Children who kill from shootings to stranglings, 12 evil kids and how they took another young life
Joshua Phillips was 14 when he murdered an eight year old and hid her body for six days, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were 10 when they killed two-year-old James Bulger and Morgan Leppert was 15 when she killed a pensioner.
- 15:37, 22 FEB 2019
- Updated15:47, 22 FEB 2019
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. Murder is such an extreme crime that even what motivates adult killers can remain mysterious. Getting to the bottom of what pushed a child to kill is even more difficult. Many such crimes involve children attacking those younger than them, usually with an age gap of six to eight years. Needing to feel powerful comes into some of the cases, as does curiosity wanting to know what killing feels like. Below, we take a closer look at some of the most chilling child murderers:
1. Aaron Campbell
Evil Campbell snatched six-year-old Alesha MacPhail from her bed as she visited her dad and grandparents on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, last July. The 16-year-old abducted, raped and murdered the 3ft 9ins youngster, causing “catastrophic” injuries, before dumping her body in woodland on the island. Alesha, a “smiley” little girl who was adored by her family, was later discovered facedown and naked at the site by a member of the public. A court heard she had 117 separate injuries. Campbell, who lived on the scenic and sparsely populated island, was yesterday found guilty of her abduction, rape, and murder by jurors. Judge Lord Matthews told the teenager he had committed some of the “wickedest, most evil crimes” Glasgow’s High Court had ever heard. He was found guilty of the horrific crime on February 21.
2. Danny and Ricky Preddie, 13 and 12 (2000)
Only after a third trial were teenage brothers Danny and Ricky Preddie jailed for killing 10-year-old Damilola Taylor. The young boy was walking home from Peckham Library in south-east London on a November day in 2000, when he received a gash to his left thigh from a broken bottle, as caught on CCTV. Star Wars actor John Boyega and his sister Grace were some of the last people to be spotted on the CCTV footage with Damilola while escorting his part of the way home. The three were friends and the Boyegas helped watch him. Damilola ran to a stairwell and bled to death in 30 minutes in the grim surroundings. Several theories around what caused his fatal wound were presented by forensic scientists in court, with the Metropolitan Police accepting that he was attacked and fell onto a broken bottle. The first trial led to acquittals after the key witness a 14-year-old girl was ruled unreliable by the judge. The jury in the second trial could not reach a verdict on the charges of manslaughter. At the end of the third trial, the two brothers by now over 18 years old were sentenced to eight years in youth custody. Ricky was released in 2010, and Danny followed the next year. Damilola’s story was made into a 2016 BBC drama, Our Loved Boy.
3. Eric Smith, 12 (1993)
While riding his bike through a local park in Steuben County, New York, 13-year-old Eric Smith bumped into four-year-old Derrick Robie who was walking alone. Smith lured the small boy into a wooded area, strangled him, dropped two large rocks on his head, and then sodomized the body with a tree limb. He was eventually convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to the maximum term then available for juvenile murderers: a minimum of nine years to life in prison. He has been refused parole eight times since 2001, and will next be up in 2018. In 2005, Smith claimed that his family life was abusive, and the effect upon him was as devastating as the bullying. However, his inability to express emotion while saying such words leads court psychologists to believe that Eric Smith could ever be fully rehabilitated and released into society.
4. Lionel Tate, 12 (1999)
Lionel Tate is the youngest American citizen ever to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Tate was left alone with six-year-old Tiffany Eunick, who was being babysat by his mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate. After 45 minutes of playing with the little girl, Tate told his mum that she wasn’t breathing, because he’s had her in a headlock and slammed her head on the table. In fact, her injuries ranged from a lacerated liver to a fractured skull, broken rib, and swollen brain – the prosecution said her injuries were consistent with those she would have sustained falling three stories to the ground. Tate had stomped on the little girl until she succumbed to her injuries. His life sentence was extremely controversial as he was so young to receive such a long sentence. The prosecution even joined the plea for leniency in sentencing and offered to help with Tate’s appeal. The conviction was overturned in 2004 on the basis that his mental competency had not been completely evaluated before the trial. He was released on one year’s house arrest and 10 years’ probation. He has committed further crimes since and is currently serving 10 years in prison. He is due for release in 2018.
5. Joshua Phillips, 14 (1998)
Joshua Phillips was allegedly playing with a baseball bat at home in Jacksonville, Florida, when he struck 8-year-old Maddie Clifton in the eye, causing it to bleed. Phillips claimed he panicked, fearing his father’s reaction, so he strangled her with a phone cord and stabbed her 11 times. He then hid her body in the pedestal of his waterbed, where his mother discovered it a week later. While the autopsy did not reveal any sexual assault, Maddie’s body was found nude from the waist down. The murder appears to have been motivated by Phillips’s fear of his abusive father, who would have been very angry had he found Maddie hurt at their house. Phillips, who had no history of violence, was charged as an adult with murder. He was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
6. Craig Price, 15 (1989)
Craig Price had become a serial killer before the age of 16, having killed four people in his Rhode Island neighbourhood on the east coast of the US. Aged 13, in 1987, Price broke into the house two doors down from his own and stabbed 27-year-old Rebecca Spencer 58 times, killing her. He did not become a suspect in that case until confessing to the murder two years later after he went on to kill three other neighbours, while he was high on marijuana and LSD. The victims, 39-year-old Joan Heaton and her daughters Jennifer, 10, and Melissa, 8, were stabbed over 30 times each. Their wounds were so deep that the handles broke off the knives, leaving the blades embedded in the victims. In court, Price nonchalantly mimicked the dying cries of the Heaton girls, displaying no emotion even as he related such grim details as biting the face of one of the victims as he stabbed her. Price refused a court order to undergo further psychological testing, fearing the results would be used to commit him for life. Instead, he was jailed for 25 years, but his violent behaviour behind bars makes it unlikely he will ever be released.
