Saturday, July 17, 2010
“Lunatics can have their own sense of morality.” – Dr. John Tyler
(*Disclosure: Contains graphic content. Please be advised before reading.*)
Typical teenagers in society learn normality by watching their peers, studying what to wear, how to speak, how to attain friendships, and which pop stars to idolize. It’s easy, right? Not for everyone, of course. For those of us wearing hand-me-down clothing, riding a public bus to school, and drawn to the dark side of life, becoming popular and adored is not an option for us. The society we are suppose to thrive in is cruel, demeaning, and often pushes us to a life of crime or worse. The taunting and nastiness from other peers can drive a well meaning child to the brink of suicide or even homicide. For teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the laughing and teasing of others at their high school ended in the shooting and death of thirteen classmates. The final straw had been drawn, and those two boys found they had nothing to live for before they committed suicide in the halls of their high school.
At twelve years old, not many students have mastered the art of popularity and good looks. Most of them are beginning to fight off the unpleasant rages of acne, thick glasses, and body odor. When even these kids are seen as glamorous and wildly attractive, one has to wonder who is looking at them from the other side of the glass.
With smudged fingerprints and the shadow of breath steaming the glass of a school doorway, stood Jesse Pomeroy. Taller than most students, gawky actually, Jesse could not escape easily from the rude comments and horribly vulgar opinions other students shouted at him. “Ole Marble Eye,” they often called him regarding the one white cataract eye he possessed. Jesse was too young to grow a mustache over his harelip, affording the other children to insult him every day he attended school. With an abnormally large head but with low intelligence, Jesse was seen not only as a reject, but a retarded person as well. Behind the glass he always seemed to be. Jesse was never on the other side where the kids with normal faces and correct stature were.
Born in 1859 in the lower class area of Chelsea in Boston, MA, Jesse Harding Pomeroy began his life with the chance to become a great man. Instead he was a sickly child, fussy and clutching his mother tight in his arms whenever her hands were free. Ruth Pomeroy was deeply in love with Jesse the moment she cast her eyes on him. Despite his unusual facial features and rapidly growing body, Jesse was Ruth’s favorite child and she showed her affection unabashedly. Jesse believed his mother was an angel, a beautiful queen, and treated her as such. Ruth was not revolted by her son’s face, rather fond of his differences and made sure to tell him how handsome and good looking she thought he was. Jesse knew this was a lie at a very young age when the other children threw rocks at him and made him cry. In his heart, he knew the ugliness he couldn’t escape from, and the other children on the schoolyard were always willing to remind him.
Ruth Pomeroy might have been the queen in Jesse’s life, but his father was no doubt the master of the household. Charles Pomeroy was a heavy drinker and a terrific tyrant when he was in a bad mood, which was usually every day. Evil in every sense of the word, Charles came down on Jesse and his brother Charles Jr. every chance he got, Jesse seeming to get the worst of it. Behind the outhouse in the backyard, Charles stripped his children nude and beat them senseless with a switch until they bled. Jesse’s later fascination with torture and sexuality might have begun here, it appears. After these vicious beatings, Jesse found that he liked making other things hurt like he did. And so, like others before and after his time, Jesse sought out animals in the streets to exact the same kind of injuries his father seemed to enjoy. As a result, Ruth Pomeroy never allowed any pet into the family, worried her beloved Jesse was doing something wrong to the local cats and dogs in the neighborhood.
Ostracized and belittled by other children, Jesse was quiet and spent most of his time alone. The world for Jesse at 12 years was a bleak one indeed. No one ever wanted to play with him, and he found himself feeling vengeful. Vengeful for the things he could never have, like girlfriends, or parties, or a happy home to go to after school. The only thing that interested Jesse was suffering, whether his father was beating him, or Jesse was beating something else. The only thing to do, it seemed, was to find another person he could hurt like he was hurt.
