February 12, 1993: Pair of 10 Year Old Boys Commit Horrific Murder in England

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A Brief History

On February 12, 1993, a pair of deranged 10 year old English boys kidnapped and murdered 2 year old James Bulger from a shopping center in Bootle, Merseyside, England.  Before 1993 was over, the two murderous kidnappers had already been convicted of kidnapping, torturing and murdering the poor toddler, making the deadly duo the youngest persons convicted of murder in modern British history.

Digging Deeper

Video surveillance from New Strand Shopping Centre later showed police the 2 perpetrators looking over potential targets until they spotted the young boy that would be their prey, little James Bulger.  James was with his mother who was shopping and took her eyes off the lad for only a few seconds, but in that short time the little boy had disappeared.  Prior to the abduction, the murderers, who were playing hookey from school, could be seen on video shoplifting several items, including Troll dolls and paint which were found later at the crime scene.  The murderers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables (born in 1982)., later told police their plan had been to lure a child to leave the store with them, and then push the victim into the path of traffic on a busy street adjacent to the shopping center.

James Bulger being abducted by Thompson (above Bulger) and Venables (holding Bulger’s hand) in an image recorded on shopping centre CCTV

Thompson and Venables spotted James and made him their mark, taking him by the hand and walking him out of the store while his mother was temporarily distracted.  As soon as the mother noticed James was gone, she immediately began looking for the lost child, never suspecting that her worst nightmare was about to come true.  James was walked away from the stores in full view of many witnesses, most of whom thought nothing special of the little guy calmly walking with 2 older boys.  At one point the older boys dropped James on his head and face, causing a bump and bruise, injuries which caught the attention of at least 2 people that questioned why the injured and crying toddler was with the older boys.  The 2 young criminals calmly explained that James was their little brother who had gotten lost and was being returned by the older boys to the local police station.  That explanation was apparently good enough, for no one else tried to stop the trio of boys.

After a 4 kilometer hike from the shopping center, including a stop at a pet shop from which the boys were kicked out, the psycho 10 year olds took James to a steep bank by a railroad track that was ironically right across from the Walton Lane police station.  There, the creepy duo began torturing little James, throwing paint in his face, beating and kicking the little boy, throwing stones at him, and finally shoving batteries into the toddler’s mouth and anus.  What may have been the killing blow came when the murderers dropped a 10 kilogram iron bar on James’ head, severely fracturing his skull.  Medical examiners later could not pinpoint exactly which injury killed the little boy.  The creepy 10 year olds then laid the body of James Bulger across the railroad tracks, hoping a train would hit the body and cause investigators to believe James had been killed by a train.  Sadly, the body of the poor victim was violated even in death when a train did come by soon afterwards and cut the corpse in half.

This image, a photo of James Bulger, was released by his Mother to the police and the public in the hunt for her son’s killers.  It is contended to be in the public domain.  There is no replaceable alternative image and therefore is eligible for use.

The body of James was found without his shoes, socks, pants and underwear, leading authorities to assume a sexual assault had taken place.  After Venable and Thompson were arrested, they later denied any sexual assault, but seemed evasive about the subject.  The body was soon discovered and identified, and the surveillance video from the shopping center was shown on national television, leading to the perpetrators being quickly identified by television watchers.

The crime was a national sensation and saddened people across the countries of the UK.  Thousands of people left flowers and other mementos at the railroad tracks where James’ body had been found.  National anger led to the possibility of vigilante action, and one boy who was briefly considered a suspect had to flee for his life.  When Venable and Thompson were arrested, they were publicly identified only as suspects A and B because of their young age, but their identities quickly became public knowledge and their families were forced to flee their hometowns and change their names to avoid being attacked by vigilantes.  Evidence at trial was overwhelming, including physical evidence, DNA, surveillance video, and many hours of taped police interviews with the accused.  Conviction led to prison time in youth offender facilities, with an attempt made to conceal the identities and locations of the convicted murderers.

Mug shots of Venables and Thompson taken at the time of their arrest.

Both offenders were recommended for the British equivalent of parole for life (Licence, they call it) and both were duly released in 2001 at the age of 21.  Earlier attempts at an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights on the claim of an unfair trial were unsuccessful.  By court order, the new identities and locations of the 2 murderers was forbidden from being made public information.  Venables was again imprisoned in 2010 for parole violations, and then released once more in 2013, only to be again jailed in 2017 when he was found to have “child abuse images” on his computer.

To be honest, this case makes this author sick to his stomach.  The depravity of the 2 young murderers defies any notion of human decency.  Can such mental depravity ever be “cured?”  Or would the patient just be fooling the therapist in order to be let free?  Sorry, but we vote cynically on this one.  Anyone looking for leniency for these 2 monsters saying, “But they were just kids!” should perhaps look at the case from the side of the parents of the victim.  Or not… as some folks would surely say.

Bootle Bus Station, with the Strand Shopping Centre car park behind.  Photograph by Colin Pyle / Bootle Bus Station / CC BY-SA 2.0.

Questions for Students (and others):  Do you believe 10 year old murderers found to be mentally competent should be locked up for life, or at least a very long time?  Or do you think a 10 year old criminal, no matter how heinous the crime should be treated as either a mentally ill person or as a “juvenile” and either given therapy and released or released at age 18 or 21?  Have you previously heard of this case?  Have you heard of any other cases dealing with such young murderers that also tortured their victims?

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Bulger, Ralph. My James. Pan; Main Market Ed. edition, 2013.

My James: The Heartrending Story of James Bulger by His Father (Hardcover)

New From: $54.47 USD In Stock
Used from: $21.93 USD In Stock
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Ewing, Charles. Kids Who Kill.  Lexington Books, 1990.

Kids Who Kill (Hardcover)

List Price: $19.95
New From: $54.87 USD In Stock
Used from: $54.87 USD In Stock
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Fergus, Denise. I Let Him Go: A Mother’s Heartbreaking True Story of the Murder that Shocked the World. Blink Publishing, 2018.

I Let Him Go: A Mother’s Heartbreaking True Story of the Murder that Shocked the World (Paperback)

List Price: $14.95 USD
New From: $11.73 USD In Stock
Used from: $7.73 USD In Stock
buy now

Thomas, Mark. Every Mother’s Nightmare – The Murder of James Bulger. iBooks, 2011.

Every Mother’s Nightmare – The Murder of James Bulger (Hardcover)

List Price: $27.95 USD
New From: $27.95 USD In Stock
Used from: $27.68 USD In Stock
buy now

The featured image in this article, an image of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, was released by UK police and may considered to be in the public domain; however, it is unlikely to have been formally placed into the public domain.  It can also be argued that these photographs do not have any artistic perspective at all, what is a requirement for copyright protection in many jurisdictions.  Formally speaking therefore, these image may be claimed to be fair use of an image whose copyright belongs with the Crown.  This work is copyrighted (or assumed to be copyrighted) and unlicensed; however, it is believed that the use of this work:

  • To illustrate the subject in question
  • Where no free equivalent is available or could be created that would adequately give the same information

qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.