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 what happens when “boys will be boys” is unable to explain it away? What happens when young kids cross a line they can never return from?
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. In the aftermath it was then put on authorities to figure out the punishment that should be given which turned a community upside down….
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.
Walking around with the rest of the crowds were two very young 10-year-old boys. Why were they walking around a shopping mall on a Friday afternoon? Both of them decided to play hooky from school, a decision that would turn very badly for them…
Unlike the movie Ferris Buellers Day Off, these two boys had bad intentions on what they planned to do after skipping school. It is one thing to skip school but it is an entirely other thing to skip school and go on a small crime spree.
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.
There plan was to enjoy the day as future sister in-laws and be able to bond. It was also always nice when they were able to get the two girls together. They were a tight family and having their daughters bond a such an early age was important to them.
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 then a few more errands. Young kids are not the easiest to take around with you while you need to get things done.
At last they finally stopped into a butcher shop, where Denise wanted to pick up some chops. She had planned to make a steak dinner that night for her husband. Denise love to cook for her family and had frequented this butcher shop often, known for his great chops.
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. The mother had not noticed these boys at all and even if she did she probably would not have thought much of it.
When the two boys playing hooky saw James walking around the butcher shop a short distance from his mother, they decided to approach him. The two year old boy had no idea who these kids were or what they could have wanted from him…
The two boys unknown to Denise had been watching the little boy James for some time now. They had already stole a few items from different stores around the shopping center and now were looking to push their luck and steal something more precious…
The young boys who were naive to how the real world works concocted a plan to steal a child. Maybe they thought it would be a funny joke or prank, nobody could really know exactly what they were thinking when they devised such a plan.
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. Denise usually kept James in close sight but she was a bit distracted talking to the store clerk.
At that point, the 2 boys started talking to him acting very friends to the innocent child. They 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. They asked everyone in the shop if they had seen James and nobody said they did. Denise looked under counters and in any spot she thought maybe James was hiding in.
When they finally realized James was no longer in the store Denise came flying out the door of the store screaming James’s name. She frantically looked around outside figuring he maybe walked out and got lost but he was nowhere in sight.
At this point Denise and her future sister in-law were in total panic mode. How could James a 2-year old boy just vanish into thin air? It was less then a minute that her back was turned, how far could he have gotten and where could he have wanted to go?
After a few tense minutes that felt like hours they decided they should immediately alert security and get some help. The security guards were very helpful and began asking questions as well as a description of James and what he was wearing so they knew who they were looking for.
Kids Out For A Walk
The 10-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables decided to take the younger James on a meandering 2.5 mile walk across Liverpool to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. They knew the area well and were familiar with their surroundings.
A large number of people saw them, 38 to be exact, but to people passing by it just looked like some boys out walking with a younger brother. No one stopped them, nobody wondered what were 3 young boys doing walking on a Friday afternoon all alone with no parent’s in sight.
When they arrived at the Canal, Thompson and Venables joked with each other about what they should do next with James. At this point they were in an isolated area with nobody in sight. The boys came up with a few evil plans on what to do next…
They joked with each other asking if they thought the young boy could swim. They they came up with the idea to find out for themselves. They discussed a plan to push James into the water so they can watch him swim or drown…
Dropped On His Head
The boys ended up scraping their plans of experimenting on the young James and decided to go a different route. There knew plan was just as sinister as they discussed different ways of hurting the young and innocent 2-year old boy.
Thompson and Venables then too turns picking the boy up and dropping him on his head. They did this a few times which led to a big bump forming on James head. James was now very scared, alone and crying asking them to please stop…
Passerby Stops them
After the assault, they kept walking along with James, who was now hysterical crying. As they walked they noticed people staring at the 3 young boys walking together and were getting a bit nervous that someone was going to stop them.
They were right to be afraid. At two different points people stopped them and asked questions. The boys were very clever and figured out a way to get out of it and let the people know that they were alright.
