Jesse Pomeroy ‘only’ killed two people of whom we know. It was his prodromal phase, and his age, that set him apart from other Ted Bundy wannabes.
Our subject was born in Massachusetts on the eve of the Civil War to a seemingly loving mother but a violent and abusive father. Modern alienists and students of human behavior will immediately recognize that his early-onset tortures of family pets were a serious red flag; of course, in the 1860s, this was merely noted as being a ‘difficult child.’
What we do know of Jesse: starting at the age of 12, he began to lure younger boys to remote areas, where he proceeded to beat them, bite them, and in one case, try to gouge out one of their eyes with both a stick and a penknife. He did succeed in mutilating one of the boy’s genitals with the knife. He eventually let all of these boys go, albeit likely scarred physically and emotionally for life.
Predictably, the attacks became more frequent and increasingly sadistic and perverse with time. In one instance, he made the victim kneel before him and recite an obscene version of the Lord’s Prayer. When the boy refused to blaspheme thusly, he was slashed across the face, beaten, and left bleeding after salt water had been thoroughly rubbed into his gaping wounds.
Jesse was arrested on 20 September 1872 and quickly confessed to the numerous attacks, saying only that he “couldn’t help [him]self.”
He was promptly convicted in juvenile court and sent to the Lyman Reformatory School for Boys. He was supposed to remain there until he came of age, but Jesse, being no fool, read the fine print and learned that early release was mandated if he ‘reformed.’ Hence, he followed all of the rules, ignored taunts from other youths, and was a model student. Nay, he was downright angelic. Jesse was therefore paroled to his mother’s custody in February 1874, after less than 18 months in custody.
The following month, Jesse was working in his parents’ general store when ten-year old Katie Curran disappeared. She was last seen heading for the store to buy a notebook for school. Amazingly, given Jesse’s record, the police at the time didn’t consider him to be a suspect in her disappearance, probably because, up until that point, he had only victimized young boys. The investigation into Katie’s disappearance went nowhere.
Jesse got overly confident apparently, and the month following Katie’s disappearance, he was seen, hand in hand one morning, with four year old Horace Millen, who was heading to the store with a few pennies to buy sweets. Those who saw them together said later that they thought the two were brothers out for a jaunt.
Horace’s body was found at 4 p.m. that same afternoon. He had been stabbed eighteen times in the chest, his throat had been slashed ear-to-ear, and his face and genitals had been mutilated.
Someone, finally, noted the similarities between Horace’s injuries and those of Jesse’s victims two years previously. The police rushed to Jesse’s home, where they found him with scratches on his face and blood on his penknife. A more-thorough search of the basement of Jesse’s parents’ store uncovered Katie’s decomposed body, similarly mutilated.
Before long, Jesse again confessed, saying only, “don’t tell my mother… but please put me somewhere so that I can’t do these things again.”
At his trial his attorneys attempted an insanity defense. Three alienists (yes, that was the term used in court documents!) examined him and noted that he exhibited no remorse for his actions and that he needed to be locked away in a mental institution for life. The insanity defense didn’t work, and he was convicted of first degree murder x2, for which the penalty was death by hanging. However, the jury recommended clemency from capital punishment on account of his youth (14). The governors stalled. Two years after Jesse’s conviction for murder, when the press had died down, then-Governor Alexander Rice commuted his sentence to life in prison. But there was a catch. It had to be served in solitary confinement.
Jesse would spend 41 years in a tiny cell, totally isolated from the world. His mother visited him once a month until her death. The only other persons he saw for almost half a century were the guards. He did attempt a few half-hearted escapes, but nothing that amounted to more than a pain in the collective prison’s ass.
His sentence was relaxed in 1917, when he was 57 years of age. He was then allowed in the general population of the prison. But his health was by then failing, and more disturbing to him, his name was not recognized by new inmates to the prison system. That really bothered him, as he had enjoyed, to some degree, the prison notoriety he had attained in earlier years.
He died, still incarcerated, on this date in 1932, having spent 60 of his 72 years behind bars.
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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]