Date: March 18, 1874 and April 22, 1874
Victim: Katie Curran and Horace Millen
Cause of Death: Stabbing
Accused: Jesse Harding Pomeroy
The Boy with the Marble Eye
Over the next few weeks, Chelsea police questioned hundreds of boys but made no arrests. A rumor began to circulate that the attacker was a young man with fiery red hair, pale skin, arched eyebrows and a pointy chin with a wispy red beard. In their communal fear, they had described the devil. After seven-year-old Johnny Balch was stripped and flogged on July 22, the press named the assailant “the boy torturer” and a $500 reward was offered for his capture.
While all of the parents in Chelsea were worried for the safety of their children, Ruth Ann Pomeroy worried for a different reason—she feared the attacker might be her own child. Ruth Ann decided it would be a good time to leave Chelsea. She moved her family to South Boston, and opened a dress shop.
Robert Gould, the eighth victim, was the first to give a useful description of his attacker. He said it was “a big bad boy with a funny eye.” When asked about the eye, Robert said it was like a “milky,” the children’s name for a milk-white marble.
The police wanted Robert Gould to go to local schools and identify his attackers from the boys sitting in class, but Robert's scalp had required stitches and his parents would not let him leave the house. They took Joseph Kennedy instead, and though he was taken to Jesse Pomeroy’s class, he was unable to identify his attacker.
That day, after school, for reasons Jesse was never able to explain, he went to the police station. Seeing Joseph Kennedy there, he quickly turned and left the station, but a policeman followed him out and brought him back. Now, looking closer, young Joseph saw the white eye and identified Jesse as his torturer. Jesse was held in a cell overnight and was persuaded to confess. The next day all of the victims identified him as their attacker. Jesse, then 12 years old, was sentenced to the reformatory, “for the term of his minority” – a period of six years.
At the Massachusetts House of Reformation, in Westborough, Jesse quickly adapted. He stayed away from the older boys who taunted him, as they always had, and the younger boys, who knew why he was there, steered clear of Jesse. Knowing that good behavior was the only way to leave the reformatory early, he did his work, applied himself to studies, and even informed on his fellow inmates. Outside, Ruth Ann continually pressed for her son’s release until on January 24, 1874, less than seventeen months after his arrest, Jesse Pomeroy was set free on probation.
The morning March 18, 1874, 10-year-old Katie Curran left her home to buy a notebook for school and never returned. She was last seen entering Mrs. Pomeroy’s store. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Jesse’s history and the Corrans feared the worst. At the police station Captain Dyer assured Mrs. Curran that Jesse could not be involved—he had been completely rehabilitated, besides he was only known to attack little boys. Katie’s father was a Catholic and, reflecting the attitudes of the time, local rumors said he sent her to a convent without telling her mother.
On April 22, 1874, 4-year-old Horace Millen disappeared. Several people that day had seen a little boy accompanied by an older boy heading towards McCay’s wharf. That afternoon, in a clambake pit on Savin Hill Beach, Horace Millen’s half-naked corpse was found. He had been stabbed six times in the chest, his head was nearly severed and he was partially castrated.
When Boston’s Chief of Police, Edward Hartwell Savage, heard of the murder his first thought was of Jesse Pomeroy, but he believed Pomeroy was still safely at the reformatory. When his men told him that Jesse was out on probation, Savage ordered his immediate arrest. On the beach the police found footprints left by the two boys and were able to make plaster casts of the larger ones. They matched Jesse’s shoes perfectly. Jesse was questioned and confronted with the evidence, but refused to confess. Finally they took him to the funeral parlor to view the body and he broke down. He admitted he killed Horace, that something made him do it. He was sorry and wanted to leave. He told the policemen:
“Put me somewhere, so I can’t do such things.”Discovery
The notoriety was terrible for Mrs. Pomeroy’s dress business and she was forced to close her shop and work out of her house. The building was taken over by Nash’s grocery store and while workmen were doing renovations they experienced a terrible odor coming from the basement. The source was the decaying body of Katie Curran found under an ash heap. She was identified by her clothing, and though badly decomposed, police could tell she had been stabbed and mutilated.
Mrs. Pomeroy and her other son, Charles, were arrested for murder. Jesse was told this and questioned aggressively about Katie Curran and he finally confessed to the murder. Later he would claim he confessed only to save his mother but was not really guilty. He would also recant his confession to Horace Millen's murder.
Trial: December 8, 1874