Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Women Who Kill: Part Two

Mothers Who Kill: Andrea Yates

Andrea Yates
Andrea Yates

Andrea Yates, 36, lived in Houston, Texas, and had five children. On June 20, 2001, she killed them all. She waited for her husband, Russell, to leave for work and then one by one, she drowned three of her sons, ages two, three, and five, in the bathtub. She then placed them on a bed still wet and covered them with a sheet. Next was six-month-old Mary, the youngest. While Yates was involved in this horrendous deed, her eldest son Noah, seven, happened to wander in to see what was going on. "What's wrong with Mary?" he asked. Then he ran from the bathroom but Yates chased him down, dragged him back to the tub, and drowned him right next to Mary. She left him there floating in a tub full of feces, urine and vomit, where police whom she herself had called found him.

Yates also had called her husband and told him, "It's time. I did it."

He asked what happened and she said, "It's the kids."

"Which one?" he asked.

"All of them."

From all appearances, he wasn't surprised. He'd known that his wife was having problems — she'd always had them after the birth of one of their children — and her postpartum depression from Mary's birth had worsened in the past weeks since her father had died.

The primary question in this case was whether or not Yates had killed the children while in a state of psychosis or had knowingly done it to escape a life she hated. Timothy Roche delved deep into her history for Time and discovered a rather disturbing picture of a troubled family, including a long history of mental illness for Yates.

Andrea and Russell had married in 1993, and after the birth of their first child a year later, she began to have violent visions: she saw someone being stabbed. However, she and her husband had idealistic, Bible-inspired notions about family and motherhood, so she kept her tormenting secrets to herself. She didn't realize how much mental illness there was in her own family, from depression to bipolar disorder.

As Andrea had one child after another, she took on the task of home-schooling them, which friends say she was good at doing. Yet in her fragile mental condition, the pressure eventually took its toll.

Once a high school valedictorian and high achiever in college, Andrea sank into a lonely existence until she approached Russell for a relationship. Her goal in life was to please others and avoid disapproval. She worked as a nurse, and once married, aspired to have as many children as God would allow.

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