One of the worst things a person can do is kill a child. Not only are they a representation of innocence, but they’re also defenceless victims. All too often we hear stories of men abusing and killing young children, but we never think about bad mothers and what they’re capable of.
Females are meant to have maternal instincts, and many believe that women are more emotionally charged than men. They carry babies, they raise them and let’s face it; it’s rare to see a man cooing over a newborn baby. When men kill children, it’s horrifying – but when women kill them, it’s almost impossible for people to contemplate.
The Shocking Truth About Filicide
Children are a blessing for most women, but some see them as an inconvenience. We’ve all got that annoying friend who always tells us how amazing her kids are, but every mum worships her own children, don’t they?
Unfortunately, some women abuse, neglect and even kill their kids. Why do they do this? There’s not a single answer to define why mothers murder their own children, but there are many contributing factors.
Motivations For Committing Filicide
According to Dr Phillip Resnick, there are five primary motivations for filicide. Altruistic murders happen when the parent feels that the world is too dangerous to live in. Murders like these are often due to a parents delusion, but they think they’re saving their child out of love.
Some parents abuse their children to the point they die. Behaviour like this could be intentional or accidental. For example, if a parent purposely starves and beats their child until they die, this systematic abuse is deliberate. In some cases, psychological disorders such as Munchausen by proxy lead the child to die, but the parent doesn’t mean to kill them.
In sporadic cases, mothers kill their children as an act of revenge against a spouse. If her partner leaves the family home or has an affair, a woman might want to make him feel the loss and sadness she feels. These cases are the rarest, and divorces are more likely to lead to altruistic murders.
Now we have the cases of unwanted children. Young girls might hide a pregnancy from their parents and kill their newborn baby after. This kind of behaviour is often to protect them from getting into trouble, but it’s very different from a new mother abandoning her child. Some mothers take an indirect approach and leave their child in the cold, but some actively drown or strangle their newborn baby.
Mothers On The Borderline
The fact is, most of these women suffer from or have traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. The condition is usually caused by childhood instability and abuse, so mothers often pass them on to their children.
BPD is a debilitating condition, for both the sufferer and their loved ones. Two of the main symptoms are extreme mood swings and a fear of being alone. It means that an individual with BPD will go to extreme lengths to keep friends or a lover in her life.
One of the most common occurrences is when a woman falls for a man that doesn’t want children. Her infatuation with her lover causes resentment of her children, and she has to make a choice. Sometimes, the mother will sacrifice her children for her own happiness.
A mother’s love isn’t unbreakable. The fact is, a woman’s feelings to their child can change with the circumstances that occur in their life. For loving mothers, it’s almost inconceivable that a woman will kill her own children. But it happens.
Some women you’ll learn about were so desperate for love, they’d do anything to get it. A few were driven by greed, and some suffered from mental illnesses. Regardless of the reasons, female child killers shock and confuse us.
These stories aren’t for the faint of heart, but they can give us valuable insights into why someone would do such unthinkable things.
On the surface, Sarah Barrass seemed like a normal mother, but those who knew her would soon discover that something very sinister lurked beneath the surface. Her story is unique in many ways, including murder, incest, and would shock the British public.
Sarah was from Sheffield, England, and had six children with her partner Brandon Machin. Now here’s where things get weird. You see, Sarah and Brandon didn’t have a conventional relationship. In fact, they were half-siblings, engaging in a long-term incestuous relationship.
The pair had been in a sexual relationship with each other since they were teenagers. They eventually became scared that the police would find out and remove their children from the household. While most people would panic, cry and think about their mistakes, Sarah and Brandon had another idea; they’d kill their six kids.
One evening, they gave each child some tablets and a drink, then sent them to bed. The next morning Sarah prepared to call the police, but the children were still alive. The plan hadn’t worked, and now they’d need to find a new way to kill their children.
The pair didn’t live together, so she called Brandon and informed him that he’d need to come back and finish the job. When he returned, the pair each strangled one of their oldest sons. They also swapped places to ensure both boys were dead, before moving onto the other children.
They repeatedly tried to drown one of the younger children but were unsuccessful in their attempts. Emergency services found the two young boys dead in their bed and immediately arrested the pair. They found Sarah sitting in the bathroom with her four other children, and in her hands was a book detailing the boy’s funeral arrangements.