On Christmas day in 1871 Jesse Pomeroy decided to give himself a gift that he knew no one else would get him. Finding 4-year-old Billy Paine playing by himself near the Pomeroy home, Jesse offered the boy a prize if Billy would follow him to Powder Horn Hill. Without consulting his parents, Billy took Jesse’s warm hand and the two walked the short distance to a little shack on a hill. Inside was not a prize, candy, or precious toy. Though the shack was no bigger than an outhouse, Jesse was able to push Billy in. Jesse emulated his father, stripping Billy half nude and binding his wrists so he couldn’t struggle. Jesse hung him from the top beam of the shack with a bit of rope, smiling at the thought of Billy looking like an upside down Christmas tree. Stolen from his own father, Jesse had hidden a switch in the shack a day ago. Jesse then gave Billy the beating of his life.
Later that day, two men out hunting heard the cries and whimpering of something coming from the shack at the top of the hill. As they drew nearer, they were sure the sound was a frightened animal trapped inside the door. What they found was a frightened little boy, hanging upside down by his legs to the center poll of the shack. After cutting the boy down, they examined him for signs of hypothermia. He was blue all over, the rope had cut his wrists and ankles, and he seemed to be in some kind of shock. The two men attempted to pick up the little boy, but he suddenly began screaming and shaking. The men looked at the boys back which was horrifically red with welts and bruises; blood had been seeping through the wounds but froze in the cold. The men carefully picked up the boy and brought him to the police station. The boy was so traumatized; he could only shiver and offered no description of the person who had harmed him. The police put the incident on record, but did not look for the offender.
It had been wonderful. That power, it had been wonderful, Jesse thought two months later. He had been able to take someone away from the world for a short period of time, torture them, and then get away with it scot-free. Jesse lay awake at night, reliving the whole experience over and over again. Billy had cried so loudly, but then, so had Jesse at his father’s hands. But now, now Jesse could become a part of the pain by damaging someone else. It felt good. It was beyond good, it was amazing. Something had changed in Jesse that Christmas. He was taking back power.
It was still cold in February, 1872 and not many people were out that afternoon. Only the children were still playing, throwing snowballs with reddened and numb hands. The children were joyful in the post-Christmas days, laughing and leaving mittens behind as they ran through the streets. But this was Jesse Pomeroy’s stomping grounds. Hulking about in his father’s old winter jacket, Jesse appeared almost normal from a distance in the snowy weather.
As he came closer to his prey, his victim could see the irregular dent in the older boy’s lip. He also had one eye that was milky white. When the older boy smiled, the dent in his lip went deeper, but the boy couldn’t look away. Jesse introduced himself and leaned down to shake the little boy’s hand. 7-year-old Tracy Hayden was not used to such formalities and decided he’d made a new friend. Jesse asked if Tracy would like to see the soldiers just over Powder Horn Hill. Tracy had lots of toy soldiers, but had never seen a real one in the flesh. He readily agreed and took Jesse’s hand.
In the shack, Tracy realized there were no soldiers, only Jesse and his bad breath coming out in smoky billows. Tracy was cold, his jacket, trousers, and shirt taken away from him. Tracy’s hands were bound with rope and he was told to turn around. Jesse gave Tracy a similar beating to that of Billy, only this time, Jesse went further. Not only was Tracy brutally tortured in the cold, Jesse also knocked out his front teeth, broke his nose, and blackened both of his eyes. Tracy, with his eyes swollen almost shut and crying in hiccups, was warned not to tell anyone what had happened to him. Jesse knelt down, brushing the blood from Tracy’s cheek. “I’ll cut off your penis,” he said in a low tone,”If you tell anyone, I’ll come find you and cut it off. Got it?” Jesse stood up and left Tracy alone in the darkness. When questioned by police later that night, Tracy thought of the warning. “I don’t know his name. He’s a bigger kid with brown hair. That’s all I remember.”
The early spring of 1872 was beautiful. There were flowers growing just about everywhere and Jesse caught fireflies in a jar his mother had given him. In the backyard with his brother Charles Jr., everything was fine and good those golden days and warm nights. Jesse was threatened and teased at school, but nobody knew what he was capable of. The mean words and undeserved hatred towards Jesse had now become merely a voice in his head that he could keep quiet by hurting others.
