In 1994, the body of six-year-old Rikki Neave, who had gone missing the day before on his walk to school, was found in woodland near his home. He had been stripped naked - his school uniform thrown in a bin - strangled, and his body posed.
Although Neave’s mother was initially arrested (and received a seven-year sentence for child neglect) she was cleared of his murder and the case went cold. Finally, 27 years after the crime, DNA evidence led to a breakthrough and 41-year-old James Watson was arrested and charged, after his DNA was found on Neave’s clothes.
At 13, Watson was a child himself at the time of the murder and was originally discounted from the investigation because of his age. However, this wasn’t his first offence. There were allegations he’d indecently assaulted a five-year-old when he was 11 or 12. Dead animals were found under his bed, posed in the same way Neave’s body was.
He had been a witness in the original case; he was one of the last people seen with Neave. In the days after the murder, he was said to be inordinately interested in the case, even photocopying images of Neave's body. He was also said to be fascinated by child murder. In June 2022, he was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison.
Robert Thompson and Jon Venables
In 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was in a shopping centre with his mother when he was abducted. CCTV footage showed him being led away by two boys, 10-year-olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. The two were playing truant from school and later admitted that they had been planning to abduct a child. They led Bulger around Liverpool, before finally taking him to the railway tracks and viciously assaulting him. They left his body on the train tracks.
Venables and Thompson were later sentenced for Bulger’s murder, becoming the youngest convicted killers of the 20th century. They were released from prison after serving eight years and given new identities. Venables has gone on to reoffend, but Thompson has not.
Mary Bell was born in 1957 to a 16-year-old sex worker who repeatedly tried to give her away. In her early life, she suffered multiple ‘accidents’ at the hands of her mother (falling from a window and overdosing on sleeping pills) and by her own accounts, used for sex work from the age of four. As she grew older, she exhibited disturbing behaviour, which included fighting and attempting to suffocate and strangle other children.
In 1968, a young boy accused Mary and her friend Norma Bell (no relation) of pushing him off an air raid shelter—a 7-foot drop. Later that night, a group of parents came forward to say Mary had attempted to strangle their daughters, something that Norma later confirmed. That same year, Mary strangled four-year-old Martin Brown upstairs in a derelict house. It was the day before her 11th birthday.
Two months later, the body of three-year-old Brian Howe was discovered. He had last been seen playing with the two girls. He too had been strangled. Mary was convicted of manslaughter. She was released from prison in 1980 at the age of 23 and given lifelong anonymity.
Sharon Carr was only 12 when she stabbed her 18-year-old hairdresser Katie Radcliffe to death, in 1997. Radcliffe was stabbed approximately 30 times across her body and left almost naked, which initially led police to believe a male was responsible. For two years, the case went unsolved, until Carr was imprisoned for stabbing a fellow schoolgirl (exactly two years to the day after murdering Radcliffe).
While in prison, she confessed to Radcliffe’s murder and police later found her diaries, in which she bragged about the crime. Sentenced to 14 years, Carr became the youngest female murderer to be convicted in the UK.
The Twilight Killers
Lucas Markham and Kim Edwards were 13 when they started dating. Both came from troubled backgrounds: Markham was put into foster care aged four and Edwards had a difficult relationship with her mother, Elizabeth, who she believed preferred her sister, Katie. Both girls were temporarily taken into care in 2008 after a fight led Elizabeth to hit then six-year-old Edwards. When Edwards and Markham started dating, her mother was concerned that they were too young and even barred Markkham from their home.
Things came to a head in 2016, though, when Markham suggested to Edwards that they kill her mother. In April that year, when the pair were 14, Markham killed Elizabeth, holding a pillow over her head and stabbing her, before killing Katie in her sleep as well. The pair then had sex and watched the film Twilight together. As two of Britain’s youngest double murderers, they were sentenced to 17-and-a-half years in prison.
15-year-old James Fairweather was looking for his third victim when he was arrested in 2015. He had already murdered two strangers by then in Colchester in 2014: James Attfield and Nahid Almanea. Both had been brutally murdered: 33-year-old Attfield had been stabbed and slashed over 100 times. Three months later, 31-year-old student Almanea was attacked as she walked to campus. She suffered multiple injuries and had been stabbed in both eyes. Both victims were said to be chosen at random.
Fairweather was obsessed with serial killers and material on the Ipswich Killer, Yorkshire Ripper, and Ted Bundy was found at his home. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 27 years.