“Pretty Little Killers” (D. Berry, G.C. Fuller, BenBella books, 2014) about the 2012 murder of teenager Skylar Neese by her two best friends, Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy. Shoaf and Eddy lured Skylar to a remote area and stabbed her to death. The girls stayed close with Skylar’s parents and pretended to be worried about their “missing” friend; all the while texting, tweeting, and meeting to discuss their crime.
The second book, “Fiend,” about “America’s youngest serial killer” Jesse Pomeroy, who was arrested in 1874 (H. Schechter, Pocket Books). Released from prison in 1929, Pomeroy tortured young boys until he committed murder.
Shoaf and Eddy were children of the social media: Facebook, Twitter, Texting, Facetime. They videotaped themselves and took tons of “selfies” doing what teen girls do: sticking out their tongues, “throwing” fake gang signs, “peace” and “love” hand signs. Pomeroy had a milky white eye; the only known picture of him as a boy is a drawing showing a neat haircut and dour expression.
In videos made by Shoaf and Eddy, you see their childish, giggling personalities. Using bad language, screaming, cognizant they are on video: teenage girls at their most annoying, when you know everything, the world is your own, and it is fun and daring to break little rules. But both broke a big rule and stepped into murder. Of course Jesse Pomeroy did not have the social media as we know it now, but the journalists of the 1800s were shocked at his calm demeanor in the face of atrocities. So how did they become murderers?
When I was writing my first true crime book, a veteran officer told me, “People want to make sense out of a senseless crime.” It is one of the prolific things I have heard in my years of studies. During my second book, survivors told me they wanted to ask the killer “Why?” There are many answers to “why?”: Jesse Pomeroy (14) was a budding serial killer in 1874: “I couldn’t help myself.” Pauline Parker (16) and Juliet Hulme (15) murdered Parker’s mother in 1954 because she posed a "threat" to their bond. Mary Bell (11) told officers in 1968, “murder isn’t that bad and we all die sometimes anyway.” Melinda Loveless, Laurie Tackett, Hope Rippey, and Toni Lawrence (all teens) tortured and murdered Shanda Sharer in 1992 because Sharer was “stealing” Loveless’ girlfriend. Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy (both 16) murdered their best friend: “We didn’t want to be friends … anymore.” These are not truly motives, but a child’s perception.
Which leads us to “How?”
In case you have forgotten, kids are mean. Ask anyone who has ever been picked on, made fun of, bullied – all of us. Singled out for being tall, short, fat, skinny, intelligent, ignorant, wealthy, poor, well-dressed, poorly dressed (I remember kids taunting me about my last name, sing-songing, “Yates, Yates, open the gates! Do you have gates in front of your house?” and laughing hysterically). As adults we have learned the definition and boundaries of being mean, but kids are learning those definitions and boundaries: it’s wrong to shout a racial epithet down the halls of the school, of course, but shouting “Fatso!” – is that as bad? And why?
Kids test rules. Ask any adult. Teens, particularly females, crave attention (and privacy), freedom (and rules) - it’s about appearance and status, trying to find out who you are. Because we are not prone to shouting out worries and dreams, it’s all based on looks, objects (cars, cell phones, Ipads), and popularity. Remember the popular kids in high school - what made them so popular? You can probably answer that now, but back then it was ambiguous (“Oh, she’s pretty and nice…”).
Add budding hormones. The question of what is wrong, right, bad… and sexuality is not easily defined in teenage years. What is “gay”? A drunken kiss to impress the boys? Thinking someone is attractive? Sharing a locker room shower? Sexuality is so fluid, particularly during the teen years. Almost every woman can tell you how she “experimented” once; most men have done the same (but they won’t share).
Teens do not see far when it comes to the future. Remember disbelieving you will ever be 25, or 35, or (gasp) 50? When not having a date to your prom meant your life would probably be over forever. Or your best friend breaks off the friendship. This is why, at high school reunions, we laugh at how stupid we were then…we have learned only death is forever, but not love, test scores, or friendship.
Take all of these factors: meanness. A teen’s perceived place in the world. Budding hormones. Most importantly, the inability to understand consequences and the definition of “forever.” Now add mental illness, psychological issues, home life, drugs/drinking. Throw in anger, fear, sadness, and loss. Some of these kids will lash out. The wrong person at the wrong time enters the scene. Now someone is dead.
Throughout history, there has, and will always be child murderers. It is easy to understand why.
Below: Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy