It’s sad but true that when I research teens and kids who kill, there are so many cases available that it is relatively easy to draw up a comparison chart among them. This isn’t a psychiatric or criminal study summary of course. I’m not qualified for that kind of intensity. It’s a blog I put together after reading the same phrases over and over.
(1) Kill to see what it feels like
15-year-old Alyssa Bustamante savagely murdered 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten due to curiosity about how killing a person feels. Ahead of time, Alyssa prepared two graves in a wooded area, then waited for an opportunity to attack a smaller, weaker prey. October 21st, 2009 in the evening, Elizabeth walked home from her friend’s house. Alyssa, seeing her opportunityto kill, took it. She grabbed Elizabeth beat her, strangled her, stabbed her and slit her throat. She dumped her body into one of the prepared graves. She returned home and wrote about the murder in her diary:
“It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the ‘ohmygawd I can’t do this’ feeling, it’s pretty enjoyable. I’m kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now…lol.”
After a letter led police to Alyssa, she confessed. It was Alyssa herself who led police to the grave where Elizabeth lay. What made Alyssa take decide to satisfy her curiosity?
- Many attempted suicide numerous times, and were on medication for depression.
- Most are “cutters“, dealing with emotional pain by cutting and inflicting physical pain on themselves, or self-mutilating.
- Witnesses claim the murderer told the witnesses s/he was curious as to what it would be like to kill someone.
- The majority of teen killers were sexually, emotionally and physically abused by a parent, sibling, or other guardian. In a public display of hatred, Elizabeth’s mother, Patty Preiss called Bustamante “an evil monster” and said that she “hated her” on the first day of the teen’s hearing.
- They were bullied excessively at school – keeping hostility and resentment under control may lead to an explosive age that impacts on one or many individuals (Columbine is an example of this phenomenon)
- participation in gangs – In a group, even loosely formed, individuals engage in extreme behaviors they might never undertake on their own. The phenomenon results from a “diffusion of responsibility.” Children who are recruited into gangs are typically outcasts in society and in their own families: neglected, ignored, abused. A gang becomes the family they lacked.
Brenda Spencer, like Alyssa Bustamante, seemed to have no reason to kill, but on Monday, January 29, 1979, the 16-year-old attacked a San Diego elementary schooland, sniper-style, shot and injured several children with a rifle she received for her 16th birthday from her bedroom window. Brenda killed the school’s two administrators. When arrested, Brenda’s notorious line, “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day,” became a historical statement in teen killer history, and inspired a best-selling song by the British band, The Boomtown Rats. After firing thirty rounds, Spencer barricaded herself inside her home for almost seven hours, warning police that she was going to “come out shooting. I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day. I have to go now. I shot a pig [policeman], I think and I want to shoot more. I’m having too much fun. I had no reason for it, and it was just a lot of fun. It was just like shooting ducks in a pond. The children looked like a herd of cows standing around; it was really easy pickings.” Ultimately, she surrendered to police. One statement particularly parallels that of Alyssa Bantamante: “I had no reason for it, and it was just a lot of fun.”
Brenda’s family was described by neighbours as “weird.” Brenda mentioned the attacks months before, making statements such as, “One of these mornings, you’re gonna look for me”, “No one understands me”, “You don’t have to wait very long to see what is going on with me”. Neither her parents nor her friends paid heed to these statements. The day of the shooting, Dot Spencer, Brenda’s mother, was at work when she was informed by police that Brenda was arrested for shooting several people. Dot’s odd response was, “I can’t go. I have a table full of money.” Equally odd, decades later, Brenda’s father, Wally Spencer, continued to live in the house where the offence took place. Long after the shootings, Wally Spencer asked Dot if he could leave her for a year so long as she promised to let him return to their home.
In a 1993 interview, Brenda claimed she was using PCP and drinking at the time of the shootings. At a parole hearing in 2001, Brenda, obese, grandmotherly in appearance, and looking far older than her 42 years, claimed that the violence was a result of an abusive home life in which her father beat and sexually abused her. The parole board didn’t agree, (neither do I), stating Brenda had never discussed this allegation with counselors at the time of the shootings. Throughout the parole board hearing it was obvious that Brenda made several false allegations about her father and her life in prison. Brenda Spencer appeared to be a pathological liar and an overeater, so it would seem.
(3) Killing Family Members
Of all the teen murders reported in headlines, the murder of family members, quite understandably, seems to shock the public the most. Killer teens offer both tragic and bizarre explanations. For these teens, family is not the safe concept that society envisions. Family may be a hindrance for their desires and beliefs.
