Is there a human manifestation of evil? Many people would say yes, there are two – Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. Venables and Thompson are commonly dubbed the evilest children in history – and for good reason.
“I looked at Denise and smiled with relief. ‘He’s gonna be all right, Denise, He’s with two young kids – he’s gonna be all right”
But how much do we truly know not only about this case, about the victim, and about the motivations of the two young killers?
Venables and Thompson Collide
Both boys came from fractured homes. On one hand, Robert Thompson, who was the fifth of seven children, was five years old when his father, Robert Thompson, abandoned his wife and kids. Ann Thompson turned to alcohol to numb her pain – effectively neglecting her children.
Thompson and his siblings immersed themselves with violence and crime. Thompson preferred to shoplift and beat his younger siblings whereas his older brothers often threatened each other with knives.
A report filed with the NSPCC outline the Thompson families fracture structure;
‘The Thompson report is a series of violent incidents […]. None of them in itself enough to justify the kids being taken into care but the sum of them appalling. The boys, it’s said, grew up ‘afraid of each other’. They bit, hammered, battered, tortured each other.’
On the other hand, Jon Venables parents, Susan and Neil Venables, were separated and living a few miles apart. Both shared custody.
It is reported that Susan, who Jon grew scared of overtime due to her strict parenting style, brought home a countless number of men – blueing the paternal authoritarian lines.
Venables had a history of behavioural problems and hyperactivity which is speculated to have stemmed from his two siblings, a brother and a sister who both had severe learning difficulties, getting the majority of attention.
Both of the boys developed quite the reputation within their neighbourhoods. Thompson was known due to his familial name. The Thompson family was known in the town of Kirkby, Merseyside, as being a troubled family.
Neighbours also claimed sightings of bird mutilation at the hands of Thompson.
Venables was known to have felt neglected and ostracised socially from his peers. As noted by a neighbour;
“He always seemed perfectly well behaved and I think he looked on me as some kind of grandma. He once came to me crying saying the other boys were picking on him, trying to steal his bike.”
Venables was relentlessly bullied by his classmates for numerous reasons including him beating himself against surfaces (which may have been an attempt to mirror the actions of his siblings when frustrated). This was combated by his physical bullying of younger children.
After a particularly bad incident with his classmates, he attempted to throttle a boy with a ruler. The teacher of the class later called it the worst case of classroom violence she had ever personally witnessed. He was suspended.
Venables’ mother enrolled him in a different school where he met fellow classmate, Thompson. The two became friends and, before long, they discovered their similarities – both were held back and continued their studies with children one year younger than themselves.
Both struggled to maintain regular attendance, both were below the poverty line, both encountered difficulties with learning (Thompson was practically illiterate by the age of 10), both were violent with classmates (Venables more so than Thompson), and both had a record of skipping school.
It was during one of their many school skipping sessions that the two may have gotten the inspiration for their fateful crime. Whilst skiving school with Thompson’s younger brother had wandered off.
Venables and Thompson had to report him missing to the security office in order to find him.
The Murder of James Patrick Bulger
On February 12th, 1993, the two attempted an abduction. The boys were in TJ Hughes and attempt to abduct a 2-year-old boy.
The boy’s 3-year-old sister informed her mother and she was able to locate her son before he left the premise. Venables and Thompson aborted this attempt. They selected their next victim approximately half an hour late.
2-year-old James Bulger was accompanying his mother during a shopping trip. Whilst she was distracted, Venables took the boy by the hand and lead him away. The three were caught leaving the shopping centre at 3:42 p.m.
When James’s parents, Ralph and Denise Bulger, viewed the CCTV footage of Venables and Thompson leaving with his son the pair were initially relieved. Ralph stated;
“I looked at Denise and smiled with relief. ‘He’s gonna be all right, Denise, He’s with two young kids – he’s gonna be all right”
However, this comforting thought of his baby being safe with two innocent children could not be further from the truth. The three made their way to the canal, during which time Bulger began to cry for his mother, so they dropped Bulger on his head which severely cut him.
The three continued their journey and were estimated to have been seen by over 38 people as they travelled with an injured, crying baby. No one rescued him. 3 miles and several hours later the trio arrived at the railway.
One or both of the boys proceeded to throw shoplifted paint in Bulger’s left eye. They then began beating and kicking the baby and, once satisfied, they shoved batteries into his mouth, then his anus, and then forcibly pulled back his foreskin.
A 10 kg bar was dropped on the incapacitated Bulger’s head and body, leading to 10 fractures and 42 injuries. After Venables and Thompson were done, they lay Bulger’s body along the railroad tracks and weighed him down with rubble in an effort to make his death look accidental.
His corpse was subsequently cut in two by a train. Bulger’s body was found two days later on February 14th by a group of 4 children. He was only 200 yards from the nearest police station.
An anonymous call informed police of Venables and Thompson’s school absence on February 12th. Police visited their respective homes and discovered bloodstains on Thompson’s shoes and blue paint on Venables jacket. Despite this, the two were not initially considered viable suspects. Police were convinced the CCTV footage showed boys aged 12-14, not 10.
The boys were separated during interrogation. Thompson initially denied everything. However, 2 days into the interrogation, Venables confessed saying “I did kill him”. Upon learning of Venables confession, Thompson claimed that he begged Venables to take Bulger back and claimed he only watches the murder and did not partake.
Throughout his confession Thompson remained unemotional, earning him the nickname “the boy who did not cry”. It is still unknown which boy partook in which part of the time.
Venables and Thompson were charged with murder, abduction, and attempted abduction and, on November 1st 1993. Both pleaded not guilty. Their identities were initially hidden from the public due to their age and, during their trial, they were referred to as Boy A (Thompson) and Boy B (Venables).
