In this book, Dawn Keetley details the story of Pomeroy's crimes and the intense public outcry. She explores the two reigning theories at the time—that he was shaped before birth when his pregnant mother visited a slaughterhouse and that he imitated brutal acts found in popular dime novels. Keetley then thoughtfully offers a new theory: that Pomeroy suffered a devastating reaction to a smallpox vaccination which altered his brain, creating a psychopath who revealed the human potential for brutality. The reaction to Pomeroy's acts, then and now, demonstrates the struggle to account for exactly those aspects of human nature that remain beyond our ability to understand.
"This is a rich and complex study. If there has been a more thoroughly researched or more effectively contextualized or more perceptive or more illuminating historical case study of an early psychopath or serial killer, I am not aware of it."—Daniel A. Cohen, author of Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace: New England Crime Literature and the Origins of American Popular Culture, 1674–1900
"To understand the 'why,' and to illuminate the mystery of Pomeroy the enigmatic child killer, [Keetley] draws on medical, literary, press, criminological, neuroscientific, and social-science sources to interrogate nineteenth-century medical, press, and popular explanations, as well as twenty-ï¬rst-century theoretical interventions. The social, cultural and gendered meanings of these explanations are also analysed in detail . . . this is a well-written and impressively presented study."—Journal of American Studies