April 23, 2006, Medicine Hat, Alberta – The Pattersons, both parents and one of two children were found murdered in their home. The 8-year-old boy’s throat had been slashed. Police were soon on the scene and realized that another child, 12-year-old Amanda wasn’t in the residence. They feared Amanda was abducted and possibly murdered; and an all-points bulletin was put out for her. Investigators learned Amanda dated 23-year-old dropout, Jeremy Allen Stinekey. A school counsellor found a stick cartoon drawing Amanda drew of her parents being burned alive and on the back of the drawing was an incriminating poem. Amanda was no longer missing. She was now a suspect. Amanda had an unusual profile for such a young girl. She was 12 but she looked 16. She was obsessed with the occult and the goth community. Like older teens, she sported body piercings and tattoos. After meeting Stinekey, Amanda’s behaviour changed radically. She rebelled against her parents, dressed more outlandishly and acted tough. Stinekey was smitten with Amanda and was prepared to do anything she wanted.
One day, Amanda confided to a friend that she and Stinekey were going to kill her parents. Jeremy was high on cocaine when he broke into Amanda’s house and killed the family. Amanda strangled her brother and one of the two slashed the boy’s throat. Stinekey fled the scene, leaving Amanda behind.The two later attended a party, where they bragged about the murders. Two of Stinekey’s friends turned him into police, who found the murderous pair in a pick-up truck located in a school parking lot. They were charged with murdering three members of the Patterson family. Amanda Patterson became the youngest serial killer in history.
Wendy Gardner, a 13-year-old girl, hated her grandmother. She and her sister Kathy, 11, were brought up by Elizabeth (Betty) Gardner. When Wendy’s father married there were many problems in the family dynamic, including her mother’s substance abuse. Wendy’s grandmother stepped in to raise both girls and she was exceedingly strict. She carried a bible with her at all times and made the girls’ lives a living hell. Betty saw evil everywhere. Predictably, the girls rebelled. Wendy was sexually active by 12. James Evans, 15, met Wendy. He wasn’t an ideal boyfriend: he had contact with police; his parents were divorced, and his mother was very liberal. She gave a lot of freedom to her children, and established very few rules for them. Evans was a bomb waiting to explode and Wendy was the spark that set him off.
On Christmas morning, she called Betty to tell her she was staying with her boyfriend all night. Of course, Betty raged at Wendy and ordered her home, but Wendy hung up and told Evans she wished Betty was dead. After 3 days away from home, Wendy returned home with Evans. Betty ordered him to leave and a violent argument followed. Evans asked Wendy if she wanted to shut Betty up for good? On December 28, 1944, Evans strangled Betty to death with a rope. The two teens dragged her body outside and placed her in the trunk of Betty’s car. The teens returned into the house to have sex and spend the night. They held Kathy captive while deciding what to do with her, but Kathy escaped and ran to a neighbour’s house, who contacted police. The following day, Wendy and Evans drove around with Betty’s body in the trunk of her car. They went to a party and bragged to friends about the murder. Ultimately, police found them hiding in a truck in a school parking lot and arrested them. Ultimately they were convicted on second degree murder charges.
Similarities between Amanda and Wendy:
- a lover did the actual killing
- Not pre-meditated – the murders were a spur of the moment impulse
- No plan afterwards – the children hadn’t thought of a follow-up to their crime
- Both children were turned over to police by a witness
- Both teens tried to escape the crime scene, but remained local without an escape route
- Both were teenage girls who acted with boyfriends
- Both boyfriends committed the murders to display “love” for their girlfriends
- Murders took place in the family home
- No remorse
- The killings took place after a long period of dissatisfaction with family rules and relationships, rather than as an impulsive act
Differences between the Amanda and Wendy cases:
- A third family member, Amanda’s brother, was murdered without reason
- A weapon was used to kill Wendy’s grandmother
- Amanda and Jeremy left the bodies on the scene
- Amanda had a very good relationship with her parents
- Amanda is fascinated with the occult and the goth community
- Amanda behaves more in line with older teens: she sports body piercings and tattoos
- Stinekey broke into the Pattersons’ residence
Ultimately, killer kids are children who live in the present without looking to the future and even the consequences to themselves of their actions. This isn’t the same as not understanding the wrong and right of murder, or the finality of death, especially since many killer kids are highly intelligent. For younger murderers however, murder is expressed as impulsive rage without aforethought and the finality of death and implications of murderous rage is more abstract, more vague.
