Profile of Jesse Pomeroy

Also Known as The Boy Fiend, The Boy Torturer, The Boy Murderer, The Young Demon

Jesse Pomeroy; Wanted Poster for Katie Curran.

Jesse Pomeroy was a serial sexual predator at age 12 and the youngest person convicted of first-degree murder in the history of Massachusetts.

Childhood Years

Jesse Pomeroy, born November 29, 1859 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, was the youngest son of two born to Thomas and Ruth Ann Pomeroy. From a an early age Jesse suffered from a disfigured right eye from side effects after receiving a smallpox vaccination.

His pupil had a white film over it that caused many people around him to feel uncomfortable, including his father.

As he grew older his appearance continued to be a problem that scared younger children, caused older children to tease him, and adults to pull away.

He developed a large head with an enlarged jaw line and over-sized mouth that seemed to be in a permanent frown. These features, along with his white eye, gave him a sinister look, which his father liked to compare to a jack-o-lantern.

Dysfunctional Home

Thomas was a cruel drunk who would often beat Ruth, but more often go after Jesse for the smallest infractions. His form of punishment was to order Jesse to strip naked, then he would beat him with leather straps.

Jesse would act out by running away from home. When he would return, Ruth would often go into a rage and attack Thomas for beating the child. Thomas' drunkenness and his beating of Ruth and Jesse eventually led to the couple divorcing.

At school Jesse was an average student with disciplinary problems. More than once he was sent home for being mean to younger students. He would also ditch school on a regular basis and Ruth, who was at this time a single mother trying to earn a living, found it difficult to properly supervise the boy.

Serial Attacks on Young Boys in Chelsea

Beginning on December 31, 1871, a series of attacks on young boys was reported in the Chelsea area.

  • The first child, 3-year-old Billy Paine was found hanging by his wrists on rafters in an outhouse on Powder Horn Hill, located on the outskirts of Chelsea. His clothing had been partially removed and he had severe bruising across his back. The boy was too young and also too traumatized to provide the Chelsea police with a description of the person responsible.
  • The second attack came on February 21, 1872. Tracy Hayden, age 7, was lured to the same outhouse by an older boy who promised to take him to see soldiers. He was also stripped, bound, hung and beaten across the back and on his face, resulting in the loss of his two front teeth. The young boy described his attacker as an older boy with thick brown hair. Unlike Billy Paine, the older boy freed Tracy Hayden, but not before threatening to cut off his penis.
  • On May 20, 1872, 8-year-old Robert Maier became the third victim after following an older boy who promised to take him to see Barnum's circus. Maier suffered much of the same as the other victims. He told police that the older boy appeared to dance around during the beating. He also demanded that Hayden say obscene words and sexually excited himself when the boy obeyed. Then as quickly as the attack began, it seemed to end and the attacker freed his young victim.

    The attack of the young boys was reported in the newspapers, causing much alarm throughout the community. However, the description of the attacker went from an older child with brown hair to a young man who looked like the devil, with red hair, a beard and a pointed chin. Unfortunately the false description made it easier for the attacker to attract more victims.

    • Johnny Balch's parents had warned him to watch out for a man with red hair and a beard, so on July 22, when an older boy with brown hair offered to pay Johnny to run an errand, he jumped at the opportunity.

      Blach became the fourth victim bound and beaten inside the outhouse, only this time the attack was much more violent and included the attacker masturbating while beating the boy's genitals to a pulp. Once satisfied, he freed the boy, but warned him not to leave. Johnny Balch obeyed, staying, naked and in pain, for over two hours before a passer-byer came to his rescue.

      Serial Attacks on Young Boys in South Boston

      A $500 bounty leading to the arrest of the "boy torturer" was reported in all of the major newspapers. It was also at this time that Ruth decided it was time to move. On August 8, 1872, and within two weeks since the last attack had been reported, Ruth and her two sons moved to South Boston.

      Ten days later another child was attacked by the "boy torturer" only this time the victim was taken to a boathouse on the beach at South Boston bay.

      • The victim was 7-year-old George Pratt, who was lured off the beach by an older boy who promised him money. Instead, the young victim was taken into an abandoned boathouse and attacked more viciously than the previous victims.

