Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Story Of James Bulger and the Link to the Bystander Effect

The tragic story of James Bulger is just another example where people failed to recognise a person in need of help and also failed to act. If onlookers had not ignored the three boys, further acted or called the police this crime could have been prevented.

Here is story of James, a warning that this story is extremely unpleasant.

February 12, 1993- Friday afternoon

James Bulger was led from a shopping centre by two ten-year old boys.
‘They look like family, navigating a baby brother past shoppers and distractions. Passersby hardly notice them, unaware’

‘James will be senselessly beaten to death by his ten-year-old captors, who will callously abandon him on the railroad tracks. Along their meandering walk the three children encountered adults. A simple inquiry could have ended the tragedy: “Is the boy okay? Let me help you find his mom. Let me take care of that hurt . . . ” These words and an extended hand from a concerned grown-up might have saved James’s life. And spared his mother unbearable grief.’

They walked down to the canal and under a bridge to an isolated area. At this canal they first hurt James. ‘One of them (each blamed the other) picked James up and dropped him on his head.’ Then his capturers Jon and Robert ran away, afraid.

‘A woman saw James and assumed he was with some other children nearby. Jon and Robert turned around and walked back toward James. “Come on, baby.” In his utter innocence, little James with a big bruise and cut on his forehead, once again followed his tormentors.’

‘They walked back toward Stanley Road and crossed at a busy intersection. Some saw the child with the tear-streaked face. Some saw the cut on his forehead. It made some of them uneasy, but no one knew what to do.’

‘A motorist later saw the boys pulling the baby, against his will. He was crying and did not want to go further. He saw Robert kick the baby in the ribs.’

‘The boys carried James to a grassy plateau by a reservoir where they sat on a step and rested, one person saw Jon punch James, grabbing him and violently shaking him. For some inexplicable reason, this witness pulled her curtains, shutting out the scene.’

‘At the grassy knoll by the reservoir, an elderly woman noticed the baby, who was obviously hurt. She approached them and asked what the problem was. James was in tears, his face bruised and red.’ The boys claimed “We just found him at the bottom of the hill.” ‘She told the boys to take him to the Walton Lane Police Station just down the road and gave them directions there. The little boy’s injuries worried her. She pointed them in the direction of the police, but watched incredulously as they walked off in the opposite direction. She shouted after them, but they didn’t turn back. As she stood there, unsure what to do, another woman who had seen the boys earlier said that James had been laughing. She believed the baby was okay; they were probably inexperienced brothers watching over their younger sibling.’

‘The boys walked down the knoll, eventually ending up at County Road. It had been nearly a two-mile hike by now. They stopped inside some of the shops. A woman walking a dog eyed the boys with the toddler and asked what was going on. They told her that they found the lost boy at the Strand and were on their way to the police station. Another concerned woman, who had a little girl with her, overheard the conversation and joined in. “Well,” she said, “you’ve walked a long way from the Strand to Walton Lane Police Station.”

‘The younger woman with the child looked down at James, who was hurt, and appeared upset. “Are you all right, son?” she asked. James didn’t answer. Jon insisted they would find the station; they would take care of it. But the woman felt something wasn’t right. It was getting dark and the boys weren’t honest. She asked that the other woman with the dog to watch her little girl, who was tired, while she escorted James to the station. But the woman with the dog refused -- her pet did not like children. As the boys took off, the younger woman called out, “Are you sure you know the way?” Jon pointed in the direction. “I’ll go that way, missus.”’

Next they went to the rail tracks.

‘The attack and murder of James Bulger occurred between 5:45 and 6:30 p.m. It began with one of the boys flinging paint on James’s face into his left eye. He screamed. As Blake Morrison points out in his book As If, Jon and Robert probably used the paint to “dehumanize James, to wipe him of his normal features. Splashed in sky color, he looked like something else -- a troll doll or alien -- and was less conscience-troubling to kill.” The boys threw stones at James, kicked him, and beat him with bricks. They pulled off his shoes and pants, perhaps sexually assaulting him. They hit him with an iron bar. When they thought James was dead, they laid his body on the railroad track, covering his bleeding head with bricks. They left before the train came.’

‘His upper body was hidden within the coat. His lower body was further down the tracks, completely undressed. He had suffered 42 injuries, most to his face and head and had not died during the attack, but some time before the train hit him. Jon and Robert had left him while he was still alive.’

November 1, 1993: Trial begins

The Verdict

‘The Judge addressed the boys: “The killing of James Bulger was an act of unparalleled evil and barbarity. This child of two was taken from his mother on a journey of over two miles and then, on the railway line, was battered to death without mercy. Then his body was placed across the railway line so it would be run over by a train in an attempt to conceal his murder. In my judgment your conduct was both cunning and very wicked.”’