7. Alyssa Bustamante, 15 (2009)
Alyssa Bustamante lured her 9-year-old neighbour Elizabeth Olten into the woods, where she strangled her, then slit her neck and wrists, before burying her in a shallow grave. Bustamante, of midwestern state Missouri, was a troubled teenager who had a history of depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts. “I just f***ing killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they’re dead. I don’t know how to feel atm [at the moment],” Bustamante wrote in her diary.
She later added: “It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the ‘ohmygawd I can’t do this’ feeling, it’s pretty enjoyable. I’m kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now lol.”
Elizabeth’s mother, Patty Preiss called Bustamante “an evil monster” and said that she “hated her” on the first day of the teenager’s sentencing hearing. Alyssa was charged with first-degree murder and tried as an adult, getting a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
9. Jesse Pomeroy, 11 (1871)
The son of a Civil War veteran, Jesse Pomeroy was born in Boston in 1859. By the age of 11, he had begun luring younger boys to remote areas and beaten them with extreme brutality, using fists, a belt, and a knife. In 1872, he was finally arrested for the ongoing attacks and sentenced to reform school. The Boston Globe covered the story, and the last line of the article said: “It is generally concluded that the boy is mentally deficient.”
In 1874, Pomeroy was living back with his family, and attacked 10-year-old Mary Curran, then later, four-year-old Horace Mullin. He killed both youngsters, and their bodies were later found hidden in the basement of the house. They had been slashed, stabbed, and decapitated with a knife. Pomeroy was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death by hanging. However, two years later, in 1876, his sentence was commuted to life in solitary.
9. Morgan Leppert, 15, (2009)
Leppert and her 22-year-old boyfriend at the time Toby Lee Lowry was convicted of the brutal murder of James Stewart, 62, in his own Florida home. Stewart was found lying on the floor of his Florida after being stabbed multiple times with metal rods and a knife and suffocated with a plastic bag over his head. In the police tapes, she told detectives: “[My boyfriend] told me to stab him. I poked him, it didn’t even go through for god’s sake.”
She places most of the blame with her ex-boyfriend, who testified against her in order to avoid the death penalty. The pair claimed that they killed Stewart to steal his car.
10. Willie Bosket, 15 (1978)
Willie Bosket was born in Harlem, New York to a father who killed two people shortly after his son was conceived, and thereafter spent his life in prison. Bosket junior was in and out of trouble growing up, a violent child, and wore this as a badge of honour, telling juvenile authorities that he would be a killer just like his father. He committed his first murder when he was 15-years-old, shooting and killing two men during separate robbery attempts. He also killed a transport worker before the police got to him. He was tried as a minor and was given 5 years in a youth facility a sentence seen as extremely light. The outcry against his sentence let to the Juvenile Offender Act of 1978, which ruled that children as young as 13 could be tried in New York’s adult courts for crimes as serious as murder and receive the same penalties as adults. Upon release aged 20, Bosket continued his life of crime, leaving and re-entering jail until receiving a life sentence for assault and arson while in prison in 1989.
11. Mary Bell, 11 (1968)
On the day before her 11th birthday, Mary Bell lured 4-year-old Martin Brown to an abandoned house in Newcastle, north-east England. Two months later, she strangled 3-year-old Brian Howe to death. The story of Bell’s childhood is particularly brutal. Her mother Betty was a prostitute who had tried to kill her daughter on more than one occasion, trying to make it look like an accident. On one such occasion, an independent witness saw Betty giving the pills to her daughter as sweets. Mary herself says she was subjected to repeated sexual abuse, her mother forcing her from the age of four to engage in sexual acts with men. During her trial, court-appointed psychiatrists said Bell displayed classic signs of psychopathy. The judge described her as dangerous and still posing a risk to children. After serving her 12-year sentence, Bell was released in 1980, and has lived under a series of pseudonyms since, which have been extended to cover the daughter she had aged 27.
12. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10 (1993)
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson became the youngest convicted murderers in England after killing 2-year-old James Bulger in 1993. They abducted the toddler from a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside, and took him to a disused railway line, where they began torturing him. They threw paint in his eye, kicked and stomped on him, threw bricks and stones at him, then dropped a 10kg iron plate on him. The case pathologist said that there were so many injuries 42 in total that not one could be isolated as causing the fatal injury. The boys left Bulger laid across the railway tracks with his head weighed down. After they left the scene, his body was cut in half by a train. A pathologist confirmed that the little boy had died before the train hit him. After trial and conviction, the now 11-year-old boys were sentenced to serve 15 years. The huge media interest in the trial as well as their young ages led to numerous reviews of their sentence, going all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights. The boys were released from prison on licence in 2001, aged 18, with new identities to protect them for life. Jon Venables has been in and out of prison since, on charges including accessing child pornography.
Children Who Kill with Susanna Reid ITV 9pm tonight (Thu)