When women decide to kill, it usually comes in the form of spontaneous act of passion; turning the table on an abusive spouse, or finally tiring of a cheating partner. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule, the most notable being Moors murderer, Myra Hindley, and the sexually depraved Karla Homolka. But even those two didn’t work alone, carrying out their crimes with their male counterparts, Ian Brady and Paul Bernardo. The rarest kind of female killer is the one that has no apparent motive, and chooses to take the life of her husband or children, even when they appear to be living perfectly normal lives. Susan Smith, the woman who murdered her two sons by letting her car roll into a lake with them trapped inside, was a heinous individual, but she has nothing on Andrea Yates, the Texas native who drowned all 5 of her kids in the bathtub.
Andrea Yates seemed, on the outside at least, a well-adjusted individual whose life seemed positive and bright. The youngest of 5 children, she applied herself at school, graduating as valedictorian, swim team captain and a member of the national Honor Society. She went on to university, earning a nursing degree, before becoming a registered nurse at the University of Texas cancer center. In 1989 she met Russell Yates at her apartment complex, and 4 years later, the couple married, telling all their friends that they were going to “have as many babies as nature allowed.” Given her career as a caregiver, motherhood seemed like an ideal fit for Andrea.
True to their word, the couple started a family right away, splitting their time between their home state of Texas, and Florida where Russell accepted a job. They finally settled back in Houston after the birth of their third child, and around that time purchased a motor home from a person who was later to play a big role in the events that unfolded. After the birth of the couple’s 4th child, Andrea became depressed, and seemed to take solace in the words and company of Michael Peter Woroniecki, an extremist preacher, and also the man who had sold that motor home to the Yate’s.
Her condition continued to worsen, and in June of 99, Andrea attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. The attempt meant a stint in hospital, but shortly after release she was back again after holding a knife to her own neck and begging Russell to let her die. Andrea received psychiatric help and was prescribed Haldol, an anti-psychotic, and released under the advice that she have no more children, as doing so could result in future psychotic depression. The Haldol seemed to work, and for a while life went back to normal, but by the end of July, there were 2 more suicide attempts and a full nervous breakdown.
This time around, Andrea was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, but again seemed to recover well, and a few short weeks after being released from hospital, was pregnant with her fifth child. After the birth of Mary, life seemed to be moving along nicely in the Yates household, but that all changed after the death of Andrea’s father in March 2001. Back off her medications, Andrea took to self-mutilation, frantic bible readings and catatonia. It was during one of these catatonic states that Andrea filled the tub, leading her husband and others that she had planned on killing herself; the truth was, she had planned on murdering the children, a job she actually finished a couple of months later, drowning all 5 children, Noah, John, Paul, Luke, and Mary in the tub.
Andrea willingly confessed to the murders, and a jury of her peers took little time in finding her guilty, sentencing her to life in prison. During the trial, a number of stories surfaced that surprised many who knew Andrea, including the possibility that she was bulimic in her teenage years, and may have considered suicide when she was just 17.This, as well as her documented issues during her marriage, cast doubts on her sanity, and during appeal her conviction was overturned, due in large part to some rather shady testimony given by a psychiatrist during the original trial. A second trial was ordered and Andrea was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and granted bail on the condition that she be placed in a psychiatric facility.
Blame for the tragic murder of 5 children has been thrown all around with the shrapnel hitting Andrea, her husband Russell, modern medication, and religious fervor, but the fact is that the warning signs were there for a long time, yet the tragedy was still allowed to occur. Perhaps then, the blame lies at the feet of all concerned, all that is except the children, innocent until the end.
Written by John Watson