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Thriller Thursday: Child Killers Roaming The Streets

Due to this post from Roni Loren (thank you for the warning, Roni) I’ve decided to remove most photos from Thriller Thursday. I hope you’re still able to enjoy them!

On February 12, 1993, security cameras at the Bootle Strand Shopping Center near Liverpool, England recorded a young boy leading a toddler by the hand. A second boy walked a few steps ahead.

James Bulger’s abduction.

Two-year-old James Bulger trusted the two boys who took him on a long walk, cruelly tortured and then murdered him. The boys were seen by an estimated 38 people during the hours they had James. These people became known as the “Liverpool 38.”

As a mother, this is one of the most terrifying true crime stories I’ve read. My six-year-old knows not to trust strange adults, but an older child offering to play with her? I’m afraid she would follow. That’s why I can’t relax at a park or other public places.

On that February day, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson entertained themselves by stealing various items: candy, batteries, a can of paint. Both boys were petty delinquents. After the arrest, authorities assumed tough-acting Robert was the ringleader while Jon, who cried and wallowed in remorse, simply followed. Both boys blamed the other one.

Just like my daughter and I, Denise took James everywhere. And like myself, she’d suffered a miscarriage with her first child, making her even more protective of James. On February 12, Denise and her brothers girlfriend went to the shopping center, bringing James along. After a few stops, Denise bought James a snack, hoping to get him to settle down. But like any two-year-old, he was antsy and full of energy. He’d misbehaved at a couple of stores, and at their last stop, Denise went in and left James by the door. She was only inside the shop for a few minutes, and he was gone.

Robert and Jon had skipped class. Already behind a grade, both hated school. They went to the shopping center, where they were told to leave most stores they entered. They lied to shop clerks, telling them they were out of school on a holiday. They were at a concession stand near the butchers shop when they spotted James standing by the door and eating Smarties.

Jon told him to come on and James obeyed. Outside the shopping center, they carried the boy, who cried for his mother. At a nearby canal, one of the boys picked up James and dropped him on his head. They covered James with his hood to hide the cut from the fall. Several witnesses saw the boy being led by the older children. At one point, James rushed into traffic, crying for his mother. Drivers saw Robert catching him and pulling him back. Eventually, Robert and Jon took James to a grassy area near a reservoir where a witness saw Jon punch and shake James. She closed her curtains and did nothing. Others would encounter the boys, who talked their way out of James’s injuries by telling them they’d just found James and were on their way to the police station. One woman nearly took James to the police station herself.

Court released photos of Venables and Thompson

At one point, the boys were very near the police station. They’d been dragging James along  for hours now and had many opportunities to give him up and run. They chose to kill him. I won’t give you the details of the child’s murder. It occurred between 5:45 and 6 p.m on Friday.

James’s body was discovered on Sunday afternoon. The damage was horrific, but the blue paint the boys had flicked on him would be their undoing. Police knew from the security footage they were looking for two youths, and when an anonymous woman saw the footage, she called the police. She told them her friend Susan Venables had a son named John who’d skipped school Friday and had blue pain on his jacket sleeve. She also mentioned his friend Robert. The boys were brought in for questioning and eventually confessed.

Forensic evidence backed them up: the blue paint on their clothing matched the paint on James’s bod. His blood was on their shoes, and a pattern of bruising on James’ right cheek matched the features of a shoe worn by Robert.

Robert and Jon were found guilty on November 24, 1993 and sentenced to custody until the age of 18. They were released in June 2001, given new identities and moved to secret location. The English government gave them new passports, national insurance numbers, and medical records. They were not allowed to contact each other or Bulgar’s family, they were prohibited from visiting the area where the crime took place, and they had to report to probation officers. A worldwide media injunction was imposed after their release to protect the boys’ new identities. In 2010, Jon Venables went back to prison for violating parole.

I know they were only ten when they killed James. But what ten-year-old doesn’t know murder is wrong? These two boys had so many chances to let the child go. They lied and did whatever it took to keep him in their grip. Why should they be released? I have little doubt they would kill again, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. They should have served far more time than they did. And much like Mary Bell, the two were given entirely new identities, paid for by the government. I can’t condone it, and if I were Denise, I would never be able to rest.

What do you think of Jon and Robert’s release?

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Detailed account of James Bulger’s murder and the subsequent events by Katherine Ramsland (source).

Robert Thompson gets money for News of the World hacking his phone.

31 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: Child Killers Roaming The Streets”

  1. I have mixed feelings about this. At 10 years old, could these boys be rehabilitated? Were they given psychiatric treatment? Was there a change in them while they were being held, or were they the same boys that killed the toddler? I think this is one of the most horrific murders I’ve heard of. But the optimist in me hopes 10 year old boys can be redeemed. I would have to know more about these boys before I could give an opinion about their release. The fact that one of them violated his parole makes me wonder if he’s still the criminal he was. What did he do to violate his parole?

