Psychology

Why Do Children Kill?

Do they come from good homes? Bad homes? Is something wrong with them from birth? Or is their parentage and environment at fault?

Mary Bell, Eric Smith, Jon Venables & Robert Thompson

Mary Bell:

Mary Bell committed the first of two shocking murders on the day before her 11th birthday. In May of 1968, Mary strangled a four-year-old boy.

On July 1968, she and a 13 year old friend took part in the strangulation death of 3 year old Brian Howe in the same Scotswood area.

Police later concluded that Mary returned to his body to carve an “M” into the boy’s abdomen. She also used scissors to cut off some of his hair, scratch his legs and mutilate his genitals.

On December 17, 1968, Norma Bell was acquitted but Mary Bell was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The judge described her as dangerous and said she posed a “very grave risk to other children”.

Robert Thompson & John Venables:

In February 1993, two 10 year old boys lured a 2 year old away from his mom. The boys led James Bulger by the hand out of the mall where they planned to push him into oncoming traffic.

But then the boys switched plans and decided to travel two and a half miles through Walton, Liverpool to a set of railroad tracks.

At the railroad tracks, the boys stripped the little boy, stuffed batteries into his mouth, threw paint in his eye and bricks and stones at his body. Then dropped a 22 pound iron bar on him.

They used rocks to weigh his body down on the railroad tracks so a passing train would run over the boy’s body.

“Most killers have pretty average lifestyles. Steady jobs too. Sometimes they’re even living the family life-white picket fence and a four-door sedan. That’s what makes them so scary. They act human and they slot into society and since a young age they’ve known how to hide the crazy; they put it up on a shelf and only bring it out on special occasions.” ― Paul Cleave, The Killing Hour

Eric Smith:

Eric Smith was a loving boy until he was diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder. This mental disorder causes individuals to act out violently and unpredictably.

The boy was a loner and often bullied due to his appearance. He had protruding low-set ears, thick glasses, red hair, and freckles.

When Eric was a young child he killed, tortured, and disemboweled animals. He once set fire to the family stove.

In August 1993 at age 13, Eric Smith murdered 4 year old Derrick Robie after luring him into the woods on their way to summer camp. Eric hit him over the head with a rock, strangled him and sodomized him with a tree limb.

He was charged with second-degree murder and is currently in a medium security prison in New York State. Eric Smith is eligible for parole every two years and was first denied parole in August 2002. His next parole hearing is October 2021.

Children Who Kill Are Often Victims Too:

These children often have been severely abused or neglected and have experienced a tumultuous home life. They can have severe attachment problems, often the result of unreliable and ineffective care giving and a history of abuse.

The child may have witnessed or experienced violence or been rejected or abandoned by a parent.

Problems in the home are particularly influential. If a child witnesses or experiences violence, they are likely to repeat violence in other situations. (Psychology Today)

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10 Comments

  1. This is so sad. I’ve seen many of these stories on the news and wondered about the children that did this. God rest the souls of the ones they killed.

  2. It’s the old nature vs nurture debate that is probably the oldest debate in psychology. Many people believe it is an absolute, but I am not sure that in all cases it is definitive. xo Laura

  3. Torturing, killing small animals and starting fires are hallmarks of sociopaths and serial killers, obviously someone dropped the ball.

  4. Now there is a question for debate.
    If you believe in good and evil, are they intrinsically evil and behavior can’t be attributed to environment or family life? Or, if you are more science minded , is it a deficit in brain function? I think with some kids it is something inborn, whether spiritually (evil) or adverse functioning of their brains. I also believe environmental, ie: parental/family dynamics such as abuse, neglect can strongly affect a child’s behavior.
    That said, I grew up in a severely dysfunctional and abusive home (Physical violence) and I have never wanted to hurt or kill anyone. I am the opposite being extremely caring and empathetic.
    In the cases where there are two kids perpetrating a crime, sometimes I think the second kid may be pushed over the edge by peer pressure of the sicker kid, and they might act out of fear of retaliation.
    There is also the psychological result of being bullied and feeling so inadequate that can often lead to one lashing out in extreme behavior. At any rate, kids killing kids shows that human beings are very flawed. It is very disturbing and sad that a young person could do something as horrifying as to kill.

    1. Well we have a very violent society. Violent videos. Violent politics. Oh, and can’t forget all those guns in homes, particularly the ones meant for war.

      1. The violence begins with how humans treat animals. Factory farmed and lab animals, to name a few, suffer horrible fates and are considered no more important than a shoe or a sandwich. If humans are to decrease our violent tendencies, we must start with what we choose to eat, wear and use. Being vegan is an excellent beginning.

        1. So hard to believe these children could even begin to conceive of killing.

          I’ve been meaning to ask you if you heard of the Turpin family here in So Cal. They kept their 13 kids captive for yrs til one escaped and went for help. Fascinating story for us that read crime and punishment.

      2. Brenda, you are so right about society being violent. You only have to watch the news for a strong dose of it. Sadly, it seems as time goes on a lot of people are complacent about it. Don’t even get me started on guns. Parents also have a responsibility in what they expose their kids to as they are raising them. Television shows that are inappropriate for young, developing minds, violent video games, etc. Then you have our lawmakers protecting the people and companies producing this kind of content. I once asked an elderly person (I am a senior as well, but he was pushing 90 at the time) if it bothered him to see society going down like this in morals and values. He said he wasn’t really bothered by it. Well, that was 15 yrs ago and I was bothered by it then and am devastated and truly discouraged now! Where has decency and integrity gone?