Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Susan Smith: Child Murderer or Victim?


Barbara, David's mother (AP)
Barbara, David's mother (AP)
David Smith was born on July 27, 1970, the second of three children born to Barbara and Charles David Smith. Charles Smith was also called David and was a Navy veteran who had served two tours of duty in Vietnam. Barbara Smith was a devout Jehovahs Witness who sheltered David from many outside influences during his childhood. When David was two years old, the Smith family moved from Royal Oak, Michigan to Putnam, five miles northwest of Union. Davids father worked in a clothing store in downtown Union and later as manager of Wal-Mart. While David was growing up, his mother had two part-time jobs: she worked in a lawyers office and in a dialysis clinic. Davids mother also attended college part-time and studied to be a nurse. David had an older stepbrother, Billy, from his mothers first marriage, an older brother, Danny and a younger sister, Becky.

Davids parents marriage was troubled. Over the years of their marriage, Davids father grew to dislike his wife and her devotion to her religion. As David grew older, he found the strict religious practices of his mothers religion and its insistence on isolation from the larger community distasteful. In Davids long time girlfriend Christy Jennings opinion, Davids childhood was difficult and deprived. David followed his fathers example and rejected the Jehovahs Witnesses. This caused friction within the Smith household and when David was seventeen, he distanced himself further from his mother and moved out of his parents home and into his great-grandmother, Forest Moner Malones home next door. Davids older brother Danny was also living at their great-grandmothers house.

At the age of sixteen, David began working after school at Winn-Dixie. David was an average student, but he had a very strong work ethic and was a pleasant and personable young man.

David Smith's 1988 high school yearbook photo
David Smith's 1988
high school yearbook
During the summer of 1990, David and Susan began to date, although at the time, David was engaged to Christy Jennings. David viewed his relationship with Susan as casual and not serious. In January 1991, after dating for about a year, Susan found out she was pregnant. David told Christy about Susan and Christy broke off her relationship with David immediately.

David and Susan decided to get married because they were both against Susan having an abortion. Although marriage represented safety and stability to Susan, it also meant that she would have to give up her plans to attend college. Susan desired to go to college, but she really had no idea what college she wanted to attend or what she wanted to study.

In their own ways, Susan and David were emotionally needy people who found comfort and in the beginning of their relationship, similarities with each other. David and Susan seemed to fulfill what the other needed emotionally, however their relationship was filled with many stresses and strains. Susan and Davids backgrounds were completely different and this also caused friction between them. David was raised in the country and Susan was raised in the city. In Union, the city kids like Susan looked down on the country kids like David.

Susans mother and stepfather were not pleased by the news of Susans pregnancy and marriage. Susans mother was disappointed that David did not have a college education and was not from the same economic background as Susan.

On March 4, 1991, Davids older brother, Danny who was twenty-two, died of complications from Crohns disease, a painful inflammation of the intestinal tract. During the winter of 1991, Danny had undergone surgery at the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. After the surgery, Danny developed a bacterial infection and, in his already weakened condition, quickly deteriorated and died. Eleven days later on March 15, 1991, Susan and David wed at the United Methodist Church in Bogansville. Susan was nineteen and two months pregnant. David was twenty. Even though Davids family was dealing with the death of Danny, Susans mother, Linda, insisted that the wedding go forward as scheduled. Linda was concerned that Susans pregnancy would begin to show before the wedding could take place.

David had worked steadily over several years renovating a small house located on the same property as his great grandmothers house. Before Susan and David were married, David had shown Susan the house and told her of his plans for living in the house after they were married. In Davids eyes, Susan had agreed with him that they would live in the house after they were married, but those plans changed when Bev and Linda saw the house. Susan lost interest in living in the house after her parents visit. To David, the simple country home was comfortable and ideal for his and Susans needs. To Susan, it was a "tin-roofed country shack." Susan probably dreamed of moving into a new home that was bigger and grander than the home she had been raised in. Susan and David compromised, and Susan moved in with David at Moners house.

In May 1991, three months after Susan and Davids wedding, Davids father attempted to commit suicide. Susan found him at his home on the floor. Davids father had taken an overdose of pills. From the strain of Dannys death and Davids fathers attempted suicide, Davids parents marriage fell apart. Davids mother, Barbara, moved to Garden City, South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach. Davids father continued to live in Putnam. After his suicide attempt, Davids father was hospitalized and treated for depression. During his hospitalization, Davids father met Sue, the woman who would become his second wife.


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