During the trial, the court heard how Sarah had chosen murder over submitting her children to the care system and found her early life was difficult, and she was in care herself. Regardless of why she killed her children, the pair still took two innocent lives and will remain behind bars for life.
Well, we’re talking about bad mothers, and they don’t get much worse than Diane Downs. In fact, she makes Sarah Barrass look like a saint! You’ve probably heard of the name, but how much do you know about Diane Downs and her awful crimes? Let’s go back to the early 1980s and discover why Diane Downs has such an appalling reputation.
Born in 1955 in Phoenix, Arizona, Diane Frederickson had a relatively normal life, although she later claimed that her father abused her when she was 12 years old. The only evidence we have of her showing abnormal behaviour is the fact that she was expelled from Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College for exhibiting promiscuous behaviour.
After returning to her hometown, Diane ran away with her high school sweetheart Steve Downs and the pair married. The couple had three children named Christie, Cheryl and Stephen (known as Danny). However, Diane’s promiscuous nature came back to haunt her when her husband filed for divorce after believing that Danny wasn’t his child.
Divorcing in 1980, Diane decided to make some extra money by being a surrogate for a family. She also had a job at the United States Postal Service, and on the outside things seemed fine. Christie, her oldest child, would sometimes mention to her grandparents that she was scared of her mother.
It was her job that would lead her to the path of murder. She began an affair with a co-worker named Robert Knickerbocker and had notions of the two of them being together. There was a problem though; Robert didn’t want children and saw the affair as some harmless fun. Diana, however, did not.
It was a typical day at McKenzie-Willamette hospital in May 1983, but that soon changed when a car pulled up outside the emergency room doors and a frantic woman emerged from the driver’s seat. Screaming that she and her children had been shot, emergency workers rushed the three children into the operating theatres and attempted to save their lives. Diane had been shot in the arm and only needed minor treatment for the injury.
Even though her children were fighting for their lives, Diane was calm as she explained to the police that they’d been carjacked in Springfield, Oregon. The man shot her and her children, but Downs feigned throwing her car keys to divert his attention. She then jumped in the car and frantically drove to the nearest hospital.
Now there were a few problems with this story. For starters, why would a carjacker shoot three children at point-blank range, yet shoot the driver in the arm? The police also noted how calm Diane was as she explained the events. At one point, she sat reading a magazine and was seen quietly giggling to herself.
Her behaviour was undoubtedly weird, especially since Christie and Danny were in surgery and Cheryl had been pronounced dead on arrival. Maybe it was just shock? After all, what kind of woman would deliberately harm her own children? Luckily, although severely injured, both Christie and Danny survived the attack.
With Christie unable to talk, and Danny too young to give a statement, police officers had no choice but to examine the evidence from the crime scene, and they weren’t happy with what they found. For a start, there was no blood spatter on the driver’s side of the vehicle, and the forensic evidence didn’t match her story.
Steve Downs and Robert Knickerbocker also told police officers that Diane owned a .22 calibre gun, the same type that was used in the supposed carjacking. Robert also talked about Diane’s erratic behaviour and said at one point she’d stalked him and threatened to kill his wife so they could be together.
For the next few months, Diane gave several interviews, where reporters found her behaviour bizarre. During the police reconstruction video, she laughed and seemed more interested in talking about her own injuries. Diane also fell pregnant again, and said in an interview that children are a gift, “but you can always have more”. This line in itself showed that she seemed to have no emotional connection to her own children and seemed to enjoy the limelight.
While Diane was giving interviews, police were gathering evidence against her. They found shell casings in her home, which matched the bullets used in the shooting, and then they gathered witness statements about her actions that night.
Downs had claimed she’d driven frantically to get her kids to the hospital, yet she’d actually driven so slow she caused a traffic jam! Witnesses who were stuck behind her claimed she couldn’t have been going faster than 8mph, which tends to suggest she was waiting for her children to die.
Nine months after the shooting occurred, Diane Downs was arrested for one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder. Her defence was hopeless, especially when her oldest daughter Christie took the stand and told everyone that her mother had shot her and her siblings.
On June 17th, 1984, Diane Downs was found guilty on all three counts and sentenced to life in prison plus an additional 50 years. She would not be considered for parole until she’d served at least 25 years.