That spring, Jesse found new children to torture. He especially enjoyed hurting the children with jubilant and perfect faces. They had the face Jesse should have had instead of the dent in his lip and his broken eye. The handsomest boys got the worst of Jesse’s wrath those early afternoons on Powder Horn Hill. Jesse also learned how to pleasure himself by fondling his genitals while beating the young boys. Promising to kill them if they ever told anyone what he was doing, Jesse was in ultimate power. No longer the inflicted, he was now the inflector.
The police began searching for the older boy who was assaulting the city’s youth. Calling him the “Inhuman Scamp,” the only evidence police had was that the boy had brown hair. Ironically, the distinctions that followed Jesse everywhere he went did not identify him whatsoever. Perhaps the children were too afraid to admit what the “Inhuman Scamp” really looked like. A $500 reward was offered for his capture, and parents were beginning to get worried about letting their children walk the streets.
Jesse struck again in July of 1872, taking a 7-year-old boy to his usual spot on Powder Horn Hill, beating the child while touching himself for sexual gratification. He assured the child he would kill him if he ever told a soul what had gone on in the shack. Luckily, the boy was not frightened by the empty threat and went directly to police.
At this time, Ruth Pomeroy moved from Chelsea to South Boston, taking her two sons with her. It is unknown if Charles Pomeroy left the home or died, but he never put another hand on Jesse again. This gave enormous thrill to Jesse, knowing that he could destroy anyone he wanted and his father was now gone. Ruth, on the other hand was starting to worry about Jesse. He had changed in the last six months, becoming confident, seemingly stronger, and less needy for his mother to help when the children at school taunted him.
Jesse, in high spirits, lured 7-year-old Joe Kennedy into the marshes near the bay in South Boston. Beating Joe mercilessly, Jesse turned to his knife, slashing the boy’s face. Jesse then dragged Joe to the water, where he washed his wounds with burning salt water. Robert Gould, abducted six days later, was slashed in the face with Jesse’s knife and beaten to the ground. Robert was the only child to admit that the young man who had taken him had “an eye like a white marble.”
It seems that Jesse was not only beating these children because he derived enjoyment from it, but by slashing their faces and attempting to cut off their genitals; he was making them abnormal like he was. Jesse didn’t want to be the only weird looking kid on the playground anymore. He was making friends. A strange and mean way to do so, but he appeared to be maiming these kids to solve his loneliness. Although he was doing horrible things to children, it must be remembered that this was a sexually deviant 12-year-old boy aching to be a part of something. By not getting anyone to come to him because of his looks, he was taking the children to him. A little like the monster character in Frankenstein.
On September 21, 1872, Jesse walked from school to the police department. It is unclear what he was planning to do or say, but Jesse had inflicted enough pain, it might have started to get to him. As Jesse walked into the police station, Joe Kennedy happened to be there with police. Jesse saw Joe and immediately left the station. It seems he had cold feet after all. But just as Jesse had seen Joe, Joe had seen Jesse and pointed him out to police. Jesse got half a block before he was apprehended. Police questioned Jesse for hours but he maintained his innocence. Police left Jesse in a cell while they called his mother. After midnight, police woke Jesse up and tried to get a confession. After falsely telling him he would receive a 100 year sentence if he didn’t confess, Jesse finally broke down.
The following day, Jesse Pomeroy faced each of his victims, all of them confirming that he was the young man who had assaulted them. Each boy recounted the event that happened to them before a magistrate. Ruth Pomeroy took the stand sobbing that Jesse was a good boy, that he couldn’t have hurt anyone. He was earnest and hardworking. Jesse was not a monster, she said. He couldn’t be. Jesse himself testified at the same hearing. He hung his head and said that he couldn’t help himself. The juvenile justice magistrate ordered that Jesse go to the House of Reformation in Westborough until his 18th birthday.
Westborough was tough on Jesse. He worked most of the day and only had four hours of schooling. To avoid trouble, Jesse kept to himself, even when the older boys made fun of him. The younger boys knew what Jesse was there for and left him alone unquestionably. The school was mostly for youngsters who were non-violent and were stubborn with their parents. The enormous distinction between Jesse and the rest of the boys was Jesse’s fascination with pain. Whenever one of the boys was in trouble, Jesse purposefully sought them out to find out how badly they had been punished and what exactly had happened.
