It’s rare for a child to commit a serious crime, and even rarer for that act to be murder. So when these cases make the news, they fascinate readers, and stay in the public consciousness long after the trials have ended.
Whether it’s nature or nurture, what makes someone a killer is something that’s long been debated by psychiatrists. That question is even trickier when you apply it to child murderers ― how does an innocent young person turn into a cold-hearted killer? Below, we take a closer look at some of the most chilling child murderers:
1 | Jon Venables and Robert Thompson
In February 1993, these two 10-year-olds lured a 2-year-old boy named James Patrick Bulger away from his mom in the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, England, leading him to nearby train tracks. There, they tortured Bulger and mutilated him so badly, his autopsy couldn’t reveal his actual cause of death. Thompson and Venables were charged with Bulger’s abduction and murder, and were found guilty on November 24, 1993, making them the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history.
2 | The Bathtub Girls: Sandra And Elizabeth Andersen
Sandra, 16, and Elizabeth, 15, were two Canadian girls who were responsible for the murder of their own mother in Mississauga, Ontario. Also known as the Bathtub Girls, they got their mom Linda Andersen drunk in 2003, gave her Tylenol tablets, and drowned her in the tub. The names Linda, Sandra and Elizabeth Andersen are aliases created by Bob Mitchell in an effort to protect their identities.
During lunchtime on January 18, 2003, the sisters began giving their mother liquor in order to get her drunk. Their plan was to make Linda fully inebriated so that she could not resist their attack. They also gave Linda six Tylenol 3 tablets (containing codeine), to slow down her heartbeat. Sandra and Beth then waited for the drugs to work. While waiting, the sisters communicated with their friends online, one of whom ended their conversation with the phrase “well good luck – wear gloves”.
Sandra and Beth filled the family bathtub with water and took Linda to the bathroom. Linda had difficulty getting into the bathtub, because of the mixture of vodka and pills she had been given. After putting gloves on, Sandra and Beth gave their mother a massage. Within minutes, according to police reports, Sandra instructed her mother to lie on her stomach so that she could scrub her back.
Sandra instantly pushed her mother’s head down and did not let go. After four minutes, Sandra released her mother’s head and found Linda to be dead. After having killed their mother, Sandra and Beth went with their friends to a nearby restaurant where they celebrated their victory. Later that night, Sandra and Beth called 9-1-1 and informed them that they had found their mother lying in the bathtub.
3 | Brenda Spencer: “I don’t like Mondays”
In 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer opened fire with a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle on an elementary school playground outside her home, her reason simply being, “I don’t like Mondays.” The school’s principal and janitor died. She’s said that she feels partially responsible for every school shooting that has happened since.
4 | Daniel Bartlam
Daniel Bartlam admitted to the manslaughter of his mom, Jacqueline Bartlam, in cold blood, when he was just 14 years old. On Easter 2011, while his mother slept, Daniel murdered her by hitting her seven times with a claw hammer. Daniel set his mother’s body on fire before ringing the police and reporting that a burglar had killed her.
Detectives soon noticed inconsistencies in Daniel’s claims and searched his computer, where they recovered a deleted file which detailed his murder plans in the form of a story. Daniel had no motive, but Jacqueline’s former partner testified that Daniel had a passion for violent films and video games, which police believe led to his incredibly violent crime. The 14-year-old was sentenced to a minimum of 16 years in prison.
5 | Mary Bell
Bell was 10 years old when she committed her first murder on 25 May 1968, the day before her 11th birthday, strangling a 4-year-old boy named Martin Brown. The following year on July 31, 1968, she strangled 3-year-old Brian Howe on wasteland in the same Scotswood area. For this second murder, she had a 13-year-old accomplice named Norma Joyce Bell.
Police reports concluded that Mary Bell later returned to his body to carve an “M” into the boy’s abdomen and used scissors to cut off some of his hair, scratch his legs, and mutilate his genitals.
Between the first and the second killing, the two girls broke into and vandalized a nursery in Scotswood, leaving notes that claimed responsibility for the killing. The police dismissed this incident as a prank. Mary Bell now lives in England under a new name.
6 | Joshua Phillips
In 1998, 14-year-old Joshua murdered his 8-year-old neighbour, Maddie Clifton, and hid her body under his water bed. He hit her with a baseball bat and stabbed her 11 times, and her body was found when Joshua’s mom noticed a strange smell coming from his room. Joshua was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
7 | Pauline Parker And Juliet Hulme
These New Zealand girls had a dangerously co-dependent relationship, in which they spent most of their time in a fantasy world of their creation. When their parents tried to separate them in 1954 by sending Juliet to live in South Africa, the girls murdered Pauline’s mother. The murder has inspired plays, novels, non-fiction books, and films including Peter Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures.
