Of all of the aspects of the human existence, very little has been as constant and ubiquitous as the tendency to become violent. Whether the dead had elaborate burials or were left out in the sun to rot, murder has been around since as long as there have been humans, and as long as there has been murder, there have been bodies to discover and people to hold accountable for such crimes. But in some seemingly unusual cases, the person discovered to be the evil murderer is a child.
The question of why children commit murder leads us down a long, winding path of possible explanations, some of which give credence to the idea that some people are just quite simply born violent. Another line of thinking suggests that children who murder are, more often than not, victims of abuse, neglect, or other chaotic home lives which make for a recipe for disaster. Children under 12 years old who commit murder are exceedingly rare, but it does happen, and child murderers over the age of 12 are actually quite common and have been throughout the entirety of human history. Here are ten child murderers from the past and their stories.
10 Nathaniel Abraham
On October 29, 1997, Nathaniel Abraham was only 11 years old. He had borrowed a .22-caliber rifle and headed down the street to a hillside near a local convenience store in Pontiac, a suburb located near Detroit, Michigan. It was then that Abraham raised his rifle and shot a teenager, 18-year-old Ronnie Greene, in the head. This seemingly spontaneous act of murder was senseless. Greene was a complete stranger to Abraham—this was a random killing in cold blood. What on Earth could possibly possess an 11-year-old to commit such a heinous crime?
Nathaniel was arrested and brought up on charges for homicide and faced life in prison. But the prosecution made the suggestion that the young boy be reassessed at age 19 and again at age 21. He was released from juvenile detention on his 21st birthday. But it would only be two years before Abraham was in trouble again, this time for selling ecstasy in 2009, violating the conditions of his release. He received a four- to 20-year prison sentence.
9 Cindy Collier And Shirley Wolf
Cindy Collier and Shirley Wolf were an interesting duo of child murderers and were practically straight out of a horror movie. The two girls were only 15 and 14 years old, respectively, on June 14, 1983, when the duo would come together to commit one of the most senseless crimes of all time: the murder of Anna Bracket, an 85-year-old woman. The girls simply walked right up to the elderly woman’s door, knocked, and explained that they were being followed by strange men. They proceeded to ask this caring woman if they could use her phone to call for help, to which she agreed. That’s when the two seemingly innocent young girls would strike.
Collier was definitely the brains and the evil behind the plot to kill an innocent grandmother, and Wolf probably just went along for the ride. Cindy Collier had a long history of violence and criminal acts, including burglary, theft, possession of drugs, and a foreshadowing charge of assault. Like all too many child murderers, Cindy had been sexually assaulted and raped at a very young age. Wolf came from a background of sexual assault as well. After her father was arrested for molesting the poor young girl, she went in and out of various foster homes.
Upon entering the home, the two teenage girls proceeded to stab Anna Bracket a total of 27 times. Later, Shirley Wolf would write in her journal one of the most cryptic messages ever left behind by a killer: “Today, Cindy and I ran away and killed an old lady. It was lots of fun.” Even more terrifying, the girls had only met one another eight hours before they decided to commit the murder. The stars seemingly aligned in just the right way to create a dark disaster. Upon their arrest and during their trial, the girls were notably cold, uncaring, and completely devoid of all emotion. They were the definition of coldhearted, personified evil.
8 Mary Bell
Like Nathaniel Abraham, Mary Bell committed murder at the age of 11 years old, and like Cindy Collier and Shirley Wolf, her early life was marred by sexual abuse. She was even prostituted by her parents to make ends meet. Bell was born to an extremely impoverished family in 1957 in Newcastle, England, and would live an extremely troubled life, from abusive and alcoholic parents to being prostituted and raped. Her mother was highly mentally unstable, and young Mary never really had a chance at a normal life. At age 11, Mary Bell would meet another girl, Norma Bell (of no relation), who was 13 years old, and the two would become friends.
Then, on May 25, 1968, Mary Bell and Norma bell murdered a four-year-old boy by the name of Martin Brown in an abandoned building, though Mary herself actually killed Martin, while Norma was just present. The police initially wrote the murder off as an accidental death, but upon further investigation, they realized that the boy had been strangled. This is when Mary and Norma broke into an abandoned building and decided to vandalize it. They left a note behind in the building, claiming responsibility for the killing, which the police initially took to be a prank.
