The Murder Of James Bulger: How Two Boys Became Killers At Age 10 In A Crime That Shook The UK

Updated: Aug 5

On February 12, 1993, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson kidnapped 2-year-old James Bulger in Bootle, England. The pair then brutally tortured and murdered the infant before placing his body on train tracks.

Job Venables and Robert Thompson, Bulger Killers
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson whilst in custody after the murder of James Bulger

On appearance, both Jon Venables and Robert Thompson looked just like two normal 10-year-old boys. However, in 1993, these two boys turned into killers, brutally murdering a toddler in a crime that shook the United Kingdom to its core.

It was February 12, 1993, when Jon Venables and Robert Thompson abducted James Bulger from the New Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, he was a 2-year-old boy. They took the helpless boy to Walton in Liverpool, where they proceeded to torture him, before beating him to death, they then dumped his body on a railway track in an attempt to make his murder look like an accident.

Initially, the police who were searching for James Bulger believed he had been abducted by an adult, it wasn't until they saw CCTV footage that they knew he had been kidnapped by two children.

Just a few days later, the body of James Bulger was found on the railway track where his killers had left him, his body had been severed in two by a passing train.

It didn't take long before an anonymous phone call was made to the police naming Venables and Thompson as those responsible for the murder, revealing that both of them had been off school on the day that James Bulger went missing and also detailing that there may be some evidence on the jacket worn by Venables.

Both of the 10-year-old boys were soon arrested by local police and almost instantly turned on each other whilst in custody.

Although this horrific crime was committed almost 30-years ago the story still instills disgust and horror in the United Kingdom, unfortunately, the story of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson didn't end in 1993.

James Bulger CCTV abduction
CCTV footage that shows 2-year-old James Bulger being led away by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson

How Jon Venables & Robert Thompson kidnapped and killed James Bulger.

Both Jon Venables and Robert Thompson had a rough childhood. Thompson was born on August 23, 1982, in Liverpool and was the fifth child in a family of seven children. His father had walked out on the family very early on which had caused his mother to become depressed and become an alcoholic, even making an attempt at suicide.

Venables was also born in Liverpool, on August 13, 1982, just over a week before Thompson. Although the parents of Jon Venables were separated, his father was still on the scene, but his mother was known to be "harsh" towards him as a child, she was also known locally for being with a lot of different men at the time.

Venables and Thompson were good friends, often referred to as "rule-breakers," mainly getting involved with low-level crime, such as petty theft from local shops and frequently causing disturbances out in public.

But on February 12, 1993, their petty crimes would take a whole new level and turn into a brutal and sick killing of a defenseless child.

Even more disturbing, James Bulger wasn't actually the first child that Venables and Thompson had tried to abduct that day, they had first attempted to lure a 3-year-old girl and her 2-year-old brother away from their mother. Their attempt was unsuccessful, but that didn't deter Venables or Thompson from finding another victim.

The soon-to-be killers spotted James Bulger whilst he was in a butcher's shop with his mother and grabbed him. Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger had been holding his hand before briefly letting go to pay for her shopping, only to look down with horror whilst realising that her son had vanished. "I shouldn’t have let go of his hand,” Fergus later said. “That was the biggest mistake of my life. I shouldn’t have let go."

James Bulgers Parents
The parents of James Bulger, pictured the day before their son was found dead

CCTV captured video footage of the three children walking outside at 3:42 pm. By this time, Denise Furgus had already alerted the security guards, who quickly made announcements to shoppers telling them about the missing child. When it got to 4:15 pm and there was still no sign of James Bulger, he was reported missing to the police. Denise Fergus and her then-husband Ralph Bulger were out of their minds with worry, as any parent would be.

Whilst the panic was going on, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were already far away from the shopping centre that they took the boy from and almost in the next town. Though many people who had seen the three children on the street together instantly just thought they were brothers, some however became concerned about the aggressive behaviour that Venables and Thompson had shown towards James Bulger.

Several witnesses later reported that both Venables and Thompson were seen kicking, punching, and shaking Bulger out in the street. Several adults stopped to question the children about what they were doing but all of them allowed the boys to carry on their way, all believing that James Bulger was either being taken home or to the local police station. Many of the witnesses who came forward would later express regret for not doing anything to help the boy.

Venables and Thompson eventually got Bulger near to a railway track in Walton. It was here that their horrific assault occurred, they threw blue paint into the 2-year-olds eyes, before bludgeoning him with stones and bricks, they then proceeded to kick his already battered body and shoved batteries into his mouth. Finally, they hit James Bulger over the head with a 22-pound iron bar, this blow alone caused 10 skull fractures.