The first person who stopped them approached them and asked what was going on. Thompson and Venables told them that James was their younger brother who got hurt and they were taking him to their mom.
The second time the boys came up with a different story to fool a passerby. They told a person who stopped them that James was lost and they were taking him to a nearby police station. Both of these encounters could have stopped what was going to happen next…
They actually did take James to the police station but, standing across the street, they hesitated. They both felt since the boy was injured that the police would not buy their story that they found James who was lost. They decided to continue their “game” with James…
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. The boys were about to cross a line that nobody could have imagined…
Once Thompson and Venables got to the railroad tracks, they started torturing James. James at only 2-years old stood no chance to defend himself agains the much bigger boys he was faced off against. He was helpless with no help in sight…
The 10-year-olds took paint they’d shoplifted earlier in the way and began to open the can up as James stood there all alone. Once the can was open they began to throw the paint into James’s face and eyes…
The boys then made James take off his socks and shoes. Once those were off they then told him to take off his pants and underpants. At this point James now stood there naked on the railroad tracks as the boys giggled and laughed at their sinister game.
With the young boy undressed they then took at batteries they had and stuffed it into his mouth to stop the noice of him crying. After that the boys then picked up nearby rocks and began to throw them at James.
The Final Blow
Finally, they found a 22 lb railway fishplate. A fish plate is a flat piece of metal used to connect adjacent rails in a railroad track. It is a very heavy object that can inflict a lot of damage if used as a weapon. They brought it over to where James lay on the ground, unable to move.
They lifted the fishplate and dropped it on James’ head. The crushing impact led to the fracturing of his skull in 10 different places. James laid their motionless. The two boys had now murdered him….
After Thompson and Venables had killed James they began to devise a plan to cover it up so they would not get caught. They decided to lay his body down across the railroad tracks and weighed his head down with debris.
The boys hoped that he’d be hit by an on coming train which would make his death look like an accident. They figured if it looked like an accident then people would think James got lost, wondered to train tracks and was killed accidentally by a train.
James’ body was indeed struck by a train. The train had struck James but continued on as it did not know it hit anything. Then, two days after his death, a group of wandering boys stumbled across his body.
At first they thought it was a broken doll. As they slowly approached to see what it was, they realized what they were seeing. The boys were immediately in shock and decided to run to the nearby police station just 100 feet away.
The Police Station
There was a police station only 100 feet away from where James was killed. This was the same police station the boys thought of bringing James to which would have ended a senseless murder from happening. The boys sprinted as fast as they could over to the station house….
When they got inside an officer asked them what was going on. They were out of breath and the officer told them to calm down and explain what is happening. They told the officer they found a body of a baby child laying near the train tracks
At first the officers thought that James’s death was an accident. But when an autopsy was performed on James’ body it was clear that he had died before being struck by the train. The autopsy revealed many serious injuries.
There were 42 injuries in total, that none could be isolated as the fatal blow. They also suspected that there was a sexual element to the crime. They found injuries and saw signs of abuse on James’ privates…
The Family Notification
James mom and family spent almost 3 days agonizing over the whereabouts of James. The family could not believe this was happening and had no idea who would want to take or harm their little boy. Almost 72 hours after he went missing the police came to their door…
These conversations are always tough for police officers to have but it is extremely difficult when there is a young child involved. The police told Denise what they had found and promised here that they would find out who did this and bring them to justice…
The police quickly started their investigation and began back tracking James’s steps that day focusing on the butcher shop. They found CCTV footage of James’ kidnapping from the Strand shopping center. They assumed an adult took him but they were in for a big surprise…
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.
The police needed help in identifying who they young boys were that took James. They ended up sharing the images with news stations to help them solve the case. When images of the 10-year-old boys were shown on national television, a woman recognized Venables.
The woman at first was unsure and hesitated contacting the police. She knew he had been playing hooky with Thompson that day and decided to call the authorities. 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. It is not typical that you see a 10 year old juvenile tried as an adult. Usually people don’t get tried as an adult unless they are over 18 years old.
