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Rhoda Penmark

Rhoda Penmark

It was Claude Daigle who drowned. Not me.
~ Rhoda Penmark (not seeming to understand the significance of her classmate Claude Daigle's murder).

Rhoda Penmark is the eponymous main antagonist of the 1954 novel The Bad Seed, and its 1956 film adaptation of the same name. She is a murderous and sociopathic 8-year-old girl, whose secret evil tendencies and sinister behavior are genetically inherited.

She was portrayed by Patty McCormack in the 1956 film.



Rhoda is portrayed as a high functioning sociopath, although the term was not widely used at the time the book was written. She has no conscience whatsoever, and will not hesitate to harm or even kill whoever stands in her way at achieving her goal.

She sees murder as something that is necessary if she believes her victim or target to be a potential threat that will expose her true colors. By the time her mother Christine puts the facts together, Rhoda has already killed one animal and two people (her pet dog, an elderly neighbor in Baltimore and her classmate Claude Daigle). In time, Rhoda also kills Leroy, the apartment building's live-in gardener and the only adult who sees through her sweet, childlike facade. An adept manipulator, Rhoda can easily charm and mislead adults, while eliciting fear and revulsion from other children, who can sense that something is wrong with her.

In the end, Christine attempts to murder Rhoda out of love but is unsuccessful. Rhoda's evilness is never exposed and it is implied she will follow in the same steps as her serial killer grandmother, the infamous Bessie Denker, who is based on the real-life serial killer, Belle Gunness.


Rhoda has a chilling and disturbing history for any child. When her fellow classmate Claude Daigle wins a Penmanship Award at a school picnic, Rhoda feels she should've won. Instead of congratulating Claude, she confronts him and demands that he hand over the medal. When he refuses, she viciously attacks him with her tap shoe and knocks him unconscious. Afterward, she drowns his body in a nearby lake.

Although she suspects that her little girl is not quite normal and is intelligent far beyond her years, Rhoda's mother, Christine, dismisses the idea that her daughter was involved in the little boy's death in any way. Rhoda herself is completely untroubled and indifferent by Claude's death and just carries on as though nothing happened.

The only adults who can see through Rhoda's sweet and angelic facade are Leroy (the mentally-handicapped janitor employed by Rhoda's parents) and - to a lesser extent, at any rate - Rhoda's school teacher, Miss Fern. Miss Fern sees that the girl is a very bad loser and a highly selfish perfectionist. Leroy spies on Rhoda, and threatens to tell on her time and time again, only for her to call his bluff and say that no one would believe him. However, despite her claims, Rhoda has her own fears - and starts trying to get rid of Leroy.

Christine, meanwhile, tries to relieve her fears about her daughter, by talking about Claude's murder to her adopted father and Mrs. Breedlove - a neighbor who takes an interest in psychiatric theories about personalities. That same night, Claude's mother turns up at Christine's home, drunk. She tells Christine that something is amiss, and tells Christine that she should ask Rhoda about her last moments with Claude.

While Christine is looking for Rhoda's necklace - which Mrs. Breedlove is engraving for her - she discovers the Penmanship Medal in Rhoda's treasure chest. Initially, when confronted by Christine, Rhoda denies any wrong-doing. However, after Christine discovers Rhoda's blood-stained tap-shoes, Rhoda - not seeming to understand what the problem is with the situation - confesses all, including a murder of a woman that occurred before they moved to their new home.

While Christine is wrestling with her conscience - trying to figure out what to do - Leroy searches the incinerator for the tap shoes. Rhoda locks him in and burns the incinerator, thus burning Leroy alive. After learning what her daughter has done, Christine ends up having to try and kill Rhoda by giving her a lethal dose of sleeping pills before then trying to kill herself.


  • In the original novel, the 1985 movie, and the stage play, Christine actually does kill herself: however, in the original movie, she survives.
  • In the novel, 1985 movie and play, Rhoda survives - after being taken to the hospital: she is later free to kill again. However, in the 1956 movie, she dies after being struck by lightning. She snuck out in a rain slicker and went out to try and find the medal out in the lake, where Christine said she disposed of it earlier.
  • She is similar to Henry Evans and Mikey Holt as both are sadistic psychopaths who are evil children with lack of conscience or empathy and are willing to murder and manipulate others to get what they want.
  • In the 1985 movie, she is renamed Rachel Penmark.

See also

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