        He was stripped, hung, and beaten, then stabbed with a long sewing needle in his chest, cheek and groin. The attacker also bit off flesh from the boy's buttocks and scratched at his skin like a wild animal. Once the attack stopped, the boy was left alone, withering in pain on the floor of the boathouse. It was several hours later that he was found and rescued by a local fisherman.
      • The next attack occurred on September 5, 1872, under a railroad bridge in South Boston. Harry Austin, age 6, was stripped, beaten, and for the first time the attacker used a knife to torture the boy. He cut, stabbed and slashed at the child, ending the attack after unsuccessfully trying to cut off the boy's penis.
      • Less than a week after Harry Austin was attacked,Joseph Kennedy, age 7, was dragged by a stranger through the salt marshes on the bay and into an abandoned boathouse. He was then beaten so severely that his nose was broken and several of his teeth were knocked out. The attacker demanded that the boy recite the Lord's Prayer, which had been rewritten with profanities. When the boy refused, he was slashed with a knife multiple times, then dumped into the salty marsh, which intensified his pain.
      • The last known attack came six days later. Robert Gould, age 6, was lured down railroad tracks, stripped and tied to a telephone pole. He was then slashed across the face and chest with two knives and the attacker attempted to slice his throat, but fled when he saw railroad workers walking near by. The workers rescued the young boy and although he was the second youngest victim of the "boy torturer" he was the only one who could provide a description of the attacker that ultimately led to his arrest.

      The newspaper reporters quickly picked up the new physical description provided to police by Robert Gould. It included one feature that would certainly stand out -- the attacker was around 11 or 12 and he had what was described as a "marble eye."

      Suspicious Behavior Leads to an Arrest

      Investigators took Joseph Kennedy to area schools hoping that he might spot the older child responsible for the attacks. Inside one of the classrooms he came face-to-face with Jesse Pomeroy who fit the description, but Kennedy did not identify him as the attacker. It was not until later that same day, after Pomeroy decided to dart in and out the police station, that he would become a suspect.

      The investigator and Joseph Kennedy were at the station and spotted Pomeroy dashing out of the precinct. Recognizing Pomeroy, the investigator's curiosity was piqued and he went after the boy. As he was bringing him back into the station Joseph Kennedy saw the two and immediately identified Pomeroy as the attacker, not realizing he was the same boy he had seen in the classroom earlier in the day.


      Several hours later, on September 21, 1872, 12-year-old Jesse Pomeroy confessed to the attacks. When asked why he did it, his response was, "He couldn't help himself."

      Jesse was found guilty and sentenced to six years at the House of Reformation at Westborough.

      Free Again

      On February 6, 1874, just two years after being sentenced, the "boy torturer" was free and back living with his mother and brother in South Boston.

      As part of his probation, Pomeroy was required to work. Ruth had a seamstress business which she ran out small retail store. Her older son Charles ran a newspaper stand located right outside of the seamstress shop. Charles was able to set Jesse up with a paper route and work in his mother's shop, which satisfied the conditions of his probation.

      Katie Curran

      On March 18, 1874, 10-year-old Katie Curran was reported as missing. She had left her South Boston home to buy a notebook that she needed for school. She was never seen again.

      The investigation led detectives to Ruth Pomeroy's shop, which was the last place Katie had been seen. The shop was searched and Jesse, who had opened the shop on the same morning Katie went missing, was questioned, but the detectives came up empty-handed. Although Jesse Pomeroy was a suspect, the investigators decided the crime did not fit his profile. His interest had always been in younger boys, not girls.

      Horace Millen

      On April 22, 1874, at around 10 a.m., 4-year-old Horace Millen left his South Boston home to go buy a treat from the local bakery. Five hours later his body was found lying in a pit at the Savin Hill Beach by two boys who were out clamming.

      Horace had been partially undressed, there were at least six deep stab wounds in his chest, he was nearly decapitated from deep cuts in his neck, his eyeball had been punctured and he was partially castrated. The similarity of the savage attack on Horace Millen to the victims of the "boy torturer" did not go unnoticed by the police or the newspapers.

      Not knowing that Jesse Pomeroy was out on an early release, some suspected that it was a copycat crime. However, once it was realized that he was free, the police immediately went to the Pomeroy home to bring him in for questioning.

      Overwhelming Evidence

      It did not take long for Pomeroy to confess to murdering Horace Millen, especially after learning about all of the evidence that investigators had uncovered.

      Police interviewed witnesses that saw Pomeroy with Horace on the day that he went missing. There were boot marks leading up to and around the area where Horace's body was found that matched boots that Pomeroy had on when he was brought to the station. He also had blood on his clothing and several scratches on his hands and face. Also a small blood encrusted knife found in Jesse's belongings matched some of the wounds inflicted on Horace.

      Pomeroy, now just 14 years old, casually admitted to the crime. When asked why he did it, he gave the same answer that he gave when asked about the Chelsea and South Boston victims that he had tortured, "He couldn't help himself."

      He was charged with first-degree murder, which meant he was eligible for the death penalty.

      Bizarre Theories

      Jesse Pomeroy's trial was much like the trials today when an adolescent is charged with a brutal crime. People look for explanations as to how a child can do something so inhumane and sadistic.

      The newspapers printed many of the popular theories that were circulating, including one story published in the Boston Globe which insinuated that Ruth Pomeroy was to blame because when she was pregnant with Jesse she would go to the butcher shop where her husband worked and sometimes assist Thomas butchering the animals.

