Mothers Who Kill Their Children

11 Women Are on Death Row for Killing Their Kids

Murdered Yates Children
The Murdered Yates Children. Phillippe Diederich / Stringer / Getty Images

The nation is always shocked by criminal cases such as Andrea Yates, a mother of five who methodically drowned her children in a bathtub then calmly called the police to report it, but mothers who kill their children is a more common crime than we might think.

According to the American Anthropological Association, more than 200 women kill their children in the United States each year. Three to five children a day are killed by their parents.

Homicide is one of the leading causes of death of children under age four, "Yet we continue to persist with the unrealistic view that this is rare behavior," says Jill Korbin, an expert on child abuse, who has studied at length about mothers who killed their children.

"We should detach from the idea of universal motherhood as natural and see it as a social response," Nancy Scheper-Hughes, medical anthropologist says. "There's a collective denial even when mothers come right out and say, 'I really shouldn't be trusted with my kids.'"

The three major factors that often play a role when mothers have killed their children are - postpartum psychosis, psychotic breakdowns brought on by factors such as jealousy and abandonment and domestic violence.

Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum depression is a common problem that can occur within four weeks of delivery of a baby. It can affect both mothers and fathers, although only a small percentage of fathers experience it.

 

Common symptoms include- depression, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, fear, guilt, the inability to bond with the new baby, a feeling of worthlessness. If left untreated, it can lead to postpartum psychosis.

Postpartum psychosis is much more severe and dangerous. Symptoms include extreme insomnia, obsessive behavior, and auditory hallucinations where voices instruct the mother to commit suicide or to mutilate and/or murder her child/children.

Often the mother believes such acts will save the child from a life of misery.

Psychotic Breakdowns

In some cases children are murdered as a result of the mother experiencing a psychotic breakdown brought on by an intense feeling of abandonment and  jealousy in cases where the father of the children has left the home. In some cases, the need to seek revenge overtakes reason.

A look at the roles of women who are currently on death row, and the crimes that put them there, shows that women who kill their children are indeed not as rare as we would like to believe. 

  • Patricia Blackmon was 29 years old when she killed her 2-year-old adopted daughter in Dothan, AL in May 1999.

    Kenisha Berry at age 20, covered her 4-day-old son with duct tape resulting in his death.

    Debra Jean Milke was 25 when she killed her 4-year-old son in Arizona in 1989.

    Dora Luz Durenrostro killed her two daughters, age 4 and 9, and her son, age 8 when she was 34 years old in San Jacinto, California in 1994.

    Caro Socorro was 42 years old when she killed her three sons, ages 5, 8 and 11, in Santa Rosa Valley, California in 1999.

    Susan Eubanks murdered her four sons, ages 4, 6, 7 and 14, in San Marcos, California, in 1996 when she was 33.

    Caroline Young was 49 in Haywood, California when she killed her 4-year-old granddaughter and 6-year-old grandson.

    Robin Lee Row was 35 years old when she killed her husband, her 10-year-old son and her 8-year-old daughter in Boise, Idaho in 1992.

    Michelle Sue Tharp was 29 years old in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania when she killed her 7-year-old daughter.

    Frances Elaine Newton was 21 when she murdered her husband, 7-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter in Houston, Texas. Update: Frances Elaine Newton was executed on September 14, 2005.

    Darlie Lynn Routier was 26 in Rowlett, Texas when she was convicted of killing her 5-year-old son.

    Teresa Michelle Lewis killed her 51-year-old husband and 26-year-old stepson in Keeling, Virgina when she was 33 years old.

    Korbin said that there are usually clues that are obvious to those who are around parents who end up killing their children. "Prior to a homicide, lots of lay people know these men and women are having difficulty parenting. The public has to be better educated in recognizing how to intervene and how to support child abuse prevention," she said.