The fact that humans kill one another is shocking enough, but there is something that chills us to the marrow to learn that some children turn into killers before they even get their first kiss.
Science has yet to determine exactly why someone so young would turn to murder. Perhaps it was intense family trauma. Perhaps it was a brain injury. Perhaps they’re simply bad people. Whatever the reason, here are nine children who killed someone before even reaching puberty.
1. Carl Newton Mahan…6 years, 9 months, 24 days old
At an age when most children haven’t even shed their baby fat, Carl Newton Mahan became a killer. One day in 1929 while arguing with eight-year-old Cecil Van Hoose over a piece of scrap iron, Carl ran home, grabbed his dad’s shotgun, returned to the scene of the argument, and blasted Cecil into smithereens with one shot. He was tried and convicted of manslaughter and spent 15 years in reform school.
2. Dedrick Darnell Owens…6 years, 9 months, 24 days old
Sometimes Leap Year brings bad luck—on February 29, 2000, six-year-old Dedrick Owens fatally shot his six-year-old female classmate, Kayla Rolland, at Buell Elementary School near Flint, MI. In the presence of their teacher and 22 other students, he told Rolland, “I don’t like you” before pulling the trigger. Owens had reportedly threatened to kill his 10-year-old uncle at home earlier that morning. Weeks before the shooting, he had stabbed a girl with a pencil. He is the youngest perpetrator of a school shooting in American history. Since children this young are not considered criminally liable even when they intentionally kill someone, the county prosecutor urged citizens to give young Dedrick a hug. Instead, an uncle who owned the .32-caliber pistol used in the fatal shooting was charged with involuntary manslaughter and spent a little over two years in prison.
3. Amarjeet Sada…8 years old
Although he was confirmed to have killed only one person, Amarjeet Sada (whose first name is also spelled “Amardeep” in several accounts) is suspected of having killed two others, which would make him the youngest serial killer in world history.
In January 2007, a mother in a small Indian village left her six-month-old infant asleep in a local primary school while she tended to personal chores. Eight-year-old Sada snatched the baby and took it to a nearby field, where he laid it on the grass and began smashing it in the head with a brick, killing it. He attempted to cover up the corpse with grass and leaves.
Family members, who claimed that Amarjeet had already bludgeoned his one-year-old cousin and six-month-old sister to death, claimed they’d had enough. They summoned police. Amarjeet reportedly told them, “I killed her by beating her with a brick.”
Since there is no confirmation whether he killed his cousin and brother, nor is there any explanation as to why his relatives didn’t contact authorities after either of these murders, it is unclear whether Amarjeet Sada is the world’s youngest serial killer. It should be disturbing enough that he murdered an infant with a brick when he was only eight years old.
4. James Arcene…10 years old
At only 10, a native Cherokee boy named James Arcene is the youngest person in American history to be sentenced to death and executed for murder. Along with a Cherokee adult, he followed a Swedish man for two miles after he’d made a purchase at a store in Arkansas with the intent to rob him. They shot him six times and crushed his skull with a rock, making away with only 25 cents worth of merchandise. After being arrested, Arcene escaped but was captured and executed years later at age 23.
5. Robert Thompson (10 years, 5 months, 20 days old)
6. Jon Venables …(10 years, 5 months, 30 days old)
In a case that sickened the entire nation of England, Thompson and Venables kidnapped two-year-old James Bulger at a shopping mall when his mother’s attention had been temporarily diverted on day in 1993, paraded him 2.5 miles away from the scene of the abduction in front of several onlookers (some of whom later reported seeing Bulger crying), threw blue paint in his eye, kicked him, stomped on him, threw bricks and stones at him, and finally bludgeoned him to death with one mighty blow from a 22-pound iron bar. They placed batteries in Bulger’s mouth and possibly his anus. They had pulled his pants down as well and forcibly retracted his foreskin.
The sentencing judge told the young duo that their crime was one of “unparalleled evil and barbarity… In my judgment, your conduct was both cunning and very wicked.” Both Thompson and Venables were released after only eight years in custody.
Venables has subsequently been imprisoned multiple times for downloading child pornography.
7. Joseph Hall…10 years, 10 months, 12 days old
According to Joseph Hall’s grandmother, he was an unintelligent and violent problem child who was a serial arsonist and had been expelled from many schools for attacking teachers, once nearly choking a teacher to death with a phone cord.
Joseph’s father Jeff, however, was a violent white supremacist who repeatedly beat his children and female partners. He allegedly once kicked young Joseph in the back. On May 1, 2011 at 4PM as his plumber father was sleeping on the couch, Joseph grabbed his father’s .357 Magnum, pointed it at his ear, and shot him to death. He claimed that he was tired of all the physical abuse he and his stepmother had suffered at the hands of his Nazi dad. He later told police that he was operating under the assumption that his dad would have been able to recover from a .357 Magnum bullet fired at point-blank range and that they would eventually reconcile.
8. Mary Bell…10 years, 11 months, 364 days old
In a case that rattled England almost as much as the grisly tale of James Thompson and Jon Venables, Mary Bell was 10 when she strangled one four-year-old boy to death and 11 when she did the same to a three-year-old boy.
Mary’s mother was a prostitute who gave birth to her when she was only 17. Family members claim that Betty had repeatedly attempted to kill her daughter, finding it suspicious that young Mary kept doing things such as “accidentally” falling from a window—which caused permanent brain damage—and “accidentally” eating a handful of pills. Mary later would claim that from the age of four onward, her mother forced her into sexual acts with men.
In May 1968, one day before her 11th birthday, Mary strangled four-year-old Martin Brown to death.
Two months later, she and a friend, 13-year-old Norma Jean Bell (no relation) strangled three-year-old Brian Howe to death in an isolated area. Police claim that Mary later returned to carve an “M” into the boy’s stomach and mutilate his penis.
In December 1968 she was convicted of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility. Court psychiatrists claim she displayed “classic symptoms of psychopathy.”
In 1980 at age 23, Mary Bell was released from prison and given a new name. Four years later she had a daughter, who possibly is still unaware of her mother’s past.
9. Andrew Golden…11 years, 9 months, 27 days old
Early in 1998, a student at the Westside Middle School near Jonesboro, AR, told a counselor that Andrew Golden had confided to him that he intended to shoot people at the school. When summoned before the counselor, Golden said he had a nightmare in which he carried through with the plan and then was killed, scaring him away from actually going through with the plot.
On March 23, 1998, Golden warned a female classmate named Jennifer not to show up at school the next day because he’d heard something bad was going to happen.
On March 24, Golden and his 13-year-old accomplice Mitchell Johnson called in sick before arriving at the school in a stolen van stocked with nine rifles and pistols. Shortly after noon, while Johnson was hiding in the woods behind the school with their arsenal, Golden pulled a fire alarm and then ran back into the woods to join Johnson. As teachers and students poured out of the school, the boys opened fire on them, killing one teacher, four female students, and injuring ten others.
Police apprehended them within minutes. Due to their age they were tried as juveniles and found guilty of five counts of murder.
Golden was released on his 21st birthday and adopted a pseudonym. He tried applying for a concealed-carry permit under his new name but was denied when his true identity was revealed.