TAMPA — The Tampa Palms neighborhood here is the kind of place people move to get away from crime. ...After detailing this crime, the article goes on to discuss research on moms who kill:
But in recent weeks, the residents have become all too aware of how deceptive surface appearances can be. On Jan. 28, the police arrived at a two-story house on a quiet cul-de-sac in Tampa Palms to find Julie Schenecker unconscious on the patio, blood on her white bathrobe. Inside were the bodies of her two children, Calyx, 16, and Beau, 13.
Forensic researchers who have studied mothers convicted of killing their children said that such women often leave a trail of clues behind them. “In almost every case there’s obvious signs,” said Cheryl L. Meyer, a professor at Wright State University whose research team examined 219 cases of maternal filicide and conducted lengthy interviews with 40 of the mothers.Some people think that moms are necessarily more protective of kids, and hence kids are safer with moms. But a lot of moms have severe problems, as this article describes.
As disturbing as such crimes are, they represent a robust portion of child homicides in the United States. Dr. Meyer found more than 100 cases a year of children killed by their mothers in the 1990s, a figure she says is probably an underestimate. Other experts, basing their numbers on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, believe that the number may exceed 200 a year, though precise figures are elusive because the deaths are often misclassified.
Many mothers kill their children through some form of neglect or repeated abuse. But in a quarter of the cases Dr. Meyer studied, the mothers purposefully murdered their children. In a notorious 2001 case, Andrea Yates drowned her five children in a bathtub. In 1995, Debora Green, a doctor in Kansas, set fire to her house, killing her 6-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. When a third child escaped onto the roof, Dr. Green told her to jump but made no effort to catch her.
The victims in most maternal filicides are infants or younger children. But mothers who kill purposefully sometimes kill older children, including teenagers, Dr. Meyer said. Delving into the lives of such women, researchers often find histories of mental illness, broken relationships, social isolation or other stresses that may have helped push them into violence. Many are devoted mothers, who plan to kill themselves and become convinced that their children are better off dead than left in the care of others.
Geoffrey R. McKee, a forensic psychologist in South Carolina and the author of “Why Mothers Kill,” said that in a severely depressed state, it was possible that a mother could misread the normal parent-child battles of adolescence. “The children can be pretty much as they always are, but if Ma has changed, then banter on the part of her children can be interpreted as mouthing off,” said Dr. McKee, who has conducted forensic evaluations in high-profile cases like that of Susan Smith, who was convicted in 1995 of killing her two children.