Tuesday, June 22, 2010
(*Disclosure: Contains graphic content. Please be advised before viewing.)
“A mother is God in the eyes of her child.”
The love of a mother is generally unquestioned. It is the height of glory one can feel; the most precious feeling a person can understand. Unconditional love is defined by many as loving one regardless of one’s actions or beliefs. A mother can feel frustrated or angry at her child for one reason or another, but always has open arms for her child. Love for a child has been described by some mothers as almost painful. Many mothers claim that if a person ever hurt their child, they would not hesitate to kill the offender, and in some cases some have actually gotten away with it legally. As an act of defense, a mother feels she must protect her offspring. The well being and safety of their children is a never ending concern.
Indescribable were the words given to me by my interviewees, who looked off into the distance searching for the correct words. Many of them said the same things when asked how they felt holding their children for the first time. Unbelievable, beautiful, frightening, amazing were just a few of the words these tearful and happy mothers conveyed to me.
Stella Marris, one of my interviewees, barely 16 and single at the time, was terrified and suffered from depression when her first daughter Rain was born. She believed that she was not emotionally developed enough to understand that kind of love one feels for her infant child. She often slept through the cries of her infant, and felt overwhelmed by her new child. Finishing high school and working a full time job after school, Stella was understandably strained and scared at being a new mother, especially at her young age. Uninterested in her child and greatly remorseful, Stella was undergoing Post Partum depression for the first time. Three months into Rain’s birth, Stella was given the drugs Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft for her ailment. Under a psychotic episode, Stella believed that she would be relieved if Rain was killed, but not under her watch. She dreamed that something might happen to her child. Her interpretation was that it may be the best thing that could happen to her baby. In manic depressive states, Stella still sometimes believes that her child would be better off without her. Stella stresses that she, herself, would never hurt her child, never in her wildest dreams.
Another interviewee described the bloody and gory mess that was handed to her after her first child was born. The pain of childbirth had vanished and she reported the rush of emotions that took over her very being. She then said,” This is how my mom feels for me. And that was a startling revelation.” Never once did she feel regret or sadness holding her newborn girl. Depression did seem to set in afterwards, and she felt very much unsupported and alone, but things changed when she had her second child. “I loved them before they were born, but it was a flood of true unconditional eternal love when I held them in my arms.” When asked what she would do if her children were harmed by another person, the interviewee said “I don't believe that revenge is acceptable. But, I also know that when you throw in intense emotion, the rules can become of no importance.”
The only questions asked by a psychiatrist after Stella Marris’ second child was born were “Do you ever have feelings of inadequacy? Do you ever have feelings of wanting to hurt your child?” In Britain, the mental health system oversees mothers for months and months for any kind of expressions of delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, and unreasonable thoughts. America does not generally have an active mental health program to support new mothers. After giving birth, women have suffered from many dangerous mental maladies. Michael Welner, a renowned forensic psychiatrist states that “Some women are at risk of committing suicide or harming their child—particularly ‘for the child's own good.’ The woman herself will not recognize it as an illness, so those countries that have programs for it generally advise immediate hospitalization….. Post Partum depression affects up to 75% of women with children, but psychosis is much rarer. Only one in five hundred births result in the mother's postpartum psychosis.”
One hundred and eighty children are killed each year at the hands of their mothers.
Andrea Pia Yates of Houston, Texas, drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001. She called police the morning of, and simply stated at the door, “I killed my children.” Leaving her 7 year old, Noah Yates dead in the bathtub, the others were between the ages of six months to 5 years of age. Mary, Luke, Paul, and John and were all found dead from drowning neatly covered by a sheets on her bed while Andrea’s husband was at work. Andrea called her husband after the murders and told him glibly, “It’s time. I did it.” Russell Yates, a worker for NASA was not allowed in the home at the time of the discovery.
Yates and all of her remarkably beautiful children were still wet from the bath water when police arrived at the Houston home. The family was like any other in the middle-class neighborhood. Andrea was focused and calm as she was questioned and seemed unaffected when led to a police car. When asked why she killed all of her children, Yates replied, “Because I am a bad mother.”
The morning of the incident was no different from any other. Andrea fed her children and husband and then filled the bathtub within 3 inches from the top. Luke, 2, Paul, 3, and John, 5 were the first to be drowned. Six month old Mary was then drowned with Noah to follow while his six month old sister was still in the bath. Noah first saw Mary in the bathtub and realized his fate and ran from his mother who chased after him and caught him. He put up the fight of his life as she submerged his small body under water and was able to get several gulps of air and actually told his mother, “I’m sorry” before his death. Noah was left in the bathtub with vomit, feces, and urine floating in the warm water. Andrea told police investigators that she must kill her children because they were not developing correctly and she needed to be punished for that crime.
