Killer Moms: Susan Smith, Diane Downs and Others
Between 1972 and 1985 all nine of Marybeth Tinning’s children died young, eight of them under suspicious circumstances. She was indicted in three deaths but prosecuted only for one – smothering 4-month-old Tami Lynne in 1985 with a pillow. She confessed and was given 20 years to life in prison. “I just – I don’t think I had the capabilities of being a good mother at all,” Tinning, now 74, told the New York State parole board that denied her release last February. She is eligible again in 2018.
In October 1994, South Carolina officials launched a nine-day search for Susan Smith's two sons, 14-month-old Alex and 3-year-old Michael. The frantic mother claimed she had been carjacked by a black man who took off with her sons.
But she was lying: Smith ultimately admitted to letting her car roll into a lake with the boys strapped in their car seats. She was convicted of murdering them and sentenced to life in prison.
After both her husband, Mark, and son, Shaun, died untimely deaths in 2012, and her then-24-year-old daughter, Sarah, was hospitalized for organ failure, Diane Staudte was charged with murdering Mark and trying to kill Sarah.
The mom-of-four confessed to killing them by putting antifreeze in their drinks. While being questioned by police, Diane's second youngest daughter, Rachel, admitted to helping her mother poison her father, brother and sister. Diane and Rachel both pleaded guilty in the deaths and the assault of Sarah.
In 2016, Diane was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Rachel, who agreed to testify against her mother, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
When Indiana police issued an AMBER Alert for 7-year-old Liliana Hernandez and Rene Pasztor, 6, in Sept. 2016, they feared the children were with their estranged mother, Amber Pasztor. More than a year prior, Pasztor had lost custody of the pair due to substance abuse problems.
Hours after their disappearance, the children's dead bodies were found in the backseat of a car that had been parked by Pasztor behind a police station. Pasztor later told local station WANE that she suffocated the children to send them to "a better place," because she worried members of a drug cartel would torture and kill her children.
Pasztor pleaded guilty but mentally ill for the murders and received a total of 130 years in prison -- 65 years for each child.
"I think her thought was, 'If she can't have them, nobody can,'" Leanne Pasztor, Amber's mother, told PEOPLE.
In 1983, Diane Downs' three children were brought to an Oregon hospital with gunshot wounds. One died, and two survived but had serious injuries.
Downs told investigators she and her children had been shot during a carjacking, but then police found a secret diary detailing her obsession with a married man who did not want kids, after which she was charged with killing her 7-year-old daughter.
Downs, who still maintains her innocence, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years.
In 2001, Texas mom Andrea Yates killed her five children, who ranged in age from 6 months to 7 years old, in a bathtub.
Yates, now 52, was initially convicted of the killings and sentenced to life in prison. But the verdict was overturned and in 2006 Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity and has since been committed to mental hospitals.
Her defense had long claimed she suffered severe postpartum psychosis and was delusional during the killings and believed Satan had taken over her soul.
Yates’ then-husband, Rusty, filed for divorce a few years after the killings. But he told Oprah Winfrey last year that he forgives his ex-wife for drowning their children.
“Forgiveness kind of implies that I have ever really blamed her,” Rusty said then. “In some sense I’ve never really blamed her, because I’ve always blamed her illness.”
“She immediately pulled the weapon out and pointed it at Mr. Sheats and wanted to blame him: ‘You made me do this, you’re making me do this,’" Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls previously told PEOPLE.
But she didn’t shoot Jason. Instead, Sheats chased her daughters, Madison, 17, and Taylor, 22 into the street, killing them before authorities arrived and fatally shot her. As for why she didn’t shoot Jason, Nehls says, “She wanted him to suffer.”
Utah mom Megan Huntsman admitted in 2014 to killing six of her newborn babies soon after giving birth between 1996 and 2006.
All of the babies were either strangled or suffocated after Huntsman gave birth to them at home, Huntsman admitted to police. She told police she was too addicted to methamphetamine to properly care for the children.
Authorities learned about the deaths after Huntsman’s estranged husband, Darren West, contacted police after finding a baby wrapped in a plastic bag in the garage. Authorities searched the home and found additional bodies placed in plastic bags and contained in a separate cardboard box.
Before killing herself last June, Carola Arnau, 40, fatally shot her two children -- daughter 10-year-old Bellailani and son Noah, 4 -- in their Pennsylvania home.
At the time of the shooting, the children's father, Miguel Arnau, was working. The couple was in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle.
“It appears they [the kids] were shot in their sleep, and there would not have been any struggle, as pathetic as a comfort that that is,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said afterward.
Jessica Edens went on a killing spree in July 2017 before turning the gun on herself.
In July, the South Carolina mother fatally shot her estranged husband's girlfriend before driving back to her home and fatally shooting her two children, 9-year-old son Hayden King, and 5-year-old daughter Harper Edens, in the back of her SUV. Then, she killed herself.
Officials said they believe Edens and hubsand Ben Edens were in the midst of a messy divorce and custody battle and that she planned to do something that would have "everlasting consequences for her husband.”
Sarah Lynn Kreuger
This past July, a California jury sentenced Sarah Lynn Kreuger, 27, and her boyfriend, 29-year-old Ryan Scott Warner, to life in prison for the 2014 torture and murder of Kreuger's daughter Kayleigh Slusher.
The 3-year-old was found by police dead in her bed and partially frozen. An autopsy revealed that Kayleigh had 41 distinguishable injuries all over her body and had died two days before she was found. She had been kept in the couple's freezer for several hours after her death.
Stephanie Diane Smith
Alabama 4-year-old Zadie Wren Cooper died on July 7, 2016. Shortly after her death, Zadie's mother, Stephanie Diane Smith, mourned her daughter's death on Instagram. "I wish you'd taken me with you," she wrote in one post in April 2017. "I don't want to be here without you. I don't. I love you forever, sugar bear."
The medical examiner was unable to determine the girl's cause of death. But in April 2017, Smith walked into police station and confessed to smothering her daughter with a pillow, saying she had mental issues and that she'd been off her medication.
In August 2020, Smith was sentenced to life in prison.