Children Who Kill: Profiles of Pre-Teen and Teenage Killers profiles children from
age ten to seventeen who killed, either alone or in tandem with other children. There
are also chapters on children who kill their friends, children who kill again as adults,
youthful sex killers etc.
What makes a fourteen year old boy abduct a four year old, castrate him and
almost decapitate him? What drives an eleven year old girl to strangle a toddler
then carve her initials on his flesh?
The media would like us to believe that the answer lies in horror videos and vampire
books – but the facts show otherwise. Again and again, the children who killed
merely enlarged on the violence that was done to them.
Many of these children were also sexually abused, with one boy even being used in
child pornography. And one of the sexually abused girls ended up with a sexually
transmitted disease. These children were victims for years and years before they
snapped and became the perpetrators, occasionally killing their dysfunctional
families but more often killing a stranger who was vulnerable in some way.
Paperback published 2004 and reprinted 2006 (three times), 2007, 2008 by Allison &
Busby. ISBN 0-74900-693-5 Priced £7.99. [Originally published in hardback in 2003 and
reprinted 2004 by Allison & Busby, ISBN 0-74900-610-2 Priced £17.99]
Japanese readers can read a translation published by Bungei Shunju in April 2008 and available from amazon.co.jp.
Children Who Kill Reviews:
It is a rarely acknowledged fact that children are capable of crimes as heinous as those committed by adults. In this
deeply disquieting book, the author profiles 13 killers between the ages of 10 and 17. The author begins with the story
of Jesse Pomeroy, the Boston boy who, at the age of 12, began by torturing younger children and a couple of years
later graduated to homicide. That was in 1873. Later, she writes about Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the two
10-year-old Liverpool boys who achieved worldwide fame by luring toddler James Bulger from a shopping mall and
murdering him. The subjects of this book are boys and girls who, for a variety of reasons, found the dark side of
themselves far earlier than most people. The author keeps the editorialising to a minimum, preferring to let the plain
facts speak for themselves. It's a good plan: the book is downright chilling.
David Pitt, Booklist, Summer 2003
Like her previous book, Women Who Kill, Carol Anne Davis' latest work, Children Who
Kill, examines an understudied and often misrepresented aspect of criminology, one
which many adults find difficult to accept.
As Davis makes uncomfortably clear, such cases are not isolated (although, fortunately, they are relatively rare) and
neither are they confined to the contemporary world. She highlights, for instance, a case from 1861 that is chillingly
similar to that of James Bulgar. However most examples detailed here are from the 1960s onwards and include both
the notorious, such as Mary Bell, and Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, and the lesser known.
This is no mere catalogue of crime aimed at the prurient. Anyone looking for gruesome detail will be disappointed.
Throughout her examination Davis is more interested in the 'why?' rather than the 'how?'. The answer becomes
depressingly familiar: children who kill tend to copy dysfunctional behaviour culled from violent and abusive domestic
situations. This is the central tenet of Davis' thesis, examining the general causes, cultural reactions to the
phenomenon and how it can be addressed.
Her argument will doubtless appear too liberal to some readers, and there is a tendancy towards repetition and
didacticism. Nevertheless, this is an important work - one which is growing in significance, and it attempts to address
a difficult subject in an approachable manner.
Paul M. Chapman, Sherlock Magazine, Spring 2003
Children Who Kill is the second true crime book by this author and looks at pre-teen and teenage killers in both the
United States and England. It also looks deeply at a number of well known and lesser known cases. This is a well
written and well thought out book. The reader is left in no doubt about the seriousness of the cases and the way in
which their childhood has contributed to their behaviour.
This is certainly a fascinating book and Carol Anne Davis has shown in no uncertain terms that while society might
think that young children are incapable of violence, this is not the case. Like adults they are just as capable of terrible
and monstrous behaviour to the extent that they are willing to kill and are also masters of manipulation. Like most true
crime books this is a well researched book which has lifted the lid off children who kill.
Children Who Kill is a welcome addition to the annals of true crime and a must for any well-stocked library.
