Mothers who Kill

By Sherry Michaels Perry

If there is one person in this world that should supply you with unconditional love and protection, it is your mother. She should always be your safe place, your protector. The sad reality is that this is not always true, and in extreme cases, your mother can be the most dangerous person. In your life. We have all likely heard of the book, Mommy Dearest, written by Joan Crawford’s daughter and telling of the years of abuse that she and her brother suffered at the hands of the famous actress. But some mothers, just ordinary women, were worse monsters than this and actually performed filicide, killing their own children.

To start, we will look at Diane Downs, the subject of the book, Small Sacrifices, by Ann Rule which was turned into a made for TV movie of the same name. Diane lived in Oregon and was the mother of three children, two girls, and a boy. She was divorced from the father of the children and employed as a postal worker. After her divorce, she lived for a while in Arizona where she had several boyfriends. One, in particular, broke it off with her when Diane made it clear to him that she would be willing to kill his wife so they could be together. Devastated she moved back to Oregon and began having an affair with a man that did not want children.

One May evening in 1983 Diane pulls up to the emergency room entrance of the McKenzie-Willamette hospital with a gunshot wound to her arm. The hospital staff was horrified to find three blood-soaked children in the back of her car. Dead in the backseat was her daughter Cheryl, her son Danny shot in the spine and paralyzed and her daughter Christie shot and had also suffered a stroke from blood loss and trauma. Diane claimed that a “bushy-haired stranger” had attempted to hijack their car and had shot her and the three children. The ER staff noted that
Diane was acting bizarre, calling her boyfriend and asking him to come to get her and asking a lot of questions and seeming surprised that Danny was shot in the spine and not in the heart. Staff stated that she was acting very calm considering what she and the children had been through. In the coming weeks, it was discovered that the forensic evidence did not match her story. It was also discovered that she was lying about owning a 22 caliber gun. Witnesses testified that they saw Diane driving to the hospital at a speed of 5 to 7 mph, contradicting her claim that she sped to the hospital to get help for her children. However, it was nine months before she was arrested and charged. Before her arrest, she had become pregnant with her fourth child, another daughter.
Diane was eventually diagnosed as a narcissistic, histrionic and antisocial personality disorder. Her two surviving children were adopted by the prosecuting attorney and his wife, the little girl having testified against her mother at the age of 9, stating that she shot all three of them. The court seized her third child, and she was quickly adopted.
Diane has a long history of mental illness and aberrant behavior. She had been enrolled in a bible college after high school but was asked to leave due to promiscuous behavior. After her divorce, she had tried to be a surrogate mother to make some money, but she was repeatedly rejected by psychiatrists and labeled psychotic. She did, however, manage to become approved and had a successful surrogate pregnancy while in Arizona.
Diane is eligible for parole in 2020. She will be 65 years old. She continues to maintain her innocence.
Susan Smith

Next in our line up is another mother who killed her children to attract a man, Susan Smith. Susan was a divorced mother of two who hoped to have a relationship with a wealthy man who wasn’t interested in children. At the time of the murders, her two boys were aged 3 and 14 months. She used the same story as Diane Downs, she claimed that on October 25th, 1994, that an African American man hijacked her car at a red light and drove off with the boys inside. For nine days she stood beside her ex-husband on TV and made tearful appeals for the boys to be returned to her. The police were suspicious of her from the start, and after an intense investigation, she confessed that she let her car roll into the lake with the boys strapped inside.
Her defense attorneys tried to use the insanity plea for her but she was found guilty of two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving 30 years, that will be in 2024. Apparently, she has had an exciting prison life, she had had to be moved because she was having sex with the guards at one prison, and during my research, I discovered that she is the author of crochet instructional books from prison and I believe I have actually bought one of them.

Andrea Yates
I have mixed feelings about Andrea Yates. She is a woman who, while suffering from profound postpartum depression, and schizophrenia drowned all five of her children in 2001.
Andrea married her husband, Rusty Yates in 1993 and made it known that they wanted to have as many children as God would allow. She did ok with this until the birth of the fourth child when she began to suffer from severe postpartum depression. Between her 4th and a 5th child she attempted suicide 4 times and was hospitalized. She was released on antipsychotic medication including Haldol, and the doctor instructed them not to have any more children as this would undoubtedly cause a psychotic break. She was pregnant 7 weeks later. Even though she had stopped the Haldol, she seemed to be doing well and gave birth in November of 2000. She continued to do well until the death of her father in March 2001. She had a psychotic episode and was hospitalized. She was reading the Bible feverishly. She was released but rehospitalized when she filled the tub, and they assumed she was going to drown herself. She told prosecutors later that she had planned to kill the children that day but decided to wait. Her psychiatrist released her and gave strict instructions that she was to be watched 24/7. So good ole Rusty left her home alone with the kids on June 20, 2001, his mother was supposed to be there in an hour to stay with her. During that hour she drowned each of the children one by one, even chasing the oldest one down and dragging him to the bathroom. She then called the police and Rusty.
While she was in prison, Andrea stated that she killed her children because she was not a good mother and that they weren’t developing correctly due to this. She states that due to her inadequate mothering that they were doomed to hell and couldn’t be saved.
She was initially convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Her attorneys appealed this decision after it was determined that a psychiatrist for the prosecution had lied during his testimony. She was ultimately found not guilty because of insanity and sent to a mental institution.
So here is my thought, is not her husband just as much to blame as she is? He was told no more children, but he didn’t listen. He was told not to leave her alone, but he didn’t listen. It has even been reported that he was hopeful she would be released so they could have more children together. What fantasy land did this man live in? He eventually divorced her and remarried and had another child, but this marriage ended in divorce in 2015. My feeling is that he used a mentally ill woman as his baby making machine but then didn’t have the good sense to realize that those children were in danger. He asserted that “no one ever told him Andrea was psychotic.”

Published by TheOddPast by Matthew A. Perry

Writer, teacher, broadcaster, and podcaster from West Virginia. I write about and discuss the wacky and weird side of history on my website and my podcast "The Odd Past Podcast" available everywhere

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