Andrea was charged with capital murder by the end of the day for the deaths of three of her children (Noah, John, and Mary).Russell Yates stated to the media that he intended to support his wife under the circumstances saying that, “She wasn’t in the right frame of mind.” Andrea did not want to plead not guilty and said rather that she would prefer the death penalty. When examined by several psychologists, Andrea told them that she expected that God would take her children, and if she had not drowned them, they would have continued to stumble on this earth, suggesting they would have gone to hell. Andrea said that the children were impolite to their grandmother and that “they didn’t do things God likes.”
Andrea was a registered nurse before marrying Russell Yates in 1993. By the time her first child, Noah was born, Andrea began having violent “fantasies” and believed Satan was speaking to her. She sought no medical or psychological attention. It appears that the Yates family was Christian oriented, and may have been involved in a cult led by Michael Woroniecki who taught that most people who sinned would go to hell. "I feel like I need a sledge hammer to get you to listen," was a notable quote from Woroniecki. The basic principal of women in Woroneicki’s religion was that if a woman went to hell, so would her children. This would influence Andrea for her subsequent four pregnancies. Her association with the alleged cult may have been a key reason she felt that her children were failing as human beings.
By 1999, Andrea had attempted suicide twice with a drug overdose and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. CPS (Child Protective Services) was notified of her suicide attempt, but never followed up on the case. Prescribed Zoloft and then Zyprexa, Andrea was opposed to both drugs because she needed to breastfeed her youngest child, then Luke. When Andrea refused all the drugs that were given to her, and stopped feeding her children, Russell admitted her to a psychiatric hospital where she proceeded to fall back into a deep depression. Her charts were partly lost, scribbled upon, and illegible to her new doctor, Mohammed Saeed, who discharged her from the hospital after she began to show signs of recovery.
Andrea often filled the bathtub several times with water under the vague reply “in case I need it.” Andrea’s drugs included Risperdal, Effexor, Zolft, Zyprexa, and Wellbutrin, all of which are anti-depressants/anti-psychotics. She was given these medications for months at a time and then quickly taken off under the supervision of several doctors who saw the dementia and delusions Andrea faced. They felt she was in no trouble of hurting her children or herself. An adoring and devoted husband, Russell saw only love in the eyes of Andrea Yates and never once believed her capable of the crime she would commit five times the morning in late June 2001. The one drug that seemed to help Andrea was the sedative, Haldol, but again, Andrea refused to continue taking the drug when she became pregnant with her fifth child. Under the advice of her doctor, Andrea was told that she would have a one out of two chance of psychotic depression. Andrea and Russell decided to ignore this warning.
In jail, Andrea was given Haldol for her condition which reduces the frequency of delusions and psychotic episodes. It is often used for patients with schizophrenia and acute delirium. Dr. Gerald Harris, who examined Andrea, said that she suffered from hallucinations in which Satan was talking to her in her cell. She insisted that her hair be cut in the shape of a crown so the number 666 could be seen imprinted on her scalp (no such number, obviously, would be found). She wanted to be executed under the grounds that since Satan had possessed her, he should also be destroyed.
Eleven women and one man were selected for the jury hearing. Four months into the trial, Andrea was much improved from her medication doses and insisted that she was not mentally ill. Yates continued to hold the delusion that Satan was living inside of her. In September, Andrea was found to be competent to stand trial. In 2004, Andrea was sentenced to life in a psychiatric prison in Texas. Her husband, Russell began divorce proceedings and now runs a website warning others about mental illness.
Similarly, Christina Riggs also suffered from depression, but did not claim to have Post Partum depression. On the night of November 4th, 1997, she smothered both her two children with a pillow. Christina was also a registered nurse and had obtained a prescription for Elavil, a substance used for anti-depression, and the toxic drug Potassium Chloride, used for death row inmates.
Christina injected her son, Justin, 5, nicknamed Bubbie by his little sister, with an unidentified dosage of undiluted substance Potassium Chloride which causes a terrible burning sensation and pain. Justin woke up immediately in horrible pain, so Riggs quickly tried injecting him with morphine. When that did not work, Christina grabbed a pillow and smothered him. Selby, 2, was also smothered. This time, Christina did not use the Potassium Chloride injection because of the reaction her son had had. Christina then took a lethal dose of undiluted Potassium Chloride which was enough to kill 5 people, and twenty-eight Elavil tablets. She was found the next day by her worried mother after Christina was found missing from work. She wrote a suicide note that stated that she would rather her children die than grow up separated or orphaned. Her reason to kill herself was for the purpose of not upsetting her children later in life.
