Thought Catalog
April 15, 2014

19 Moms Who Killed Their Kids

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Megan Huntsman's mugshot, courtesy of Utah Couny Jail.
Megan Huntsman’s mug shot, provided by Pleasant Grove Utah police.

Thirty-nine-year-old Megan Huntsman of Pleasant Grove, Utah, has allegedly confessed to fatally strangling and suffocating six of her newborn babies from 1996 to 2006.

Acting on a tip from her estranged husband, police searched her home in April 2014 and found seven dead infants, six of them stuffed into cardboard boxes. The seventh infant had reportedly been stillborn. A search of court records revealed that apart from a 2011 traffic citation, Huntsman had no criminal record.

The technical term for when a mother kills her child is “maternal filicide.” An estimated 200 women kill their children every year in the United States. I use the term “kill” rather than “murder,” because the latter has a legal meaning, and even mothers who deliberately kill their children often are found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. In fact, a 1969 study conducted by Dr. Phillip Resnick found that when mothers kill their kids, 68% are sent to mental hospitals and only 27% are sent to prison; when fathers kill their children, 72% go to prison and only 14% are hospitalized.

In 1997, a US Department of Justice study found that children under the age of eight are more likely to be killed by their mothers, while those eight and older are likelier to be killed by their fathers. Throughout childhood, sons are more likely to be killed than are daughters.

If you’re looking for examples of female privilege, look no further than those stats.

Presented in alphabetical order, here are 19 other mothers who killed their children.

2. China Arnold

In 2005, China Arnold of Dayton, OH, stuffed her three-week-old daughter into a microwave oven and burned her to death after arguing with her boyfriend about the child’s biological father.

3. Kenisha Berry

A pair of Texas dumpster-divers in 1998 pulled out a bag from a trash bin that they initially thought contained a baby doll’s leg. Instead, it was the corpse of the four-day-old son of daycare worker Kenisha Berry. She had duct-taped his mouth shut, stuffed him into a black plastic bag, and tossed him into the bin, where he died of suffocation.

4. Diane Downs

In 1983, Oregon mother of three Diane Downs drove into a hospital emergency room with her blood-soaked children and a bullet wound in her forearm, claiming a “bushy-haired stranger” had carjacked and shot them. As her story unraveled, it became evident that it was Downs who’d pulled the trigger, killing her seven-year-old daughter.

5. Brenda Drayton

After a previous hospitalization for falling under the delusion that there were snakes in her body, 29-year-old Brenda Drayton of Flint, MI, strangled her two-year-old daughter to death, believing it had been “the Devil’s baby.” A decade earlier, her infant son had died of malnutrition and dehydration.

6. Shaquan Duley

A disturbingly common M.O. for mothers who kill their kids is to drive them into a body of water until they drown. The case was slightly different in 2010, when Shaquan Duley of South Carolina suffocated her two sons, 18 months and two years old, with her bare hands in a motel room before strapping them into car seats and rolling them into a river.

7. Dora Luz Durenrostro

In 1994, Dora Luz Durenrostro of San Jacinto, CA, stabbed three of her children to death—two daughters aged four and nine as well as her eight-year-old son. A police officer remarked remarked that Durenrostro “never showed remorse or sadness, even after we told her we found the body of her third child.”

8. Susan Eubanks

At the age of 33, Susan Eubanks shot four of her sons—ages 14, seven, six, and four—to death “execution style” in her San Marcos, CA home. She allegedly blamed her alcoholic parents and subpar mental-health treatment.

9. Jeanette Hawes

Early in 2009, Jeanette Michelle Hawes of Augusta, GA, walked into a convenience-store bathroom and stabbed her three-year-old daughter Shakayla and one-year-old son Jordan to death. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

10. Debra Jenner-Tyler

In 1987, using a kitchen knife and a “metal toy airplane,” South Dakotan Debra Jenner-Tyler stabbed her three-year-old daughter Abby Lynn 70 times, killing her. Jenner-Tyler claimed she “had been working a lot,” was “under a lot of stress,” and that her daughter had been acting “very finicky.”

11. Michelle Kehoe

After initially claiming one morning in 2008 that her two sons had been abducted, Iowan Michelle Kehoe was found guilty of murder by a jury who heard audiotape of her son Sean, seven at the time she attempted to kill him, testifying how she duct-taped his eyes and mouth before slashing his throat. She had done the same to her two-year-old son Seth, murdering him in the process.

12. Deanna Laney

Late one night in May 2003, Deanna Laney awoke and led her two oldest sons, eight-year-old Joshua and six-year-old Luke, outside her home, where she proceeded to smash in their skulls with a giant rock. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

13. Christina Miracle

The ominously named Christina Miracle of Miami Township, OH, killed her six-year-old son in a “bizarre religious ceremony” in which she allegedly thought she was resurrecting her dead brother while baptizing her son. The child was apparently beaten before being suffocated to death.

14. Frances Newton

After taking out life insurance policies on family members and herself, 21-year-old Frances Newton of Houston, Texas used her boyfriend’s gun to kill her husband, her seven-year-old son, and her 21-month-old daughter in April 1987. She received the death penalty and died from a lethal injection in 2005.

15. Robin Lee Row

In 1992, Robin Lee Row—infamous for being Idaho’s only female Death Row inmate—apparently turned off the smoke alarm in an apartment where her estranged husband, ten-year-old son, and eight-year-old daughter were living, squirted a liquid accelerant all over the premises, and set it ablaze, killing all of them. She had previously collected $28,000 in a life-insurance policy for another son who had died in 1980 when his blankets caught fire from a portable heater.

16. Deena Schlossser

In November of 2004, Deena Schlosser used a knife to amputate both arms of her 11-month-old daughter, killing her. Police arrived at the scene to find a blood-soaked Schlosser, knife in hand, singing songs to Jesus. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

17. Susan Smith

In 1994, South Carolinian Susan Smith told police that a black man had stolen her car and abucted her two sons, three-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex. In truth, she had strapped them to car seats and pushed the car into a lake, drowning them.

18. Marybeth Tinning

Marybeth Tinning’s case is most similar to that of Utah’s Megan Huntsman in that she is apparently a serial killer—i.e., she allegedly snuffed her children in a series of events scattered over years—rather than killing them all in one shot. She oversaw the deaths of nine of her children, one of whom was adopted, during a fourteen-year stretch ending in 1985. She confessed to smothering three of them but was convicted of only one murder and is currently serving a life sentence.

19. Andrea Yates

One day in June 2001, Andrea Yates methodically drowned all five of her children—aged seven years down to six months—in the bathtub of her home in Houston, TX. She told the police and psychiatrists that Satan had ordered her to kill them so that they could be saved from hell. Like so many other killer moms, she successfully copped an insanity plea. TC mark

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