“This sentence that I pass upon you both is that you should be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure, in such a place and under such conditions as the Secretary of State may now decide. You will be securely detained for very, very many years, until the Home Secretary is satisfied that you have matured and are fully rehabilitated and until you are no longer a danger.” The judge also allowed that the media be allowed to publish the boys’ names.

From the gallery, someone shouted, “How do you feel now, you little bastards?”

Source: Scott, S. L. (2002). The Death of James Bulger. Retrieved September 20, 2007 from, the Crime Library web site:


ZPeel said...

Hi Bec,
This story of bystander effect is extremely upsetting, confronting and frightening all at the same time. Hearing situations such as the story of James Bulger is very difficult yet necessary to show the realness of the bystander effect. I know I commonly associate the bystander effect with less traumatic situations that I can relate to. Hearing this story is a very disturbing illustration of the capabilities of some people and how even with good intentions some situations still continue. I think this would be a very interesting topic to research and I look forward to reading your future posts.

Additionally, I have added a post surrounding your comment and other's comments on my blog surrounding the bystander effect -


Shannen said...

i recently only heard the details and happenings of this poor innocent boys death. when i heard i simply could not stop thinking about what kind of cruel and disturbed persons would do this? i heard that the two boys where being realeased soon, the governement giving them new identities, a new life, even a new look. i personally think this is pathetic, they took a young childs life and yet they get to start fresh? why should they get to start a new life when they took an innocent childs life? I Think there should be a protest to have these boys, now men sentenced to life or put on a death roll. They deserve to suffer for what they done. They dont deserve to be alive. I Hope they and their familys are ashamed of themselves for bringing such a savage person into this world.

xxxsamxxx_3 said...


Tiffany said...

What kind of environment did these 10-year old boys grow up in? Any child that young who would do something so horrendous to another human being was obviously not shown love, compassion and mercy at home. I feel the parents of these two boys are even more to blame than the offenders themselves. I would guess that both these boys were exposed to torture and abuse themselves, and therefore justified it in their (twisted) minds as somehow socially acceptable. This story is so so sad for everyone involved. It makes me appreciate all the good people I know who have helped me in raising my young daughters.

DarraghFalconer said...

RIP ..
You Are With The Angels Now In Peace Baby Boy How Could Anyone Harm A Child , Why Would You Even Let Your Two Year Old Out Of Your Sight.. ?
Why Would NoBody Take Him To The Police Station , How Could People Not Know That They Where Not His Siblings , When A Child Has Such Injuries And Is Crying Would Noboby Even Think About Contacting The Police ..

R. I. P
James Bulger..

paulina said...

im from chile when i heared thay story about this little angel poor boy made me cry ( i was 12) even i`m in the other part of the world the story affected me how this poor little boy suffered with the horror things that the demonds done (i can no say another word for these boys) and how suffered the poor family`s james. and these demonds have been released giving them new identities.but james is resting happily in the heaven with god and i sincerely hope that these boys can no sleep longer by the concience to took james`s life in a worst way that can do a person
with all love for james RIP

valis1949 said...

How can you make a child legally responsible for his actions? If a child is deemed responsible, then legally he is being treated as an adult. Do we really want that? And, I think both boys who were found guilty of the murder of James Bulger got out of jail about 2001, and I wonder exactly what was done with their rehabilitation. They were given new identities (or they would never have been able to start over), but it really makes you wonder if there is such a thing as a person who is born Evil. And, if there is, how can society deal with it?

Anonymous said...

"The death is my job" Robert Thompson.

Mechelen D'Souza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ann said...

i know u are in a better place james bulger, so so sad u had to die such a harsh a terrible death, i know u definatly forgiven your killers, i hope those mosnters got some kind of guilt, the blood on their hands i know they see u everytime they close their eyes and probably whish death is were so young, tender and innocent, i am so deeply touched. i have got 2 daughters myself, how torn would i to learnt something least this terrible to happy to any of my kids, comparing to this, they might aswell killed me james ...u are loved.

Paul Brannan said...

rip wee jamie boy i hope those evil bastards suffer eternally from guilt

Paul Brannan said...

rip wee jamie i hope those evil bastards are eternally haunted even into the afterlife

Paul Brannan said...

rip wee jamie boy i hope those evil bastards suffer eternally from guilt

elieasa marriea said...

I recently saw few boys taking suicide as they are innocent and poor. They do this act because of uneven pressure what they feel. But your post is nice as it has a great info...
Child Psychology

Leslie Lim said...

I read your blog.I thought it was great.. Hope you have a great day. God bless.


Unknown said...

It is very hard to believe i dont understand people at times.They must feel so bad and its very sad i know they didnt think this would happen who would,people need to act on ther gut feeling i personally would have stayed with the boys untill i seen him safe.People are scared to get involved and you got to when someone needs help.

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