n    4-4-2002


USA - A mγe que afogou os seus 5 filhos na banheira



Mother charged in deaths of 5

Children were drowned in tub, Houston police say


By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News

HOUSTON - A 36-year-old mother with a history of depression, who once attempted suicide, apparently drowned her five children in a bathtub Wednesday morning before calling police, authorities said.

Officers sent to the house said they were met at the door by the woman, her clothes still damp. Four of the children were found on a bed under a sheet, police said. The fifth - the eldest child, a 7-year-old boy - was in the bathtub. The youngest child was a 6-month-old girl.

Andrea Pia Yates was taken into custody at her home in Clear Lake, a Houston community near NASA's Johnson Space Center, and was questioned by homicide investigators. She was charged with multiple counts of capital murder Wednesday night and moved to the Harris County Jail.

Mrs. Yates' husband, Russell Yates, a NASA computer engineer who had been phoned by his wife Wednesday morning, arrived home about the same time as the first police officers but was not allowed into the house.

Mr. Yates told police that his wife had been treated for postpartum depression since the birth of their fourth child two years ago and was taking medication.

Houston police spokesman John Cannon said dispatchers received a call shortly before 10 a.m. from the woman, who said she needed a police unit to come by and "check on the children she was caring for."

"The responding patrol officer came to the door, and the woman, who was still breathing rather heavily at that time, said, 'I just killed my children.'" Mr. Cannon said.

Mr. Cannon said the officer asked where the children were, and he was led to a back bedroom.

The children found dead on the bed were Mary, 6 months; Luke, 2; Paul, 3; and John, 5.

A second officer searched the home before finding Noah in the bathtub.

Authorities believe the children were drowned, one by one, although the cause of death will not be known until autopsies are completed.

"It's just rather unimaginable," Mr. Cannon said at an impromptu news conference near the home. "The officers are pretty distraught. The responding officer has got a couple of children of his own. These homicide investigators who are here at the house have children of their own. ... It's a rather disheartening thing to see."

Suicide attempt

Judy Hay, a spokeswoman for Children's Protective Services, said records indicate that Mrs. Yates attempted suicide two years ago.

"One of the psychiatric hospitals in town called to say they were treating her for an overdose suicide attempt," she said.

CPS officials knew she had four children at that time and were unable to determine the children's quality of care.

Ms. Hay said CPS found Mrs. Yates' parents caring for the children. Their father also was living with them at the time. No case file was opened.

"She was under psychiatric care, so there was really no role for CPS," Ms. Hay said.

Ms. Hay was stunned by Wednesday's tragedy.

"I've worked here for three decades, and I've never seen deaths like this," she said.

Mrs. Yates, Ms. Hay said, "just didn't fit the profile" of a parent who would kill her kids.

Dr. Ann Dunnewold, a Richardson psychologist who works with patients with postpartum depression, said women suffering from postpartum psychosis typically suffer from hallucinations or delusions, or significant confusion.

"This confusion is above and beyond the variety of what day is it, or that sort of thing. It's more, 'my baby is Jesus' or 'my baby is the devil' or 'my baby can fly' - that sort of thing," she said.

'Sweet kids'

Andrea Yates' relatives said she was a registered nurse who graduated from the University of Houston. She had worked as a nurse but became a stay-at-home mom, home-schooling her children.

"We were all pretty close,'' said Mrs. Yates' 16-year-old niece, Jessika Kennedy. "They were really sweet kids. ... They were loving, smart kids."

Mrs. Yates, she said, "was just doing a great job of home-schooling her kids." Noah, she said, was especially bright. "He probably knew more than me about the presidents."

Jessika and her father, Andrew Kennedy, said the Yates family came over for a barbecue when Mr. Yates' mother and brother were in town about two weeks ago.

Jessika said the children and Mrs. Yates seemed normal, as rambunctious and happy as usual. She said she learned about the tragedy Wednesday afternoon, as she watched television with her sister.

As they saw the news bulletin, Mr. Yates telephoned. Jessika said he seemed nervous and asked to speak to her father. He wouldn't say what was wrong; then Jessika said she saw the Yates family's home on television.

"One thing we want to get real clear, she was a great mom," Jessika said. "She would be more thought of as somebody who would give her life for her kids, not take their lives."

