“The Bad Seed” began as a novel by American writer William March, then became a 1954 Broadway play by playwright Maxwell Anderson, and ultimately a 1956 Academy Award-nominated film. The disturbing plot involves Rhoda Penmark, a charming little girl who is also a murderous psychopath. In the play’s climax, which the film version didn’t have the guts to follow, Rhoda’s single mother resolves, once it is clear that her daughter is killing people, to kill Rhoda herself, in a twist the anticipates such films as “The Omen.” She fails, however, and the sweet-looking serial killer in pigtails is alive and plotting at the play’s end.
A real life bad seed scenario is playing out in Chicago. A 9-year-old boy has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder, two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson. The evidence suggests that he deliberately started a fire in a mobile home east of Peoria, Illinois, that claimed the lives of the boy’s two half-siblings, a cousin, his mother’s fiance and his great-grandmother.
The boy’s mother says her son suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and ADHD. She also says things like “he’s not a monster,” “he just made a terrible mistake” and my personal favorite, “he does have a good heart.”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…
Is it ethical to charge a child so young with first degree murder?
Juvenile justice advocates argue that children as young as this boy need treatment, not punishment, no matter how serious the crime is. The problem is that juvenile psychopaths are not necessarily treatable, and have a disturbing tendency to grow into people like Ted Bundy.
“It doesn’t matter how serious the charge is,” Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative told reporters in reference to this tragedy. “Neuroscience, brain development, all of it points to the fact that young children shouldn’t be held culpable. … I’m not saying there shouldn’t be some sort of accountability. But they need services, not sanctions.”
The mother of the boy also muttered about “some kind of punishment” being appropriate, but what? A stern talking to? No video games for a month? In the cringing final credits sequence of the film version of “The Bad Seed,” Rhoda (played by still-active actress Patty McCormick) gets a spanking from her smiling mother.
That will teach her not to murder people!