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 pre-teen tragedy.

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 bleakest imaginable.

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