Pierre Folliot lived in France, in a village 200 inhabitants where his well-liked family has good reputation. Pierre Folliot, the young son, however, knew a different reality. His mother was domineering, controlling, never happy with Pierre’s achievements. She didn’t keep her word to him and often beat him with a wooden spoon or a ladle. Pierre was frightened of his father, who was also a very controlling presence in the family. One Wednesday afternoon when Pierre was typically grounded, he wrote an essay for school about the mistreatment of children in dysfunctional families. It was at this point that Pierre realized he needed to act swiftly against his parents’ cruelty. Alone in the house, he loaded his father’s hunting rifle and waited for his mother to return home from shopping. She entered the house with Pierre’s sister and he shot her twice, his sister once. He tried to calm his younger brother who began crying, but ultimately shot him. Pierre realized he was out of cartridges in the rifle and entered the garage to reload it with 4 bullets. His father was only one person but Pierre was terrified of him, and wanted to ensure he killed his father. In court, his grandmother told the jury that if Pierre hadn’t killed his father when he found the family dead, the father would have killed Pierre.
Pierre shot his father twice when he returned home, left the house and went to a nearby village to a local fair. He wandered around until 5:45 p.m. and called police, telling a tall tale about the murders. The police knew differently due to neighbours’ statements. Pierre was arrested and admitted later that he wasn’t saddened by his mother or father’s deaths. He was surprised to discover his sister was still alive and he admitted he was saddened about his brother’s death. Pierre was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Had he been an adult, he would have received life in prison.
Differences in Amanda and Wendy Cases vs Pierre Case
- Pierre committed the killings himself without assistance
- Pierre used a rifle that was available in the house
- Pierre wouldn’t have committed the murders without the availability of the rifle
- Pierre was terrified of his father and dominated by his mother
- Pierre’s parents were verbally and physically abusive
Similarities in Amanda and Wendy Cases vs Pierre Case
- Pierre killed on impulse, deciding to act swiftly
- Pierre murdered siblings (unlike Wendy)
- Pierre lived in a small community where he was easily identified
- Pierre lied to police about the murders, creating a fantasy that wasn’t believed
- Pierre didn’t make warning statements before the murders
- Pierre didn’t tell friends that he had killed his family (unlike Amanda)
- Pierre lived under rigid rules and was frequently “grounded”
(4) Killer Kids and Baby Killings
Jennie Jane Ewing – The Welland Murderer
Jane Jennie Ewing was a pretty, 14-year-old foster child who was taken into the Barrows’ Welland, Ontario household. The Barrows already fostered a little 3-year-old boy named Matthew Reid. December 1, 2005, Jenny was brought to the Barrows home by Family and Child Services. The Barrows were told that Jennie had some behaviour problems, such as theft, but nothing more. They assured the Barrows that Jennie loved children and Matthew would be safe with her in the house. Margaret Barrow was careful to keep the two foster children apart. That evening, the family retired for bed and the household began its day the following morning at 7:30 a.m. At 8:00 a.m., worried about not hearing Matthew stir, Margaret went upstairs to his bedroom and found him lying face down on the floor, dead. The little boy had blood on his face and a cross of menstrual blood on his forehead. There were two notes written in blood under his head. One note read, Mommy, was the last thing he said. The other note stated I’m the one who killed Matthew. The police can put me in jail. I don’t care. The police arrived and found Jennie seated in front of a mirror brushing her hair. When asked if she committed the crime, Jennie replied “yes.” Jennie gave no reason why she killed Matthew. Jennie’s problems stemmed from her upbringing in foster care, starting at age two months. Margaret vilified Children’s Services, demanding to know why they had not been forthcoming about Jennie’s pathology. Certainly FACS shouldn’t have placed Jennie into a foster home. She should have been placed into a locked setting and the tragedy wouldn’t have occurred. Jennie was convicted of first degree murder. When the judge asked her if she understood the charge, she broke into a smile, and said “yes.”
It was later determined that Jennie suffered from FAE, fetal alcohol effect. She was severely retarded and had the mental capacity of a 6-year-old. She was very impulsive; happy one moment and enraged the next. Jennie’s past was a tale of tragedy. Her mother was a drug addict and alcoholic and Jennie was ultimately removed from her care and eventually adopted by a foster home. They soon began having problems with her, including anger problems, violence, personality disorders and trouble in school. Her adoptive parents returned her to the foster care system. Jennie continued to skip school and meet with men far older than her. In 2005 Jennie met a man she fell in love with on the internet, and met with him often in his hotel room. Her new foster parents threatened to ground her and Jennie ran away from them by stealing their van. At this time, Jennie was adopted by the Barrows. Jennie was frustrated and unhappy with her situation. She wanted to return to her adoptive parents or her previous foster parents. Jennie, chafing under the foster care rules, entered Matthew’s room and smothered him. Due to her severe intellectual disabilities, the charges against Jennie were reduced to second degree murder due to mental incapacitation. Jennie told the judge she killed Matthew to express her anger and sadness about her situation. Eventually Jennie was released to live with her father (or stepfather) in Northern Ontario. FACS Niagara and the placement worker have not been held accountable.