Ayo Onatade, Mystery Women, June 2003
The Scots author of Women Who Kill comes back with a bracing new follow-up. School shooters, teenage sex killers,
kidnappers who were kids themselves: They did the unthinkable, yet rather than take the easy route and demonise
them, Davis delves deeply into their lives before and after their crimes. It's rare for authors of any kind to pay such
intense, authentic attention to kids feelings and characters; Davis's doing so makes these crimes and criminals all
the more interesting. Complex yet so simple, these two dozen or so stories implicate abusive parents and other
irresponsible adults who might have saved these kids and thus their victims but didn't.
Anneli Rufus, Crime Magazine, April 2003
This carefully researched book is a most welcome departure from the macabre, sensational, tabloid-tainted tendency
of a few specialists. Their works are generally intended to thrill and to titillate, rarely to inform. Hence the hysterical
public reaction to any suggestion that the emphasis in sentencing be on reform rather than revenge.
Davis, in contrast, assiduously profiles a number of pre-teen and teenage killers. She opens with a dramatic
eyewitness account of a twelve year old boy who attempted to murder a girl little older than himself....
Davis cites a recent study which found that of 200 serious juvenile offenders, over 90 per cent had suffered childhood
traumas. Seventy four percent, she adds, had been physically, sexually and/or emotionally abused and over 30
percent had lost a person in their life to whom they were emotionally attached….
As I suggested at the beginning, Davis is a committed writer with an arresting didactic approach. We must not be like
gawking ghouls at a road accident, merely there out of a disfiguring curiosity and ready to leave without mulling
over how to prevent further slaughter on the roads. Those with a concern for the prevention of murder by children and
violence against them, will be doing themselves and society a grave disservice if they fail to understand the dark and
satanic forces that drive children to kill.
We must be grateful to Carol Anne Davis for reminding us that in the area of child violence and abuse we have to
address the causes of such behaviour and to take the necessary steps – legal, remedial, environmental and
institutional – to end them.
Robert Govender, The Weekly Post North London, Feb 2003
Lurid, clichéd, sensationist (sic) and downright odd, Carol Anne Davis' book, Children Who Kill is just the sort of
nonsense which will have you sitting up in bed reading into the wee hours. Although replete with references to
arrested sexuality, Ms Davis' analysis isn't exactly piercing, but the book is a useful introduction to the sad world of
Gay Times, March 2003
The actions and motivations of some of the youngest killers are examined in this book. Well known cases including
those of Mary Bell, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables are examined alongside historical case studies and lesser
known crimes. One shocking case highlights a boy who killed at the age of three.
The book provides a moving account of the dark and troubled childhoods that lead to murder. Set out in easy to read
sections, the book can easily be put down if the truth behind the crimes becomes too much for the reader.
Carl Doyle, South Wales Argus, March 2003
Two young boys, up to no good, spotted a two year old toddler on his own. A woman saw the infant crying and being
led away by the hand. Later, the two year old's body was found, stripped, beaten and dead. The killers? Not Robert
Thompson and Jon Venables, but James Bradley and Peter Barratt, in the year 1861. The killers, aged eight at the
time of the offence, were found guilty of manslaughter and given five years in a reformatory….
Davis has written a remarkable and very readable book which examines the actions and motives of more than a dozen
young killers. So we get Thompson and Venables, Bruce Lee and Mary Bell, of course, but also historical case
studies, high school gun massacres – the common thread being the perpetrators' troubled history….
Most of the case studies show that it's the violence which children are subjected to that spurs them on to kill. Society
likes scapegoats – be it violent videos, rock music, pornography, single mothers, even defective genes. But unless
the child is a psychopath, a 'natural born killer' probably doesn't exist.
If watching violent videos, for example, was sufficient on its own to incite murder, Britain would have a juvenile killing
epidemic. As Davis writes 'Watching a violent video doesn't turn a loved child into a psychopath. Violent parents,
violent school bullies – or the occasional severe chemical imbalance or brain tumour – does that.'
The author deserves credit for tackling a taboo subject in a thoughtful way. Many of the hated child killers will, she
says, eventually be freed, and have a first chance of happiness - 'assuming they aren't killed by enraged members of
the public.' Ironically these members of the public will make no connection between any humiliating experiences in
their own childhoods and their current aggressive stance… as the philosopher Santayana said: 'Those who cannot
remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'
Grace Hammond, Yorkshire Post, Feb 2003
Although she remains best known for her fiction, Carol Anne Davis is developing a separate reputation as an author of
insightful studies of 'true crime'. Her previous foray into this field, 'Women Who Kill', earned a good deal of acclaim
and her latest non-fiction study is equally absorbing. In her preface, the author emphasises that the ingredients of
murders by young people are usually very similar: 'the child is physically and emotionally abused by an adult or
adults, often the very people that created them. In turn, he or she goes on to perpetrate violence on someone else.'