Ruth Pomeroy pleaded for her son’s freedom, claiming Jesse had been coerced into confessing at such a late hour of night while he was under incredible stress. After finding the Pomeroy household to be fit and nurturing, the overseers of Jesse’s case came to the conclusion that Jesse had been reformed. Ruth also promised to keep a close eye on her son by having him work at her dress shop. After less than a year and a half in the reform school, Jesse Pomeroy was released.
Six months after Jesse’s release, on March 18, 1874, Jesse was opening up his mother’s shop and his brother’s newspaper stand. 10-year-old Katie Curran, in a green and black plaid skirt and crisp white collared top, came into Ruth’s store asking Jesse if he had any notebooks she needed for school. Rudolf Kohr, an employee at the store offered to help, but Jesse couldn’t take his eyes off of Katie. Asking Rudolf to run to the butcher shop for something or other, Jesse told Katie that he had some notebooks left in the basement of the store. “Just follow me,” Jesse said with a wink and put his arm around her as they descended the stairs. Katie looked around the dark basement, seeing nothing but dust and boxes all around her.
Wondering where Jesse would be able to find anything in such a mess, Katie walked further into the basement with Jesse following. “I need to go to school,” Katie urged, looking for Jesse who she had lost somehow in the dark.
Jesse stood behind Katie, at her blonde locks and fair skin. Such a beautiful girl, he thought. Jesse put his hand over her mouth and slit her throat, the blood flooding out of her surprising both Katie and Jesse. He’d never seen such blood in his life. Katie fell forward quickly onto the floor with little pink fingers grasping at anything she could. She tried to speak, but gurgled blood instead. Jesse stood over her body in mute horror. He’d been keying up for something like this for an awfully long time, waiting for the right moment, the right child, the right emotion. Now he felt as if he’d wasted it. Katie twitched a little on the ground, but made no other movements as the blood gathered around her little body. Jesse leaned down to make sure she was gone before picking her up. She was very light in his lanky arms. He cradled her for a moment before taking her to the very back of the basement behind the water closet.
Before disposing of the body completely, Jesse pulled up her skirt and stabbed at her abdomen and genitals until he could no longer hold the knife in his hands. Dropping the knife to the floor, Jesse pushed Katie’s body all the way to the back of the closet, putting stones and ashes on her to cover what he had done. When her body was sufficiently hidden, Jesse cleaned the bloody floor and went back up to the shop to help customers.
Within the hour, Mary Curran, Katie’s mother, was wandering the streets calling out for her daughter. Katie was never late, never tardy from school, and it disturbed Mary very much that Katie was not at school where she should have been. Visiting Tobin’s Store, Mary was told by the owner that Katie had gone to the Pomeroy’s for a notebook. Mary went straight to the police station, worried that Jesse Pomeroy had hurt Katie. The police captain assured Mary that Jesse was no longer a threat in any way. Besides, the captain said smiling; Jesse’s never attacked a girl before.
An entire day went by, and Katie was still missing. Rudolf Kohr told Mary that Katie had in fact been in the store. Mary went back to the police telling them that Rudolf had confirmed Katie’s appearance at the store the previous morning. The police almost laughed, telling Mary that Rudolf was a famed liar. They sent Mary and a policeman to the Pomeroy store, meeting a very unhappy Ruth Pomeroy. Ruth was certain Jesse had done nothing wrong and further went on to say that Jesse was rehabilitated now. Nothing was wrong in the store, and police soon lost interest in Katie’s case. When someone came forward saying Katie was seen entering a wagon, police decided she had been kidnapped and closed the case.
Jesse continued searching for new victims anywhere he could, trying to lure them with candy and other treats. The perfect victim was 4-year-old Horace Millen, who lived just across the street from the Pomeroy’s. Horace, with curly blonde hair and cupid lips, made Jesse almost lose control of himself when he spotted Horace on his way to a bakery. Horace was dressed special for the day, wearing a black and white jacket and black trousers and a fine velvet hat. Catching up to Horace at the bakery, Jesse introduced himself to the little boy, stretching out his large hand for Horace to take. Horace smiled and took Jesse’s hand. Jesse was going to take him to the beach to see the seagulls, and Horace was absolutely elated. With a little cupcake in one hand and Jesse’s hand in the other, the two ventured to the beach together. Several people saw Jesse and Horace that afternoon, but nobody stopped them.