Jane Doe – 17-year-old Murderous Mother
Jane Doe locked herself in the bathroom for several hours. Her mother knocked repeatedly on the door, but the teenager assured her everything was fine. Jane entered the shower, cut herself, then emerged from the bathroom and headed for her bedroom for sleep. Jane’s mother entered the bathroom and found volumes of blood on the floor, the toilet and in the shower. Jane explained that her menstrual flow was exceptionally heavy. Her parents took her to a hospital and tests showed Jane had given birth. Jane insisted the child was premature. After the child was birthed she claimed it was a shapeless mass and flushed it down the toilet. Jane believed she was only 6 months pregnant. At 6 a.m. the Danbury police went to the family’s home and searched for an infant, however they only searched the bathroom. Satisfied there was no dead infant in the house, they left. The incident was treated as a miscarriage.
At home, Jane refused to sleep in her own bedroom, claiming she hadn’t the strength. Her mother cleaned Jane’s room, hoping this would encourage Jane to re-enter her bedroom. Horribly, Jane’s mother found a dead little girlwrapped inside Jane’s sweatshirt. Jane’s mother called the police. The coroner’s ruling contradicted Jane’s claim that the child was a “shapeless mass”, determining the infant was deliberately drowned at birth, due to water inside the tiny lungs. Jane Doe was arrested and placed in jail.
Jane had not been forthcoming about her pregnancy with her parents. They were immigrants and Jane Doe was a first generation second child. Jane was well-adjusted and didn’t appear to have any problems. However Jane snuck around and met with boys privately. When Jane realized she was pregnant she refused to have an abortion since it was against her principles. She decided to have the baby and put it up for adoption but instead, Jane chose to ignore her pregnancy as if this would make it disappear. Jane was open about her pregnancy to her friendsand the school counsellor. Jane began to live two separate lives, respecting her strict parents at home and living as a carefree teenager with her friends. At home, Jane’s parents weren’t affectionate with their Jane or her sibling. They provided all the important necessities for raising children but there were little expressions of love. Frequently it is teens who come from homes that aren’t intact who become pregnant. There were however high expectations for Jane’s achievements and her future.
Jane pleaded to a reduced charge of “unpremeditated murder” and was sentenced to 18 years in a maximum security prison. The family cremated the infant, took the ashes home and each night when Jane spoke to her parents on the phone she asked them to “kiss the baby good night for [her].” Personally I think Jane Doe got a ridiculously harsh sentence. One aspect of imprisonment is the likelihood of the accused to commit the same crime again, making that person a danger to the local community. I believe that likelihood to be zero. Jane was 17, frightened, lacked a support system, and experienced confusion about the stages of her pregnancy.
Similarities between Jennie Jane Ewing and Jane Doe
- Both were in dysfunctional families
- Both murders involved children
- Both girls met privately with boys/men to have sex
- Both girls lacked love and acceptance from their families
- Both felt incapapable of confiding in family about their problems
- Both girls committed the murders inside their homes
- Neither girl premeditated the murders
- Both girls’ victims were young and helpless
Differences between Jennie Jane Ewing and Jane Doe
- Jane murdered her own child
- Jane was raised in one family that provided essential necessities
- Jennie was severely intellectually impaired and had personality disorders
- Jennie had a troubled history and problems in school
- Jennie readily admitted to the murder
- Jennie left notes about her guilt
- Jane initially denied her guilt and lied about her infant’s death
- Jane felt pressured to succeed by her parents
October 24, 1992, Vancouver, British Columbia, 6-year-old Dawn Shaw walked across a field at 6 p.m. By 8:00 p.m. Dawn hadn’t returned home and her mother contacted police. One of the neighbours discovered her little body around 8:45 p.m. Jason GaMache, a teenager living in the area, offered to babysit the girl’s three siblings for her distraught parents during the tragedy. Dawn was sexually assaulted and murdered at an elementary school by a Courtaney Resident. Her body was brutalized: several ribs were broken, the sternum was perforated, severe blows on her thorax and abdonmen caused her liver to perforate and broke her ribs. Ultimately she bled out, the cause of death. Police found a shoeprint on her back that appeared to be L A Gear Catapult sneaker. Red fibres that didn’t belong to Dawn’s clothes were found on her body and a hair that didn’t belong to the child.