Whilst sat in raised chairs so they could see out of the docks designed for adults, the pair were found guilty of Bulger’s murder. This made them the youngest individuals to be convicted of murder in Britain in 250 years. During their sentencing, Judge Justice Morland stated;
“In my judgment, your conduct was both cunning and very wicked.”
At the end of the trial, judge Morland order the identity of Venables and Thompson to be released, a controversial decision considering the pair’s age, however, he justified his reason by stating;
2I did this because the public interest overrode the interest of the defendants […]. There was a need for an informed public debate on crimes committed by young children.”
Thompson was held at Barton Moss Secure Care Centre in Manchester and Venables in Vardy House in St. Helens on Merseyside. Both were released in 2001 after serving 8 years in prison. They were granted anonymity and provided with new identities – much to the outrage of the public.
Public opinion on this case has only grown in intensity and, in recent years, there has been a renewed interest in revealing the pairs assigned identities. However, doing so is Contempt of Court and can lead to either a fine or incarceration.
Richard McKeag and Natalie Barker shared an image revealing the identity of Venables on Facebook – they were charged with 8 counts of contempt and charged with a 12 and 8 months suspended sentence respectively. Shameless actress Tina Malone shared an image of Venables – she received an 8 month suspended sentence and was ordered to pay £10,000 to the court.
Have Venables or Thompson Reoffended?
Robert Thompson is rumoured to be integrating himself back into society with success. Allegedly, he is no longer deemed a threat to society and, according to unconfirmed whispers, he lives happily with his partner.
Venables, on the other hand, is not rehabilitated. Venables first reoffended in 2010. He was caught with child pornography depicting various acts of sexual abuse inflicted on male toddlers.
During his parole hearing in 2013, Ralph Bulger begged the parole board to keep him incarcerated. His parole was granted.
In 2017, Venables was arrested on charges of distributing child pornography. He admitted being in possession of 392 category A images (acts depicting penetration), 148 category B images (non-penetrative sexual acts), and 630 category C images (inappropriate images).
On 7 February 2018, Venable was sentenced to an additional 3 years and 4 months in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2021.
Why Did They Do It?
Why did these 10-year-old boys murder, James Bulger?
This question has been haunting criminal professionals and civilians alike since the events of 1993. When asked during interrogation they simply said, “I don’t know”.
No one has determined the exact factor which led to one of the most heinous murders the world has ever seen. However, there are some compelling theories.
1) It Was Their Parents Fault
The theory that Mr and Mrs Venables and Thompson are to blame for the actions of their children is one supported by Judge Justice Morland. After the Venables and Thompson’s trial and conviction, Morland lay blame almost entirely on the actions of the parents, stating;
“In my judgement, the home background, upbringing, family circumstances, parental behaviour and relationships were needed in the public domain so that informed and worthwhile debate can take place for the public good in the case of grave crimes by young children.”
2) It Was Caused by Psychopathy
For those unaware of the definition of psychopathy, it is lacking certain personality traits like love and empathy. One’s environment can exacerbate psychopathy – however, the trait is traditionally inherited genetically through parental DNA.
Were these boys psychopathic? Possibly. Both boys suffering from psychopathy is mathematically improbable – however, many believe that one boy suffered from psychopathy and manipulate the other – which of the boys was the manipulator and which manipulated is still up for debate.
This, along with the above theory that the parents are to blame, brings forth an issue hotly debated for centuries – does one become a killer due to nature (like being genetically pre-dispositioned to the psychopathy gene), nurture (like the influence of parents during one’s upbringing as suggested by the court), or a combination of the two?.
3) It Stemmed From a Need for Control and Power
Both boys were victims of violence – Venables and school and Thomson and home – which may have lead to a craving of power and control.
Initially, in an effort to combat this, Venables exerted his power over younger classmates, whereas Thompson subjected his younger siblings to violence on a regular basis.
So, is it possible Bulger’s abduction and murder was a way for Venables and Thompson to exert their dominance and power in a more extreme manner?
4) It Was Sexually Motivated
Both Venables and Thompson denied the murder was related to sexual gratification/curiosity during interrogation and maintained this claim throughout their incarceration. Dr Suzan Bailey, Venables psychiatrist, stated;
In visiting and revisiting the issue with Jon as a child, and now as an adolescent, he gives no account of any sexual element to the offence.
Neither Venables nor Thompson were subjected to sexual abuse (although it is speculated that Thompson’s father was sexually abusive toward his mother and his children – however, one cannot make this accusation with any degree of certainty) – therefore, this theory is unlikely.
5) Violence on Screen is to Blame
This theory was exasperated by media reports of Venables and Thompson repeatedly watching Child’s Play 3 before the murder. Despite the popularity of this theory, this claim was greatly exaggerated by the media. It is a fact that Neil Venable rented the film – however, there is no proof it was ever watched by Jon let alone Robert.
6) It Was Destiny
The death of Bulger was not destined, he was unfortunately in the worst place at a terrible time. However, Venables and Thompson’s actions may have been fated. Both took comfort in their uncanny similarities and developed the need to push each other in a terrible direction.
In an attempt to break their mundane cycle of violence, disobedience of authority, and petty crime, they decided to do something new – abduct and murder a baby.
It was inevitable.
Hi there! I’m Heather and I’m a recent graduate achieving the title of Master of Arts with Honours in English and Film Studies. Along with my degree, I have acquired a HNC in the Social Sciences. In my free time I love to cuddle with my dog and immerse myself in all things True Crime and I am the new Crime Writer here at iTHINK Magazine.
Image respects to -WalesOnline, Daily Star