Then came the next murder, when the two girls killed a three-year-old boy, this time together, named Brian Howe, luring him into the woods to strangle him. The police would then make the connection and take the two girls a bit more seriously, and they would be brought up on charges. The charges against Norma were dropped, but Mary ended up serving 12 years before being released. In a bizarre twist of fate, she would give birth to her first child on May 25, 1984, exactly 16 years to the day after the murder of Martin Brown.
7 Luke Woodham
Luke Woodham of Pearl, Mississippi, was only 16 years old on October 1, 1997, when his killing rampage began. He had been a well-behaved boy and student all the way up until that date, when something inside him snapped and took him down a dark road of rage and murder. While Luke didn’t grow up in a particularly violent household, there were definitely some problems at home, and Luke was ostracized at school for his appearance. In 1997, Luke fell in with a sort of pseudo-cult, much like The Vampire Clan, which was headed up by youth killer Rod Ferrell. They were called “The Kroth” and only consisted of three members. Even before that, Luke had been writing some pretty bizarre essays in class. The following assignment, based on a prompt asking the students to describe what they’d do if they spent the day as their teacher, read:
If I could spend a day as Mrs. Neal, I would be very, very nice to Luke Woodham and pass him for the year. Then I would knock the crud out of the ‘omniscient dork’ for putting junk on my computer.
Then I would go crazy and kill all of the other teachers. Then I would slowly and very painfully torture all of the principals to death.
Then I would withdraw all of my money in the bank and give it to Luke Woodham. Then I would get all of the other teachers and principals’ bank account numbers, withdraw all of the money and give it to Luke Woodham.
Then I would do acid. Then I would get a gun and blow my brains out all over the dog-gone room and leave my house to Luke Woodham.
It seems as if his mind was slowly cracking and going insane. Then October 1 would come, and Luke would murder his mother, Mary Woodham, by bludgeoning and stabbing her. He then took a .30-.30 rifle, drove to school, handed his close friend his notebooks (containing his diary, which would tell us a lot about the young murderer), and shot nine of his classmates, killing two of them. Luke Woodham would be caught, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. This was a historically notable event, as it was the first of a series of school shootings in the United States in the late 1990s and helped to inspire subsequent ones, most infamously the Columbine massacre.
6 Jesse Pomeroy
Jesse Pomeroy was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on November 29, 1859, with a defect in his right eye which made it appear almost completely white. His alcoholic parents were often extremely violent and abusive. Jesse would be mocked and tormented by other kids and even his family, who were repulsed by his eye. His social awkwardness didn’t help him, either. Pomeroy was an extremely twisted child from the start. Today, the DSM-V would probably define him as a psychopath, and the FBI would consider him an organized lust killer, one who tortures and kills for erotic pleasure above all else.
It all began in 1871, when Jesse began luring young boys to an undisclosed location, stripping them nude, tying them up, and beating them ruthlessly with a rope or other objects as well as often cutting them with a knife. While Pomeroy would eventually confess to 29 murders in total (a probable lie), he was convicted of the murders of two young children, four-year-old Horace Millen and ten-year-old Katie Curran.
On March 18, 1874, Curran disappeared, and the last place she was seen was a shop owned by Jesse’s parents that he often worked at. Her disappearance was strange to the police, but they didn’t have any evidence to implicate Jesse, who was only 14 years old at the time. Some five weeks later, in April 1874, the body of Horace Millen was discovered by two kids walking along the beach in search of shells and other fun things. He was almost decapitated, strangled, cut with a knife, almost completely castrated, and had been set on fire. A witness saw a young boy running from the scene but couldn’t make out who it was, but this was enough for police to immediately begin to suspect Pomeroy.
Upon finding him, police noticed that his boot prints matched the boot prints found at the scene, he had blood all over him, and he was carrying a bloody knife. The police were certain they had their man. They arrested Jesse Pomeroy and pressured him into a confession to the murder of young Horace. Jesse would be sentenced to die for the two murders he was charged with, but shortly before his 17th birthday, his sentence would be committed to life in prison, largely due to his young age. Jesse Pomeroy would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
5 Peter Barratt And James Bradley
Peter Barratt and James Bradley were another murderous duo, a pair of young boys from Stockport, England. These two eight-year-olds would go on to commit a crime so horrific that it defies reason, as we wonder how two children so young could actually kill someone. In April 1861, the body of a two-year-old boy, George Burgess, was found with all of the marks which indicated murder. While the police discovered old scars on the body which were indicative of previous child abuse, multiple witnesses said they had seen George last with Peter Barratt and James Bradley. The two boys had taken young George’s life by beating him brutally and drowning him by shoving his face into a nearby brook.
