Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Susan Smith: Child Murderer or Victim?

The Unthinkable

It was a mild October night in Union. Susan had been driving around for the last hour, trying to calm herself. She drove along Highway 49 and followed the signs to John D. Long Lake. Before driving to the lake on this evening, she had never before been there. Susan preferred to take her sons to the pond at Foster Park, which was closer to her home. At Foster Park, Susan and her sons would feed breadcrumbs to the ducks.

Once she arrived at the shore of John D. Long Lake, Susan drove across a portion of the seventy-five-foot boat ramp and parked in the middle of the ramp. The ramp was unpaved and consisted of gravel and stones. Susan sat quietly behind the wheel of her 1990 burgundy Mazda Protégé, listening to the sounds of her two young sons sleeping. Michael, her oldest son had celebrated his third birthday two weeks earlier and Alex was fourteen months old. Susan was twenty-three, with long, sandy blond hair that she tied in a ponytail. She wore wire-rimmed glasses and was in the best physical shape she had been in since before becoming pregnant with Michael.

Susan Smith (AP)
Susan Smith (AP)
Susan shifted the Mazda into neutral and felt the car slowly begin to roll down the remaining length of the boat ramp. The car only traveled a few yards before Susan stepped on the brake. With a shift tug, Susan pulled the emergency hand brake, stopping the car from further rolling forward. She opened her door and stepped out of the car. Susan stood outside of her car, on the boat ramp, on the banks of John D. Long Lake and thought about suicide. Susan looked around and saw only black. The lake was not illuminated and she stood alone thinking about her life. The darkness and loneliness of the deserted lake mirrored how Susan felt.

Susan wanted relief from her loneliness and the problems in her life. Susan and her husband, David, were in the middle of a divorce and her boyfriend, Tom Findlay, had just rejected her the week before. She wanted to commit suicide, but she did not want her sons to suffer. Susan believed if she killed her sons first and then committed suicide, that her sons would suffer less, rather than if she committed suicide and left them on their own. Yet, something was stopping her from surrendering to her depression and loneliness. She did not want to commit suicide, what she wanted was relief from all the stresses and burdens that overwhelmed her. She felt that her life was filled with loss and rejection, and that the responsibilities of being a single mother were overwhelming.

Susans next decision will never be forgotten. Attempts to explain it will always fall short and continue to leave the question why? open to further speculation.

Susan Smith released the emergency brake and softly closed the drivers side door. Michael and Alex were asleep in the back seat, strapped into their car seats. As the car drifted into John D. Long Lake, the headlights were on. The car entered the water slowly and did not submerge immediately. Instead, it remained on the surface, bobbing peacefully, while slowly filling with water.

Susan watched the car submerge into the lake. She turned away from the sinking car and began to run toward a small house. The story that Susan would tell would capture the nations sympathy. Susans story would also raise doubts in some and cause a community to question some of its own citizens, based solely on the race of those citizens.

After the truth was revealed, many would try to imagine the thoughts running through Susan Smiths head the night of October 25, 1994, when she took the lives of her children. To this day, the question still asked is how could she do it? Susan Smith committed the most unthinkable act when she broke humanitys most sacred trust, the love of a mother for her children.

Alex and Michael at Birthday Party (AP)
Alex and Michael at Birthday Party


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