New Zealand Herald

November 24 2001

Paper reveals mind of New Zealand baby killer

New Zealand Herald

A rare interview with a New Zealand serial baby killer who feigned Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Sids) in her victims has been published in a British medical journal 20 years after the murders that shocked the country.

Researchers hope the case will alert professionals worldwide not to let parents' grief cloud the possibility they may have been involved in the death.

The woman suffocated three babies, including two of her own, and tried to smother two other infants, but the deaths were misdiagnosed as Sids, also known as cot death.

She was eventually charged and convicted on three counts of murder and two of attempted murder.

The authors, Auckland psychiatrists Dr Josephine Stanton and Dr Sandy Simpson, refuse to say who the woman is and in the article praise her courage and generosity in taking part.

"While all [including herself] are likely to judge her harshly for her actions, she has suffered a great deal," they write in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Britain's major paediatric journal.

Dr Stanton told the Herald the woman, called "M", had agreed to give her story in the hope it would help stop someone else from doing what she did.

The article says paediatricians and clinicians are often unwilling to believe parents are capable of murdering their own children.

The grief-stricken woman was able to engage trust and compassion that would have helped her gain access to her later victims and may have allayed suspicions. She repeatedly looked for jobs in childcare, tried to smother two of the babies in her care for "revenge" and killed a 9-month-old child she was babysitting for a neighbour.

She tells of 13 miscarriages before conceiving her daughter and was desperate for a baby. It was a difficult pregnancy but the little girl "was everything to me".

But when the child developed breathing problems she became obsessed that her baby would die and carried out the "mercy killing" so she had some control over when her baby died. She then broke down and was admitted to a psychiatric institution.

She did not have a major psychiatric illness but was diagnosed with a severe personality disorder.

She had a second daughter to try to keep her relationship together but never wanted the child.

"This kid screamed from the day she was born to the day that she died."

M started drinking, did not clean the house and would not get dressed all day. She killed the baby in a fit of anger.

"I thought, okay. I never got caught for [the first baby's] death, I don't want this child, how am I gonna get rid of it, you know, so I smothered her the same way as I did with [the first baby]."

A driving need to be with children led her to childcare but two further attempted murders and the third murder were motivated by revenge and retaliation.

Cot death experts say the paper is a fascinating insight into the mind of a serial child killer.

Professor Ed Mitchell, of the Auckland Medical School, said around 74 Sids cases are diagnosed a year. While misdiagnosis was rare, "there's always the niggling worry we may be missing deaths that may be inflicted by the parents".

©Copyright 2001 NZ Herald