LINCOLN, NE — On July 17, 1996, Nebraska prison officials secured convicted serial killer and sexually sadistic pedophile John Joseph Joubert into the state’s official electric chair. The execution of the so-called “Schoolboy Snatcher” did not go smoothly.
After the first jolt, Joubert’s head caught fire. He died screaming. Afterward, an examination revealed a four-inch brain blister on the top of his head, and severe blistering above his ears.
Joubert’s problematic execution later figured into political debates and a public referendum in Nebraska regarding capital punishment as “cruel and unusual.”
After much tumult, a 2016 vote repealed a short-lived abolition of the death penalty, likely influenced by the crimes committed by Joubert himself. “Cruel and unusual” certainly fits them.
Born in 1963, John Joubert initially grew up angry, unloved, and mercilessly mocked by schoolmates in Massachusetts. His overbearing single mother kept John isolated and spanked him into early adolescence.
Joubert’s parents had split up when the boy was four, following an incident during which his father nearly strangled his mom. Later on, Joubert said he thinks that’s when his bad thoughts, that led to the worst kind of actions, actually began.
Even as a very young kid, Joubert said, he’d get lost in violent fantasies. He told a psychiatrist that when he was six, he longed to murder and cannibalize his teenage babysitter. Joubert stated he had nothing in particular against the girl, she was just “someone to kill.” Later, he said he fantasized about victims begging him, “If you are going to do it, get it over with!”
Mother Joubert and her increasingly troubled son moved to Portland, Maine, when he was 11. Shortly thereafter, Joubert reportedly attempted to “come out” as being attracted to other males, and he faced only more cruelty from his peers.
At 13, Joubert stabbed a little girl with a pencil and said her crying turned him on sexually. The next day, he biked past a woman and slashed her with a razor. Not long after that, Joubert beat and almost fatally choked one small neighborhood boy, and used a razor to cut up the throat of another. After turning 16, Joubert beat eight-year-old Chris Day within an inch of his life.
The target of bullies had turned into a bully who targeted others — to shocking and increasingly dangerous degrees. While the attacks terrified the locals, Joubert never got caught for any of them, admitting his guilt only later while he sat on death row.
On August 22, 1982, 11-year-old Ricky Stetson disappeared during a jog along Portland’s Back Cove trail. His body turned up the next day, stabbed, strangled, bitten, partially undressed, and bearing indications of torture. Cops picked up a suspect and held him for a year and a half before determining the prisoner’s teeth did not match bite marks on the body.The actual culprit, of course, was the now 19-year-old John Joubert who, immediately afterward, joined the U.S. Air Force as a radar technician and relocated to Offut Air Force Base just outside Omaha, Nebraska.
On September 18 — barely one month after Ricky Stetson’s death but more than 1,800 miles away — 13-year-old Danny Joe Eberle vanished while delivering newspapers in Bellevue, Nebraska. Joubert confessed later that he jumped Danny at knifepoint, when he was just four houses in, covered the boy’s mouth with his hand, and instructed him to get inside his car.
From there, Joubert bound Danny’s hands and feet, gagged him with surgical tape, stripped him nude, tortured him, and committed sexual assault before strangling the boy and stabbing him nine times. He ditched the body in the woods about four miles away.
Finally, on December 3, Joubert accosted 12-year-old Christopher Walden in Papillon, Nebraska. Again, he forced the child into his vehicle at knifepoint and ordered him to strip to his underpants. Once inside, though, Christopher fought back, prompting Joubert to stab his victim so severely in the neck that it almost decapitated the boy. Afterward, Joubert carefully concealed Christopher’s remains in another patch of trees.
Witnesses interviewed regarding both crimes talked of a white man following the boys in a tan car. That was Joubert. On January 11, a preschool teacher noticed a driver loitering suspiciously near her workplace. When she took out a pad to write down the license plate, Joubert sped over, got out, and threatened her, but the teacher successfully fled.
The car, which was not tan, had been rented by John Joubert while his own vehicle, a Chevy Nova, was in the shop. The Nova was, in fact, tan. On January 12, 1984, the authorities nabbed their man.
The FBI worked with police in Portland, Maine to connect Joubert to all three murders. After claiming innocence at first, Joubert pleaded guilty and a three-judge panel sentenced him to death in Nebraska. In 1990, a court in Maine additionally sentenced Joubert to life in prison.
Attorneys for Joubert tried to get the death penalty off the table, citing their client’s mental-health issues. Alas, examiners determined that Joubert was not psychotic while committing the murders, understood what he was doing was wrong, and tried to cover up the evidence.
So to the electric chair Joubert eventually went, dying in an ugly fashion that some say fit the nature of what he did to those boys. Others disagree, and still others suggest his penance should have been worse. Dead is dead though, and that’s how John Joubert’s been ever since.
Main photos: John Joubert, 1984 mug shot [Papillon Sheriff’s Department]