She had Justin in 1992 and was given the drug Prozac for depression, which she took until she began to feel better. In 1994, Christina gave birth to Selby, nicknamed Sissy by the family. She and her husband moved to Sherwood, Oklahoma. It was at that time that medical problems began to arise in the children: Selby had numerous ear infections, while Justin struggled with ADHD. Justin’s stepfather was abusive towards him and actually punched him so hard in the stomach, he needed medical attention. Jon Riggs and Christina divorced after the incident. Without Jon, Christina had to work twice as hard to raise her two small children. Suicide seemed to be the only answer for Christina, she claimed.
When brought to trial after the murders, Christina was seen by the jury as a woman without remorse. They publically stated that she seemed to be extremely self-centered and manipulative. She appeared to be a mother who felt her children were bothersome inconveniences, although Christina stated that she felt terrible loss and regret at what she had done to her two children. Riggs first claimed insanity as reason for her terrible acts, but later refused a defense team claiming that she wanted the death penalty.
Riggs appeared to have ironically the time of her life on death row by educating herself, obtaining many pen pals, exercising and learning ways to “pretty” herself while incarcerated. Christina said that she wanted to be in heaven with her babies but seems to have wanted the death penalty to avoid a life sentence. The deaths of her children were said to be planned out as long as 2-3 weeks in advance. Though it is unknown when Christina filled the prescriptions for the Elavil and the Potassium Chloride, that very fact could have shown just how long she planned to murder her children. Christina abandoned her children to try out for karaoke contests, and was known to go out many times a week to look for men. Riggs claimed the killing was an act of love towards her small children, but love never warrants murder. Riggs was said to be chemically imbalanced from hereditary reasons: family members had a long history of suicide and depression.
Two counts of first degree murder for the murder of her children were imposed on Christina on June 28th, 1998. Seven women and five men decided the fate of Christina’s life. She was to be executed. It was suggested that Christina did know what she was doing. She was thought to have planned the murders of her children and did not attempt suicide. Christina was at least 140 pounds overweight and as a registered nurse, knew that the dosages of Elavil she used would not kill a woman of her size. The potassium chloride was not diluted, which may not kill her either. Christina also had a supportive mother who would have surely come to her rescue if she was aware her daughter had missed work the following day. Christina’s attempt to plead not guilty but insane would send her to a mental hospital, and not death row. Christina may have been trying to manipulate the jury into giving her life by insisting that she wanted to die. Christina Riggs was executed on May 5th, 2000 by lethal injection. She was the first woman in 150 years to be executed in the state of Arkansas in 2000.
Susan Smith was not a victim of Post Partum Depression, nor was she a sufferer of major depressive disorder. Her simple plan was homicide and nothing more. On October 24, 1994, Susan Smith put her two young boys in her car and let it glide into a lake in South Carolina. Her two young sons, Michael Daniel Smith, 3, and Alexander Tyler Smith, 14 months old, lay sleeping and strapped into the backseat of the car. Susan briefly considered suicide at the time, but did not want her sons to suffer at the death of her mother. In the proceedings of divorce and currently seeing an unbelievably cruel man named Tom Findlay, Susan Smith was sure that if she killed her children first and then herself, it would make things much easier on her children. Susan later decided not to commit suicide, rather deal with the constant hardships her sons seemed to be causing her by killing them.
Susan ran to a neighbor’s home to report that a black man had stolen her Burgundy Mazda Protégé with her two boys inside the backseat. Later, she confessed that she suffered from mental illness and had purposefully driven her car into the lake for one reason. A man she had been having an affair with did not like the fact that she had two children by another man and felt they were inconveniences to their lifestyles. He wrote her several tender, yet manipulative letters that explained that she could never be a part of his life as long as her children were a part of hers. Susan Smith took his advice and watched her sons drown as her car slowly was submerged in John D. Long Lake.
Susan failed a polygraph test that stated whether or not she knew where her sons were located. The lake was searched and was soon recovered to have contained not only the Mazda Protégé, but the bodies of her two sons several days later. The big break in the case was when police found that Susan’s car had not been carjacked simply by checking the stop light timers. Her stopping at a particular stoplight left her no alibi when it came to the African-American pulling her over with a gun.
Susan declined to give a closing statement during her trial. The jury did not send her to death row and instead gave Susan life in prison with eligibility for parole in 2024. Thirty years for the death of her two children, drowned viciously while they slept in the backseat of her car.
