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Mutilated Boy

Claim:   A gang lures a little boy into a washroom and chops off his penis.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Smith, 1986]

Out shopping one day with his mother in a neighbourhood shopping precinct, a boy of about ten years old went off to the public toilet. When he did not come back, his mother began to get rather worried. Seeing a policeman passing by, she explained what had happened and the officer went over to the toilet block to look for the boy.

He found him almost immediately lying in a pool of blood in one of the cubicles with a crowd around him. He was still alive but was in a highly critical condition. According to an eye witness, the poor boy had been castrated by an ethnic gang of local youths.
 

[Brunvand, 1984]

I heard a story, I believe about ten years ago, it would be about 1965 — I was eighteen then — about a little white boy who had gone shopping with his mother in K mart, and he had to urinate. So, for the first time the mother decided to let him go in by himself to use the men's washroom, rather than going into the womens with her. He was in there an exceptionally long amount of time, and she got worried and asked some gentlemen to step in and see what the problem was, if there was a problem.

And they found the little boy laying in a pool of blood with his penis cut off. Subsequently they found three little black boys walking through the store with a bloody penis in their pocket. As it turned out, they had cut the little white boy's penis off as an orientation, a method of getting into a gang that they wanted to belong to.
 

Variations:
  • This legend has been widely told in the U.S. and in England, with the mutilation supposedly taking place in a number of different cities. Often the child is harmed in a department store washroom, but sometimes he comes to grief in a city park.
  • By a very wide margin, these days the victim is said to be a white male child (often blonde) of between 4 and 10 years old and his attackers African American. Occasionally, a version surfaces where the races are reversed, with a black child harmed by a white gang.
  • Though the aggressors in more recent tellings are usually blacks, Mexicans, Indians, homosexuals, and "hippies" have also been cast as the villains in this piece during the modern era.

    Medieval European versions had Jews torturing and killing a Christian child, with this form of the legend reaching back as early as the fifth century A.D. Versions dating from the second and third centuries A.D. reversed the barbarity, with Jewish children being murdered by marauding Christians as part of their gruesome initiation rituals.
  • In most tellings, the child is set upon by a gang of attackers, though in a few isolated renditions only one attacker is noted.
  • The attack is often explained as part of a ritual or initiation ceremony hopefuls from the minority group engaged in to be made part of a local gang.
  • The victim is usually found still alive, leaving those who hear the tale to grimly contemplate the fate of the injured child as he grows up and attempts to live out his life as normally as possible. In some tellings, however, the child supposedly dies of his injuries, often said to expire "in a pool of blood."
Origins:   Versions of this tragic tale have been horrifying folks since times long past, with folklorist Bill Ellis documenting instances of it as far back as 63 B.C. and concluding the legend itself had likely been circulating up to a century earlier. Modern versions placing the action in American cities and usually fingering blacks as the mutilators have been amply documented since the
mid-1960s.

Without a doubt, the central idea underlying all versions of the restroom legends is a racist or otherwise prejudiced one: certain "other" people — members of a feared minority — are out to get "our" children.

"Blood simple" legends about feared minorities torturing and murdering helpless tots as part of their religious rituals have shifted from one group to another as the balance of who was in the minority and who was in the majority changed over time. Medieval lore is rife with tales about Jews using Christian children in their presumed diabolical rites, and lore older than that reversed matters with Christians doing like things to Jewish children they'd spirited away. In each case, the feared minority was portrayed as child torturers and murderers, folks it was thus only reasonable to hate.

As folklorist Jan Brunvand has noted about racist legends: "As we observe many times in folklore, the prejudices and stereotypes that people are reluctant to voice in direct terms will often surface in very obvious ways in their oral-narrative traditions of joke or legend."

Key to the modern version of this ancient legend is the emasculation of a representative of one group by members of another. Fear of those who are seen to menace established society is expressed in graphic manner in this horrifying tale, with the fearful represented in the form of an innocent, helpless, angelic (and often blonde) child, and the feared portrayed as a powerful gang of mindlessly violent thugs. The set-upon child hasn't a chance against his attackers because they are many to his one, and they are also stronger and filled with hate. The person relating this legend as his way of sharing his growing anxiety at finding himself forced to co-exist with members of a minority that frightens him feels a similar sense of being outnumbered and threatened. He sees the empowerment of certain minorities or their encroachment into territory previously held to belong solely to his group as taking something vital from his power, hence the castration theme.

Although this legend has traveled across the United States and England, and is always told as a "this really happened!" tale, all efforts to substantiate it have failed. Not so much as one instance of a boy being castrated in a washroom and left to die by a gang of folks of a different color or persuasion have surfaced although the rumor has run rampant through a number of communities, prompting various debunkers and police departments to expend great efforts to run it down. It's a legend, and nothing more.

This "mutilated boy" legend shares commonalities with another common urban belief tale, the child kidnapped in an amusement park or store whose appearance is altered in the washroom to facilitate smuggling him out of that venue. That tale too is merely legend, but it is also widely believed.

On those true life occasions when a child was picked at random and murdered in a washroom (which has happened), it was invariably the work of a monster acting on his own, not the handiwork of a gang out to terrorize another group or to expend a child from another culture in a sick initiation rite. Lore and real life part ways at this point, though actual cases involving murdered youngsters and restrooms are often mistakenly pointed to as proving the legend.

Two cases from the 1990s of children murdered in washrooms stick in the mind.

In May 1997, 19-year-old Jeremy Strohmeyer raped and strangled 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson in a bathroom at the Primadonna, a casino at the Nevada-California border. In September 1998, Strohmeyer was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This case caught the attention of a nation because at the time of the murder (approximately 4 am) Sherrice had been left unsupervised while her father gambled. At 1:33 am, hotel security officers noticed the little girl was unattended and paged for someone to collect her. Her 14-year-old brother claimed her, but soon left her alone again, according to casino officials, and she played in the arcade alone for the next two hours. She was last seen alive at 3:45 am when a security camera recorded her entering the washroom where she would be killed. Meanwhile, her father occupied himself with slot machines in the casino upstairs.

In November 1998, 20-year-old Brandon Wilson slit 9-year-old Matthew Cecchi's throat in an Oceanside Harbor, California, restroom. He testified that he stalked and murdered the boy because God told him to begin a killing rampage. Wilson was sentenced to death in November 1999.

Horrific as these real stories are, in neither of these cases was a gang involved, nor were these murders racially motivated.

Perhaps it's best remembered that though sometimes butchers rage among us, killing random victims for racial reasons, far more often they kill for no reason at all.

Barbara "murder, she rote" Mikkelson

Last updated:   12 July 2011

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Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Choking Doberman.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.   ISBN 0-393-30321-7   (pp. 82-92).

    Gorman, Ton.   "Casino Surveillance Footage Tells Story of Girl's Killing."
    Los Angeles Times.   28 May 1997   (p. A1).

    Jacobson, David J.   The Affairs of Dame Rumor.
    New York: Rinehart & Co., 1948   (pp. 118-129).

    Lichtblau, Eric.   "Strohmeyer Deal Averts Murder Trial and Chance of Death Sentence."
    Los Angeles Times.   9 September 1998   (p. A1).

    Perry, Tony.   "Drifter Sentenced to Die in Slaying of Boy."
    Los Angeles Times.   5 November 1999   (p. A3).

    Smith, Gordon.   "4 Workers Honored For Catching Suspect."
    The San Diego Union-Tribune.   19 December 1998   (pp. B2, B14).

    Smith, Paul.   The Book of Nastier Legends.
    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.   ISBN 0-7102-0573-2   (p. 60).