Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?

The Bottom Falls Out

In 1999, Andrea called Rusty at work and told him she needed help.   When he arrived home, he found her shaking and chewing her fingers, so he took her and the children to his parents' home, where she said she felt better.  But then she tried to kill herself with a drug overdose from her father's medication, and with Andrea's mother's help, Rusty finally got her into treatment.  Later she said she had just wanted to "sleep forever."  She was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder.  She admitted to anxiety and having overwhelming thoughts.  Those who observed her and spoke to Rusty, according to several accounts, believed that he was controlling.

Andrea was prescribed Zoloft for depression, but she was resistant to taking medication, ostensibly because she wanted to be able to breast-feed her youngest child.   Many presumed it was because the Woronieckis would judge her harshly for it.  She soon withdrew and began to sleep a lot.  She worried about the hospital bill and would not talk about her home life.  The insurance money ran out.

The ailing mother was discharged and another psychiatrist switched her to Zyprexa, an antipsychotic drug for bipolar disorders and schizophrenia.   Andrea flushed the pills down the toilet.  Then she got worse. 

She told her psychiatrist that she was hearing voices and seeing visions again about getting a knife.   She began to scratch at herself, leaving sores on her legs.  Then Rusty found her in the bathroom one day pressing a knife to her throat.  He took it away and got her hospitalized. 

Andrea confessed to one doctor that she was afraid she might hurt someone.   She refused medication and withdrew from all efforts to help.  She refused to answer questions.  Finally, she was given a shot of the antipsychotic drug Haldol.  She got a little better, and then worse, so she was given more Haldol.  She improved slightly, but would not eat.  She was afraid of what her visions might mean.

Relatives had pressured Rusty to buy a house for his family, so he did, moving the bus into the yard by the garage at their new Clear Lake home.

Andrea sometimes talked with social workers, but often changed her story.   She'd been suicidal, she had not been suicidal.  She did admit that she got anxious when stressed and she vaguely associated stress with her children.  The doctor anticipated that electroshock therapy might eventually be needed.  It was controversial, but had shown some positive benefits for depressed older women.  Andrea, he wrote, also needed to develop coping strategies for stress.  For two days, she refused her medication.  Then she was discharged with more prescriptions for pills that she would avoid taking.

She continued therapy, which included group therapy, and said she wanted to get off medication so she could get pregnant again.   She seemed anxious, so her outpatient therapist, Dr. Eileen Starbranch, switched her to the sedative Ativan.  She worried that Andrea's plan for more children could result in psychosis.  Andrea did not take the Ativan.

At home, Andrea remained secretive and seemingly obsessed with reading the Bible.   Rusty thought that was a positive thing.  Andrea's therapist took her off Haldol, but had her continue with several other antidepressants.  Andrea decided to discontinue them on her own.  Despite doctors' warnings to have no more children, they had a baby girl, Mary, late in 2000.  Rusty believed he would spot the onset of depression and get help if needed.  He was sure any bad effects could be controlled with medication.

To this point, she'd experienced several episodes of psychotic hallucinations, survived two suicide attempts, taken a number of different medications, and been diagnosed in several institutions with major depression.   Now she had five young children to care for, three of whom were still in diapers.

When Andrea's father died a few months later, she stopped functioning.   She wouldn't feed the baby, she became malnourished herself, and she drifted into a private world.  Rusty forced her back into treatment at Devereux Texas Treatment Network in April under yet another doctor, Ellen Albritton, who put her on antidepressants.

Then psychiatrist Mohammed Saeed took over her care.   He received scanty medical records from her previous treatment and no information from her, so he put Andrea on Risperdol, a new drug, rather than Haldol.  He had not heard about hallucinations, and he observed no psychosis himself, so he felt Haldol was unnecessary.  However, Suzy Spencer indicates that the notes kept on Andrea were disorganized and scribbled over someone else's chart.  The descriptions of Andrea's condition, which was near catatonia, were vague.  Saeed discharged Andrea into her husband's care, with a suggestion for partial hospitalization, and gave her a two-week prescription.

Rusty's mother came from Tennessee to help out with the children, but Andrea wound up back in the hospital.  When she started to eat and shower, she was sent home, with the proviso that she continue outpatient therapy.  One day she filled the tub and her mother-in-law asked why.  She responded, "In case I need it."

It seemed a strange statement, and no one knew how to interpret it, so they let it pass.   They did not see the forewarning except in hindsight.   

Yet Rusty was worried, so he took Andrea back to the doctor, telling him that she was not doing well.   According to Roche, Saeed reportedly assured him that Andrea did not need shock treatment or Haldol, but Spencer says that he did suggest shock treatments and did prescribe Haldol.  Andrea was shuffled back and forth, and early in June, Dr. Saeed took her off the antipsychotic medication.

Then on June 18, Rusty was back.   Andrea was having problems.  Saeed supposedly told Andrea to "think positive thoughts," and to see a psychologist for therapy.  However, he says that he did warn Rusty that she should not be left alone.  Rusty told author Suzy Spencer that on that day Saeed had cut Andrea's medication—now it was Effexor--too drastically and he had protested, but the doctor had reassured him it was "fine." Rusty had filled the prescription, still confused as to why the doctor thought that an obviously sick woman was doing okay.  That was two days before the fatal incident.

Andrea sat at home during those days in a near-catatonic state, and to Rusty she seemed nervous.   However, he did not think that she was a danger to the children, so on June 20 he left her alone.  Since his mother was coming, he felt sure everything would be fine.  Andrea was eating cereal out of a box, which was uncharacteristic of her, but her demeanor seemed okay.  He didn't think a few minutes alone would be a problem.

How wrong he was. 

On that morning, she had a plan.

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