This decision to try the young boys as adults as highly debated locally and nationally. The crimes these boys committed were evil but at 10 years old did they have the capacity to think like an adult? Was it taking it to far to try them as adults?
The boys went to trial where they faced a prosecution that had gathered a ton of evidence agains them. The prosecutor had video footage of them taking James as well as DNA evidence.
The boys were found guilty at trial. They were then sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. While many people felt it was borderline trying them as adults, those same people felt the punishment of life without parole crossed the line.
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.
The boys entered into 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.
Venables was hauled into the police station and interviewed. His parents, Susan and Neil, accompanied him during the interview process. Venables only admitted to his part in the tot’s murder once his parents reassured him that they would love him no matter what he confessed to.
The interview transcripts reveal how Susan cried with anger when she heard her son admit to the crimes. When detectives asked about the damage to James’s private parts, Venables broke down and attacked his distraught father.
Charged With Murder
Susan cried in anguish as she sat in the interview room and listened to all the details of what these boy’s had done to James. She was there when the police officers formally charged Venables with murder. She had to eventually leave Liverpool after receiving a ton of death threats.
She said: “He did like to be liked, and loved to have friends, and he has got involved with the wrong person.” “What he’s done is wrong so he needs to be punished. What upsets me is I’ve no way of bringing him up for the rest of his young years so he’s going to lose all his childhood.”
Venables father Neil also made statements and explained how all the families involved lives were destroyed due to his sons actions. He could never imagined that his son was capable of committing just an evil crime. He went on to say…
Neil added: “I feel for that family. I feel so sorry for them. I have lost my son as well. We will never be able to do the fun things any more… football, snooker, things like that.”
Venables Charged Again
Venable after being release from prison was charged again for child pornography. He admitted to having a “pedophile manual” which told him how to attach and prey on younger age girls. He also pleaded guilty to having more then one thousand pictures of underage girls on his computer.
After his latest release Venables was banned from any internet access but the Judge found out he was once again searching the web for young girls images. He was thrown back in jail for 40 months and told police “needed help to understand why he did this and ensure he didn’t do it again”.
James Parents Outrage
James parents were enraged that these boys we let out early and then about how Venables once free was committing crimes again that could endanger underage children. James father Ralph said “40 months is a joke. It’s an insult to the family.”
He added: “We’ve got to watch this sexual deviant. We know what he’s capable of. He’s just waiting for another victim. “Let’s make sure there are no more victims.” Ralph has called for Venables new identity to be revealed for the safety of the public.
Stay in Witsec
In March of 2019 it was announced the Venables was going to be able to keep is anonymity in the witness protection program after a judge ruled it would protect him from “serious violence”. Ralph hired lawyers to help work the case and overturn the judge’s decision.
In their bid to have Venables identity revealed, lawyers for Ralph argued that certain details about the killer and his live are “common knowledge” and easily accessible online. But the President of the Family Division who makes these decisions rejected it claiming that by letting it was in place to protect Venables from being “put to death”.
The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane said: “My decision is in no way a reflection on the applicants themselves, for whom there is a profoundest sympathy. The reality is that the case for varying the injunction has simply not been made.”
He added: “As Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss held, (Venables) is ‘uniquely notorious’ and there is a strong possibility, if not a probability, that if his identity were known he would be pursued resulting in grave and possibly fatal consequences.”
“This is, therefore, a wholly exceptional case and the evidence in 2019 is more than sufficient to sustain the conclusion that there continues to be a real risk of very substantial harm to (Venables).”
Thompson upon his ability to be released on parole, told the Parole Board he had lied about his involvement after being overwhelmed by the public reaction to the crime. He said: “I am deeply ashamed of what I did, and of having played a part in this horrible murder.”
Thompson also detailed his traumatic childhood stating that at the time he was “completely out of control”. He added: “I was out of control because my life on the streets was better for me than my life at home.”