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4: The Murder of James Bulger (Graphic)

GRAPHIC WARNING - Cody and Greg discuss the murder of 2-year-old James Bulger and his 10-year-old murderers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. They cover the day of the murder and the years following, including where Thompson and Venables are now.

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Episode Information

James Bulger was a 2-year-old child who was kidnapped, tortured, and eventually murdered on the 12th of February, 1993. His murderers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were both ten years old at the time of James’ death, and their gruesome attack turned them both into social pariahs, with many describing them as total monsters. Today, we’ll discuss the events of the day leading up to James’ murder, as well as the awful things that Thompson and Venables decided to do to the child before eventually ending his life. We made a warning at the beginning of the episode, but again, the details of this episode will be hard to hear. 

 

Because the details are so difficult to listen to, after particularly bad moments in the story I will provide you, the listener, with some “ear bleach”. Basically, I will give you some interesting and light-hearted facts about something unrelated to help you, and myself, get through the entire story.

 

This particular murder made headlines everywhere. It shook the world in the 1990s. But, as it happened here in England, obviously the UK was hit the hardest. Greg, what sort of things do you personally remember about this case? 

 

I think it’s best to begin by discussing Venables and Thompson’s upbringing prior to the murder.

The Murderers Pre-Murder

Robert Thompson seems to have had the worst upbringing out of the two boys. Thompson, along with his siblings and mother, were all mercilessly beaten and apparently molested by their father. This continued until Thompson’s father finally left the family, although this didn’t stop the abuse. The siblings continued to beat each other, and Thompson’s mother turned to alcohol to cope.

 

Venables, on the other hand, seems to have had a somewhat easier life than Thompson. His parents were estranged, but there was no sign or evidence and any abuse from his family or at school. In fact, Venables is actually described as being quite a bully in school. This will come into play towards the end of the episode. 

 

Something the boys did have in common was that they both enjoyed skipping school together. Which leads us to Feb 12, 1993.

The day of the Murder (GRAPHIC)

Shopping Centre

The day of 12 February 1993 began quite normally with James’ mom taking her son along with her to the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, England. Unbeknownst to them, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables had chosen this day, like many others, to play truant and make their way to the same shopping centre. Now, it can and has been argued that Venables and Thompson had decided well before seeing James that they were going to inflict some sort of harm on someone that day.

 

After running throughout the shopping centre, stealing multitudes of items and tossing them down escalators, the boys actually attempted to abduct another young boy. They spotted the boy with his mother, and once her back was turned, they beckoned to him. This little boy eventually followed Venables and Thompson outside. Luckily, the child’s mother was able to find him outside before any harm could be done, but it is argued that the boys had hoped to push the child into traffic. 

 

After their first failed abduction attempt, the boys didn’t give up. They soon spotted James with his mother at a butcher shop in the shopping centre. James’ mother described the time it took for Venables and Thompson to kidnap her son as less than a minute. She said that she took money from her purse to pay the butcher and then looked down to see her child gone. Venable and Thompson had gotten James’ attention at precisely the right moment and had led him off before Denise had a chance to notice anything. 

 

It was just after this moment that the CCTV footage at the shopping centre picks up Venables leading the child out of the shopping centre by the hand. And you can view this footage online. It is horrific.

 

Travelling to Trainyard

The boys left the shopping centre and led James to a nearby canal. Here, they picked James up and dropped him on his head, causing an injury to his forehead. This also caused James to begin crying and blood to drip down his head. Unbelievably, a woman saw the children but decided to ignore them.

 

This wasn’t the first injury the boys were going to inflict on James and they decided to lead the child through the streets of Liverpool. The boys were seen by no less than 30 witnesses throughout this time. Some actually stopped the boys to check on James, but eventually decided that their plans for the day were more important than the safety of this child. 

 

And it’s at this moment that I feel a need to say that we all, every one of us, is very likely guilty of the same thing. We are complacent with our own lives and it can obviously have disastrous consequences. It would have taken 1, just 1, of the 30 odd witnesses to save James’ life, but none felt a strong enough need to help because these children were not a part of their normal lives. 

 

Now, the boys were travelling towards Thompson’s home. It is stated in one of Thompson’s parole applications that he wanted to return home to go be with his normal friends. They actually ended up at a trainyard that was close to Thompson’s home, so this may support his statements. It was at this trainyard that James Bulger would be murdered.

 

Murder

Quick warning.

 

Venables and Thompson had brought blue paint stolen from the shopping mall and splashed it in Bulger’s left eye. They then kicked him, pummelled him with bricks and stones. Here is Venables explaining that they kept knocking him down.

 

They also stuffed batteries into his mouth. Now, there is another less reported bit of information about the attack. We honestly can’t know for sure whether it happened or not. But it’s also claimed that James was sexually assaulted. The police had claimed that there may have been evidence of the batteries being inserted into James’ anus, although none were found. But the police and prosecution did insist that there was evidence of an assault, although both boys deny this. However, this will come into play towards the end of the episode.

 

Finally, the boys hit Bulger over the head with a 22-pound iron bar, which resulted in 10 skull fractures. In total, Bulger sustained 42 injuries to his face, head, and body. He was so badly injured, authorities later concluded that there was no way to tell which injury represented the fatal blow.

 

Eventually, Venables and Thompson placed Bulger’s dead body (a forensic pathologist later concluded that he was dead at this point) across the train tracks and weighted his head down with rubble, in hopes of making the whole thing look like an accident, and abandoned the scene. Soon after a train came along and severed the toddler in two.

