Houston Chronicle

Nov. 22, 2002, 1:33AM

On tape, mom says she killed infant to get back at husband

By RUTH RENDON
Houston Chronicle

A Pasadena woman was charged Thursday with smothering her infant son after she confided in a neighbor that she killed the baby "to get back" at her husband, police said.

Police were called Oct. 16 -- two days after Ian Nathaniel Noel died -- by a neighbor saying that Elizabeth Jane Cantrell Burke, 26, told her that she had killed the 7-week-old baby.

The next day, detectives placed a recording device on the neighbor and obtained a tape-recorded conversation between Burke and the neighbor.

On the tape, Burke can be heard saying, "I put the blanket over the baby's head to get back at Eddie (Burke's husband)," said police spokesman Sgt. J.M. Baird, who added that she was upset with her husband when he failed to come home.

Baird said Burke was interviewed by detectives and admitted making the statement to her neighbor but "she denies any involvement in the death of this child."

Neighbors at the trailer park at 1910 Red Bluff said a screaming Burke raced with her baby to a neighbor's home on the afternoon of Oct. 14.

Burke, the neighbors said, knocked on a neighbor's door while standing at the bottom of the front steps. When the neighbor opened the door, she tossed the baby at the neighbor and then left.

"I was sitting in my living room and I heard a horrible scream," said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified. Soon several neighbors who heard the commotion went outside and two different people tried to resuscitate the infant to no avail.

Burke, who was not visibly distraught, showed up about 15 minutes later, neighbors said.

The baby was taken to Bayshore Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Although an autopsy by the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office is not complete, Baird said, officials "believe there is no evidence to show that it would be anything other than smothering the child that led to its death."

When interviewed by police shortly after her child's death, Burke said she had no idea why the child, who had been in a bedroom, died other than he was not breathing, Baird said. Police were investigating the case as a natural death until Burke and her husband, Eugene Noel, 29, complained to a television station about the ambulance taking too long to reach their home.

The autopsy showed the child had been dead four to five hours before he reached the hospital.

Neighbors said the couple, who were known as Beth and Eddie, could often be heard arguing.

"We could hear her screaming, `Why aren't you here? Why are you always gone and leaving me with the baby?' " one neighbor, who lived in the same cul-de-sac as the couple, said.

The neighbors said Noel worked nights for a pressure washing company and often left with friends, leaving his wife and child behind.

Noel does not have a telephone listing and could not be reached for comment Thursday. No one answered the door at a relative's home in Pasadena where Beth Burke was arrested Thursday.

Several neighbors said that Noel was very distraught at the boy's funeral but that Burke did not seem upset.

"He stared at (the baby), fixed his blanket and put a rattle in the casket," a neighbor who attended the funeral said. "She stood by him but never touched him. She was outside a lot."

After the baby died, the couple moved and offered many of the baby's belongings to a neighbor who was expecting a baby.

Burke has three other children, ages 6, 4 and 1, and they are in the the custody of relatives in Arkansas, Baird said.

Burke, who is on probation for forgery, was denied bail Thursday and is being held in the Harris County Jail.

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle