When young boys are up to no good, people will often say “boys will be boys” as a way of excusing less than ideal behavior. The idea is sometimes, kids will get up to a bit of mischief but in the end, they’re still good kids.
But the line between “a bit of mischief” and serious bad behavior is a lot thinner than some of us like to believe. When 2 young boys skipped class one day, they would show just how quickly that line could be crossed…
Friday at the Mall
On a Friday afternoon in the Strand shopping center, just a few miles from the heart of Liverpool, shoppers milled about, going in and out of the center’s over 100 stores. Among the customers, there were two people who didn’t belong: Two 10-year-old boys playing hooky from school.
Over the course of the day, the 2 boys had shoplifted several things, including some candy, a troll doll, some batteries, and a small can of blue paint. For all appearances, it seemed like the they were up to some typical schoolboy mischief…
Getting Some Shopping Done
That same day, one of the customers in the Strand center was a woman named Denise. She’d brought her 2-year-old son James along to do some shopping with her brother’s fiancée, who’d brought her own little girl along as well.
The children grew restless as their mothers took them along from store to store. They went first to a clothing store, then the grocery store and finally into a butcher shop, where Denise wanted to pick up some chops for her husband’s dinner…
Unbeknownst to Denise, she and her 2-year-old had caught the attention of the 2 boys playing hooky. They had been casually watching young children in the mall throughout the day. When they saw James walking around the butcher shop a short distance from his mother, they went into the shop and approached him.
Just One Moment
As Denise spoke with the store clerk over a mix up with her order, James had wandered a few feet away toward the door. There, the 2 boys started talking to him, then took him by the hand and led him out of the store. By the time Denise realized her son was missing, just moments later, they were out of sight…
In a panic, Denise Bulger and her brother’s fiancée looked frantically around the butcher shop. When they didn’t find James there, they went outside the store and, still not seeing him, alerted security immediately. But it was already too late. James had already left the Strand shopping center with the 10-year-old boys.
Kids Out For A Walk
The 10-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were taking the younger James on a meandering 2.5 mile walk across Liverpool to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. A large number of people saw them but, to passersby, it just looked like some boys out walking with a younger brother. No one stopped them…
When they arrived at the Canal, Thompson and Venables joked with each other about pushing James into the water to drown. They picked him up and dropped him on his head, causing a bump to form on his forehead.
They kept walking along with James, who was now crying. They passed other people, two of which attempted to stop the kids to see what was going on. Both times, Thompson and Venables got rid of the person with a lie, once saying he was a younger brother and the other time saying James was lost and they were taking him to a nearby police station…
They actually did take James to the police station but, standing across the street, they hesitated. Instead of taking James into the station, Thompson and Venables led him up a steep bank to a railway line near the abandoned Walton and Anfield train station.
Once Thompson and Venables got to the railroad tracks, they started torturing James. The 10-year-olds took the paint they’d shoplifted earlier and threw it into James’ eyes. They made James take off his socks and shoes, his pants and underpants, then put batteries into his mouth…
Then, Thompson and Venables started kicking and stomping on James. They threw rocks and bricks at him. Finally, they found a 22 lb railway fishplate, a flat piece of metal used to connect adjacent rails in a railroad track, and brought it over to where James lay on the ground, unable to move.
They lifted the fishplate and dropped it on James’ head, fracturing his skull in 10 different places. After Thompson and Venables had killed James, they laid his body down across the railroad tracks, they weighted his head down with debris in the hope that he’d be hit by a train, making his death look like an accident…
James’ body was indeed struck by a train. Two days after his death, a group of wandering boys stumbled across his body. At first they thought it was a broken doll. When they realized what they were seeing, they ran screaming to the police station, just a few hundred feet away.
When an autopsy was performed on James’ body it was clear that he had died before being struck by the train but they found so many serious injuries, 42 in total, that none could be isolated as the fatal blow. They also suspected that there was a sexual element to the crime, due to signs of abuse on James’ privates…
The police quickly found CCTV footage of James’ kidnapping from the Strand shopping center. When they found that it had been two children who’d abducted James, they were shocked. “I’ve dealt with many murders but I’ve never seen the extent of the injuries that were inflicted on someone incapable of defending himself,” said the head detective on the case. “You couldn’t think the person responsible for this was a child.
When images of the 10-year-old boys were shown on national television, a woman recognized Venables. She knew he had been playing hooky with Thompson that day and immediately contacted police and the boys were arrested shortly thereafter…
Tried as Adults
Despite their young age, Thompson and Venables were both tried as adults due to the severe and gruesome nature of their crime. The boys were found guilty and ultimately sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole at the age of 18.
Both boys were paroled after their 8 year sentences were up. Because of the high profile of the crime and the threat of vigilante justice against them, they were each given new identities in a witness protection-style program after their release. At least one of the boys reoffended following his release, and was again incarcerated for possession of child porn.