So what made Diane Downs kill her own children? Well, psychiatrists diagnosed her with a narcissistic, anti-social and histrionic personality disorder, which explains her selfish behaviour, promiscuity and complete lack of remorse for Cheryl’s death. The judge was clear that she should never be released, and despite parole attempts, she continues to be denied.
To this day, Diane refuses to admit her guilt and remains a selfish and manipulative woman. Both Christie and Danny were adopted by the case prosecutor and never spoke to their mother again. Her child Rebecca, born in prison, was adopted and does not have any contact with her biological mother.
In 1987, Downs managed to escape from prison but was caught just a few blocks away. Initially starting her sentence in Oregon, Downs was transferred to California, where she gained a degree in General Studies.
Downs first became eligible for parole in 2009, and despite attempts, she is still behind bars. Was she a bad parent? Absolutely. In fact, Diane Downs didn’t know how to love anyone else. Her greatest love was herself, and her children will carry the scars of her selfish nature for a long time.
Susan Smith is another woman with some serious issues. Born in 1971, in South Carolina, her early life would be full of instability. It proved to be something she’d never recover from, and her children would bear the brunt of her tortured mind.
Growing up wasn’t easy for Susan, and she didn’t have the fairytale childhood we often see depicted on TV. In fact, when she was just six years old, her father committed suicide. It was the beginning of Susan’s own descent into mental illness, and at age 13 she attempted suicide herself.
Her suicide attempt was partly because her stepdad was molesting her. There was some speculation that the pairs sexual relations continued long into Susan’s adulthood, but we can never be sure of that. In 1989, she attempted suicide once again, when the married man she was seeing left her.
Despite Susan’s instability, she found love with David Smith and the pair married. Soon after, they welcomed their first son Michael in 1991, and Alexander followed in 1993. While this should have been a new start for Susan, she still suffered from terrible instability, which affected her marriage.
The pair separated multiple times, and both had affairs. One of Susan’s experiences was with a wealthy local man named Tom Findlay. While she thought the relationship would turn into something more, Findlay made it clear to Susan that he didn’t want children and had no intention of committing to her.
On October 25th, 1994, the police received a phone call from a frantic woman claiming an African American man had carjacked her and drove off with the two young boys inside. Asking her to help them with a composite sketch, Susan described a typical African American man, and police were left clueless as to potential suspects.
Police attempted to locate the children, and Susan helped with the investigation, making numerous TV appeals where she emotionally begged for her children to be returned to her. However, nine days later, under intense police scrutiny, Susan confessed to murdering her two young sons.
Police questioned both her and husband David extensively, and they found inconsistencies in Susan’s story. They began searching the John D. Long Lake, and after two days, they found the bodies of both boys.
Susan admitted to driving her car to the lake, then letting it roll into the water, causing the two boys to drown. Her motive was a simple one; the boys were in the way of her being with Tom Findlay, and she wanted to get rid of them.
During her trial, the defence psychiatrist argued that she suffered from major depression and dependent personality disorder. Regardless of her evident instability, she was sentenced to serve a minimum of 30 years in prison, before being able to apply for parole.
Susans behaviour didn’t change while she was in prison, and two guards were fired for having sexual relations with her. Deep down, it seems Susan was so damaged by her childhood that she both needed a man, but couldn’t trust them.
Her father’s suicide, the sexual abuse and the abandonment from Tom Findlay had a lasting effect on her, but would she have disposed of her children so readily if they were girls? We’ll never know what was really going on in Susan’s head that day. But her young sons drowned horrifically, and their father was left without his family.
So we’ve seen two women that killed their children for the love of a man, but why else would a mother murder her own children? Marybeth Tinning breaks the mould when it comes to selfish mothers. Her story isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a classic example of how far someone will go to get what they want.
Marybeth Roe was born in 1942, in small-town New York. Her childhood seemed relatively stable, and there are no signs of abuse. Her father fought in World War II, and during this time Marybeth was sent to live with some relatives so her mother could work.
One relative once told her that her birth was an accident, which was something she later told her brother. Marybeth’s father was strict, but during those times, it was common practice to punish a child if they misbehaved.
To be completely frank, there was nothing impressive about Marybeth. She was average looking, a mediocre student, and ended up working in unskilled jobs. Eventually, she became a nursing assistant. Life seemed to be on the up for Marybeth, and it only got better when she met Joseph Tinning on a blind date.