Her playmates said they witnessed a drunk man wandering around the school playground but the lead went nowhere. When questioned, Jason Gamache, the well-liked and trusted neighbourhood babysitter, couldn’t remember seeing a drunk man. Detectives noticed his strange affect: he spoke about the murder with great emotion, yet somehow in a detached manner. Police realized he was last person to see Dawn Shaw alive. Jason had been convicted a year earlier for a double assault. He was given a suspended sentence and ordered to undergo therapy Jason took a polygraph test about Dawn’s Shaw murder and passed, but police remained skeptical about him. Weeks later, Jason had another interview with police and admitted he killed Dawn. Although Jason seemed to be very distraught during the interview, while taking the police on a walking tour of the area where he murdered Dawn, he was completely without emotion. The extreme disparity in his behaviour led to a diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder by a forensic psychiatrist.
Jason’s parents divorced when he was 2 years old. When he was 6, his father, with his iron-fisted discipline, got full custody of Jason. In 1990, Jason watched one of his father’s porn movies that showed oral sex. This changed Jason’s life forever. He tried to force two boys to perform fellatio on him and when they refused, he let them go. Jason was brought before a judge who sentenced him to therapy to cure his sexual deviance. Jason moved to live with his mother and take the therapy. The evening he killed Dawn Shaw, he raped her vaginally, then Dawn’s brother began calling her. Jason choked her to death and jumped on her. He left her body where it lay and was arrested two months later. Jason eventually hanged himself in prison.
Megan O’rourke, 11, and Melissa Undbridge, 13, took a shortcut through a playground across from a school and behind a park to save ten minutes getting home. It was a fatal mistake. Two men emerged from the woods with BB guns, forcing the girls to undress. Each man sexually assaulted one of the females then aimed the guns at the girls and fired a few rounds. One of the men took uot a large kitchen knife and informed Melissa “now you’ll know what it’s like to be slaughtered like a pig.” - He sliced into the little girl, then passed the knife to his partner who did the same to Megan. Both girls fell unconscious and eventually Megan O’rourke woke up. The brave, determined little girl staggered down the road and saw a man near railroad tracks. Approaching him on unsteady feet, covered in blood, Melissa stated, “Mister, please help me. I’ve just been raped,” then fell unconscious again. Soon ambulances and police swarmed the area. Little Megan was determined to save Melissa and told police she was still in the woods. After searching for several minutes, police found Melissa face down and dead. At the hospital Megan described the assailants to police, stating they were “much older” than her. However the “men” were discovered to be teenagers, 15-year-old Jamie Savage (irony) and 16-year-old Louis Hamlin Jr. Savage’s grandmother informed police he had shaved off his beard recently and more significantly had attended the slaughtering of a pig at his uncle’s house. Too bad Hamlin and Savage hadn’t been slaughtered instead.
Both Savage and Hamlin hailed from highly dysfunctional homes. Hamlet was frequently suspended from school; Savage had dropped out of school and took to roaming the streets. He was of limited intelligence, nearly retarded, and he was involved in police contact on a regular basis. Hamlet, the murderous leader, looked older than Savage. He was already on probation for numerous crimes and suspected of sexually molesting his younger sister. When police searched his house, they discovered photographs of his father having sex with his young daughter. Both Louis Hamlet Jr and Louis Hamlet were arrested; Hamlin Jr for murder and Hamlin Sr for sexual assault of his daughter. You can’t buy memories like that.
Similarities Between Jason Gamache and Hamlin and Savage Cases
- Deaths were committed externally (non-relatives)
- Murders were committed outside
- Overkill was evident on the victims’ bodies
- Sexual assault was committed on all three girls
- Melissa and Dawn bled to death
- Hamlin and Jason had criminal backgrounds
- Schools and playgrounds were part of the environment
Differences between JD and Hamlet and Savage Cases
- Hamlin and Savage used weapons
- Jason lured Dawn to her death; Hamlin and Savage forced the girls into the woods
- Jason had a good reputation in his neighbourhood and was trusted by parents
- Hamlin and Savage had difficulties at school; Savage was a drop-out
- Jason’s victim knew and trusted him
- Hamlin and Savage were partners in the murder and sexual attacks
Generalities Among Teen Killers
- physical and sexual abuse in homes
- rage and depression
- foster care and instability in families
- divorce in family
- poor school performance
- easy access to weapons, especially guns
- emotional detachment from crime
- no pre-meditation or future planning
- dysfunctional, emotionally detached homes
- secrecy among family members
- separate, diverse lives
The most pertinent line I read in Psychology Today that discussed teen killers stated that although there are many similarities in teen murderers, each case must be regarded as unique, with many differences among teen killers in mentality and motive.