Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross

The Edge of Sanity

Following her latest divorce, Theresa's children noticed a remarkable change in her behavior. She started to drink even more and began putting on a great deal of weight. Her attitude became worse with each day and the abuse toward her children severely increased. "When we were kids, my mom beat the shit out of us a lot," her daughter Terry (Theresa) told Dennis McDougal years later. "If we hugged our mom too much, it was like, who were we trying to convince? That we loved her, or she loved us? On the other hand, if we didn't hug and kiss and tell her we loved her, then we didn't love her, and we were evil children. We were demon seeds that had been given to her by Bob Knorr." Terry's older brothers William and Robert agreed. "Sometime around when I turned 10 she started becoming abusive, real short-tempered," William said. "She stopped going out, seeing friends at all, on any level. She got rid of the telephone because she didn't want any people calling. We weren't allowed to have anybody inside the house."

"When I was growing up, I hated The Brady Bunch because I knew that nobody lived like that," said Robert. "I knew that because I knew what my family life was like. Nothing could be more different from the truth than that bullshit TV show. I grew up in an insane asylum basically, but what's worse is we didn't know it was an insane asylum."

The more Theresa drank, the crueler she became. On one occasion she even threw steak knives at her children. During another of her binges, she grabbed Terry by the arm and held a .22-caliber pistol to the girl's head. For months afterward her daughter suffered terrifying nightmares. As if the mental torture was not enough, Theresa started beating the children on a regular basis, forcing them to take turns holding each other down while she administered the blows from above.

Theresa eventually got the idea in her head that Chester Harris had turned her daughter Suesan into a witch. It's not known where the wild idea first came from, but Suesan began taking advantage of it and would use it against her mother. She would regularly say that Harris was going to initiate her into his cult by deflowering her in the name of Satan. The stories did not serve to spare Suesan any abuse and she began suffering the worst of Theresa's blows. Eventually Suesan ran away from home. Her freedom was short-lived and she was eventually picked up by a truancy officer and placed in Sutter Memorial Psychiatric Ward. During her stay at the hospital Suesan told counselors about her family life and regular beatings. When confronted with her daughter's allegations, Theresa claimed her daughter was lying and suffered from mental problems. No one questioned her answer and Suesan was turned over to her mother.

Once back home, Suesan received one of the most severe beatings of her life. Theresa donned a pair of leather gloves and struck her daughter repeatedly. Afterwards, she forced the other children to join in. "We had to pass gloves from one to the other and hit Suesan in the stomach for what she did to the family by running away and everything," Robert recalled to Dennis McDougal years later. "And I had to hit her twice because I didn't hit her hard enough the first time."

Suesan, age 14
Suesan, age 14

Theresa didn't want her daughter running away again, so at night she would handcuff Suesan to the bed and force the other children to take turns keeping watch over her. School was out of the question and Theresa did not permit her daughter to attend. Eventually, Theresa's torment broke Suesan's will and she was allowed to sleep alone and unshackled. Apparently, the fear of another serious beating kept her in line.

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