The pair decided to marry, and in 1967 they had their first child Barbara, who was followed by Joseph Jr in 1970. Unfortunately, the pair’s marriage suffered, and during a difficult time, her husband Joseph was rushed to hospital with barbiturate poisoning. Despite his wife poisoning him, Joseph refused to press charges, and it seemed the pair were willing to work on their marriage.
Things seemed to be on the up for the pair, but in October 1971 Marybeth’s father died of a sudden heart attack. December brought more trouble for the family when their newborn daughter Jennifer died of meningitis and brain abscesses from birth.
Just seventeen days after Jennifer’s death, Joseph Jr was rushed to the hospital, and despite doctors’ attempts to save him, the two-year-old boy died. His passing was attributed to a cardiopulmonary arrest. Then, several weeks later, the couple’s eldest daughter Barbara passed away after suffering a series of convulsions.
At just 29 years old, Marybeth Tinning had lost three children. Despite their heartbreak, the couple had another son named Timothy in 1973. A few weeks after his birth, the young baby was taken into hospital but was deceased on arrival. Marybeth claimed she’d found him dead in his crib. The death was attributed to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), and despite this being the fourth death, no questions were asked.
The couple had another child, Nathan, who died mysteriously while out in the car with his mother. After so many heartbreaking losses, the couple decided to adopt a baby boy named Michael. Just months after the adoption, she gave birth to a little girl named Mary Frances. She was rushed to hospital twice, suffering from seizures, and while workers managed to revive her, she was diagnosed with permanent brain damage and died two days later in hospital.
Child number eight, named Jonathan, was born in 1979 and didn’t survive for long. Yet again another Tinning’s baby had died of unexpected circumstances. Surely there was something wrong with their genes, and a mysterious illness caused each child to die suddenly? Doctors weren’t sure what was wrong, but with so many tragic deaths, they reasoned it had to be a hereditary condition.
Opinions would change when young Michael was rushed to the hospital. The adopted little boy had fallen down the stairs and was in a critical condition. Sadly, Michael passed away, but doctors and police officers still didn’t suspect foul play was involved. In fact, Marybeth even went on to have another child.
Tami Lynne was born in August 1985 and died on December 20th. However, doctors couldn’t deny the possibility she’d been smothered, and social services paid the couple a visit. They were also questioned by police, but when all the children’s bodies were exhumed, they could find no signs of abuse.
Despite no evidence of abuse, detectives weren’t happy and separated the couple for questioning. After some time, Marybeth cracked under pressure and admitted to killing three of her children. Despite her confession, she was only charged with the murder of Tami Lynne with police labelling the deaths of the other children as suspicious. They later said that Jennifer, the firstborn, was the only death that wasn’t suspicious.
Shockingly, even at her trial Marybeth Tinning was able to manipulate everyone around her. She was charged and convicted of just one count of second-degree murder against Tami Lynne, and the deaths of her other children weren’t included in the charges.
After serving just 31 years in prison, Marybeth Tinning was released to her loving husband, who waited for her despite her crimes. Tinning claims she killed Tami Lynne because all of her other children had died and she knew her young daughter would too. Showing no remorse, and still not admitting to the murders of her other children (despite her initial confession) Marybeth Tinning, now aged 78 is a free woman.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about this case is that nine children died suddenly, but Tinning was only convicted for one death. It’s hard to believe that the other deaths were an accident and her husband’s loyalty is even more shocking. Surely he knew that the woman who was capable of poisoning him once could kill their children mercilessly.
There’s little information about Marybeth Tinning, with fellow prisoners describing her as a loving and caring person. However, perhaps the attention she received for her first daughter’s death ignited a desperate need to recreate her grief, and that’s what led to the murders.
Marybeth Tinning might have suffered from Munchausen by proxy, she might have just enjoyed killing, or maybe it was all just a series of accidents. We’ll never know the truth, but whatever happened during those years caused nine young babies to lose their lives before they even got to live them.
There seems to be a pattern among mothers that abuse or even kill their children. They suffer from instabilities in their early lives, which continue as they grow into adults. Andrea Yates is a classic example of how untreated mental health issues can cause destruction and devastation.
