Many are saddened to read about the death of a child. That loss becomes unfathomable when the assailant is found to be the youngster's mother. What motivates some women to murder their offspring, and are child killings becoming an epidemic? The nation was stunned to learn that Casey Anthony allegedly killed her 3-year-old daughter, Caylee, and most recently Stacey Barker was jailed for reportedly suffocating her 18-month-daughter, Emma Leigh.
David Smith knows all too well the anguish of losing a child at the hand of his or her mother. "October 25, 1994 is a day that my life changed in an instant, forever," he recalls. That was the day his wife, Susan, called a tearful press conference to announce that their two sons, Michael, 3, and Alexander, 14 months, had been the victims of a carjacking. "We had to go to the sheriff's office. She asked me about wanting to go by our house first to get makeup. I just thought, our children have just been carjacked, and you're worried about putting on makeup? I believed Susan 100 percent until Sheriff Smith announced that she had been arrested."
Susan was charged with two counts of murder in connection with the deaths of her children. David reflects on his wife's demeanor during that time. "I asked her why she did what she did, and she said she didn't know and that she was sorry," he remembers. "She was just casual, shrugging her shoulders sorry. It sure wasn't sincere. [AD]
"The trial was most difficult. I used to stare at the back of her head, contemplating if I could get to her, get my hands on her. Susan almost killed me by taking away my two little boys," he continues. "It's taken many years to forgive Susan. I had to forgive her to be able to move on with my life."
David says that there were warning signs that his wife was on the verge. It's almost like Susan Smith started some epidemic with women murdering their children," he says. "In Susan's case, the last four to six months, she was going out partying a lot, isolating herself, not wanting to be with the kids so much. Susan had talked about being depressed, but no matter what your problems are, you don't murder your children."
"When you've been through something like this, and watched this horrible drama unfold in your life, and then you see stories like Casey Anthony, you see stories like Stacey Barker, do you look at that and think, 'I'm seeing here what I saw then?'" Dr. Phil asks. "What do you think about that when you look at those stories?"
"First, I see the tragedy, and my sympathy is for the child itself," David replies. "It just breaks my heart that here is another story of another innocent child being murdered or abused. Then my focus goes to the people who are left behind to deal with the loss of the child."
[AD]"Did your wife, in this situation, snap? You said she didn't really seem to have any remorse. Did she ever, has she ever, shown any real remorse to you?"
"She never has shown any real remorse to me. I don't think Susan snapped, because in her own confession, she was talking about how she was on the boat ramp, and she stopped the car twice from going down. The third time, she just let it roll into the water," David replies. "She knew what she was doing. She didn't snap."
"So this was just a cold-blooded, premeditated thing, in your opinion?"
Dr. Phil turns to Dr. Sylvia Gearing in the audience. "You really specialize in this, in looking at these women and what they do. That's what everybody wants to know: What makes a woman do this? What makes a mother of two precious children, like David had here, do what they do?" he asks.
"There are a variety of different reasons. Many times, as in Susan's case, there is a detachment and an ambivalence about being a mother. That's what you were seeing in the preceeding months, prior to the murders, is that she was beginning to pull away from those children, and it was all about her," Dr. Gearing explains. "We also see mothers who have postpartum depression. They are psychotic, and they have no ability to govern their behavior. Then we see retaliatory murders. I see that quite a bit: 'I'm going to kill the children in an effort to get back at you.' Then we have the psychopathic mothers who kill for basically for money or for revenge against a family member." [AD]
"What you're seeing in the Susan Smith situation, Casey Anthony situation, seems to be somewhat similar," Dr. Phil points out.
"Absolutely, they are," Dr. Gearing replies. She turns to David. "You see a detachment. You probably saw difficulty in bonding, at least sustaining the bond with your boys, and over time, her own self-absorbed world became more prominent, and she basically took the children out in order to have her life back. Very selfish."