Marybeth Tinning

Marybeth Tinning is led by sheriff Barney Waldron to the Schenectady County courtroom
Marybeth Tinning being led to a courtroom.

Bettman / Getty Images

Between 1971 and 1985, all nine of Marybeth and Joe Tinning's children died. While doctors suspected the children had a newly-discovered "death gene," friends and family suspected something more sinister. Marybeth was eventually convicted of second-degree murder in the death of only one of her children. Learn about her life, the lives—and deaths—of her children, and her court cases.

Early Life

Marybeth Roe was born on September 11, 1942, in Duanesburg, New York. She was an average student at Duanesburg High School and after graduation, she worked at various jobs until she settled in as a nursing assistant at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, New York.

In 1963, at the age of 21, Marybeth met Joe Tinning on a blind date. Joe worked for General Electric as did Marybeth's father. He had a quiet disposition and was easy going. The two dated for several months and married in 1965.

Marybeth Tinning once said that there were two things she wanted from life—to be married to someone who cared for her and to have children. By 1967 she had reached both goals.

The Tinning's first child, Barbara Ann, was born on May 31, 1967. Their second child, Joseph, was born on January 10, 1970. In October 1971, Marybeth was pregnant with their third child, when her father died of a sudden heart attack. This became the first of a series of tragic events for the Tinning family.

Suspicious Deaths

The Tinning's third child, Jennifer, was born with an infection and died soon after her birth. Within nine weeks, the Tinning's other two children followed. Marybeth had always been odd, but after the death of her first three children, she became withdrawn and suffered severe mood swings. The Tinnings decided to move to a new house hoping that the change would do them good.

After the Tinnings' fourth and fifth children each died before they were a year old, some doctors suspected that the Tinning children were afflicted with a new disease. However, friends and family suspected that something else was going on. They talked among themselves about how the children seemed healthy and active before they died. They were beginning to ask questions. If it was genetic, why would the Tinnings keep having children? When seeing Marybeth pregnant, they would ask each other, how long this one would last? Family members also noticed how Marybeth would get upset if she felt she wasn't receiving enough attention at the children's funerals and other family events.

In 1974, Joe Tinning was admitted to the hospital because of a near-fatal dose of barbiturate poisoning. Later both he and Marybeth admitted that during this time there was a lot of upheaval in their marriage and that she put the pills, which she had obtained from a friend with an epileptic child, into Joe's grape juice. Joe thought their marriage was strong enough to survive the incident and the couple stayed together despite what happened. He was later quoted as saying, "You have to believe the wife."

In August 1978, the couple decided they wanted to begin the adoption process for a baby boy named Michael who had been living with them as ​a foster child. Around the same time, Marybeth became pregnant again.

Two other biological children of the Tinnings died and Michael's death followed. It was always assumed that a genetic flaw or the "death gene" was responsible for the death of the Tinning's children, but Michael was adopted. This shed a whole different light on what had been happening with the Tinning children over the years. This time doctors and social workers warned the police that they should be very attentive to Marybeth Tinning.

People commented on Marybeth's behavior after their ninth child, Tami Lynne's, funeral. She held a brunch at her house for friends and family. Her neighbor noticed that her usual dark demeanor was gone and she seemed sociable as she engaged in the usual chatter that goes on during a get-together. For some, the death of Tami Lynne became the final straw. The hotline at the police station lit up with neighbors, family members and doctors and nurses calling in to report their suspicions about the deaths of the Tinning children.

Forensic Pathology Investigation

Schenectady Police Chief, Richard E. Nelson contacted forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden to ask him some questions about SIDS. One of the first questions he asked was if it was possible that nine children in one family could die of natural causes.

Baden told him that it wasn't possible and asked him to send him the case files. He also explained to the chief that children that babies who die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as crib death, do not turn blue. They look like normal children after they die. If a baby was blue, he suspected it was caused by homicidal asphyxia. Someone had smothered the children.

Dr. Baden later wrote a book in which he attributed the deaths of the Tinning children as a result of Marybeth suffering from acute Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. Dr. Baden described Marybeth Tinning as a sympathy junky. He said, "She liked the attention of people feeling sorry for her from the loss of her children."

Confession and Denial

On February 4, 1986, Schenectady investigators brought Marybeth in for questioning. For several hours she told investigators different events that had occurred with the deaths of her children. She denied having anything to do with their deaths. Hours into the interrogation she broke down and admitted she killed three of the children.

"I did not do anything to Jennifer, Joseph, Barbara, Michael, Mary Frances, Jonathan," she confessed, "Just these three, Timothy, Nathan and Tami. I smothered them each with a pillow because I'm not a good mother. I'm not a good mother because of the other children."