The Yates family had lived in the neighborhood for about two years. After the horrific discovery, neighbors who knew them gathered outside the brown, one-story Spanish-style home.

'No warning'

Rafael Dadillo, 33, who lives across the street, said he recalled Mrs. Yates teaching her boys how to ride a bike.

"They seemed like a close family. The kids were always together and seemed to get along real well," Mr. Dadillo said. "My kids used to play outside with them. They said they didn't know the dad because he worked a lot of the time, but they said Mrs. Yates was very nice."

Mr. Dadillo said that Mr. and Mrs. Yates used to play basketball with their children in the driveway.

The three oldest Yates boys attended a party over the weekend at the home of Raymond Rivera, whose grandson Rocky celebrated his first birthday. The children smacked a piρata, ate cake and appeared to enjoy themselves on a video the family made.

"Mr. Yates said his wife didn't want to come because she was depressed from having her baby, or something like that," Mr. Rivera said.

Although Mr. Rivera said he never met Mrs. Yates, he said the father appeared to dote on the children.

"During the flood earlier this month, he took his kids down the street in a boat," Mr. Rivera said. "He was always taking them to the park."

Fernando Guel, 53, who lives two houses down, said he rarely saw Mrs. Yates outside, but he saw Mr. Yates playing basketball with the children Tuesday evening.

"There's no warning about what goes on in the hearts of some people," he said. "It's sickening to the stomach, you know. Our neighbors just got wiped out."

He said the Yates children were "well behaved and very playful. But you only saw them outside every now and then. I think their mother kept them inside a lot when the father wasn't there."

Mr. Guel described the neighborhood as a place where people just stay to themselves.

"This changed me, I used to wave to people before or say 'hi,'" he said. "Now I'm going to go out and meet people."

Shelly Sampson, a neighbor and mother of five, stood across the street from the home holding a toddler in her arms.

She said her 10-year-old daughter, Rachael, used to play with Noah.

"They caught snakes together. They went to the same school just nearby here."

Mrs. Sampson said she did not know the parents but would often see them out with the children. She recently saw the father doing yard work with three of their children and nothing seemed amiss.

But another friend of her daughter's recalled seeing Noah sitting out by a tree in their front yard with his 6-month-old sister in a "bouncy seat." Both of the children were crying.

"I just wished that I could have reached out to her," Mrs. Sampson said. "I wish I had known something so I could have said, 'Let me watch your kids for a while. Let me do something.' This is so awful. We just didn't know."

Reported by staff writer Lee Hancock in Houston and Laura Heinauer in Dallas. Staff writer Ed Timms in Dallas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Sunday, Jan. 20, 2002
The Yates Odyssey
Andrea Yates wanted lots of kids and a solid family life but lost it all one murderous morning. As her trial begins, the defense will try to prove she is insane. But that begs the question: could the tragedy have been averted?


The first time Russell Yates ever saw Andrea Kennedy, she was in the water. It was 1989, and he had spied her sunbathing in a bikini by the pool of the Houston apartment complex they shared. She hopped in for a swim, and he looked on in wonderment as she steadied herself with her toes against the pool wall and stretched out to float serenely on her back, her long brown hair making a slow swirl in the blue water and her arms outstretched like a cross. She seemed so at peace he thought she might fall asleep on that bed of water. He would later find out that she was a champion swimmer and had once swum around an island in Mexico. She loved to sail. She loved the water. As Rusty Yates now describes the woman he would marry in 1993, "she was a person who was more graceful in the water than out of it."

It is late into the night of the second day of 2002, and Rusty Yates is sitting in a Mobile, Ala., hotel room, traveling on his first vacation alone and trying to piece together thoughts of his marriage. The nasa computer engineer averts his memory from the image of water for a moment. But he cannot really avoid it. v On June 20, 2001, when the police reached his modest brick home on Beachcomber Lane in suburban Houston, they found Andrea drenched with bathwater, her flowery blouse and brown leather sandals soaking wet. She had turned on the bathroom faucet to fill the porcelain tub and moved aside the shaggy mat to give herself traction for kneeling on the floor. It took a bit of work for her to chase down the last of the children; toward the end, she had a scuffle in the family room, sliding around on wet tile below a poster that proclaimed the epithets of Christ: savior, shepherd, bishop of souls. She dripped watery footprints from the tub to her bedroom, where she straightened the blankets around the kids in their pajamas once she was done with them.

