A popular true-crime writer offers his fifth in a chilling series on serial killers.
Schechter has written about familiar murderers like Ed Gein (Deviant, 1998) and H.H. Holmes (Depraved, 1996), but this time he focuses on a deformed 14-year-old killer whose rampage shocked 19th-century Boston. Jesse Harding Pomeroy was arrested in 1874 for the brutal murder of a four-year-old boy and was quickly nicknamed “The Boston Boy Fiend.” His sadistic career had begun three years earlier with the sexual torture of several younger boys. Five of his victims identified him from his oversized head and his milky right eye: he ended up sentenced to six years in reform school (where he thrilled to the punitive beatings of other boys). A born psychopath, he played the system and got out early. His next act was to kill a young girl who came into his mother’s store, followed by the child who ended his string of crimes. Schechter introduces the story with an informative overview of various periods in history—including the 1990s—where child killers raised a social alarm. He also notes that Pomeroy made a Lecteresque cameo in Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist. More compelling is Schechter’s reconstruction of the sensation-hungry times: he offers newspaper clips, accounts of other crimes, clashing diagnoses from forensic alienists, and bizarre social theories such as the concern that lurid dime novels created such monsters. Pomeroy, who wrote a self-serving autobiography, received a controversial death sentence that was later commuted to life in solitary. His persistent attempts to escape surprised everyone and kept him in the Boston papers for the next 50 years.
Masterful research, although some material appears to function as a story-stretcher.