On the afternoon of June 22, 1954, Honorah Rieper (also known as Honorah Parker, her legal name) had gone for a walk through in Victoria Park, in Christchurch, New Zealand with her 16-year-old daughter Pauline Parker and Pauline’s 15-year-old best friend Juliet Hulme. Approximately 130 metres down the path, in a wooded area of the park near a small wooden bridge, Juliet and Pauline bludgeoned Honorah to death with half of a brick enclosed in an old stocking.
After committing the murder, which they had planned together, the two girls fled, covered in blood, back to the tea kiosk where the three of them had eaten only minutes before. They were met by Agnes and Kenneth Ritchie, owners of the tea shop, whom they told that Honorah had fallen and hit her head.
The girls’ trial was a sensation. Much of the evidence presented by witnesses focused on the close relationship between Parker and Hulme, their absorption with one another, and their fantasies about becoming famous novelists. When their parents, concerned that the girls’ friendship had become obsessive and co-dependent, threatened to separate them, they had reacted violently.
8 | Barry Dale Loukaitis
Loukaitis was a 14-year-old student at Frontier Middle School in Washington in February 1996 when he shot and killed his algebra teacher and two students. He then held the class hostage for an hour until a gym coach showed up, tackled Loukaitis to the ground, and helped students escape.
Loukaitis arrived at school in an all-black wild west outfit that day, and during the shooting, he quoted from the Stephen King novel “Rage,” citing “This sure beats the hell out of algebra, doesn’t it?” The motives for the killing range from mental illness to his dysfunctional family.
9 | Lionel Tate
Tate was 13 when he was convicted of killing six-year-old Tiffany Eunick in Broward County, Florida while playing in his basement. They were supposedly wrestling, and he went down too hard on the girl, lacerating her liver and fracturing her skull.
On July 28, 1999, Tate was left alone with Eunick, who was being babysat by Tate’s mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate. While the children were downstairs playing, Tate’s mother called to them to be quiet. Tate came up 45 minutes later to say that Eunick was not breathing. He said that while they were wrestling, he had her in a headlock and the child’s head hit a table.
Although this was considered by some to be an accident, this was acknowledged as murder. Tate was the youngest person in US history at the time to be given life imprisonment.
10 | Jesse Pomeroy
In March 1874, a ten-year-old girl from South Boston named Katie Curran went missing. On April 22, 1874, the mutilated body of 4-year-old Horace Millen was found on the marsh of Dorchester Bay. Immediately, the police detectives sought out Jesse Pomeroy, despite lacking evidence implicating him in the crime, because he often mutilated other kids with knives and belts.
The body of Katie Curran was found later, in the basement of Pomeroy’s mother’s dress shop. Her remains were hastily and carelessly concealed in an ash heap. At 14, he was the youngest person ever in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be convicted of first-degree murder.
11 | Eric Smith
On August 2, 1993, when Smith was 13 years old, he was riding his bike home from summer camp in a local park day camp in Steuben County, New York, after being told to leave due to “bad behaviour” and 4-year-old Derrick Robie was walking alone to that same camp. Smith saw Robie and lured him into a nearby wooded area.
There, Smith strangled him, dropped a large rock on the boy’s head, undressed his body, and sodomized him with a tree limb. The cause of death was determined to be blunt trauma to the head with contributing asphyxia.
Smith was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to nine years to life in prison. He is eligible for parole every two years and was first denied parole in August 2002. His next parole hearing is October 2021.
12 | Cindy Collier And Shirley Wolf
14-year-old Shirley Wolf and 15-year-old Cindy Collier had just met the day before the murder that shook a community. According to court documents, the two teenage girls decided the best way to get out of their town was to steal a car and the best way to steal a car was to murder its owner.
The two girls walked to a condo and began knocking on doors. When an elderly woman opened the door and let the two girls in they brutally attacked the woman stabbing her over twenty-five times before taking her keys and attempting to steal her vehicle.
Shirley Wolf wrote in her diary that night “Cindy and I ran away and killed an old lady. It was lots of fun.” When they got arrested that same night, Wolf’s calm response was, “Yeah, we did it.” The two girls were convicted of first-degree murder however they were sentenced as juveniles and Shirley Wolf would be released from custody in 1995 and Cindy Collier three years prior.
13 | Catherine And Curtis Jones
Catherine and Curtis Jones were 13 and 12, respectively, when they shot their dad’s girlfriend, Sonya Nicole Speights, to death with a handgun in 1999. However, their motive was heartbreaking: Their dad and his friend had supposedly been sexually abusing them, and they’d had enough.