She called 911 and then her husband. "It's time. I finally did it," she said before telling him to come home and hanging up. He called back to ask what happened.

"It's the kids," she said.

He asked which of five.

"All of them."

Jury selection is now under way in one of the most sensational murder cases in years. Andrea Kennedy Yates, 37, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of capital murder, the drowning of her four sons and baby daughter. At issue in the trial is her mental state: her motives and her will. Her attorneys will argue that the killings were brought on by psychotic delusions, exacerbated by repeated episodes of postpartum depression. Prosecutors dispute the extent of her psychosis and plan to seek the death penalty if she is convicted, contending she knew right from wrong and that the massacre of five children was an intentional attempt to escape a life she could no longer live--and a husband she had grown to resent. While Andrea is the one on trial, the case will also bring scrutiny of her husband, her doctors, her mother and siblings. What did they know of her condition? And could they have prevented the tragedy?

Andrea Yates' odyssey is the focus of a Time investigation that included 40 hours of conversations with Rusty Yates as well as interviews with his wife's family and friends. Time also reviewed hours of home videos and thousands of medical records, police files, autopsy reports and court documents. What emerges is a picture far different from that in the framed family photographs hanging in the hallway of the couple's home. It is a portrait of a fateful, tragic intersection of characters. Among them:

·  A woman who had a vision of violence from the time just after her first child was born but who kept her demons secret to preserve the image of family and motherhood she and her husband treasured.

·  A well-intentioned husband, strong willed yet seen as lacking empathy, who had the task of explaining his wife's mental condition to physicians as she lapsed into silence and catatonia.

·  A psychiatrist who achieved a dramatic improvement in Andrea Yates' symptoms with antipsychotic drugs but whose warnings about the danger of relapse were not heeded by Andrea or her husband.

·  An institutional doctor who missed opportunities to expand her treatment, halted her antipsychotic drugs and sent her home after only marginal improvement.

·  Family members with a history of mental illness but little self-awareness of their shared syndromes. They had a vague sense of her problems but remained at a certain distance from her, despite harboring concerns about the way their in-law Rusty was handling the situation. What becomes clear from the oral history and medical documents of Andrea Yates is that she did not simply snap but gradually came undone. Since her arrest, she has told detectives and court-appointed doctors things that her husband and psychiatrists say she managed to hide for months, if not years.

Rusty Yates denies contributing to her mania and maintains the strongest belief that she is innocent, that insanity led her to kill. "Andrea is a victim here. She has lived in a different world for weeks and weeks, months and months," Rusty says. "She is waking up, and this is her life now. Think of the trauma she has been through. What a cruel thing to do. Where's the compassion?"

On the dry-marker board Andrea used to home school their children, Rusty has drawn charts of her depressive episodes and hospital stays since 1999. He can cite studies in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology; he has read the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. His wife's major depressive episodes, he says, are described on page 356. His obligation to support her, he says, goes beyond their wedding vows. "She wasn't just my wife. She's my best friend. And my friend's in trouble."

Rusty Yates now believes there was something invisible and corrosive in Andrea, and trying to explicate his marriage, he weaves together two threads: "Bible and brain." God blessed them with five children in eight years of marriage. A big family, Rusty says, was going to be their "adventure in life." But, he explains, "the Bible says the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour. I look at Andrea, and I think that Andrea was weak"--not morally weak but chemically weak, her resistance to evil lowered by mental illness. "Think about a field of deer, and there's one limping around, and that's kind of the way I see it. Andrea was weak, and he attacked her. Jesus says, Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." But Andrea did not have the strength to resist. On June 20, 2001, however, she was strong enough to realize a vision that had been in her head for two years.

Secrets and Lies
Andrea Kennedy had never before been so bold as on the day in 1989 when she knocked on Rusty Yates' apartment door to ask if he knew who had dinged her car. He did not, but they talked. She later confessed to him that she had simply wanted to meet him--just as he had first been interested in her after seeing her in the pool weeks earlier. She went by herself to eat at a steak restaurant by a river, and the sight of couples chatting intimately made her focus her attentions on Rusty. Back at their apartment complex, she scribbled a note on a torn piece of notebook paper and placed it beneath a wiper of his white Toyota Corolla. It said, i was thinking maybe you could come by some time tonight. "I doubt she ever did anything like that before that time," says Rusty. "She just got to a point that she needed companionship."