Tiffany Tribio, another mother with homicide on her mind, was a young mother living in Albuquerque, NM in 2009. She was not only neglectful to her young son, Tyros, but seemed to be completely uninterested in motherhood. She was reported to have provided no emotional support for young Ty and denied him food while she was living at her mother’s home. She was soon sent away to live on the streets with her son. Tiffany Toribio and her three year old son were now homeless and living in a local park. Tiffany took him to Alvarado Park where she cupped a hand over his nose and mouth and proceeded to suffocate him. Tyrus struggled for several minutes before his little body went limp. Realizing what she had done, Tiffany quickly gave him CPR and revived her son. Her second thought was not to take him away from the park and treat him to a nice hot meal downtown, but to suffocate and kill him this time. Her second attempt to murder her son accomplished, Tiffany buried him under a jungle gym and left the park to find a warm place to sleep for the night.
The body was not found until two days after his death when a witness discovered a small shoe sticking out of the sand at Alvarado Park. The unidentified child was called “Baby Angel” by authorities and citizens until he was soon given a digitally enhanced face by forensic scientists. The picture was startling accurate and was soon recognized by relatives. Tiffany was found wandering Central Ave and initially stated to police authorities that she had given up custody of her son and did not know where he was. Tiffany later confessed and admitted what she had done to young Ty. Tiffany’s only reason to kill her infant son was that she did not want her son to live with the neglect and torture she endured as a child. After being questioned and later booked for her crimes, Toribio unsuccessfully attempted suicide in her jail cell. The death of Tyrus occurring in May of 2009, Toribio still awaits a trial in an Albuquerque jail.
Another example of infanticide was the case of Theresa Knorr, born in 1946. She favored her three sons over her three daughters, so much that she murdered her own two daughters, Suesan and Sheila horrifically.
Suesan was shot in the back by her mother at 16, under Theresa’s impression that Suesan was a witch and was casting spells on Theresa. Instead of seeking professional help with the wound that narrowly missed Suesan’s vital organs, Theresa nursed her daughter back to health in the family bathtub. Suesan was chained to a soap dish and was unable to get help for herself from four of her siblings who were too frightened to try and help her.
Two years later, after a long and painful recovery, Suesan begged her mother to let her move out of the house. This request was granted under the condition that Theresa remove the bullet that was still lodged in Suesan’s back. Suesan agreed and was soon left stretched on the kitchen floor while her mother performed her own brutal surgery that would soon leave the wound infected and horribly mistreated. Suesan was left on the kitchen floor without food and limited water for several weeks before Theresa recruited her two sons to help move the thin and frail dying girl from the floor to the backseat of her son’s car. They drove out to a secluded area and set Suesan on fire while she was still alive. The body was not recovered and correctly identified until nearly a decade later.
Sheila, Suesan’s older sister, was a prostitute still living at home and constantly lived with the terrible beatings imposed by her mother. When her mother decided that Sheila had become infected with and STD and was trying to give it to her mother, which was another delusion, Theresa locked her in a closet in the home and starved her to death for several days until she passed away. Deep scratch marks, feces, and urine were said to be found in the closet. By the end, the youngest daughter, Terry, reported to have heard the last words from her dying sister: “There’s a light above me. I think it’s a hole. I’m gunna climb toward it.” The shelves in the closet were dismantled by Sheila’s desperate climbing towards the false light.
Terry was the last surviving daughter who ran away from home to escape her mother’s wrath. She came forward eight years later with the information about her dead sisters and her conspiring brothers. Terry was never implicated in the crimes, claiming she never helped kill or dispose of her sisters bodies. Theresa pled not guilty until one of her sons testified against her and then changed her plea to guilty to avoid capital punishment. She is currently serving two consecutive life sentences and will be eligible for parole in 2027.
Mother’s are told during air plane crashes that they must first put on their own oxygen mask before assisting their child. Most mothers do not heed this advice, their first instinct being that they must help their child before saving their own lives.
Society struggles to deal with violent crimes every day, but there are some crimes that are so heinous, they haunt us indefinitely. Certainly the case of a mother killing her own child is one of those unbelievable actions one cannot understand. But, like a car accident, the media and the public are drawn to these horrible acts. We watch television and read internet stories to find out what would make a mother hurt her own child. It seems we are almost feeding the fire by even acknowledging the women who may be starved for news attention.
Of all the killings we hear about in the papers and on the internet, infanticide is perhaps the most atrocious and sickening topics ever heard of. A mother’s nature is to cherish and adore her babies, not destroy their precious and fledgling lives.