The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer

The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer

by Roseanne Montillo


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The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer by Roseanne Montillo

In late nineteenth-century Boston, home to Herman Melville and Oliver Wendell Holmes, a serial killer preying on children is running loose in the city—a wilderness of ruin caused by the Great Fire of 1872—in this literary historical crime thriller reminiscent of The Devil in the White City.

In the early 1870s, local children begin disappearing from the working-class neighborhoods of Boston. Several return home bloody and bruised after being tortured, while others never come back.

With the city on edge, authorities believe the abductions are the handiwork of a psychopath, until they discover that their killer—fourteen-year-old Jesse Pomeroy—is barely older than his victims. The criminal investigation that follows sparks a debate among the world’s most revered medical minds, and will have a decades-long impact on the judicial system and medical consciousness.

The Wilderness of Ruin is a riveting tale of gruesome murder and depravity. At its heart is a great American city divided by class—a chasm that widens in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1872. Roseanne Montillo brings Gilded Age Boston to glorious life—from the genteel cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill to the squalid, overcrowded tenements of Southie. Here, too, is the writer Herman Melville. Enthralled by the child killer’s case, he enlists physician Oliver Wendell Holmes to help him understand how it might relate to his own mental instability.

With verve and historical detail, Roseanne Montillo explores this case that reverberated through all of Boston society in order to help us understand our modern hunger for the prurient and sensational.

The Wilderness of Ruin features more than a dozen black-and-white photographs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062273482
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/08/2015
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,225,613
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Roseanne Montillo holds an MFA from Emerson College in Massachusetts, where she teaches as a professor of literature. She is the author of The Lady and Her Monsters, which was published in 2013.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 The Inhuman Scamp 11

2 The Bridge 25

3 The Marble Eye 39

4 The Boundless Sea 59

5 The Great Fire 73

6 Loss of Innocence 89

7 Katie 119

8 The Wolf and the Lamb 143

9 The Twisted Mind 177

10 Patience Personified Pomeroy 199

11 Madness Unleashed 219

12 Unearthed 243

Epilogue 265

Acknowledgments 273

Notes 277

Bibiography 287

Index 301

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The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Nikki_Mansfield More than 1 year ago
Like Montillo's first book, "The Lady and Her Monster", this book is not just simply about one thing. It is a history of a young criminal though two murders does not a serial killer make, named Jesse Pomeroy. Placing the reader in the late 1800s from approximately 1870 onwards, this is a social history of that time in Boston. Many topics are covered and even entire chapters are devoted to Oliver Wendall Holmes, Herman Melville, the history of mental illness to this point in time, the great Boston fire and Boston's World Fair of the 1880s. Jessie Pomeroy's life is detailed from birth to death, most of which he spent in prison in solitary confinement, upwards of fifty years. Mental illness, insanity pleas, the recognition of not being sane, and a backwards look at Jesse as a prime example of a psychopath are all key issues dealt with in this book. Roseanne Montillo has written a very literary volume that explores all the issues of the day at the time Jesse Pomeroy was alive. It is a particularly in-depth look at "madness" as referred to in the title and how this era seriously began the study and genuine concern and a degree of compassion for people and criminals suffering unbalanced minds. Herman Melville was interested in Pomeroy's case and thus a chapter is devoted to him biographically detailing his obsessions, morbidity and madness. This book deals with main topics I'm interested in from Victorian true crimes to the history of mental illness and I found it a fascinating read. However, it is not a page-turner. As I mentioned, The Wilderness of Ruin, is most definitely a literary work that captivates and compels yet calls for a slower thoughtful pace. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is really three stories but is poorly linked.  I think the book needed a better editor.  The thread that tied all together was lost for me.  The writing is well done, but the flow is missing.  Other excellent fiction and non- fiction writers are:  Laurie Graham, Margaret Mayhew, Duncan Barrett, William Jarvis, Melnda Jarrett, Eileen Townsend, Anne DeCourcy, Iris Jones Simantel, Pamela Winfield, Eric Larson, Helen Forrester, Jane Kirkpatrick, and Vera F. Cracknell Long.  All these authors had books that were riveting, and I could not stop reading.  The history, writing, and the story lines all moved these books and the reader along.  Again, this book lacked the flow needed in good fiction and non-fiction.  Hopefully, this author will get a different editor for her next book because her writing does show great talent.
MissBethBC More than 1 year ago
This was indeed a book of a different sort, and as a result, I am very torn in my review of the book.  It was definitely a historic look back into the 1800's of Boston and to the life and times of Jesse Pomeroy....a child serial killer when barely more than a child himself.   The story of Jesse Pomeroy was most disturbing and truly sad.  I would have preferred that Montillo  provide an in depth work on what causes a person to be without remorse or to be so vicious.  And I was convinved there would be more to Pomeroy's story than rotting in prison or a mental institution.   But, his story was but a small part of this book.    The tale went from Pomeroy to various authors of the day, Herman Melville, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nathaniel Hawthorne....the more famous authors of the day.  Although for myself, I enjoyed this glimpse into the lives and times of these authors, I saw very little relevance for them appearing in the book.   The connection with the Pomeroy boy was minimal and fruitless at best. Montillo does have a very interesting writing style and her work flows smoothly and is easily read.  It was obvious that she thoroughly researched her topic.   If success is measured by how long a book stays with you, I am sure this one will be in some far recess for the remainder of my life 
doseofbella More than 1 year ago
The Wilderness of Ruin By: Roseanne Montillo Pages. 320 Publisher: William Morrow & Company March 17, 2015 Copy Courtesy of Goodreads First Reads Reviewed by: tk An absolute must for lovers of history in the 19th century. Although this was not my genre of favorites…I will admit… an amazing unforgettable read. An author that truly knows how to paint a picture so brilliant in your minds eye, you will not soon forget how graphic and devastating the Great Fire of Boston was on the citizens. The cruel demented mind of one of the most heinous murderers of all time was the most shocking to the senses. He was so young, and so full of rage that I had a hard time with my own emotions towards him. The entire content read like a novel. A time in history that needed to be told. Roseanne Montillo has a unique talent to bring out the intense emotions, and thought provoking text to life. Once you open the book , it feels like you have entered a portal to the past. A must appreciated addition to my library and genre favorites. 4/5
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The main story about psychopathic killer Jesse Pomeroy was well -researched and and engagingly written. But I'm still scratching my head over the extensive text devoted to Herman Melville. He wasn't psychopathic (he did suffer clinical depression - an irrelevancy to Pomeroy's pathology), didn't kill anyone, didn't go to prison, didn't even know Pomeroy. Both did live in Massachusetts, however, about the only tie between the two I could surmise. The Melville text seemed to be filler, nothing more.
sleepingnome More than 1 year ago
Very tedious book.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TALK TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:(