Eventually, he gave up Monday-night football to visit her apartment. They talked for more than an hour. "She was smart," recalls Rusty, who was 25 at the time, as was Andrea. "She used two or three words and I didn't know what they were." Perhaps for fear of embarrassing him, she did not tell him then that she had been high school valedictorian. He had been a popular jock in high school--and a summa cum laude graduate of Auburn University. There were secrets she would never tell him. Her boldness was rooted in desperation: she had not dated until she turned 23, and she was getting over a romantic breakup. Only after her arrest, he says, did he learn of it from her psychiatric records.

Even as a teenager, she kept her confidences. "Andrea would not let people get close enough," says Marlene Wark, her only good friend through Milby High School in southeast Houston. "She was prickly that way. She minded her own business and expected you to mind your own business." She was the youngest of five. Her parents, determined to vary the children's interests, would rouse them from bed at 5:30 a.m. to swim in the cold pool at the ymca. The family had one of the largest paper routes in Houston, making deliveries in their mother Jutta's aqua station wagon, which their father Andrew had souped up. As soon as she was old enough, Andrea got a job at a Jack in the Box restaurant. "Her parents expected her to make good grades, and she made good grades," recalls Wark. "She was always interested in pleasing her parents, particularly her father. He was a teacher and very demanding. She did not want him to disapprove of her." She took a calculus test from which she was exempt to prove her capability. "I think her dad really wanted her to do it," says Kyle Weygandt, another classmate.

Andrea worked as a post-op nurse at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center while dating Rusty, who designed computer systems for nasa. They spent two years getting to know each other, living together, reading the Bible and praying. Their wedding in 1993 was not extravagant, but Andrea and Rusty had very set ideas about the future. The couple talked openly to wedding guests about planning not to use birth control and wanting as many children as might come along. Within three months, Andrea was pregnant. She kept her job until Noah's birth in February 1994. One morning soon after, however, she had a startling vision: the image of a knife crossed her mind, flickering into a scene of somebody being stabbed, which vanished as quickly as it had appeared. She dismissed it and never told Rusty, who says he learned of it only after she was arrested.

With Noah still in diapers, Andrea was pregnant again in 1995. She gave up swimming and jogging. She saw less of her friends. "That was her choice," says her friend Marlene Wark, who lost touch with her old chum after Noah's birth. "Andrea is not a cream puff. She never struck me as the type who rolled over." Wark had seen her friendship lapse with Andrea before. In college they stopped talking for a year until Andrea warmed up again, without ever explaining what had miffed her. Andrea later told another friend that, at the time, she might have been bulimic and depressed.

Rusty learned to accept some of Andrea's secretiveness. "I know a few things about her," he says, "but I don't know a lot. I don't probe. I don't want to be nosy." He even respected her obsession about undressing and changing in a closet, out of his sight. She did not like confrontation and argument. He says he wanted her to speak up, but she didn't. She avoided conflicts with stints of silence that lasted days or weeks until he confronted her. "Throw a frying pan at me. Do anything!" Rusty says he told her. Nothing.

"I wanted her to thrive as a person," he says. "I wanted her to read challenging works. I didn't want her to get isolated and overwhelmed and all these things you get with children." He recalls buying her books on home management and offering to cut back on his work so she could return to nursing. She refused, he says, telling him, "I'm a mother now."

The Obedient Wife
In 1996 rusty jumped at a chance to be part of a six-month nasa-related project in Florida, and he wanted to drive his family there in a trailer. So he leased out their four-bedroom house, and Andrea plunged ahead with a garage sale of furniture, Christmas ornaments and clothes. No one recalls her complaining, but her relatives could not help noticing that she saved photos and her wedding dress while Rusty focused on storing his tools and workout gear.

