In this age of CSI, Without a Trace and a host of other television stories we tend sometimes to look back on previous eras with nostalgia. Oh those wonderful days when you could let your children roam the streets and not worry about their safety! Ah, those wonderful Victorian days when we were safe!
Maybe so in some areas. Not in Boston, 1872, when Jesse Pomeroy was roaming the streets. Between February 1872 and mid-September 1872, he tortured, in a sexually explicit manner, 8 young boys between the ages 5 and 8. (I’ll spare you the details of the abuse because it’s just too horrific for me to put on a public blog.) Pomeroy was 12 at the time. Yes, that’s right, not even yet a teenager. He was caught on September 20th after being identified by the last boy. He spent 2 years in a reformatory and was released in January 1874, after scarcely serving 2 years. He was considered a model prisoner, no doubt “reformed”. I sincerely doubt in these days of “easy” prison terms, this child, obviously already a sexual predator, would have been released so easily, especially with so little fanfare.
Regardless, Jesse was NOT reformed.
Within 4 months of Jesse’s release he not only went back to his former hobby of torture, he took up murder as well. He later confessed to two murders, a 10 year old girl and a 4 year old boy, both mutilated similarly to the torture he had inflicted on his other 8 victims. At the age of 14 he was convicted of murder in the first degree for the 4 year old boy. And condemned to death. But his sentence was commuted–he was only 14–specifically in solitary confinement in prison for the remainder of his life.
Society at the time labeled the horror of it all as a symptom of society decay, much like we label similar murders these days. Perhaps society is continuing to decay and that’s why we still read about these things in ever-increasing frequency. Or maybe it’s just because we are bombarded with information, and because we have such greater tools of detection these days then in the 19th century. The book I got this information Fiend by Harold Schecheter labels Pomeroy the “America’s youngest serial killer”. Personally, I doubt it. I just think it’s the one we know about.
And now, some of you might be wondering, “How is Denise going to work this into a book?”. I can’t honestly say. Much of what was written in Fiend is just too disturbing, even for a true-crime, CSI addict like me. I may make a mention of it in one of my books because a few of my characters grew up in Victorian Boston. Still, I may just prefer to forget it, and go back to the comparative comfort of Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper. Comforting because he was in England! And didn’t prey upon children. I just thought this post should be written as a reminder that for all the advances we make, some things in history just do not change.