The aftermath

Understandably, the murder of James Bulger caused public outrage. This was only exacerbated during and after Venables’ and Thompson’s trial. 500 protesters showed up the young murderers’ trial. Due to the risk to their safety, they were referred to as Child A (Thompson) and Child B (Venables) during the trial. Following the trial, the court decided to actually release their names to the public. This decision was made due to the graphic nature of the murder and the public reaction to the case, which was obviously quite powerful. There were actually over 200,000 signatures on petitions asking for the boys to be imprisoned for their entire lives, which was actually considered in the Home Secretary’s decision to keep the children in custody for a minimum of 15 years, timing their release for their 25th birthdays. However, through a series of appeals, their detainment was shortened to a minimum of 8 years. The boys were both released and given new identities in 2001.

 

The terms of their release include the following: They are not allowed to contact each other or Bulger's family. They are prohibited from visiting the Merseyside region. Curfews may be imposed on them and they must report to probation officers. And breaches of those rules would mean they would return to prison. If they were deemed to be a risk to the public, they would also be returned to prison.

 

An injunction was imposed on the news media after the trial, preventing the publication of details about the boys. The injunction was kept in force following their release on parole, so their new identities and locations could not be published. David Blunkett stated in 2001: "The injunction was granted because there was a real and strong possibility that their lives would be at risk if their identities became known.”

The murderers post-murder

Not much has been heard of Robert Thompson since his release at 18. However, interestingly, it is now known that he is gay and in a stable gay relationship with a man who knows his true identity. According to police records, Thompson has not reoffended whatsoever and is seen to have completely rehabilitated following his time in custody.

 

Venables, on the other hand, is something else entirely. After being released in 2001, he was arrested in 2008 for fighting in public and possessing cocaine. He was then arrested and plead guilty to downloading photos of child abuse in 2010. The pornography was discovered when Venables parole officer called at his house to find him trying to remove his computer’s hard drive with a knife and can opener. It was discovered that he had downloaded 57 indecent child images. He had also been posing as a married woman who abused her own daughter online with hopes of receiving more child pornography. Some of the photos contained images of children as young as two being abused by adults.

 

Infuriatingly, he was granted parole in 2013 and was then given a second new identity. He THEN went on to re-offend again in 2017 for child pornography and was given 40 months. He is either now or will soon be up for parole. Personally, this is absolutely too many chances given to someone with his mental issues. 

 

Now, this new information leads us to the point where I decide to say what I think happened.

What I Think Happened

Now, I think I’ll get into what I think may have happened. This is obviously just judging on the research we’ve been able to do here, and it should be taken with a grain of salt. However, I explained the facts of the day earlier in the episode. Now, it seems to be that the real questions are these: 1) Who was the ringleader of the situation? 2) Did the children intend on killing James? 3) If they didn’t intend to kill him, why did they end up killing him? 

 

  1. Who was the ringleader of the situation? - Now, this is difficult. According to each of the boys, the other was in charge. Obviously, they both would blame each other, as children do. The police and prosecution believe that Thompson was the ringleader. But I’m going to judge my view on the facts available. Firstly, we know that Venables was the one guiding James by the hand in the video. As I mentioned earlier, Venables was also known to bully, and less to be bullied, so the likelihood of him being controlled by Thompson may be somewhat slim. We also know that Venables is confirmed as collecting and distributing child pornography. Further, from the court case, we know that Thompson actually suffered from PTSD due to the attack, pointing to a more traumatic experience than that of Venables. Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Thompson claimed he just wanted to go home to be with his other friends, so the boys ended up at the trainyard. This could point to the fact that Thomson was simply wanting to go home. My personal belief is that Venables may have been more in charge of the situation, having an odd sexual curiosity with young boys.

  2. Did they intend to kill James? - I do not believe the children had the full intention to murder James initially. As we mentioned earlier, Thompson has come out as gay and again, Venables collected and distributed child pornography when he was older. I personally believe that the two boys were sexually curious and this led them to kidnap a little boy, not a little girl. I believe that Thompson was curious and confused about his sexuality, and I believe Venables may have felt the same, although more aggressively. I think this was more of the reason behind abducting the child. This fits in with the prosecution’s claim that James had been assaulted. Another piece of evidence which I didn’t actually mention earlier was that James’ had been stripped from the waist down, and his foreskin was pulled back.

  3. If they didn’t intend to kill him, why did they end up killing him? -  I think after Venables and Thompson had gotten to the trainyard, one or both of them assaulted James. After this, they did not see any way out of the situation except to get rid of James. I think it escalated further than they had expected and they decided to knock James out and lay him on the train tracks to be killed by a train. They found that a single hit to the head wouldn’t work, and had to continue beating the child until he didn’t get up. When they thought he passed out (when in reality they had killed him), they placed his body on the train track in hopes that James would be killed by the train, making it look like an accident. 

Conclusion

No matter the reason behind the killing of James Bulger, Venables and Thompson are still both considered monsters for their actions. And I believe that will never change, but nor will the fact that they were responsible for the death of a toddler. Because of their actions, James will forever remain a 2-year-old boy. They will continue living their lives, and I personally hope that they have to live out their remaining years with an unbearable sense of guilt on their shoulders. I hope that feeling never leaves them, and I hope when they die, they die with the guilt still firmly etched into their minds. 

 

If you want to support James Bulger’s mother Denise, feel free to buy her book “I Let Him Go”.

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