Settling into a swale facing the early morning sun, Jesse and Horace shared the cupcake and laughed when the frosting stuck on Jesse’s nose. Wiping the tip of his nose with his sleeve, Jesse gazed over at Horace who was looking for the seagulls. “See?” Horace said excitedly when a seagull passed over the water. Jesse nodded and put his arm around Horace, slashing his throat with his finely sharpened knife. Horace, blood spattering his good clothes, coughed and began crying. Jesse tried to quiet the child by stabbing him everywhere he could, but Horace’s tiny little forearms and hands were getting much of the damage.
Finally slicing through Horace’s windpipe, the boy slowly went limp in the swale. Unsatisfied, Jesse hacked Horace’s body over and over with his knife, becoming angrier with every stab. He plunged his knife into Horace’s right eye, almost removing the eyeball completely. He was especially cruel to the genital area, nearly castrating Horace. When Jesse was finished, he cleaned his knife and looked for the seagulls. Jesse thought back to the moment he saw Horace, the happiness he felt knowing that he was going to kill him.
Five hours after Horace’s death, two brothers on the beach found his horribly mutilated body. The Millen family had been searching for Horace that afternoon, going to the police and describing their son. Unbeknownst to the Millen family, an unidentified boy was being brought to the coroner. Horace was soon identified by local police who had the unfortunate task of telling the Millen family what had happened to Horace. Jesse was apprehended by police because of his former misdeeds, police believing that perhaps Jesse wasn’t fully rehabilitated. Jesse kissed his mother goodbye and told her he would be home soon. Jesse was a lead suspect in Horace Millen’s death.
Jesse was brought in for questioning by police. Jesse claimed to have an alibi for the afternoon and told police he had no knowledge of Horace Millen or what had happened that morning. Explaining to the police that he had cut himself shaving, Jesse pointed to the fresh scratches on his face. Jesse’s knife was taken to the coroner’s office to see if it fit the stab wounds on Horace. Jesse went to sleep in his cell. Later, police brought Jesse to see the undertaker, to see the body of Horace Millen. He immediately broke down, apologizing and asking the police not to tell his mother.
When taken to the court’s inquest, Jesse denied his story completely, admitting no fault. Jesse was indicted for first degree murder. Ruth, losing her business, and living across the street from the grieving Millen family maintained her son’s innocence. After Ruth left her business, the new owner had decided to renovate the cellar. It was then that the body of Katie Curran was uncovered, nearly unrecognizable. Katie’s head had been severed, and her upper torso was so decomposed, doctor’s could not find what kind of torture Jesse had inflicted. Katie’s slip and undergarments had been split with a knife up the middle. Jesse also mutilated Katie’s abdomen and genitals severely, to the point where Katie was almost completely missing her vagina.
Ruth and Charles Jr. Pomeroy were sent into questioning about whether or not they knew about Katie’s remains in the cellar. Both had no information about Katie’s death. The main reason to apprehend Ruth and Charles Jr. was to keep them away from the constant media attention. After Jesse was told that his brother and mother were being interrogated about Katie, he was told he had to make a statement. Two days later, Jesse admitted in great detail how he killed Katie, wanting his mother and brother to remain out of the headlines. Jesse told police they had absolutely no knowledge of Katie until worker’s discovered her body. When asked why he killed Katie, Jesse looked up and said, “I don’t know… I wanted to see how she would act.”
It was suggested that Jesse Pomeroy had not left the reform school a changed boy at all, and was under the delusion that killing and hurting was something he had no control over. Explaining to an alienist, Jesse described sharp pains in his head that went from left to right over and over, enabling him to commit violence against others, especially young boys. Every time he felt a pain coming, he had to hurt or kill a child, he said. “I just could not help doing it,” Jesse said shaking his head.