Andrea was born in Texas and was the youngest of five children. While there’s nothing to suggest she suffered an abusive childhood, Andrea developed bulimia at 17 and on several occasions spoke to friends about committing suicide.
It’s clear from Andrea’s high school years that she was a perfectionist. Not many young people are valedictorian, an officer in the national honour society and captain of her school’s swim team. Despite her mental health issues, the young girl excelled in her studies and became a registered nurse.
Life was good for Andrea. She had a successful career, and a handsome boyfriend named Rusty. The two moved in together and got married in 1993, claiming they planned to have lots of babies. It seemed the two were all set to live the American dream, and they purchased a four-bedroom home to begin their family.
Their first child was born in 1994, and the pair named him Noah. John, Paul, Luke and Mary followed, and the couple purchased a home in Houston. After Luke was born, Andrea suffered from severe depression, and her husband reported that she would often shake and bite her nails.
After a failed overdose, Andrea was hospitalised but still suffered from mental health issues. At one point, she even held a knife to her neck and asked her husband to let her die. Eventually, she was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, a severe condition that results after giving birth to a child.
Andrea’s psychiatrist stressed to the couple the importance of not having any more children. Her psychosis would return, and the doctor expected the pair to listen, but they didn’t. Instead, just seven weeks after her release from the hospital, Andrea became pregnant again with her fifth child.
She stopped taking her medication and gave birth to her first daughter Mary in November 2000. Surprisingly, Andrea seemed to manage well, and the couple was confident that her psychosis wouldn’t return. However, in 2001 her father died suddenly, and it would be the catalyst for her subsequent breakdown.
Andrea refused to take any medication, self-harmed and developed a fixation of the bible. She didn’t feed her baby daughter and went through period catatonic states of depression. It’s unclear why Andrea was released from the hospital, but on June 20th, Rusty went to work, leaving the fragile mother alone with all five children. He ignored the doctor’s warnings that she must be watched at all times, and it would prove to be the biggest mistake of his life.
As soon as Rusty left for work, Andrea filled the bathtub and drowned her five children one by one. Luke, Paul and John were laid in her bed, while Mary was left floating lifelessly in the bath. Noah tried to run, but his mother caught him, and he suffered the same fate as his siblings. After the murders, she called the police and then told Rusty he needed to return home immediately.
Despite Rusty’s shock and grief at the murders, he still ensured his wife had a reasonable defence attorney and received the support she would need. In 2002, Andrea Yates was found guilty of murder, and despite the defence proving she was unstable, he denied the insanity plea.
An appeal in 2006 proved that Yates didn’t understand what she was doing at the time and her guilty verdict was overturned. Instead of serving life in prison, she would be transferred to a low-security mental facility.
There were many issues with the case of Andrea Yates, including her husband’s blase attitude to depression. He reportedly told his brother that people with depression should “get over it” and he ignored professional advice by leaving his wife alone that day.
Andrea had developed a dangerous fixation with the bible and stated she killed her children because they weren’t developing correctly due to her mental illness. She also admitted she’d been planning the murders for a long time, and the hour that Rusty left her alone allowed her to free her children.
The case is unfortunate, especially as Andrea suffered from numerous mental illnesses and didn’t receive the support she deserved. Perhaps if her husband had been more supportive, the murders would never have happened.
Rusty filed for divorce and remarried. Andrea remained in a secure unit and was eventually diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Some mothers kill their children for selfish reasons, but in the case of Andrea Yates, she was a very disturbed woman who in her right mind, would have probably been a good mother. That’s perhaps the saddest thing about this story.
A Mothers Love…
Sadly, these stories show us that a mothers love for her child isn’t all-consuming. The mums we mentioned put themselves first and committed horrific crimes against their children.
In the case of Andrea Yates, it’s clear that her mental state contributed towards the murders. We have to feel some pity for her.
But with women like Diane Downs, their acts were purely selfish. She wanted to be with a man, so she decided to dispose of her children. We’ll never be able to completely understand how they could carry out their evil acts. Bad mums are more common than most people think, but TV gives us false representations of the typical family.
If you or someone you know shows signs on Borderline Personality Disorder, then there is help available. A book called The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide, by Alex Chapman and Kim Gratz, can help you or someone you love learn the vital skills for dealing with BPD.
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