5 Chilling Cases Of Kids Who Kill

Above, top row (L-R): Mary Bell, Jon Venables, and Robert Thompson / Above, bottom row (L-R): Brenda Spencer, Eric Smith, and Josh Phillips
Above, top row (L-R): Mary Bell, Jon Venables, and Robert Thompson / Above, bottom row (L-R): Brenda Spencer, Eric Smith, and Josh Phillips

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

While most kids are busy with school, their friends, swimming lessons, and obsessing over their favourite celebrities, others have darker things on their minds. Of course, murder is shocking and heartbreaking no matter who commits it, but there’s something a little more sinister about a child who goes as far as to kill another child. Poor impulse control and a lack of empathy can lead a kid with psychopathic tendencies to do things just because they’re curious, and they are a lot less likely to have any awareness of or regard for the consequences.

The fascination with serial killers extends to their childhoods as we search for a reason why people turn out the way they do. But how do we explain a child who seems to have no real motive for killing but does it anyway? Some psychopaths are made, but others—like these children who committed cold-blooded murder—might just have been born that way.

Mary Bell
In 1968, on the day before her 11th birthday, Mary Bell strangled 4-year-old Martin Brown to death. Two months later she and an accomplice strangled 3-year-old Brian Howe. Bell was caught not long after, charged and convicted of manslaughter. A court-appointed psychiatrist described Bell as showing “classic symptoms or psychopathy” and she was deemed to be a threat to other children. She remained in prison until she was 23 when she was released and given a new identity so she could live anonymously. Two books by Gitta Sereny, The Case of Mary Bell and Cries Unheard: The Story of Mary Bell provide more details about the killings, trial and Bell’s childhood, including her personal accounts of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother.

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson
In 1993, at two-year-old James Bulger was abducted from a shopping centre in England, tortured and killed. His killers, who were caught on CCTV walking out of the shopping centre with James, were arrested just over a week later and charged with murder. His killers were two ten-year-old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. They were both found guilty making them the youngest convicted murderers of the 20th century at the time. Both boys served eight years in prison before being released under a list of conditions including never contacting each other or the Bulger family. They both were given new identities but it has since been reported that Venables is back in prison on child pornography charges.

Brenda Spencer
On January 29, 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer sat at her house across from Cleveland Elementary School and started shooting. She killed the principal and custodian and injured eight children and a police officer. When asked why she did it, she replied” I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.” The gun she used, a semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle with a telescopic sight was a Christmas gift from her father. She was tried as an adult and plead guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She was sentenced to 25 years to life and she’s still in prison today. The case was covered in Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings, by Jonathon Fast which also discusses the Columbine shooting.

Eric Smith
Eric Smith was thirteen when he lured four-year-old Derrick Robie into a wooded area and brutally murdered him. He confessed to his mother a few days later and his family called the police later that night. Smith was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to the maximum time for juvenile murderers—nine years to life. He read an apology letter to Robie’s family on public television where he said “I would switch places with Derrick and endure all the pain I’ve caused him. If it meant he would go on living, I’d switch places, but I can’t.” Smith has spent the last 23 years behind bars and been denied parole eight times. Episodes of Kids Who Kill and Killer Kids cover the case and include interviews with Smith himself.

Josh Phillips
When 8-year-old Maddie Clifton went missing on November 3, 1998, over 400 volunteers searched for her for a week. The search ended when 14-year-old Josh Phillips’ mother went to investigate her son’s “leaking” waterbed only to find Maddie’s body hidden inside. Phillips was arrested and claimed to have been playing baseball with Maddie when he accidentally hit her with a ball, causing her to bleed. He was afraid of his abusive father’s reaction so he attempted to strangle Maddie before hitting her with a baseball bat and stabbing her to death in an effort “to get her to stop crying”. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. He is currently in the midst of an appeals process based on the claim that the mandatory life in prison sentence was unconstitutional for a 14-year-old.

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