Munchausen Mom: Tracy's Story

Munchausen Mom: Tracy's Story

 

"It makes me so mad to think anybody could hurt a child. I can't comprehend it," says Jessie. She turns to the topic of her sister-in-law. "The longer I knew Tracy, the more I knew that there was something very terribly wrong." Tracy claimed that her daughter, Heather, had von Willebrand's disease, which is treated like hemophilia. The mother and daughter made frequent trips to the hospital and Heather wore an IV port hanging from her arm.

Jessie describes a time when Heather came to her house on crutches, which she wore, according to Tracy, because of fluid in her knees. After just minutes in Jessie's home, Heather put her crutches on the floor and ran off to play with Jessie's children. "I had a very hard time believing most of what Tracy was saying," says Jessie. "[Heather] didn't act that sick. She didn't look that sick. I told my husband that I believed Tracy had Munchausen syndrome by proxy. I was upset because I couldn't stop it. I couldn't prove it to tell anybody."

When Heather was 16 Tracy had another daughter, Elizabeth. But 10 months passed before Jessie would be allowed to see the new baby because, Tracy said, she was sick and needed surgery on her stomach. When she finally did see her, Jessie cried. She says, "She was the most beautiful little girl. She was so tiny. We were just so happy to finally see her. I wanted to take her home. I was very scared. I honestly thought something was going to happen to her. Every time Tracy would tell me something medically was wrong with Elizabeth I would cringe inside. I was outraged. We knew it was happening again."

When she became pregnant with her son, Joseph, Tracy didn't tell anyone, and didn't have the baby in a hospital. She said she feared the Department of Children and Families, which had responded to a report that Elizabeth had a fractured rib. Instead, Tracy delivered Joseph at home in the bathtub by herself. Before long, she was having him tested for von Willebrand's disease and said that he had respiratory problems.


"I knew something had to be done, and if it wasn't done soon, something was going to happen to these children," Jessie recounts. "We started videotaping. We wanted to see if we could catch her doing anything to the kids."

One day, Tracy asked Jessie if she would accompany her to the hospital. Her list of her daughter's ailments was long: vomiting, diarrhea, blood in her stool, a high fever and red blemishes on her body. Jessie remembers, "The doctor said, 'There's nothing wrong with your baby. Take her home.' At that point I was so happy. I was jumping up and down inside. I was finally relieved to know I was right. Tracy didn't want to leave that hospital. She wanted Elizabeth admitted with a feeding tube. And that was when I realized I needed to report her. I didn't
have any proof that Tracy was doing anything, but I knew that she was doing something and those kids weren't sick. Elizabeth was admitted to the hospital, finally " Tracy's persistence " and she got her feeding tube."

Dr. Reinstein, Tracy's pediatrician, reports, "Elizabeth had symptoms that were caused by something, but the vomiting, the diarrhea, did subside when the mother was not around. I alerted the nursing staff to help me. They provided me with hour-to-hour supervision."

"Tracy was claiming that Elizabeth was sicker and sicker, to the point where she was almost ready to die," says Jessie.

"Once I suspected Munchausen by Proxy, I proceeded to discuss with Social Services," says Dr. Reinstein. "The court granted me a two-week period where I could observe Elizabeth on my own without any interference from family members."

Eventually, the Department of Children and Families took Tracy's children away. Detective Richard Rose of the Lakeland, Florida Police Dept. believes that when she was later arrested, Tracy was genuinely surprised.

"I think that she had thought she had tricked all of us or convinced all of us that she had not done anything wrong," he says. She was convicted of a single count of
aggravated child abuse.

Jessie and her husband took custody of Joseph and Elizabeth. "The caseworker handed me Joseph," Jessie says. "I hugged him. I kissed him. I called my husband, and I said, 'I got him. He's home.' And I just waited for Elizabeth to get discharged. She belonged safe and with people who were going to love her and not abuse her."

 

Heather tells her version of the events of her childhood.

"I was not sick. Tracy, my mom, made me sick," she says. 

According to Heather, Tracy would make her eat whatever food she gave her, even if Heather had dropped it on the floor. She believes her mother put something in the food to make her sick. "I did get sick after I ate the food," she adds.

Heather remembers a day when she came home from school. She ran out into the backyard, where she found her mother. "She was digging a hole," she says. "I was, like, thinking in my head, why is she digging a hole? I'm like, 'Mom, Mom! I have a report card, and I have good grades!' She said, 'Go inside and do your homework.' So I did. I took my dog outside to play with me. She was nowhere behind the tree or in the shed. I see dirt flying, and I'm like, 'Candy, what'd you find, girl?' Dig a little bit more, and I found a baby. The baby was a girl. She had brown hair and brown eyes, looked like me. The baby was still crying. The dirt kept on going into her mouth and filled all the lungs up and [she] died with her eyes open. I
wrapped her back up, buried her back, went back inside. I was in tears."

 

Heather remembers that her mother asked why she was crying. Heather asked her about the baby. "She said, '[The child] belongs to my friend.' I said, 'Tell me the truth!' Then she told me the truth. She said, 'It's mine.' I didn't tell anybody. I kept that whole entire secret to myself for years." When she did finally choose to tell someone, Heather told Pam, a close friend of the family, and Pam convinced her to tell Det. Rose.

Det. Rose remembers that revelation of September 2006. "'It was my baby sister,'" he remembers Heather saying. 

She agreed to go with Det. Rose to her childhood home. Driving by the property, Det. Rose continues his story, saying "She pointed right to the shed here and said, 'That's where she's buried.' I asked to have Heather come up and see if she could actually pinpoint where the body was buried. I took her by the hand and we walked back there and it was a really emotional moment." He struggles to collect himself before continuing.
He explains that he went to the Polk County jail and pointedly asked Tracy if there was a baby buried in the back yard. "And almost immediately she began to put her head down," he says, "and she began to cry and she goes, 'It's been so hard. It's just been so hard.' And she said, 'Yes.'

"Well, I showed Tracy this map of the property. I said that we were digging in both this area and this area.
Tracy corrected me and said the baby was actually buried right here on the other side of the shed. They shifted their digging efforts over to there and within a half hour they found the baby. She'd been wrapped in a blanket and plastic bags." Again, Det. Rose pauses, fighting back tears. "They were skeletal remains. Our medical examiner never determined if the baby was a girl. He was able to date the remains nine months but again no sex or weight or anything like that. She wasn't charged, because the physical evidence was not there for us to pursue. Her statement was that the baby was alive and breathing, and then the baby quit breathing, and she buried it. Whether that's true or not, we'll never know."

Dr. Phil begins by addressing Heather. "Your biological mother is in jail. She has been convicted of doing all these things to your sister. We know from your reports and everybody else what she was doing to you at the time. How do you feel about your mother, at this point?"

"I do love my mom," says Heather, "but I really don't have anything to say about her."

"Do you feel safer knowing that she is away?" asks Dr. Phil.

"Yes, sir," she replies.

"I absolutely hate that you had that experience at that age or any age, and every person in this room and at home right now is absolutely horrified at what took place and what you had to discover and deal with. Do you remember all of the doctor visits that you had to go to, all the hospitalizations, all the things that you went through?"

"Some, I do," says Heather, "Some, I don't."

Dr. Phil asks, "Did you ever say, 'I'm not sick. I'm OK. Leave me alone'?"

"Yeah. A lot of times," she says, adding that Tracy would insist that Heather was sick. "Which wasn't true."