That November, Andrea, Noah and baby John moved into the 38-ft. trailer, setting themselves up in a recreation-vehicle community in Seminole, Fla. While Rusty worked, Andrea spent her days taking Noah and John to the beach, the park and the children's museum. Rusty was head of the household. Andrea was his partner. Their parenting skills differed, he says, but their philosophy didn't. They showed the boys the value of books, sports, the arts. Andrea taught them to shuck corn and snap green beans. She wanted them to appreciate the colors of rainbows. She let them make messes, get away with more. v In Florida, Andrea became pregnant twice, miscarrying the first time but conceiving again by the time Rusty's project ended and they drove back to Houston. She began to call herself "Fertile Myrtle."

They rented a grassy lot for their trailer home at the Lazy Days RV Campground, near a dog track in Hitchcock, Texas. Rusty had no intention of returning to the house in suburbia. Not yet. They were living out a new family motto: Travel light. "We had expenses. We didn't have a budget," Rusty says. "We just kind of lived. We took it easy."

A few months later, in 1998, Rusty came across a newsletter by an itinerant evangelist named Michael Woroniecki, whose advice had influenced him in college. Woroniecki was selling a motor home converted from a 1978 GMC bus that he, his wife and kids had used for their traveling crusade. Andrea and Noah, 4, preferred the bus to the trailer, so Rusty bought it. Noah and John slept in "the hole," a luggage compartment accessible from the cabin through a trapdoor. The 350 sq. ft. of living space would also house Paul, who would be only 17 months old when brother Luke was born.

Yet even as her brood expanded, Andrea was busy caring for her father, who had Alzheimer's and had never fully recovered from a heart attack a decade earlier. During the holidays, with her kids in tow, Andrea usually took charge, dishing up plates of food for relatives even as her own meal went cold. It was always Andrea who visited; she rarely allowed relatives to visit her, even though they lived just 30 minutes away. "We got as close as they would let you," says her brother Andrew Kennedy.

"They were very private." Some thought she was embarrassed by the bus. The stresses seemed to converge in 1999 after the family took the bus to the Grand Canyon. Andrea seemed tired and preoccupied on the drive home to Texas, recalls Rusty, who assumed she was suffering from aftereffects of the flu, which they all had had. But then she slipped into a deep funk. On June 16, 1999, crying and nearly hysterical, she called Rusty at work and asked him to come home. He found her in the back room of the bus. She was slumped in a chair, biting her fingers, her legs shaking even more uncontrollably than her hands. Rusty packed her and the kids into his Chevy Suburban and drove south to Galveston and the bay. There he walked his wife along the seawall in an attempt to calm her. But she remained shaken. He then drove her to her parents' home.

The next day, after Rusty had left to run errands, Andrea told her mother Jutta that she was going to nap. Andrea then took at least 40 pills of her mother's trazodone, an antidepressant prescribed to help Jutta sleep. Andrea was lying unconscious in her mother's bed when Jutta walked in, saw the empty bottle and called 911. An ambulance arrived, with Rusty following behind. As paramedics carried Andrea away on a stretcher, her sons sobbed uncontrollably.

The Breakdown
She had taken the pills to "sleep forever," Andrea told staff at the Methodist Hospital, according to medical records released by defense lawyers. But afterward she felt guilty for attempting suicide. "I have my family to live for," she told registered nurse Bridget Fenton. Andrea told a psychiatrist she was worried the overdose had done permanent damage to her body.

Recovery was not as immediate as repentance. On June 20, 1999, Andrea retreated from group therapy to her hospital room, where with the lights out, she pulled the sheets over her head. According to his notes, psychiatrist James Flack found her to be purposefully vague. "I guess there has been some turmoil," she told him without elaborating. Her "extreme guardedness" frustrated Norma Tauriac, a social worker at the hospital. Yates would discuss her childhood, but she deflected the social worker's questions about her children or her breakdown. All she would say was "I guess I was overwhelmed and depressed." When Tauriac asked about her strengths, Andrea paused, then said, "I can't think of any right now."

Rusty had his own assessment. In a phone call with Tauriac, he said Andrea had "lost her identity." She relied on him for decisions, he said, noting that she focused only on the children. Tauriac asked about the marriage. "Maybe I could treat her with more respect," Rusty said, adding that Andrea "may be struggling with the concept of salvation ... She puts a burden on herself." He thought Andrea had "some guilt about showing anger." Tauriac scribbled notes in the file: "The patient's husband might be a little bit controlling."