She opens with a couple of profiles of historic cases, involving Jesse Pomeroy and William Allnutt, making the point
that 'children who kill aren't a modern phenomenon brought about by horror videos or single parent family.' After that,
she examines a wide range of modern cases, including not only the depressing and familiar stories of Mary Bell and
Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, but also many others that are much less widely documented. There is also a
section devoted to the case of Stephen Downing, much in the news at the time of publication as a result of the
Derbyshire police force's controversial conclusion that, despite Downing's release from prison following a miscarriage
of justice, there is no other serious suspect. It is fair to assume that more will be written about that particular case in
the future. Meanwhile, Davis has produced a serious and sensitive account of a topic which is, surely, among the
Martin Edwards, Tangled Web, Mar 2003
Who will buy this book and why? These are important questions, given the sensational subject matter and that the
treatment of it occupies a curious no-man's land halfway between a slight and a serious read. Carol Anne Davis, a
writer with an MA in criminology, has trawled the literature to assemble a series of vignettes of the lives of British and
American child killers, the crimes they committed, and what happened to them afterwards. On one level it's a
gruesome catalogue of stabbings, shootings, smotherings, drownings, mutilations and sexual deviancy. The writing is
plain and accessible, the jaunty song title chapter headings "Riders on the Storm", "Born to Run" have an air of
pandering to the prurient and making money from an unhealthy interest in such dark deeds.
But Davis has a serious agenda. Her aim is to show that, without exception, these children suffered lives of appalling
mental and physical cruelty and that in most cases this and this alone was what most likely led them to kill. She
does her job well. As she makes plain, the crimes these children committed are at least matched if not overshadowed
by the things that were done to them by their parents and carers.
The mother of Mary Bell, for example, several times tried to poison her daughter, gave her away to a stranger then
later – when she was four – involved her in sado-masochistic prostitution by holding back the girl's head so clients
could ejaculate into her mouth. In the light of such an upbringing it isn't entirely surprising that by the time she was 11
this deeply disturbed girl had murdered two boys.
And the pattern is unvarying. William Newton Allnutt, born in 1835 in East London, was raised in a violent and
alcoholic family and poisoned his tyrannical grandfather with arsenic. A century-and-a-half later in Mississippi, the
mother of Luke Woodham was so cruelly and obsessively protective and controlling that he smothered and stabbed
her before shooting students dead at his school.
It is hardly news that terrible deeds are handed on down the generations, but as Davis points out, these kinds of
backgrounds are often glossed over in court, while society prefers the myth that "bad blood" will out. When a child
kills, she notes, the family will close ranks to deny any abuse, juries may well side with parents, and the media
will point the finger at easy scapegoats such as porn videos, single parents and violent rap lyrics, rather than dig beneath
the surface to detail what, exactly, has led the child to the dock.
Where do schools feature in all of this, given that all these young killers were in the classroom shortly before they did
their deeds? All too often it seems that teachers failed to pick up warning signs, even when they were being waved
under their noses. But even when teachers have blown the whistle, welfare agencies have not followed up, or
intervention has made matters worse. No one knows how many killings have been prevented by prompt and
compassionate action from teachers and others, but any teachers who finish this book are likely to be watching their
pupils like hawks for signs of sexual disturbance, cruelty towards animals or obsessive interest in Satanism.
If this is the outcome, then all well and good and if the book helps people see that dehumanised killers such as Jon
Venables and Robert Thompson who murdered the toddler James Bulger ten years ago this week, are not monsters
but vulnerable children who have been dealt such a poor hand in life that all they know how to do is pass it on, then
that, too, must be a laudable result. But if, as seems likely, most readers pick up this book for titillation and cheap
thrills, then all Davis's soberly assembled arguments will have come to nothing.
Hilary Wilce, Book Of The Week, Times Educational Supplement, Feb 2003