This week, a 29-year-old South Carolina woman named Shaquan Duley joined the ranks of moms who murdered their young children. She was apparently "distraught" over money issues and suffocated her two toddlers (an 18-month-old and 2-year-old) before faking an accident, claiming they had died after her car careened into a river.
Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams explained during a press conference, "She truly felt, if I don't have these toddlers, I can be free."
It is too heartbreaking for any mother to even imagine becoming embroiled in such a situation, yet criminal history is rife with stories of moms who snap and commit the unthinkable.
According to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, mothers are responsible for the gravest incidences of child abuse, the sort resulting in serious or moderate injury. Seventy percent of such cases involved mothers or female perpetrators in comparison to 48 percent committed by men.
Dr. Joseph Deltito, a professor of psychiatry at the New York Medical College, told CNN that mothers outnumber fathers in the deaths of biological children by a figure of seven to one.
A word of warning to you readers: As I write this post, I can't help but tear up in sadness and rage. While I abhor the actions of these murderous mothers as much as anyone, it's equally important to remember that once upon a time they were simply mothers. Be it postpartum depression, insanity, or outright evil, here are five such women who were driven over the edge.
1. Casey Anthony: The Party Mom
On Friday, December 19, 2008, investigators identified the remains of 3-year-old Caylee Anthony. The cause of the child's death was listed in the autopsy report as "homicide by undetermined means." The outline of a heart-shaped sticker could be seen on the duct tape covering the mouth area of her skull.
In the preceding six months, Caylee's grandmother made repeated calls to 911, saying in one: "I found my daughter's car today and it smelled like there's been a dead body in the damn car."
In the meantime, when asked about her missing daughter, Casey Anthony told police she had not seen her daughter for 31 days. A seemingly carefree Casey was also photographed drinking, clubbing, and partying -- taking a page from the O.J. school of forensics.
It's impossible to discern the reason for Casey's smiles in the photographs taken after her daughter's "disappearance." From the looks of it, the 22 year-old mother was either too young and immature to understand the gravity of the situation ... or quite simply a sociopath.
Casey Anthony is currently in jail, arrested on first-degree murder charges with a trial slated for May 2011.
2. Susan Smith: Love Sick or Simply Sick?
On October 25, 1994, Susan Smith drove to a lake outside Union, South Carolina, to ruminate over a love letter from a married man who no longer wanted to be with her and decided to kill her two children: Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months.
She put the car into neutral, released the emergency brake, and waited until her boys were gone. She then ran to a nearby house screaming that her Mazda had been carjacked by a black man who, for whatever reason, took her children with him.
Investigators soon figured out what she had done and Smith was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
3. Andrea Yates: An American Tragedy
Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the bathtub drownings of her five young children.
She never denied drowning 6-month-old Mary, 2-year-old Luke, 3-year-old Paul, 5-year-old John, and 7-year-old Noah in their Houston-area home in June 2001. Instead, her defense claimed, she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and in her delusion believed Satan was inside her and was trying to save them from hell.
The children's father, Rusty Yates, divorced Andrea after the drownings but has continued to support his former wife.
What happened with Yates and her children is a true tragedy, but it has created a pathway to understanding the devastating reality that is postpartum mental illness.
4. Deanna Laney: Copy Cat Psychosis?
A housewife in New Chapel Hill, Texas, who saw herself as a religious sister to Andrea Yates, committed a murder most foul over Mother's Day weekend in 2003. Deanna Laney claims that she received a number of signals from God to inflict harm on her children.
She resisted, but the signs continued unabated. First her son held a spear; then he handed Laney a rock; after that he squeezed a frog. The message to her seemed clear: God wanted her to kill her children, by stoning them, strangling them, or stabbing them.
She told God no, but resolved to "step out in faith" that she or humanity would be rewarded, just like in the Bible. Afterwards, she called 911 to report, "I killed my boys."
Like Andrea Yates, she was acquitted by reason of insanity.
5. Marie Noe: The Mom Who Almost Got Away With Murder
Between 1949 and 1968, all 10 of Marie Noe's children died between birth and 14 months of age. Two were lost to natural causes; the other eight to supposed cases of sudden infant death syndrome.
That's how it was left until interest was renewed in 1997 with the publication of The Death of Innocents. That prompted an investigative journalist to take a new look at the mom that almost got away, and in June 1999, she plead guilty to eight counts of second-degree murder. Four of the children, she suffocated to death. As to the demise of the other four, she could not remember.
Through a plea agreement, she was sentenced to 20 years of probation with the caveat that she submit to psychiatric study in hopes of identifying what caused her to kill her children. The diagnosis? Noe suffered from mixed-personality disorder.
So what can we learn? Besides that I have nightmares after writing this. We learn that if any mother feels depressed or sick or cannot mother anymore, there are other options -- and that we should pay attention to those around us to make sure that if they need help, we can try to give it.