Jesse was later given a letter from his mother. He read the note, folded it into his pocket and claimed again he was innocent of all the crimes. Admitting he had done nothing wrong, alienists found that Jesse possessed no feeling or remorse towards any of his crimes he protested not to have committed. Furthermore, alienist Dr. John Tyler said, Jesse understood right from wrong and would always be a threat to society. Jesse would need to be locked up forever, for he was insane and could never be truly rehabilitated.
On December 8, 1874, the trial began to a packed courtroom full of people demanding the death sentence for the lanky and somewhat dazed 14-year-old boy. Only charged with the murder of Horace Millen, Jesse sat next to his attorney staring blankly at his feet, seeming uninterested and bored. Katie Curran’s murder was brought up in the trial, but Jesse didn’t move or look up at all. The prosecution had the coroner testify against Jesse stating that the report showed that Horace had been clinching his fists so hard from the torture; his fingernails were embedded on his palms. This was an obvious plea to the court showing Jesse Pomeroy to be an absolute monster.
Charles Robinson, Jesse’s lawyer, in a desperate attempt to save Jesse from the death penalty, said, "When a person indicted for murder or manslaughter is acquitted by a jury by reason of insanity, the court shall order such person to be committed to one of the State Lunatic Hospitals during his natural life."
The first to testify in the defense was Dr. Tyler, telling the court that Jesse was undoubtedly insane. Jesse’s lack of motive, and indifference to what he had done showed this point surely. Jesse also didn’t seem to understand the consequences of anything he had done. It didn’t matter whether Jesse thought he knew right from wrong, “Lunatics can have their own sense of morality,” Dr. Tyler concluded.
Trying to deem Jesse as insane, his own mother testified. Ruth spoke of the many childhood illnesses Jesse had including a brain fever before his first birthday that must have had something to do with his madness. She also recalled the other mental issues Jesse had suffered in all of his 14 years; insomnia, dizziness and frequent violent headaches. Ruth went on to say that Jesse was addicted to extraordinary fantasies that dominated reality.
The jury deliberated for five hours, eventually finding Jesse guilty of first degree-premeditated-murder. Death by hanging was the mandatory sentence for this crime, but the jury asked for clemency for Jesse’s young age. The judge Horace Gray turned to Jesse and simply said, “Turn your thoughts to an appeal to the Eternal Judge of all hearts, and a preparation to the doom which awaits you." He then had Jesse taken from the court to jail to await execution. Ruth burst out in tears, crying out for Jesse. He could only wipe his own eyes, averting his eyes from his mother.
Massachusetts had never executed a 14-year-old before. Even people who were disgusted with Jesse Pomeroy were vocally adamant that Jesse serve a life sentence in prison instead of execution. However, Katie and Horace’s family wanted Jesse’s death in exchange for the bloodshed from their children. The ultimate decision was up to Governor William Gaston, who had an appointed committee to come up with an answer. The committee could come to no decision, so the Governor asked the public what should happen to Jesse. Two years later, in August 1876, Jesse’s crimes were not forgotten, but were further removed from the public’s eye. The new Governor Alexander Rice came to a decision for Jesse. Life in prison was the final verdict, but Jesse would not serve his time among others. He was to serve out his sentence in solitary confinement.
Now residing at Charlestown prison, Jesse was allowed one visitor a month- his mother. Ruth, and only Ruth, visited him. Jesse attempted escape several times, once even getting out of his cell, but never actually got out of Charlestown prison. Jesse spent 41 years in solitary confinement. While in his tiny cell, Jesse composed an autobiography about his life entitled, “The Autobiography of Jesse H. Pomeroy Written by Himself.”
In 1917, Jesse, now 58, was allowed to join the rest of prison society. He apparently took great pleasure in all the notoriety he received from other convicts. Most likely, Jesse was just glad to finally have some company. In 1929, Jesse was moved from Charlestown Prison to Bridgewater prison farm where he could receive better medical care. He rode in the first car he had ever seen but showed no signs of amazement at all. Prison had broken him down. If he wasn’t insane in 1876, solitary confinement had done the job. On September 29, 1932, Jesse died at 73 after serving 58 years in prison. He was cremated and asked for his remains to be thrown to the four winds.