Everything from goth rock to violent video games has been blamed for the recent schoolyard shooting craze. But, so far, no one has pointed the finger at the nasty little kids themselves. Long before the Internet -- hell, even before TV -- the little monsters were going at it with impressive results.
Playing with Trains: In 1947 in Walton, Indiana, two boys looking to wreck a train spent an afternoon industriously piling several hundred pounds of debris (including a roll of fencing that weighed more than they did) onto the main line. The results were everything they hoped for -- and more. Their improvised obstruction sent the locomotive and six cars flying off the tracks smack in the center of town. Not only were four people killed and 23 injured, but the rampaging rolling stock also wrecked a bunch of freight cars and almost took out a grain elevator.
Sinking the Battleship: Tossing rocks at floating objects is a traditional childhood waterside amusement. To spice the game up, one day in 1925, a 9-year-old boy and his 6-year-old companion grabbed a convenient baby and tossed it into the Merrimac River near Lowell, Massachusetts. Gleefully they pelted the struggling infant with rocks. The pair of scamps were quickly apprehended by police and arrested, but not before they'd succeeded at their game of "Sink the baby."
Schoolyard Shooting Gallery: One crisp winter morning in 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer tried out her favorite Christmas present, a .22 rifle, on the elementary school across the street from her San Diego home. By the time the smoke cleared, she had killed the principal and a janitor, injured nine school kids and a cop, and laid the foundation for Bob Geldof's biggest hit. As she later explained to the papers, "I just did it for the fun of it. I don't like Mondays."
Burn Baby Burn: One dull summer afternoon on the outskirts of Rochester, New York in 1930, a trio of boys, all under age 11, came across a bum sleeping off a drunk. They stealthily lashed him to a convenient tree, doused him with gasoline, and woke him up with a well-placed match. And how he roared! They left the smoldering transient with a fatal set of third degree burns. They later explained to police that they didn't have anything against alcohol or the homeless; they'd done it "Just for fun."
Junior High School Jack the Ripper: In 1872, 12-year-old Jesse Pomeroy was convicted of a string of hideous assaults against small boys in the Boston area. He liked to tie his victims up, beat them, slash at their faces and genitals, and force them to say things like "kiss my ass." When he got out of reform school 18 months later, the only lesson he'd learned was "dead kids tell no tales." He went homicidal, brutally killing two kids in less than three months. His final victim, a 5-year-old boy, was stabbed 33 times and almost castrated. Only his age saved him from the gallows. But he spent the last 56 years of his life in prison, mostly in solitary confinement.
John Marr is the publisher of Murder Can Be Fun.