By the time James Bulger was dead, he had sustained 42 horrific injuries, the final heartbreaking words of the toddler were, "I want my mum."

After James Bulger was dead, Venables and Thompson dragged his body onto the railway track in an attempt to make his death look like it was accidental.

The body of James Bulger was found two days later by a group of teenagers who had been playing in the area, the body was found severed in two after being run over by a passing train.

Where was James Bulger's body found
The railway embankment in Liverpool where the body of James Bulger was found

The police initially had no potential suspects, although the abduction of James Bulger was on CCTV, they believed that the kidnappers were likely 13-14 years old, which had them looking down the wrong avenue straight away.

As the authorities were looking through the lists of children from local schools who had been absent on the day of the kidnapping, they received an anonymous phone call that named both Thompson and Venables for the murder. Not only had both of them been absent from school that day, but Venables had also been seen with blue paint on his jacket (the same colour paint that had been thrown in the eyes of James Bulger during the attack).

The police soon swooped in on both of the boys, not only finding blue paint on the jacket of Jon Venables, but they also found blood on the shoes of Robert Thompson.

Both Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were arrested on February 18, 1993, just less than a week after the murder. To start with, Thompson denied everything, but Venables quickly confessed and soon blurted out, "I did kill him. What about his mum, will you tell her I’m sorry?"

Thompson tried extremely hard not to incriminate himself during his questioning by the police, but he failed when he gave a detailed account of what James Bulger had been wearing on the day of the murder.

After questioning both Thompson and Venables, Detective Phil Roberts said, "As far as I’m concerned that day… I stared evil in the face."

Detective Phil Roberts also said, "They were a match made in hell. A freak of nature. They went out that day to kill and I truly believe that. And if they hadn’t been caught I fear they would have struck again."

Although it was both of the boys who had killed James Bulger, Detective Roberts believed that Thompson was the one "in charge." He wasn't the only one to think that either, during the murder trial in November 1993, Thompson was depicted as the leader, and Venables the follower. This was largely due to the fact that Venables appeared much more emotional, while Thompson appeared chillingly unfazed.

Psychiatrists who were appointed by the court said that both Venables and Thompson knew the difference between right and wrong. They also confirmed that neither of the boys was a sociopath. The psychiatrists were never able to find any sort of motive for this sickening crime, even to this day, the motive remains a mystery.

On November 24, 1993, both Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were found guilty of the abduction and murder of James Bulger, making them the youngest convicted murderers in modern British history. Both of them were ordered to be imprisoned until a review when they turned 18.

James Bulger Father
James Bulger's father, Ralph Bulger (pictured) has been fighting to try and keep Jon Venables in prison

Where are Jon Venables and Robert Thomson Now?

From 1993 to 2001, Jon Venables served time in the Red Bank secure unit in St Helens, Merseyside. Whilst he was serving his time there he told his fellow inmates that he was in there for car theft. Robert Thompson was held at Barton Moss near Manchester, where he grew an interest in art and theater.

Both Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were released in June 2001, when they were both 18. Due to the huge national following and disgust in the case, they were both given new identities to protect them from potential public reprisal.

At the time Thompson was strongly believed to have been the ringleader when it came to the murder of James Bulger, however, he has never reoffended since being released. Not much is known about his current whereabouts, apart from the fact that he is said to be in a relationship with a man who is fully aware of his terrible past.

Jon Venables is a different story, he has been back to prison on several occasions since his release, most notably for possession of child pornography and a "pedophile manual," which explained in sickening detail how to abuse young girls.

Venables was first imprisoned for possessing images of child abuse in 2010, but he was released in 2013. He was arrested yet again in 2017 for the same crime. And in 2018, he was sentenced to 40 months after admitting to possessing more than 1,000 child abuse images and the pedophile manual.

Most recently, Venables was denied parole in September 2020. He was then told that he’d have to wait two more years before he’d be eligible for parole again. But according to some sources, Venables does not want to be freed, in part over fears he’ll re-offend and in part over his inability to avoid drugs.

James Bulger’s father Ralph Bulger thinks that if Venables were to be released now, he would be at risk of killing again. "I believe the only way to prevent him from killing another baby like James is to keep him locked up for life," Ralph Bulger said in response to the parole board’s decision. "How can anyone say this monster is safe to live among us ever again?"

This is certainly one of the most horrifying murder cases to ever come out of the United Kingdom. Now you had read about the tragic story of James Bulger, read about Israel Keyes, the United States cross country serial killer.


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