25 November 1910
Jesse H. Pomeroy, the one prisoner in Massachusetts who is doomed to solitary life imprisonment, has written an account of his prison life in an effort to have the conditions of his confinement ameliorated.
Pomeroy has been in prison for thirty six years. He was fourteen at the time he committed the frightful crimes which won for him the title of the "boy fiend." Only his youth saved him from hanging. The condition on which his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment was that his confinement should be "solitary," and he alone of the inmates of the Charlestown state prison is never permitted to see his fellows. There is a convict whose duty it is to shut the door of Pomeroy's cell whenever a visitor enters the corridor.
He was a newsboy, and his reading was confined to dime novels. But in the course of his imprisonment he has educated himself. He understands several languages and is an omnivorous reader.
He has made at least ten efforts to escape, all of them characterized by the utmost ingenuity.
Aside from this he does not give his keepers much trouble. In his written statement he does not ask for liberty, but for the mitigation of the hard terms of his imprisonment.
The statement in part is as follows:
"Massachusetts State Prison.
Whether my case can have your sympathy I do not know. Still, an effort to uplift this life would bring you pleasure, as it brought pleasure to Governor Gaston in 1875. His message to me (1888) was: 'I am not sorry. I am glad I saved that boy's life.' He would not sign my death warrant. (See council records July, 1875)
You know all about my case. Public feeling against me is responsible for the deeply rooted and persistent newspaper misrepresentation, all these years, and that public feeling was due to newspaper exaggeration and notoriety in 1874.
Of course it cannot be denied that the crime was dreadful and that public justice required satisfaction; but the truth is no effort has been made from that day to this to better this prisoner's condition.
I have not friends, no influence. I cannot get a hearing from the governor, I have been left to my own device in this cell all these years.
I put down a few of the mitigating features in my case.
1) I was fourteen years old when arrested in 1874.
2) Public feeling swayed the course of justice to my prejudice. The judge at the trial told the jury to bring in a verdict in the first degree or acquit for insanity.
That was illegal.
3) The attorney general was so abusive that the jury interrupted him, saying 'Cease your invective.'
4) My case was recommended to mercy by the jury.
Solitary imprisonment at hard labor for life, on a boy fourteen years old, is contrary to the constitution and laws of Massachusetts. It is a cruel penalty; ex post facto; it violates the statute of pardons (G.S., c.177, s.12, &c., St. 1837, c.181) in not defining what he meant by his solitary; it is uncertain and vague; the law says it is a dark cell on bread and water. (See G.S., c.1748, s.18; c.179, s.42) And he should have said what he meant.
By the constitution and laws, no one can be put out of the protection of the law, or suffer illegal penalty; (see G.S., C.174, S.1, 13 Allen, p.581) for customary penalties; finally the warrant does not show it to be conditional, if so intended.
All of which gives rise to a well founded doubt, if I was convicted by good process of law; as per article of amendment to United States constitution No. 13, which by Article 6 or said constitution is the 'supreme law of the land.'
I will conclude by saying that the documents herewith are authentic and official.
My case is now pending on habeas corpus.
I will add that some records necessary in my case are denied to me, as by the list herewith; and if you can in any way assist me to obtain them I shall thank you. I submit, too, that my case is exceptional, worthy of consideration, both as to privileges, as on its legal aspect, because circumstances alter cases.
In the sincere hope that it may move you to uplift, in some way, the friendless life, I am, respectfully yours
JESSE H. POMEROY."
To this he appends copies of the records in his case.
One of Pomeroy's playmates wrote his recollections of the murderer about twenty years ago. He said that as a boy Jesses was quiet, retiring, taciturn and not fond of games. His favorite reading was the dime novels of Beadle and Munro. They used to play "Indians" and Jesse's favorite hero was Simon Girty, the renegade, while the other boys swore by Kenton, Boone and the Wetzels.
"It was all wildly extravagant talk," said Jesse's schoolmate, "and not worth writing about but for the fact that at that very time Boston was in a sea of excitement over the outrages perpetrated by some unknown person on little boys of from eight to nine years of age.
