Probation, house arrest for mother who killed 8 children

Noe leaves the probation office in Philadelphia after pleading guilty to smothering eight of her ten young children in a series of crimes dating back to 1949


Deaths long thought to be SIDS-related

June 28, 1999
Web posted at: 8:57 p.m. EDT (0057 GMT)

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- A woman who admitted on Monday to smothering eight of her 10 children was sentenced to 20 years probation, including five years of home confinement, but no prison time. The plea bargain for the 70-year-old woman solved a murder mystery that spanned half a century.

Walking with a cane and an electronic monitoring device around her waist, Marie Noe answered the judge with deliberate "yes" and "no" responses, but did not explain why she killed her children.

Between 1949 and 1968, Arthur and Marie Noe of Philadelphia had 10 children -- none of whom lived longer than 14 months. One child was stillborn, and another died in the hospital six hours after birth.

Authorities thought at the time that the other eight infants were struck down by crib death or SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome.

Marie Noe's story was always the same: her husband was working and she and the child were home alone when the baby developed a breathing problem, was rushed to a hospital and died.

"She was suffering from some type of undiagnosed problem, that led to this cause of action, and ... she might have been even experiencing blackouts at the time," defense attorney David Rudenstein said Monday. "The point is, we don't know everything that occurred."

Unusual sentence for unusual case

As part of her sentence in a second-degree murder plea bargain, Noe must also undergo psychiatric counseling to determine the cause of her repeated infanticide.

noe holds baby
Noe and her husband had 10 children, all of whom died  

"We needed to get this matter finalized," said District Attorney Lynne Abraham. "Is it perfect? We don't always get a perfect outcome."

At the sentencing, Deputy District Attorney Charles Gallagher said: "It's important for the medical community and the legal community that she admit these murders and ... something good will come out of the analysis."

The light sentence Monday also had to do with "the unusual circumstances of the case and the age of the case" and Marie Noe's being the sole caretaker of her ailing 77-year-old husband, Arthur, Gallagher said.

"This is not one of those situations where we have a heart of a killer," Rudenstein said.

Magazine article reopened case

Thirty-six years ago, the string of deaths attracted national sympathy. Life Magazine wrote about the family, but out of sensitivity for the parents, didn't use their name.

With no evidence to show otherwise, doctors and investigators had reluctantly attributed the deaths of the eight children to SIDS  

"We have never seen such a case as this before. Real names do not matter, they have suffered enough, without further publicity," read the magazine article.

Although the official investigations never closed, the case was dormant until Philadelphia Magazine wrote about it last year, bringing to light the suspicions of a retired Philadelphia medical examiner who investigated the deaths of the last two Noe children.

Improved medical technology made a complete review of the case possible. And when presented with the new evidence, Marie Noe confessed.

Arthur Noe was not implicated, and for nearly 50 years, he believed his wife's story.

"I cannot speak for him, but Arthur Noe sat in court as she admitted killing those eight babies," Rudenstein said. "Does he believe that she admitted that she suffocated these babies? I trust that he does. Does he believe that his wife's some evil killer? I'm sure he does not."

Gallagher said numerous medical officials indicated that a medical study of Marie Noe could be valuable because so little is known about why women kill their babies.

"We want to know what possessed her to do it," Gallagher said. "When she made her admissions, she indicated she did it, but she didn't say why she did it. She said she doesn't know why."

Rudenstein said it was important for Noe as well.

"Before she passes on to the next world, she wants to understand what has occurred," he said.

And now, for those who investigated the mysterious deaths, there's finally an explanation about what really happened.

"She admitted she killed all eight of these children," Gallagher said. "This is the most important thing, for us, for the community, Mrs. Noe and more importantly, those babies."

Correspondent Dan Ronan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 1999 Cable News Network.