The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo tells the true story of Jesse Pomeroy, a larger than life inhuman devil lurking the streets of Boston during the 1870's leaving havoc and death in his wake. Tempting young children with money, sweets, and visits to the circus often resulted in vicious beatings and torture provided by Pomeroy. Had he not been a youth himself at the beginning of his crimes he probably would have been hanged for his actions. This is the very reason why the country gave its full attention to the case. At the height of the Pomeroy crime spree, news of the great Chicago fire reached Boston Fire Chief John Damrell. Attempting to find the meaning of the flames, Damrell investigates into the national calamity resulting in reasons of building construction, coupled with a lack of manpower and old hydrants. Realizing Boston could face the same problem, Darmrell publicly predicts the same outcome. On November 9, 1872 a spark from a factory coal boiler ignites flames that would become the Great Boston Fire. As colleagues, reporters, and onlookers attempt to place blame, an unexpected turn of events happen that change Chief John Damrell's life forever.
Enhanced by the rich history of Boston, The Wilderness of Ruin demonstrates an uncanny ability to provide jolting facts that read like a piece of cliffhanging fiction. Descriptive scenes of reality make this a lesson of yesteryear the reader will not forget. As crowds, pulpits, and printed pages of the 1870's focus on the youngest known serial killer, the unrelenting attention stays clearly on the defective human mind throughout the book. An inside look into imperfect and disordered mental actions as provided by the 1800's are interesting concepts to say the least. The best description for young Pomeroy, whose admiration for instruments of torture that cause scars, welts, and death, is "mania", a form of general derangement often involving violent behavior...and Roseanne Montillo provides a front row seat.
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.
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.