The siblings were charged with first-degree murder, but eventually struck a deal, pleading guilty to second-degree murder. Curtis and his sister were sentenced to 18 years in prison, followed by a life on probation.
14 | Carl Newton Mahan
In May 1929, 6-year-old Carl Newton Mahan had a fight with his 8-year-old friend, Cecil Van Hoose, over a piece of scrap iron they both wanted to sell to make some money. It was months before the stock market crash of 1929, yet their town Paintsville was struggling. Cecil took the iron piece away from Carl, slapping him in the face. Carl ran home, grabbed his father’s shotgun and fired at Cecil, killing him.
The case went to trial and a jury convicted Carl Newton Mahan of manslaughter. But following public outcry and appeals, a Circuit Court judge set aside the conviction, arguing that Carl had been too young to be tried before a jury.
15 | Craig Price
Craig Chandler Price was 13 years old when he killed for the first time, and then killed three more people in his neighbourhood in Warwick, Rhode Island, before he was arrested in 1989 at the age of 15. And he had an existing criminal record for petty theft in the area. Price was chillingly calm when confessing to his murders, where he revealed that his weapons of choice were kitchen knives.
16 | Alyssa Bustamante
On October 21, 2009, 15-year-old Alyssa Bustamante stabbed and strangled a 9-year-old girl in Missouri, because “she wanted to know how it felt to kill someone.” She then threw the girl’s body under a pile of leaves in a nearby forest. The innocent girl was in fact one of Bustamante’s well-known neighbours, but lost her life to Bustamante’s evil curiosity, and the most chilling part of the murder was that Bustamante described it as ‘enjoyable’.
17 | David Brom
David Brom is an American mass murderer. 16-year-old Brom killed his parents, brother and sister with an axe on February 18, 1988, in their Minnesota home after he got into an argument with his father over the music he was listening to. The day before, he’d supposedly been telling classmates that he was planning on killing his family that night. He was arrested and could possibly get parole in 2041.
18 | Tyler Hadley
In 2011, 17-year-old Tyler Hadley hid his parents’ cellphones so they couldn’t call the police. He took three ecstasy pills and blasted “Feel Lucky” by Lil Boosie to psyche himself up. He then took a claw hammer from the garage, went into the living room, and bludgeoned his mother ― who was working on the family computer.
After his father discovered his wife dead on the floor, Tyler beat him with the sharp end of the hammer. He then used Facebook to invite local Florida teens to a party at his house while he left his parents’ bodies in their bedroom upstairs. Over 50 people attended the party.
Port St. Lucia authorities tried Hadley as an adult and sentenced him to two life terms without parole. He was six months shy of his 18th birthday and received the maximum sentence allowed for a minor.
19 | Clay Shrout
Clay Shrout has been in jail for the past 26 years. 17-year-old Shrout shot and killed his parents and two younger sisters in their northern Kentucky home on May 26, 1994. He then went to his Ryle High School trigonometry class and held the students hostage at gunpoint.
According to Shrout’s statement, he first shot his mother “between the eyes,” then shot his father in a “couple places.” His older sister was shot in the chest. The younger sister woke up hearing the noise and confronted Shrout in the hallway. Shrout calmed her down, got her back in bed, and when she closed her eyes Shrout shot her “in the top of the head.” He returned, found his father struggling to get out of bed and he shot him again. Shrout said “he didn’t want his sisters to grow up without parents.”
Later in March 2019, he claimed his mother abused him as a child. “My mother had sexually abused me when I was younger,” Clay Shrout said. “I don’t want you to think that I’m using that as an excuse or a justification, but that is what happened.” Shrout told the parole board he went to Ryle High School hoping police would shoot and kill him there after taking a classroom hostage.
20 | Joseph Hall
Jeffrey Russell “Jeff” Hall was a plumber in Riverside, California, and the regional leader of the National Socialist Movement. On May 1, 2011, he was shot to death with his own gun by his 10-year-old son Joseph. The murder took place at 4 am as Hall slept on his couch.
Hall bragged that he was teaching his eldest son Joseph to use night-vision equipment and to shoot a gun. Eventually, the 10-year-old child told police how he took a .357 revolver from a shelf in the closet, pulled the hammer back, aimed the gun at his father’s ear while he was asleep on the couch, and shot him.
Joseph told police, that the day before the shooting, his father had threatened to remove all the smoke detectors and burn the house down, while the family slept. Joseph admitted that he was tired of his dad hitting him and his mother. His 26-year-old stepmother, Krista, also said that Hall had been violent with her and the son, sometimes.