Jon Venables’ mugshot is one of the most recognisable – and disturbing – images in criminal history. His dark eyes and youthful face give no indication he was capable of torturing and murdering two-year-old James Bulger – and yet that’s exactly what he did.
This image became the one we picture when the murder is discussed, just as Jon Venables became the focus of discussions about the crime and the trial. But there was another mugshot taken that day, and another boy found guilty of this unbelievably despicable crime.
So why is no one talking about Robert Thompson?
The now-36-year-old was co-accused in the crime and equally found guilty of luring James away from New Strand Shopping Centre in Liverpool, England on 12 February 1993 before beating him to death. They left the toddler’s body on a railway line for police to discover two days later.
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On 24 November 1993, Thompson and Venables, then aged 11, became the youngest convicted murders in modern British history. They served eight years in jail and were released on life-long parole in 2001, given new identities at the time.
But while Venables would later break his parole in 2010 and again in 2017 after being caught with child abuse material, Thompson has lived incident-free and out of jail.
Because of this, there’s not a lot known about Thompson’s post-prison life. However, in 2006 it was reported he was in a long-term relationship with a man who knows who knew he really was and that they lived in the North West of England. This was not confirmed and it is not known where he now lives.
Robert Thompson’s early life
More details are known about Thompson early life. He was fifth in a family of seven children. The Guardian reports when he was five years old, his father abandoned the family, leaving his mother, Ann, devastated.
It’s also reported that Ann used alcohol to cope and became depressed, even attempting to take her own life. Thompson’s home life was described as “chaotic” and while he had no legal record before his 1993 conviction, he and his siblings reportedly violently fought with each other.
His time in jail
Thompson spent most of his teenage years in prison, released when he was 18 years old. In 2010 a social worker who looked after the boy described his behaviour in prison to the Daily Mail.
The social worker said he, nor anyone else in the youth detention facility, ever saw Thompson cry or show remorse for his actions. Initially, he displayed the complete opposite in fact.
"During his trial, he was obsessed with watching the reports of the case, seeing the van on TV driving him to court. He devoured it all, oblivious to what was going on around him," the social worker said.
"At first, he would ask us when the news was on but he very quickly learned the times of all the bulletins, so in the end we would just leave him with the remote control.
"He always sat there sucking his thumb, a habit he didn’t lose – despite our best efforts – until he was 14."
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He said Thompson soon seemed to set about becoming "likeable".
"He had a good sense of humour and picked up on staff jokes that the rest of the kids wouldn’t get. He was very bright and, though it is easy to say, under different circumstances he could have gone on to great things."
Thompson reportedly did well in school and took an interest in theatre and art.
The social worker said he thought while Thompson didn't seem to hate his time in prison, he was unlikely to end up back there.
"Of course I can’t be sure, no one can, but I can’t see Robert going the same way as Venables.
"He is just too smart, too calculating."