Joe Tinning was brought to the station and he encouraged Marybeth to be honest. In tears, she admitted to Joe what she had admitted to the police. The interrogators then asked Marybeth to go through each of the children's murders and explain what happened.

A 36-page statement was prepared and at the bottom, ​Marybeth ​wrote a brief statement about which of the children she killed (Timothy, Nathan, and Tami) and denied doing anything to the other children. She signed and dated the confession. According to what she said in the statement, she killed Tami Lynne because she would not stop crying. She was arrested and charged with the second-degree murder of Tami Lynne. The investigators could not find enough evidence to charge her with murdering the other children.

At the preliminary hearings, ​Marybeth said the police had threatened to dig up the bodies of her children and rip them limb from limb during the interrogation. She said that the 36-page statement was a false confession, just a story that the police were telling and she was just repeating it. Despite her efforts to block her confession, it was decided that the entire 36-page statement would be permitted as evidence at her trial.

Trial and Sentencing

The murder trial of Marybeth Tinning began in Schenectady County Court on June 22, 1987. A lot of the trial centered on the cause of Tami Lynne's death. The defense had several physicians testify that the Tinning children suffered from a genetic defect which was a new syndrome, a new disease. The prosecution also had their physicians lined up. SIDS expert, Dr. Marie Valdez-Dapena, testified that suffocation rather than disease is what killed Tami Lynne.

Marybeth Tinning did not testify during the trial.

After 29 hours of deliberation, ​the jury had reached a decision. Marybeth Tinning, 44, was found guilty of second-degree murder of Tami Lynne Tinning. Joe Tinning later told the New York Times that he felt that the jury did their job, but he just had a different opinion on it.

During sentencing, Marybeth read a statement in which she said she was sorry that Tami Lynne was dead and that she thought about her every day, but that she had no part in her death. She also said she would never stop trying to prove her innocence.

"The Lord above and I know I am innocent. One day the whole world will know that I am innocent and maybe then I can have my life back once again or what is left of it."

She was sentenced to 20 years to life and was sent to Bedford Hills Prison for Women in New York.

Incarceration and Parole Hearings

Marybeth Tinning has been up for parole three times since her incarceration.

March 2007

  • To the surprise of many, State Police Investigator, William Barnes, spoke on Marybeth's behalf, asking for her release. Barnes was the lead investigator who interrogated Tinning when she confessed to killing three of her nine children.
  • When asked about her crime, Tinning told the parole board, "I have to be honest, and the only thing that I can tell you is that I know that my daughter is dead. I live with it every day," she continued, "I have no recollection and I can't believe that I harmed her. I can't say any more than that."
  • The Parole Commissioners denied parole, citing that she showed little insight into her crime and displayed little remorse.

March 2009

  • In January 2009, Tinning went before the parole board for the second time. This time Tinning indicated that she remembered more than she did during her first parole hearing.
  • She stated that she was "going through bad times" when she killed her daughter. The parole board again denied her parole, stating that her remorse was superficial at best.

March 2011

  • Mary Beth was more forthcoming during her last parole hearing. She admitted to smothering Tami Lynne with a pillow but continued to insist that her other children died of SIDS.
  • Asked to describe what insight she had about her actions, she answered, "When I look back I see a very damaged and just a messed up person... Sometimes I try not to look in the mirror and when I do, I just, there is no words that I can express now. I feel none. I'm just, just none."
  • She also said she has tried to become a better person and ask for help and help others.
  • Mary Beth was denied parole in 2011 and will become eligible again in 2013.

Joe Tinning has continued to stand by Mary Beth and visits her regularly at the Bedford Hills Prison for Women in New York, although Marybeth commented during her last parole hearing that the visits were becoming more difficult.

Jennifer: Third Child, First to Die

Jennifer Tinning was born on December 26, 1971. She was kept hospitalized because of a severe infection and she died eight days later. According to the autopsy report, the cause of death was acute meningitis.

Some who attended Jennifer's funeral remembered that it seemed more like a social event than a funeral. Any remorse Marybeth was experiencing seemed to dissolve as she became the central focus of her sympathizing friends and family.

In Dr. Michael Baden's book, "Confessions of a Medical Examiner," one of the cases that he profiles is that of Marybeth Tinning. He comments in the book about Jennifer, the one child that most everyone involved in the case kept saying Marybeth did not hurt. She was born with a severe infection and died in the hospital eight days later. Dr. Michael Baden added a different viewpoint on Jennifer's death:

"Jennifer looks to be the victim of a coat hanger. Tinning had been trying to hasten her birth and only succeeded in introducing meningitis. The police theorized that she wanted to deliver the baby on Christmas Day, like Jesus. She thought her father, who had died while she was pregnant, would have been pleased."

