Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Baby Killer

"I Smothered Them!"

The interview at police headquarters continued for hours. During that time, investigators Imfeld and Karas touched upon the deaths of all the children. Some events went back 14 years and the details as remembered by Mary Beth did not coincide with the known facts. But after so many deaths, it would be plausible that a mother could be confused. At about two in the afternoon, another State Police Investigator, William Barnes, who knew Marybeth Roe since childhood, joined in the interview.

When Mary Beth was confronted with suspicions over the deaths, she initially denied any malfeasance. "I didn't do it!" she repeated. But after several hours of persistent questioning, Mary Beth gave in. Though she continued to insist she never hurt most of the children, she said Tami Lynne, Nathan and Timothy were the exceptions. "I did not do anything to Jennifer, Joseph, Barbara, Michael, Mary Frances, Jonathan," she said to Barnes and Karas, "Just these three, Timothy, Nathan and Tami. I smothered them each with a pillow because I'm not a good mother. I'm not a good mother because of the other children" (Tinning).

During the interrogation, police had contacted her husband, Joe, at his job at General Electric and he responded to state police headquarters. When Marybeth was allowed to meet with him, they had a brief conversation. Joe asked her to tell the truth whatever it was. She began to cry while police stood nearby. After a few minutes, Marybeth admitted the murders to Joe. "After 5 or 10 minutes," Joe Tinning later said in court, "Marybeth said 'I killed Tami' very low. She had to repeat it." Joe had no reaction to his wife's statements. "I had withdrawn into myself," he said, "I was hearing but I wasn't reacting" (July 3, 1987, Knickerbocker News). But investigators had also heard Marybeth's damaging statements. State Police reports written on the day of the interview describe the event: "[Joe Tinning] also related the circumstances of the children's death generally and then reported that during the conversation with his wife that day at Loudonville she admitted that she had killed their children and that now she is sorry" (New York State Police reports case No. 86-66 and 113).

Police called in a stenographer and together, while investigators asked questions and Marybeth responded, they compiled a 36-page statement. In it, Marybeth admits to suffocating three children but continued to insist that she never harmed the others. She told police that on the night of Tami Lynne's death, she was sleeping on the living room couch. "I was about to doze off when Tami woke up and started to cry," Marybeth said. "I got up and went to her crib and tried to do something with her to get her to stop crying. I finally used the pillow from my bed and put it over her head. I held it until she stopped crying." Then she took the pillow, she said, and put it on the couch to convince Joe she had been sleeping. "I screamed for Joe and he woke up," she said, "I told Joe Tami wasn't breathing...I did do CPR, stupid as it sounds, but I knew that she wasn't alive anymore." When she was asked why she killed Tami, Marybeth responded, "Because she was always crying and I couldn't do anything right" (Tinning).

At the end of the statement, Marybeth wrote: "I did not do anything to Jennifer, Joseph, Barbara, Michael, Mary Frances, Jonathan, Just these three, Timothy, Nathan and Tami. I smothered them each with a pillow because I'm not a good mother. I'm not a good mother because of the other children. Marybeth Tinning 1-4-86 8 pm" (New York State Police reports case # 86-66 and 113). Later, she was arrested and formally charged with the murder of Tami Lynne.

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