Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?

The Call

Around 10:00am on June 20, 2001, Rusty Yates received a startling phone call from his wife, Andrea, whom he had left only an hour before.

"You need to come home," she said.

Puzzled, he asked, "What's going on?"

She just repeated her statement and then added, "It's time.   I did it."

Not entirely sure what she meant but in light of her recent illness, he asked her to explain and she said, "It's the children."

Now a chill shot through him.   "Which one?" he asked.

"All of them."

He dropped everything and left his job as a NASA engineer at the Johnson Space Center.  When he arrived fifteen minutes later, the police and ambulances were already at their Houston, Texas home on the corner of Beachcomber and Sea Lark in the Clear Lake area.  Rusty was told he could not go in, so he put his forehead against a brick wall, trying to process the horrifying news, and waited. 

Restless for information, he went to a window and    on to the back door where he screamed, "How could you do this?"  According to an article in Time, at one point Rusty Yates collapsed into a fetal position on the lawn, pounding the ground as he watched his wife being led away in handcuffs.

John Cannon, the police spokesperson, described for the media what the team had found. 

On a double bed in a back master bedroom, four children were laid out beneath a sheet, clothed and soaking wet.   All of them were dead, with their eyes wide open.  In the bathtub, a young boy was submerged amid feces and vomit floating on the surface.  He looked to be the oldest and he was also dead.

In    less than an hour that morning, five children had all been drowned, and the responding officers were deeply affected.

The children's thin, bespectacled mother---the woman who had called 911 seeking help---appeared able to talk coherently, but her frumpy striped shirt and stringy brown hair were soaked.  She let the officers in, told them without emotion that she had killed her children, and sat down while they checked.  Detective Ed Mehl thought she seemed focused when he asked her questions.  She told him she was a bad mother and expected to be punished.  Then she allowed the police to take her into custody while medical personnel checked the children for any sign of life.  She looked dispassionately at the gathering crowd of curious neighbors as she got into the police car. 

Everyone who entered the Spanish-style home could see the little school desks in one room where the woman apparently home-schooled them.   The house was cluttered and dirty, with used dishes sitting around in the kitchen.  The bathroom was a mess.

Yates' family photo
Yates' family photo
 

This crime story would unravel in dark and strange ways, with the reasons why a loving mother of five had drowned all of her children tangled in issues of depression, religious fanaticism, and psychosis.   The nation would watch with polarized opinions , as the State of Texas was forced into a determination about justice that was rooted in glaringly outdated ideas about mental illness.

But in the meantime, Andrea Yates sat in a jail cell and Rusty Yates had to deal with a demanding media that not only wanted a scoop but also wanted an answer.   Why would any mother murder all of her children?

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