The courts of the day were a bit different and claimed that the Devil had possessed the boys, who had steered too far from the path of God, and that he was the real cause behind the murder. When questioned, the boys confessed, admitting in detail everything they did to the two-year-old George as they savagely murdered him. While the boys were found to be capable of deciphering good from evil, a trial would find that they didn’t understand the consequences of their actions, due to their young age. As a result, Barratt and Bradley were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to one month in jail, followed by five years in reform school.
4 Alfred Dancey
Alfred Dancey was a schoolboy of 14 years old when he committed murder. Outside of school, Alfred Dancey was merely an errand boy, and details aren’t exact on how the event came to be, as we have old newspaper sources to go by and very little else. In May 1850, Dancey and another boy named Collins were hanging out near the Bedminster iron bridge in Bristol, when another group came up, passed them, and said something. Dancey and his counterpart immediately began calling the other boys (Horgan, Coggan, and William Braund) vulgar names. A scuffle ultimately broke out after more words were exchanged in several different locations. For quite a while, Dancey and his friend had followed the other three around and insulted them.
Finally, Dancey, filled with rage, drew a pistol and ran toward William Braund, pointing it at him and threatening to shoot before eventually pulling the trigger. Braund was killed. What the dispute was over is unknown, but Alfred was shipped to Australia, where he would serve a ten-year sentence for the murder.
3 Michael Carneal
Michael Carneal was yet another 14-year-old with an inclination to kill and a gun. Michael was an unassuming, bespectacled boy and not exactly the definition of physical prowess. Michael didn’t fit in at all with his peers. He finally exploded on December 1, 1997, the year the school shooting was seemingly born. Armed with a .22-caliber semiautomatic weapon, he entered a hallway in Heath High School, near Paducah, Kentucky. A group of Christian students had gathered to pray, and Michael opened fire on them. Of the approximately 40 students present, Carneal managed to tragically kill three girls and wound five more people.
Immediately after striking the students, Michael Carneal became terrified as what he’d done began to sink in. He pleaded with those around him to kill him as he cried tears of both fear and pain. Carneal then laid down his weapon and surrendered. Police took him in, and he was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 25 years.
2 William Allnut
According to court records, William Allnut was 12 years old when he committed his murder in England in 1847. He, too, was odd-looking, in that he was only 150 centimeters tall (4’11”) and had a long face and freckles. His father was said to have been insane, and William would reportedly sleepwalk and hear voices. William was often dishonest and would lie to or argue with his grandfather, a man named Samuel Nelme. Apparently, on one occasion, the two got into a massive argument, and Samuel hit him. This caused the 12-year-old boy to fall and hit his head.
Angered by the fight, and especially losing it, William devised a plan to get back at his grandfather: He went and stole some arsenic and put it in the sugar bowl, mixing it in so that it blended with the sugar. The arsenic ended up killing Samuel Nelme, and William would be arrested and stand trial. His trial was littered with prosecution witnesses, and even his own mother came to testify against him, saying that he was a particularly bad child. William was convicted and sentenced to transportation to Australia for life. He died of tuberculosis at age 18.
1 William York
William York is the earliest case on our list and was extremely young when he took the life of his victim, Susan Mahew, in 1748. Susan was only five years old at the time, and William was ten. While sources are scarce on this event, it definitely did happen, as we have newspaper stories and other media concerning the incident. William York apparently met Susan Mahew at a workhouse in Eyke, Suffolk, England. According to William, an argument had broken out between them before he smacked Susan, and she began to cry.
She began to flee, but York went inside, got a knife, and then came out. He grabbed Susan by the hand and proceeded to slice her wrist. He then continued to cut her elbow and wrists down to the bone, before finally cutting into her thigh, all the way down to the bone, so that she slowly bled out. William York then realized he had a body on his hands, which he washed and then buried. He was caught, tried, and convicted of the murder. He was sentenced to death but eventually pardoned.
I like to write about murder, dark stuff, and history.