Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Women Who Kill: Part Two

Dangerous & Remorseless

The police brought Marie Noe in for questioning, and she eventually confessed to smothering four of her children. The other four she wasn't clear about. She didn't remember how they died, although investigative reports at the time quote her as saying that just before they died the children turned blue and were gasping. One of them had been caught in plastic from her husband's dry-cleaned suit. (He had not been home at the time of any of the deaths.) Insurance policies had been taken out on six of the children. After the ninth death, the Noes had tried to adopt — and to insure that child — but Marie got pregnant again and the adoption process was dropped.

On August 5, 1998, she was arrested for eight counts of murder.

Philadelphia district attorney Lynne Abraham commented on why it had taken so long: "What really is telling is that our refusal or our unwillingness to believe moms kill children may have played a role in this." Even the defense attorney yielded to the system and made a statement to the effect that it was important for Mrs. Noe to understand what she had done "before she passes on to the next world."

However, some people questioned the confession, since Noe was intellectually slow and perhaps felt coerced by strong-arm tactics. A group of geneticists even offered to test her blood, since they believed it was possible that if she had a certain rare metabolic condition inherited through the mother, she might have passed it down to each of her children. It's called mitochondrial DNA disease. The mitochondria are present in most human cells and they convert food to energy. When many are diseased, the conversion process builds up lactic acid in the blood and brain, which can make the person die quite suddenly. When the condition is not fatal, it can still affect the mental processes and create Alzheimer-like symptoms. Sometimes mitochondrial disease is confused with schizophrenia. Observers of Noe's behavior thought she might be suffering from it and passing it on, while groups like the Portia Campaign believed the children's deaths could be attributed to any number of problems, including peanut allergy.

While Noe did admit to smothering four of her babies, her confusion and the pressure of an interrogation could have contributed to what amounts to a false confession. She might have admitted to anything. In the end, she pleaded guilty to eight counts of second-degree murder.

Plenty still needs to be done for research on female killers to catch up to what has been done on male killers, but it seems clear enough that despite less intense aggression, women can be just as dangerous as men. They account for a small percentage of the total number of murders committed by men, but when they set their minds to kill, they have to ability to carry it out and to repeat that act numerous times without remorse.

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