Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse Harding Pomeroy

Forgotten Killer

It's a wonder that Jesse Harding Pomeroy isn't more commonly encountered in popular and scientific crime literature. After all, nearly every group interested in juvenile or criminal justice could adopt the 14-year-old killer as a poster child.

Pro-death penalty groups could point to Jesse's lifelong absence of remorse as proof of the lack of rehabilitation prison affords convicts. Anti-death penalty advocates could show how it is possible to remove a killer from society without executing him, or how mercy can be afforded to those who commit even the most heinous crimes.

Backers of a harsh approach to juvenile crime can point to Jesse's recidivism as proof that coddling delinquents doesn't rehabilitate them. Those who prefer a more humanistic approach to juvenile crime can show how severe punishment rather than re-education turns out angry and ill-suited youths who seek to lash out at the society that imprisoned them.

Those who blame environment over biology for criminal behavior can point to Jesse's poor home life as the prime motivator for his criminal career, while those who seek a biological explanation can use his sociopathic personality as evidence that neuropathology causes criminal behavior.

Social commentators who want to blame media exposure to violence can use Jesse's apparent taste for the sensational dime novels of the late 19th century as proof that media can lead children to commit violent crimes, although their opponents can point out that the level of violence in those dime novels doesn't begin to approach the violence we see on television, in the movies and in our video games.

Perhaps it is because Jesse Pomeroy doesn't fit into anyone's preconceived notions of a juvenile criminal that no one has adopted him as the standard bearer for their theory. Knowing his love of attention, and the pleasure he derived from his own notoriety, perhaps the fact that he has been mostly forgotten by society is its own kind of justice.

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