"One week the news would come that a little boy was found tied to a telegraph pole on the Old Colony, or Boston, Hartford & Erie road, horribly mutilated, with his back in ribbons and caked with salt. The next week or month another little boy, it was never a boy of Jesse's size or age, or anywhere near it, would be found in Chelsea, or East Boston, or Jamaica Plain, or Dorchester, mutilated and cut in the same way. Sometimes a boy was found tied to a tree, sometimes in an old barn, but oftener to a telegraph pole on some railroad. Fathers began to tell their boys to be careful of a man with red hair and beard, as the Goth was described by his victims, and mothers were anxious if their boys were out of their sight for half a day.
"We used to talk of the acts of this earlier Ripper among ourselves, but Jesse never had anything to say about it, one way or the other. Then the number of boys who were 'chased' and escaped by the enamel of their teeth, at about this time was legion. One boy's name I remember - the others I've clean forgotten - was Oliver Whitman. The Ripper had been in his clutches, and he fought like a tiger to run like a comet. With awe we looked upon Ollie after that. Jesse said nothing. But he thought: 'What a liar you are, Ollie Whitman!'
"One fine day there came into the schoolroom in which Jesse had a seat and desk the head master, a Mr. Barnes, I think; an officer, and one of the unknown's victims. The little fellow had been found, I think, in Chelsea hung up and cut up. When he recovered he said it wasn't a man with red whiskers and hair who had treated him so, but a boy who looked to be four or five years older than himself. So they took this poor little mutilated chap around to all the schools in Boston, I believe, until they came to, I think, the Bigelow school.
"'Do you see him here?' said the master to the little victim.
'No-o," hesitatingly replied the little fellow. Then, sharply, from the lady teacher:
'Pomeroy! Why don't you hold up your head?'
Slowly Jesse raised his head and the boy screamed:
'That's him! That's him! I'd know him, by his eye!'
And so Jesses was arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced to the Westboro reform school. If Jesse had been ill that day - ill enough to have kept himself in the house - he might be rivalling Jack the Ripper now."
Pomeroy got out of the reform school in about a year. Up to this time he had always stopped short of murder. What happened after his release was told by his old schoolmate as follows: "In the following summer a Mrs. Curren sent her little eight or nine year old girl out for some thread." (Pomeroy's mother kept a small store.) "The little girl - Katie - never came back. She disappeared like a whiff of cigar smoke in a stormy mid Atlantic. Her mother was frantic with grief. Everybody became a detective. The months rolled away. One rainy day a little deaf-mute pulled at a policeman's coat and by signs indicated that he wished the policeman to go along with him, which he did.
"They went out of the highways and byways until they came to the Dorchester marshes, which were as gloomy in those days as the marshes of Abel Magwitch and Pip. The little fellow was in a terrible state of excitement, and soon the officer was when they came murdered and mutilated little Horace Millan, lying in the mud and grass. They carried the body to the station house, and then had plaster of Paris casts taken of the footprints in the mud near where the boy's body was found. They then went to Mrs. Pomeroy's house. Jesse was in bed.
"His shoes exactly fitted the casts. He was arrested. While he was in jail his mother moved away from the old home on Broadway for obvious reasons. Then the house was torn down to make room for a better one. While the workmen were digging in the cellar they unearthed the little corpse of Katie Curran. Then Jesse confessed that he had murdered her and little Millan.
"She had come into the store for the thread her mother had sent her for. Jesses was alone in the store. He told her to go back and get it - to turn to the right.
"In the meantime he had turned the key in the front door, leading to the street, returned, followed the little girl, and as she started back from the cellarway he sprang upon her, pushed her down the cellar stairs, mutilated, then killed her. He then dug a grave in the cellar, buried her, came upstairs, washed his hands and face, unlocked the front door, had his dinner and went to bed. He was the only one in the world who knew of that little corpse in his mother's cellar."
When Pomeroy was tried a petition signed by thousands of mothers was sent to the governor praying him to hang Jesse. Because of his youth, however, the sentence was commuted.
Many efforts have been made to secure his release. On one occasion a number of Virginia women appealed to a Massachusetts governor to set Pomeroy free. The governor wrote back:
"If Pomeroy had committed his crimes in your state he would have been burned alive at the stake, and there would be no necessity for a pardon."
Yet it is probably true, as had often been asserted, that if science in 1876 had progressed as far as it has in 1910 in explaining the pathological causes for such crimes as Pomeroy's, he would have been sent, not to solitary confinement in a state prison, but to an asylum for the criminal insane.
Pomeroy was arrested in 1874, The Millan boy, for whose murder he was tried, was only four years old. In 1876 Pomeroy began his life in Charlestown prison.