  2. I’ve known about this case for a while and find it horrifying. I can’t imagine that little boy’s terror as nobody came to his aid. Can you imagine how he wondered where his mommy was, why she hadn’t come? It’s very upsetting to me to imagine little James’s final minutes of life.

    I do think that children continually learn about compassion and how to hold the lives of other human beings in high regard. However, I believe that murdering another person–even when a child does it–suggests something is very wrong in one’s hardwiring. I wonder if that can be fixed.

    Additionally, the desire to prey on something or someone smaller and weaker belongs to a predator. Can someone unlearn predatory behavior? Your answer is as good as mine.

    • I’d heard about it, but I’d forgotten the details until I researched it. What that boy must have gone through is just unimaginable. Personally, I don’t think they can be fixed. Not in this situation. Not when they had so many chances to turn back. And no, I don’t think they can, anymore than a so-called pet wild animal can bury those instincts.

  3. This is one case I can’t think about because my kids are around James’s age. It’s too sad, too horrifying. We studied it in detail in my psych classes in college. I think the boys absolutely knew what they were doing, since they lied and manipulated adults so they would be left alone with James. I wonder if either had been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder or other personality disorders? This is one of those cases, I think, where we as a society failed all three of those boys in every possible way we could’ve.

    • I feel the same, Adriana. The fact that they lied so many times and prolonged the torture makes me feel like they were sadistic and would have killed again. They may have been failed, but I don’t think they could have been rehabilitated. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. I, too, think there’s something wrong with your hard wiring if you are murdering children at age 10. If I were the English public, I would want to know exactly where these “boys” now live, to keep my children away from them. And I can only imagine the horror the mother lives with every day, the guilt of leaving him alone for even those few minutes. If it were me, I don’t know if I could ever forgive myself. And I KNOW I could never forgive those two monsters. And I can’t believe so many adults saw this child, even saw him getting punched, and did nothing. So many failures on so many levels.

    • Exactly. And I don’t believe that hardwiring will changed. And the new identities cost the English people A LOT of money. The new identities baffle me. These boys essentially have more rights than the people they could prey on. I would never forgive, either.
      Thanks for stopping by, Kerry.

  5. I agree with all the other comments; it’s a horrendous crime and a horror to contemplate James’ last hours. I think most have heard of this crime previously, its details are so gruesome. I feel for his mother; her guilt and grief must be terrible to endure.

    Like other commenters, I wonder if these boys were given any psychiatric help during their confinement? Did they seem rehabilitated when released? A lot can change during the formative years between ten and eighteen. And I am a strong believer in forgiveness, if it is both earned, and demonstrated to be deserved.

    Something no one else has touched on is the responsibility of these murderers parents. What was their home life like, I wonder? Did they come from normal, happy families? Were they abused or neglected? One has to strongly suspect the latter.

    • Yes, the details are very gruesome, and I couldn’t bring myself to post all of them. I don’t know that they were, but I’d assume so. Jon Venable’s parole was revoked because of a huge stash of child porn, so I don’t think he was rehabilitated.

      I didn’t find much about their home lives, and that’s a good point. They probably were. However…I don’t think they would have stopped killing.


  6. This story has me shaking. As a mother of two, I am extremely fierce when it comes to the safety of children–any child. My oldest is 9 and I can’t even entertain the thought of her doing anything remotely close to what those 2 boys did. Ten-year-olds know, without a doubt, that an act like that is wrong. So, I believe that those two boys had/have severe mental disorders that prevented them from knowing the difference between right and wrong. And without proper psychiatric treatment, being in ‘custody’ isn’t going to “fix” them. But as you say, it’s hard to know how much or if they had been rehabbed while in custody. If not, then I am not surprised that either of those two boys, now adults, would be getting in trouble now that they’re free.

    As Cynthia pointed out, more than likely, the home lives of these kids were horrendous. That is usually the case with juvenile delinquents, so there is probably a history of abuse that would undoubtedly be a reason to not understand the difference between right and wrong. It would be enough for a child to think torturing a toddler is okay, if that child has been tortured himself.

    • Me, too. The idea that another child could steal mine so easily is simply terrifying. I agree, they did have mental disorders. But are they disorders that could have been fixed? I doubt it. I don’t think things like this can ever be cured. And you’re right, it usually comes from the home lives, but I don’t know that I can say that with these two. I didn’t read about their home lives.

      Thanks for the in depth comment.

  7. This is so tragic on so many levels. Right now – though my deepest sympathies are with James’ mother, I am also feeling it for many of the witnesses who only saw a snippet. (Not the one who closed her curtains.) If I saw a toddler crying, with a cut on his head, who seemed to be in the custody of his older brother, would I have stopped and asked questions? (Well, I would NOW.) We’ve all seen kids taking care of kids, and usually assumed Mom was around the corner.

    What do we, as a society, do with people so young, so broken? I totally disagree with the UK’s approach, but don’t have a great solution.

