Where did the psycho little kid killer cultural meme come from?

So, I was watching the Child’s Play movies the other day. (a boy’s doll comes to life and kills people, but the adults think that the boy is psycotic/sceizophernic, and killed the people, b/c his hallucinations told him to) It got me thinking.
Has there ever been a real life case of a little kid who was literally psychotic and killed people? If not, where did this meme come from?

IANA Modern Literary Historian or Crime Historian, but my guess is that it comes from dolls. You kind of tapped into this in your OP, but the fear of dolls (especially those in the uncanny valley) is real, and children are usually very doll-like. (Soft features, oversized eyes, pale skin, etc.) While there have been horror movies with the dolls attacking (such as your example), it’s less fantastical to have a child do the attacking.

It goes back at least as far as The Bad Seed in the 1950s, when Hollywood first sensationalized the idea. No idea whether it had any basis in fact.

BTW, I loved the trilogy that Quantum Leap devoted to this: a little girl’s playmate vanished under suspicious circumstances, and thanks to the Hollywood-hyped meme, she was dogged for years by suspicions of being a “killer chold”.

Interrupted by wife too long to edit. “child”.

The meme may also just be a standard reversal of common perceptions - kids and dolls are seen as cute and harmless, so the idea of a murderous child/doll has an extra frisson.

On the subject of children and murder: there’s an Agatha Christie story (can’t remember the title) which has your stereotypical annoying know-it-all girl detective in it, who turns out to be the killer. (Spoilered in case you’re a Christie reader who might not have read that one.)

Heh, the spoiler would have been more useful if you knew the title of the book, or given a bit more description of it, so i’d know if I’d read it or not. Children/murder didn’t give me an easy answer. And now I want to read said book.

God yes, any number. The ones that I can immediately track down are the pair that murdered James Bulger. But there seems to be a case every year where children 10 or younger are convicted of murder.

In terms of fiction, the earliest reference I can think of is Cathy in “East of Eden” (can’t remember the name), who fit the archetype perfectly: doll like appearance, totally sociopathic, murdered her own parents etc. So that predates “The Bad Seed” by a few years at least.

Could be a lot of things. Personally i think a lot of it stems form the fact that
*all *children really are monsters, and they often really do horrible things to others. And I do mean all children. They just lack the empathy and social conditioning that adults have. Their lack of strength makes them relatively harmless most of the time, but children do seriously injure other children all the time, in addition to murdering pets, burning down houses and so forth. These aren’t psychotic children, they are perfectly normal, they just haven’t learned any better yet. So it’s hardly surprising that adults question what evil lurks in their hearts, and from there it’s a short leap to the horror story monster.

It’s about the murder of the wealthy patriarch of a family by poisoning. He has a couple of generations of descendants staying in the same big, rambling house. They are mostly suspects, all having varying degrees of benefit in his death. Other deaths occur as the search for the murderer develops.

The book is Crooked House.

I know, I know… :stuck_out_tongue:

On further investigation I might be thinking of Crooked House, but I’d have to flip through the book to be sure.

ETA: aaaaaand Damfino’s found it first. Hmph.

ETAA: that book was published in 1949, in case you’re interested.

In the Agatha Christie story, how old was the child?’

“Girl Detective” makes me think “Nancy Drew”, and hence teenager, which isn’t really what the OP wanted.

According to wiki, she was twelve.

I thought it was popularized as a concept by the Exorcist, the film (supposedly the book was based on a real exorcism from a child in 1949).

There’s Mary Bell.


This is going OT but if you’re interested in the real case (hint: none of it’s true) behind the Exorcist, you should check out this article:


It’s a fairly long read but worth it and a great example of real journalism as opposed to the sensationalism that sells newspapers.

Which child killed people in “The Exorcist”?

It happens. We’ve had two juveniles commit murder in our smallish town just in the last year or so. One was a 15 year old who killed a homeless man by kicking him and bashing his head in with a cinder block. He was certified to stand trial as an adult, and when the judge announced that the jury had sentenced him to life in prison, he rolled his eyes. The other one was worse, if you can believe it: a 13 year old who stabbed his own 4 year old sister to death. The forensic testimony was that he went about the stabbing very slowly, so as to enjoy it as long as possible. The three psychiatrists who evaluated him all concluded that he was a complete psychopath, a young Ted Bundy in the making. Scary.

I can’t really remember the film but I thought Regan killed her babysitter at one point? Either way the Exorcist definitely featured a psychotic, doll-like little kid who carried out violent acts, and I think that’s where that modern ‘meme’ was really popularized. I think it’s nit-picking to argue otherwise just because the kid technically didn’t kill anyone in the film.

Does The Omen pre-date The Exorcist? I thought Damien was a huge cliche.

Category:Murder committed by minors

Dead Again (with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson) has a child killer.

It’s a pretty cool movie.