to what it sees around it and it will imitate what it understands to be the way 'Grown ups' behave.
''I recently witnessed a harassed mother walking down the high street pushing her baby in an overladen pram and dragging a toddler by the hand. The little boy was struggling to keep up at the same time as trying to demolish an ice-cream, most of which was ending down his front. Then the top fell off the cornet and landed with a splat on the pavement, splashing the shoe of a man at a bus stop. The man smiled and began searching for a tissue. Ignoring him (or maybe it was partly for his benefit), the woman landed her son a mighty whack across the back of the head and began yelling at him 'Now look what you've gone and done! You happy now? Are you? ARE YOU? As soon as she started this tirade, she stopped. Sounding tired rather than angry, she told her son to get a move on. The little boy stopped his tears instantly and, seemingly without a care in the world, they went on their way. Further up the road, she hit him again (I couldn't see or hear what he had done this time). He kicked her leg and ran on ahead with her still yelling at him but not, it seemed, with any expectation that he was listening. When he turned his face in my direction I could see he was laughing.
He was learning.'
Summary: A definitive look at why children murder.