Book 25 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from March 02 - 19
The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer by Roseanne Montillo
Summary (via Goodreads)
In 1871, young children were disappearing from Boston’s working-class neighborhoods. The few who returned told desperate tales of being taken to the woods and tortured by a boy not much older than themselves. The police were skeptical—these children were from poor families, so their testimony was easily discounted. And after the Great Boston Fire of 1872 reduced much of downtown to rubble, the city had more pressing concerns. Finally, when the police apprehended Jesse Pomeroy for the crimes, he, like any twelve-year-old, was sent off to reform school. Little thought was given to the danger he might pose to society, despite victims’ chilling reports of this affectless Boy Torturer.
Sixteen months later, Jesse was released in the care of his mother, and within months a ten-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy went missing, their mutilated bodies later discovered by police. This set off a frantic hunt for Pomeroy, who was now proclaimed America’s youngest serial killer. When he was captured and brought to trial, his case transfixed the nation, and two public figures—Herman Melville and Oliver Wendell Holmes—each probed the depths of Pomeroy’s character in a search for the meaning behind his madness.
Roseanne Montillo takes us inside those harrowing years, as a city reeling from great disaster reckoned with the moral quandaries posed by Pomeroy’s spree.
The pages turn quickly but there's so much detail that I'm not sure what's important or not. At first I wasn't sure if the sidetrack into the fire chief's life study of the Chicago fire would be important (yes, it would). I also wasn't sure if the tangent on Melville would be important (no, it wouldn't). I had a similar struggle when I read another book by her; it really varied up and down in terms of interest for me.
Some things never change. Even back then people were blaming vaccines (in this case, the smallpox vaccine) for illness, saying Jesse's whole body had been poisoned at age 4 including his mind. Even back then people were blaming the mother (in this case, Jesse attacked children because he was allowed to read violent "dimestore" books).
"For the prisoners' uniforms, the board decided on a humiliating combination of half-red and half-blue fabric". No further explanation was given and this was a time I would've liked some extra details - why were those colors humiliating?
A Few Quotes from the Book
"Jesse was an anomaly in a society that sought out order and justice, and in trying to reconcile with the idea of justice and evil as they figured in the form of a fourteen-year-old boy, the death penalty became but a kindness bestowed onto him from the loving people of Massachusetts."
"[Jesse] knew people found him cold, but that was not his nature. "I know the crime that has been committed, but I do not feel its awfulness," he wrote. "I do not realize that which I am charged. Nature has given me a mind, that when anything wrong comes, or when bad news comes, I do not manifest any feelings, though I have feelings in me. I know I am arrested for murder, I know what murder is; I know that I have been tried and convicted for murder, but I do not realize the position I am in." "
"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another." ~ Ernest Hemingway