      The author explained that this kind of prenatal exposure to the butchering of animals is why Jesse "couldn't help himself" commit his sadistic crimes, insinuating that it was preordained before Jesse was born.

      Unlike today, many people in the 1800s could accept that it was a reasonable theory. However, had anyone really cared to know the truth, they would have learned that the story was completely fabricated. Thomas did not work as a butcher until Jesse was six years old and Ruth never visited him there.

      As for Jesse Pomeroy's attorney, Joseph H. Cotton, he knew he had to come up with some feasible explanation as to how someone so young could commit such savage crimes and the only explanation that made sense was that Jesse Pomeroy was not guilty by reason of insanity.

      The Basement

      Ruth's seamstress business went down the tubes after Jesse's arrest. Forced to give up her retail space, she moved the business into her home. The retail space was quickly taken over by the grocer next door who wanted to expand. As part of the expansion, the basement was undergoing renovations.

      On July 18, four months since Katie Curran had disappeared, workers cleaning out the basement uncovered the remains of the missing child. An autopsy of the Katie's partial remains showed that her throat had been cut and her abdomen, thighs and genital area had been butchered.

      Ruth and her son Charles were arrested, partially because the public seemed close to lynching the woman and as a way to get Jesse to admit he was the killer.

      Detectives sprung the news of their arrest on Jesse while interrogating him about Katie Curran's murder, but his reaction remained flat and uncompromising. It wasn't until two days later that he confessed to the crime. His reason for the murder this time was different than in the past. He said he did it to, "see how she would act."

      The Trial and Sentencing

      Pomeroy's trial began on December 8, 1874, during which he appeared bored and aloof during most of the testimony. Unlike today's trials that can last for months, Pomeroy's trial lasted just two days. On December 10, 1874, after five hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and asked that mercy be shown in sentencing because of his age.

      The following February, Jesse Pomeroy, just a few months short of being 17 years old, was sentenced to death by hanging.

      Governor William Gaston had to sign the death warrant in order for the execution to take place, but he refused to be responsible for doing it and the warrant remained unsigned.

      The decision was then turned over to the Massachusetts Governor's Council who voted three different times on whether to execute Pomeroy or commute the sentence to life in prison. The first two votes were for the death penalty, but again Gaston refused to sign the death warrant. The third vote, which was done anonymously, commuted Pomeroy's sentence to life in prison in solitary confinement at the Charlestown State Prison.

      Solitary Confinement

      From 1876 until 1917, a total of 41 years, Jesse Pomeroy was kept in solitary confinement and other than quarterly visits from his mother and occasional visits from the prison chaplain, he had very little contact with other human beings.

      Although he was sentenced to hard labor, Pomeroy only did the assigned work for the first few years of his incarceration. After that he flatly refused to work. Instead he worked diligently, reading and studying law books in order to prove that he was deserving of a full pardon and that his sentence was illegal. He also spent time learning to read German, writing poetry and wrote hundreds of lengthy legal documents that addressed his right to a pardon.

      Prison Escapes

      The one other activity that Pomeroy enjoyed was attempting to escape from prison. He had an uncanny ability to turn parts of simple objects into saws, small drills and hammers that he would use to saw off the cell bars or dig holes through the concrete floor of his cell.

      During one escape attempt, he was found outside of his cell after removing iron bars on his cell door that took him three years to saw off..Another time he was able to dislodge a gas pipe that hung outside his cell. He used it to cause an explosion aimed at his cell wall.

      Throughout the years he made at least 12 solid attempts to escape from prison. His efforts caused a lot of extra work for prison officials who quickly learned not to underestimate Pomeroy's determination.

      Ruth Pomeroy Dies

      On January 10, 1915, Ruth Pomeroy died. For 39 years Ruth visited her son whenever it was allowed except for one time when she was sick with pneumonia. She was his most (if not only) devoted advocate who never faltered from the belief that he was innocent.

      A Humanitarian Act Gone Wrong

      In 1917 Governor Samuel McCall commuted Pomeroy's life in solitary confinement to life imprisonment, which meant he could be with the general prison population. But when the time came for him to move out of his cell he refused. He wanted a full pardon instead, also he realized that his old cell was larger than the newer cells and was one of the few with running water. The prison warden eventually compromised, allowing Pomeroy to remain in his old cell and allowing him to mingle with the general prison population.

      In 1929, the decision to move Pomeroy to the Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane was made, although Pomeroy protested the move. He was 71 years old, disabled and frail, and all he had known for 75 percent of his life was his cell at Charlestown State Prison. But, Pomeroy was no longer a threat and there was a shortage of cells, so he needed to go. He reacted by remaining silent during his trip to the new facility and for many days thereafter.

      During his stay at Bridgewater there was one incident when prison guards found tools that could be used to escape hidden in Pomeroy's room, however at this point he could hardly walk, much less escape.

      On September 29, 1932, Jesse Pomeroy died of coronary heart disease at the Bridgewater facility.