Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?

Confession

The Yates children ranged in age from six months to seven years, and all of them had been named after figures from the Bible: Noah, John, Luke, Paul, and Mary.   Four were boys and the infant a girl.

Once they were known to be dead, the children were left in place for three hours to await the medical examiner's van.   Rusty, 36, was kept outside his own home, says Suzy Spenser in Breaking Point, for five long hours.  He told the police that his wife was ill and had been suffering from depression.  She'd been on medication.

At Houston Police headquarters, an officer turned on a tape recorder to take the formal statement of the woman who had already admitted to killing all of her children.   Her name was Andrea Pia Yates and she was 36 years old.  She stared straight ahead as she answered questions and said, with little energy, that she understood her rights.

"Who killed your children?" the officer asked.

"I killed my children."   Her eyes were blank.

"Why did you kill your children?"

"Because I'm a bad mother."

For about seventeen minutes, they pressed her for details of exactly how she had proceeded that morning. 

She had gotten out of bed around 8:10 and had waited for her husband, Rusty, to leave for work at nine.  The children were all awake and eating cereal.  Andrea had some, too.  Once Rusty was gone, Andrea went into the bathroom to turn on the water and fill the tub.  The water came within three inches from the top. 

Then one by one, she drowned three of her sons, Luke, age 2; Paul, age 3; and John, age 5.   She put them in facedown and held them as they struggled.  As each one died, she then placed him face up on a bed, still wet, and then covered all three with a sheet.  Each had struggled just a few minutes.  Next was six-month-old Mary, the youngest, who had been in the bathroom all this time, sitting on the floor in her bassinet and crying.  When Andrea was finished with Mary, she left her floating in the water and called to her oldest son, Noah. 

He came right away.   "What happened to Mary?" he asked.  Then apparently realizing what his mother was doing, he ran from the bathroom but Andrea chased him down and dragged him back to the tub.  She forced him in face down and drowned him right next to Mary.  She admitted in her confession that he had put up the biggest struggle of all.  At times he managed to slip from her grasp and get some air, but she always managed to push him back down.  His last words were, "I'm sorry."  She left him there floating in a tub full of feces, urine and vomit, where police found him.  She lifted Mary out and placed her on the bed with her other brothers.  Andrea gently covered her before calling the police and her husband.  It was time. 

Had the children done something to make her want to kill them? The officer asked.

No.

You weren't mad?

No.

She admitted that she was taking medication for depression and she named her doctor, whom she had seen two days earlier.   She believed she was not a good mother because the children were "not developing correctly."  She'd been having thoughts about hurting them over the past two years.  She needed to be punished for not being a good mother.

The questioning officer was confused.   How was the murder of her children a way to achieve that?  "Did you want the criminal justice system to punish you?" he asked.

"Yes."

She had almost done the same thing two months earlier, she admitted.   She had filled the tub.  Rusty was home at the time, so she just didn't do it.

The officer asked for the birth dates of each of her children and then stopped the tape.

The media soon learned that Andrea had suffered from depression for at least two years and had been hospitalized for attempted suicide.

By the end of that first awful day, Andrea Yates was charged with capital murder for "intentionally and knowingly" causing the deaths of three of her children, using water as a weapon.   She was not charged in the deaths of the two youngest boys.  There was no indication on this report, says Spencer, that she suffered from mental illness.

Andrea Yates in prison
Andrea Yates in prison

Yet Rusty was telling the media that she had suffered bouts of serious depression since the birth of their fourth child two years earlier.

In fact, her most recent psychiatrist, Dr. Mohammed Saeed, had called Rusty on the day of the drownings.   He appeared to be stunned and apparently wanted to make it clear that he had believed that Rusty's mother was always at the home. 

On the local radio, talk show hosts were buzzing, asking people to call in and express their outrage at a mother who would do such a thing.   They tried her in the court of public opinion and found her worthy of death.

However, Rusty had made a decision.   He felt torn, he said, but it was not his wife who had killed the children, but her illness.  He went out to the throng of reporters and, holding a portrait of the once-happy family, told them everything he could recall from that dreadful day.  He believed that the Andrea he knew was not the one who had turned against their kids.  As he searched desperately for reasons that hadn't been obvious before, he made it clear that he intended to support her.

"She wasn't in the right frame of mind," he said.

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