Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Baby Killer

"Everyone Did Their Jobs"

After the arrest of Marybeth Tinning, there was a lot of finger pointing in the Schenectady community. There was already a great deal of media attention on the case and the story of the nine dead children was well known. It was reported in the nation's newspapers and the television show "60 Minutes" broadcast a segment on the case. New York Times reporter Amy Wallace wrote, "There were six autopsies, but never any signs of abuse. There were whispers and suspicions. But somehow no one not the police, the coroner, doctors, social workers or neighbors, not even Mrs. Tinning's husband-detected something evil in the strange pattern of deaths."

Part of the problem in the investigation was the lack of communication between the medical examiner's office and doctors who handled deaths of the Tinning babies that were not autopsied. Some of the deaths, like Barbara in 1972 and Michael in 1981, had a valid cause listed on the death certificate. If a death can not be characterized as a homicide, then, theoretically, a crime has not been committed. "Everyone did their jobs," Schenectady Police Chief Richard E. Nelson told the press, "but when you have a legitimate cause of death, where do you go from there?" (Feb. 8, 1986, New York Times). But some of the other Tinning children had died from unknown causes, which doctors listed as SIDS. Though police had made some inquiries in those cases as well, their investigation went nowhere.

Marybeth Tinning
Marybeth Tinning

Soon after Marybeth's arrest, police and the D.A.'s office decided to take the investigation a step further. On May 29, 1986, under the direction of Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Thomas Oram, chief of pathology at Schenectady's Ellis Hospital, the bodies of three of Tinning's children were exhumed from the Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Schenectady County. They were transported to the Medical Examiner's Office for further testing. Defense Attorney Paul M. Callahan told the press, "My client was bothered, upset by them exhuming the bodies" (May 29, 1986, Knickerbocker News). He asked the court for a postponement on Marybeth's appearance because, "She wouldn't be in the best condition to be in court" (ibid). But it really didn't matter. Confusion over the location of the gravesites resulted in the exhumation of the wrong corpse in one case. The other two bodies were too decomposed for a conclusive examination.

Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery
Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery

In the meantime, Joe Tinning, Marybeth's unflappable husband, told reporters, "I wouldn't like them to do anymore, but I guess that's their prerogative." One of the doctors that performed the autopsy on Tami Lynne, Dr. Oram, took notice of Joe Tinning's apparent detachment from his family. In a profile that he prepared on the parents of the dead child, Dr. Oram described the father as somewhat distant. "The father seems to have shown little curiosity in the circumstances of all these children's deaths," he said. "He has difficulty in remembering all their names" (Egginton).

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