Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?

The Evolution of An Illness

Andrea Yates was born Andrea Kennedy on July 2, 1964 into a middle class family in Houston, the youngest of five children. She had developed a very close relationship with her father, a high school teacher, and she liked to help other people. She graduated from high school as class valedictorian and had been captain of the swim team. She had been shy with boys but was goal-oriented like the rest of her family, and had good friends. She earned a nursing degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center and found work as a registered nurse. She quit after she married and had her first child.

Timothy Roche delved deep into her history for Time and discovered a rather disturbing picture of a troubled family, including a long history of mental illness for Yates. But there was more, emphasized in a documentary for Court TV's Mugshots. The form mental illness takes often has an outside influence, and this one was insidious.

Andrea and Rusty had met when they were both 25. Rusty had seen her swimming in a pool of his apartment complex and had decided he was interested in her. She introduced herself to him and they dated for three years. In 1993, they were married and a year later had Noah. They planned on having as many children as came along, whatever God wanted for them, and told friends they expected six.

Yet soon after Noah was born, Andrea began to have violent visions: she saw someone being stabbed. She thought she heard Satan speak to her. However, she and her husband had idealistic, Bible-inspired notions about family and motherhood, so she kept her tormenting secrets to herself. She didn't realize how much mental illness there was in her own family, from depression to bipolar disorder—which can contribute to postpartum psychosis. In her initial stages, she remained undiagnosed and untreated. She kept her secrets from everyone.

Rusty introduced Andrea to a preacher who had impressed him in college, a man named Michael Woroniecki. He was a sharp-witted, sharp-tongued, self-proclaimed "prophet" who preached a simple message about following Jesus but who was so belligerent in public about sinners going to hell (which included most people) that he was often in trouble. He even left Michigan, according to Mugshots, to avoid prosecution.

Michael Woroniecki
Michael Woroniecki

Rusty corresponded with Woroniecki, who wandered around with his family for several years in a bus, and eventually he believed he had found the Holy Spirit. Woroniecki spent a lot of time in his street sermons and letters to correspondents judging them for their sins and warning them about losing God's love. In particular, he emphasized that people were accountable for children, and woe to the person who might cause even one to stumble. He once stated, "I feel like I need a sledge hammer to get you to listen." He denounced Catholicism, the religion with which Andrea had grown up, and stressed the sinful state of her soul.

He also preached austerity, and his ideas were probably instrumental in the way the Yateses decided to live. As Andrea had one child after another, she took on the task of home-schooling them with Christian-only texts and trying to do what the Woroniecki and his wife, Rachel, told her.

"From the letters I have that Rachel Woroniecki wrote to Andrea," says Suzy Spencer on Mugshots, "it was, 'You are evil. You are wicked. You are a daughter of Eve, who is a wicked witch. The window of opportunity for us to minister to you is closing. You have to repent now.'"

According to a former follower, the religion preached by the Woronieckis involves the idea that women have Eve's witch nature and need to be subservient to men. The preacher judged harshly those mothers who were permissive and who allowed their children to go in the wrong direction. In other words, if the mother was going to Hell for some reason, so would the children.

After two more children had come along, Rusty decided to "travel light," and made his small family sell their possessions and live first in a recreational vehicle and then in a bus that Woroniecki had converted for his religious crusade and sold to them. Andrea didn't complain—she was the type of woman who just went along with decisions---but she got pregnant again and had a miscarriage. Yet it wasn't long before she recovered, was again pregnant and had her fourth child, making their 350-square-foot living quarters rather cramped. She continued to correspond with the Woronieckis and to receive their warnings. They thought it was better to kill oneself than to mislead a child in the way of Jesus—a sentiment she would repeat later in prison interviews.

Not surprisingly, she sank into a depression. She was lonely. She tried to be a good mother, but the pressures were building. At the same time, her father grew ill with Alzheimer's and she had to help care for him. Then things got bad.

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