true crime

Mania for Murder: America’s Youngest Serial Killer


Research into the serial killer of children in Los Angeles in the 1930s unfortunately finds other serial killers of children. It doesn’t seem possible but all the way back in 1874 authorities and the press were aware that people might kill just for the thrill of it. They knew it was possible to enjoy such killing enough to do it again. Mania, among other things, they called it then. In addition to the horror of the ghastly crimes committed by the one who maimed or murdered eight children from five to eleven years of age, it was shocking that the perpetrator was only twelve when he tortured six children before he murdered two children at age fourteen.

All of the cases in the Colder Case Series are the worst of the worst, so bad they do not seem possible. That Jesse Pomeroy was only a child himself compounds the tragedy. It is tempting to label Pomeroy’s crimes as the worst in the history of the United States, and many of his contemporaries thought so. But what of the two Martin sisters who were murdered in Los Angles in 1924, or the two Everett sisters and their friend, murdered nearby in 1937? Of course the murders of lone little girls were just as horrific, such as the murder of Virginia Brooks in San Diego and little four-year-old Joan Kuleba in Staten Island. There was also the murder of Geneva Hardman in 1920 for which Will Lockett was convicted and sentenced to death.

All of these cases in the Colder Case series are the worst. They all approach these ugly tragedies from different perspectives. Both Uncivil Twilight and Colder Case focus on the search for missing children, the arrest and trial of the accused, and the aftermath of citizens doing their own investigations and making strong arguments for wrongful convictions. Abandoned Justice: The Cold Case of Ten-Year-Old Virginia Brooks focuses on the police procedural during the attempt to find a missing child and then the attempt to find her killer. The forensic science available in 1931 was more advanced than might be assumed. Unfortunately it is still a cold case in the San Diego Police Department’s files. In the Court of Deadly Assumptions does not take a strong point of view and is merely the collection of the trial records, giving the reader an opportunity to read the entire trial testimony and decide if, given the science of today, there was a wrongful conviction or not. The only one of the series in screenplay format is Lynch Him! It explores the point of view of a society that takes a stand against lynching but it also raises the question of if justice was still served. Was Lockett lynched by the state?

The present book in the series looks at the 1874 case of Jesse Pomeroy and concentrates mostly on the aftermath of his conviction. It opens with a recounting of his crimes from different perspectives depending on what the news articles focused on, and, fair warning, like the previous crimes in The Colder Case Series, they are revolting.

The news articles at the time explored the same issues at issue today: the death penalty and the execution of minors, the life sentence of minors, the pros and cons of solitary confinement, punishment verses rehabilitation, the use of forensic psychology in assessing dangerousness and the dangers of letting a dangerous individual out of prison too early, resulting the murder of children.

So that begs the obvious question: has there been progress after all these decades? Jesse Pomeroy had brutally maimed six little boys and was only incarcerated for little more than a year before he was released. Some argued then, as many would now, that he should never have been released. That does nothing to save the little boys who were his victims before he was found and arrested the first time. Is it possible that we have the knowledge today that could prevent the literal scaring of six young children and the brutal murder of two more? Yes, it is possible. The Afterward will suggest an evidence-based solution that might have prevented the victimization of all eight of these little children.


By G. Sherwood

This project has been ongoing for over 10 years and it required many breaks and gigs and gigs of research. The subject isn't easy but it is important in my view. Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to drop me a line.