Mothers Who Kill
When Susan Smith murdered her two children in South Carolina in October 1994, people were horrified that a mother could do such a thing to her own children. The public anger directed at Smith intensified when it was realized she led police on a fictitious manhunt for suspects that did not exist and played on media sympathy for her loss. Smith blamed her behavior on troubles with her current boyfriend, who did not want the responsibility of her children.
In Texas, a deeply disturbed Andrea Yates, 36, drowned her five young children, including a 6-month-old infant, in the family's bathtub. She then called her husband and told him, "It's time. I did it." Yates defense team said later in court that a severe post-partum depression triggered her murderous rage.
It is a crime that is unthinkable for most people because the thought of losing one's own child is a life-long subconscious fear for parents. That may help explain why there is little public sympathy for one who commits this type of crime. Though courts may be willing to listen to explanations from the accused, usually there is no forgiveness. Smith received a life sentence without parole while Yates was sentenced to life with a chance at parole in the year 2040. A cursory review of such cases shows a similar pattern of long prison sentences. One of the most extraordinary cases of child murder in 20th century America took place in Schenectady, N.Y. But unlike the Smith and Yates cases in which the victims were killed during one tragic incident, these events took place over a period of nearly fourteen years. On February 5, 1986, Marybeth Tinning, 43, a local housewife and former school bus operator, was arrested and charged with the murder of her 4-month-old daughter, Tami Lynne. As crime stories go, Mrs. Tinning's tale would have barely made the 6 o'clock news.
But Marybeth Tinning was a familiar sight in Schenectady's trauma centers. She usually came running into one of the city's emergency rooms, confused and hysterical, typically with one of her babies cradled in her arms, either dead or near dead. The medical staff knew Marybeth well. Some hated her. Others felt great sorrow and pity for her. That's because from January 3, 1972, the day her daughter Jennifer died, until December 20, 1985, when Tami Lynne was found dead in her home, all nine of Marybeth Tinning's children died suddenly and usually without any rational explanation.
And no one knew why.