Joseph: Second Child, Second to Die

On January 20, 1972, just 17 days after Jennifer died, Marybeth rushed into the Ellis Hospital emergency room in Schenectady with Joseph, who she said had experienced some sort of seizure. He was quickly revived, checked out and then sent home.

Hours later Marybeth returned with Joe, but this time he could not ​be saved. Tinning told the doctors that she put Joseph down for a nap and when she later checked on him she found him tangled up in the sheets and his skin was blue. There was no autopsy performed, but his death was ruled as​ a cardio-respiratory arrest.

Barbara: First Child, Third to Die

Six weeks later, on March 2, 1972, Marybeth again rushed into the same emergency room with 4 1/2-year-old Barbara who was suffering from convulsions. The doctors treated her and advised Tinning that she should stay overnight, but Marybeth refused to leave her and took her home.

Within hours Tinning was back at the hospital, but this time Barbara was unconscious and later died at the hospital. The cause of death was brain edema, commonly referred to as swelling of the brain. Some of the doctors suspected that she had Reyes Syndrome, but it was never proven. The police were contacted regarding Barbara's death, but after speaking with the doctors at the hospital the matter was dropped.

Timothy: Fourth Child, Fourth to Die

On Thanksgiving Day, November 21, 1973, Timothy was born. On December 10, just 3-weeks old, Marybeth found him dead in his crib. The doctors could not find anything wrong with Timothy and blamed his death on SIDS.

SIDS was first recognized as a disease in 1969. In the 1970s, there were still many more questions than answers surrounding this mysterious disease.

Nathan: Fifth Child, Fifth to Die

The Tinning's next child, Nathan, was born on Easter Sunday, March 30, 1975. But like the other Tinning children, his life was cut short. On September 2, 1975, Marybeth rushed him to St. Clare's Hospital. She said she was driving with him in the front seat of the car and she noticed he wasn't breathing. The doctors could not find any reason that Nathan was dead and they attributed it to acute pulmonary edema.

Mary Francis: Seventh Child, Sixth to Die

On October 29, 1978, the couple had a baby girl they named Mary Francis. It wasn't long before Mary Francis would be rushed through hospital emergency doors.

The first time was in January 1979 after she had experienced seizures. The doctors treated her and she was sent home.

A month later Marybeth again rushed Mary Francis to St. Clare's emergency room, but this time she would not be going home. She died shortly after she arrived at the hospital. Another death attributed to SIDS.

Jonathan: Eighth Child, Seventh to Die

On November 19, 1979, the Tinnings had another baby, Jonathan. By March Marybeth was back at St. Clare's hospital with an unconscious Jonathan. This time the doctors at St. Clare's sent him to Boston Hospital where he could be treated by specialists. They could not find any medical reason why Jonathan became unconscious and he was returned to his parents.

On March 24, 1980, just three days of being home, Marybeth returned to St. Claire's with Jonathan. The doctors couldn't help him this time. He was already dead. ​The cause of death was listed as a cardiopulmonary arrest.

Michael: Sixth Child, Eighth to Die

The Tinnings had one child left. They were still in the process of adopting Michael who was 2 1/2 years old and seemed healthy and happy. But not for long. On March 2, 1981, Marybeth carried Michael into the pediatrician's office. When the doctor went to examine the child it was too late. Michael was dead.

An autopsy showed he had pneumonia, but not severe enough to kill him. The nurses at St. Clare's talked among themselves, questioning why Marybeth, who lived right across the street from the hospital, did not bring Michael to the hospital like she had so many other times when she had sick children. Instead, she waited until the doctor's office was opened even though he showed signs of being sick earlier in the day. It did not make sense.

The doctors attributed Michael's death to acute pneumonia, and the Tinnings were not held responsible for his death. However, Marybeth's paranoia was increasing. She was uncomfortable with what she thought people were saying and the Tinnings decided to move again.

Tami Lynne: Ninth Child, Ninth to Die

Marybeth became pregnant and on August 22, 1985, Tami Lynne was born. The doctors carefully monitored Tami Lynne for four months and what they saw was a normal, healthy child. But by December 20th Tami Lynne was dead. The cause of death was listed as SIDS.

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Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "Marybeth Tinning." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, February 16). Marybeth Tinning. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Marybeth Tinning." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 14, 2021).