    • I felt for them, too, honestly. I could see how some simply thought they were two older kids taking care of a hurt little one. However, if you read Katherine Ramsland’s conversation, there were a couple of women who had longer conversations and came thisclose to doing something. Yet they didn’t. Can’t imagine what it’s like to be them.

      Thanks, Beverly.

  8. Horrific crime. and time has softened any of the details. I think some people are hardwired to be without a conscience or any empathy. these two boys would seem to fall in that category.

    • I agree, Louise. I know the general consensus is that i a combination of external and internal drive create psychopaths, but it’s hard not to believe these two were simply hardwired for evil.


  9. I clicked on the link with more details about the murder. From what I gleaned, it appears that these two boys were mistreated in their own homes as well, although I was shaken up to read that the mother of Venables had been searching for her own kid for a while and was concerned he had been abducted. She had no idea it was her own kid doing the abducting.

    I believe too much in forgiveness and redemption to believe there is no hope for these boys, but confinement until 18 doesn’t hack it. They needed extensive treatment with wise adults to have a shot. I can’t imagine the horror of discovering that your child was abducted, assaulted, and murdered by two other children. Ms. Bulgar deserves some sense of justice from this terrifying event. What a tragic event, Stacy.

    • It did seem they were, but I didn’t want to go too far into that. There wasn’t a ton of tangible proof, and it’s hard to do everything in one post.

      No, it doesn’t, and in this case, I simply have no compassion. They should have been left to rot in prison and be punished by the inmates.

      Thanks for stopping by:)

  10. That is just sad. So many times people are likely to say, “Oh, they were children. They didn’t know what they were doing.” How ridiculous. They knew full well what they were doing. And what’s more, they knew that because they themselves were children that even if they did get caught, they wouldn’t really have to pay for what they did. Jon obviously realized this, as he violated his parole. If someone can murder as a child it normally sets them up to become a serial killer once older. People who try to ignore it are condoning it. I know this is harsh, but how do people think these things start? What you ignore festers.
    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” -Edmund Burke

    • I just can’t bring myself to feel sorry for them. As you said, they’re likely to be repeat offenders, and they were old enough to know better. Letting them out at 18 with fresh id’s paid for by the taxpayers. It’s awful, and you’re right. Thanks so much for the comment.

  11. I remember this, Stacy. It was horrific then and horrific now. Those boys/men should never see the light of day. This may not be the popular view, but I don’t care how young they were. To be able to do something like that they have to have something missing from them and they will always be a danger to society. The fact that Venables was found with child porn only goes to show you how at risk children still are from him.

    I can’t imagine the government paying for their new identities like that. What a slap in the face to the Bulger family and society as a whole. And to keep Venables in custody for his own protection is an insult. Shouldn’t people around them have the right to know who/what they are dealing with?

    I could go on, but I won’t. I’m just appalled about the whole situation.

    • I remembered it too, but I was sixteen and didn’t pay as much attention to the news as I do now. I completely agree – something was internally wrong then and it’s not fixable. The fact that one is still roaming the streets with a new identity paid for by the taxpayers is mind boggling. Mary Bell is the same damned way. How is that fair to the rest of society?

      Me, too. I usually try to be diplomatic, but the whole thing is sickening. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. This is just…wow. No words. Probably the most horrible thing I’ve read on your Thriller Thursdays since I started following. I’d like to know why they wanted to do it. It’s not like they knew the kid – they couldn’t have disliked him or been annoyed by him in the past. It was totally random, without reason. That’s the scariest part.

    • Yes, it’s really bad. Frankly, older kids scare me just as much as adults. They’re so cruel, and their home lives have such an impact on their actions. We can’t control that and we can’t protect our kids.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  13. I’m with Karen. I just don’t have words for this and, as the mother of a two year old, I almost didn’t read the post. News and such just freaks me out these days…

    • It was really hard to write as well, but I think it’s important for people to be aware that evil and cruelty comes in all shapes and sizes.

      Thanks, Jenny.

      • I agree Stacy, and i’m glad you write about these things. That new mom’s like me have a hard time reading it is just proof that you’re doing a great job. 🙂

  14. I believe strongly in rehabilitation, but I feel there are some things that are unforgivable. In my opinion their home life is irrelevant, their understanding of right and wrong is equally so…people who kill or molest children need their lives taken from them.

    What truly confuses me, and I hope I’m reading things wrong, but the mother left her two year old outside of a store and went in? This in mind boggling. My daughter is two and I can’t hardly stand to take her in a store and have her either not in my arms or holding my hand. I can’t even fathom leaving her outside. I feel horrible for her and can’t begin to imagine the pain she’s likely still going through, but I think what she did was criminal.

    • I don’t know. I don’t believe in rehab for sex offenders or serial killers, and I have no forgiveness on child killers no matter circumstances.

      However … yes, the mother did do that. And that was a choice I’m sure she regrets. I can’t imagine what she lives with every day.

      Thanks for stopping by:)

  15. Pingback: Thriller Thursday: Child Killer Released – Again | Stacy Green – Get Twisted!

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