Tauriac was wary of Rusty. He had insisted that his wife's problems were simply signs of temporary postpartum depression, not a graver mental illness. He also told her that he was teaching the kids to be quieter for long periods and that he was instructing them in woodworking. His 31?2-year-old, he said, could use a power drill.

Andrea was still depressed, but Flack discharged her "for insurance reasons," as he wrote on her medical chart. He also thought she might respond better to a female psychiatrist, whom she might find more "nurturing," he told Rusty. Flack had given Andrea a prescription for Zoloft, an antidepressant not unlike her mother's, and Rusty took her back to her parents to recuperate. But she never liked taking pills and faked swallowing them, say Jutta and Rusty. They took turns checking her mouth for hidden meds.

Andrea only got worse. Staying in bed all day, she scratched four bald spots into her scalp and picked sores in her nose. She used her nails to score marks on her legs and arms in her silent obsessions. Her mother and other relatives say Andrea was slipping away, and they could not reach her. At this time, she would later tell psychiatrists--but not her husband, he says--she experienced visions and voices. She would hear commands: "Get a knife! Get a knife!" Then the image she first saw after Noah's birth returned: a knife and a person being stabbed. But now in the image she saw the bloody results. The visions returned as many as 10 times over several days.

Andrea told Rusty and her mother that the children were "eating too much." When 4-month-old Luke cried, Andrea would try to rock him to sleep and give him a pacifier, but she would not feed him. The task of weaning the infant to a bottle fell to her elderly mother, who struggled to care for her grandchildren and her own sick husband.

Not until Andrea became ill did her relatives fully realize that mental illness ran in the family. They began to confide in one another, says Jutta. Andrea's brother Andrew and sister Michelle are being treated for depression. Her other brother Brian found out he is bipolar. The more they talked, the more they all suspected that their father had been battling depression. Andrea, as far as anyone knew, had never been treated for her pre-Rusty bout of depression.

The day before she was to meet her new psychiatrist, Andrea disappeared. Rusty tracked her to the bathroom, where she stared at the mirror, pressing a kitchen knife against her throat, deliberating. "Give me the knife," Rusty demanded. She told him to get out. "Let me do it," she said. He moved toward her, grabbing her arm and prying the knife away. Upon hearing the details from Rusty, psychiatrist Eileen Starbranch wanted Andrea hospitalized again. This time she would be sent to Memorial Spring Shadows Glen, a private center in northwest Houston. After 10 days, Andrea was nearly catatonic. Electroshock therapy was considered. But Starbranch decided to try an "emergency injection" formulated from a cocktail of drugs, including the antipsychotic Haldol, which she used only in dire cases. The effects were immediate, recalls Rusty. His wife exhaled like a wounded animal and moved erratically around the room before she slept.

When she awoke, Rusty saw renewed longing in her eyes as she looked at the swimming pool outside, back at him and then at the pool again. He saw the woman she could be. The conversation they had that night, he thought, was one of their best. Andrea was unguarded. Later she told him that the Haldol injection was a "truth serum"--and that she hated how it caused her to lose control of herself.

In sessions with psychologist James Thompson, whose medical records were released by defense lawyers, Andrea said things she would never confess to her husband. Her attempt to commit suicide, she explained to Thompson, was her way of heading off what the visions and voices were leading to. "I had a fear I would hurt somebody. I thought it better to end my own life and prevent it," she said. What others saw as her silence and nervousness, she said, were her attempts to restrain herself from acting out and causing harm.

In the sessions with Thompson, her secret history began to unfold. She admitted the knife image followed Noah's birth but refused to say who was hurt in the vision. She tried to change the subject. She had been depressed twice in her life--after her dad's heart attack and the "failed relationship" before she met Rusty. How, asked Thompson, would she describe the old Andrea? "A little more outgoing. More cheerful. More helpful. More patient. Not so self- centered as I am now."

The Kennedys were running out of room in their small house as Andrea's brothers and their kids moved in briefly, but her parents were adamant that Rusty not take her back to the bus. It was not healthy for her--or the kids. So Rusty, now a project manager at nasa earning $80,000 a year, bought a house, the second one he looked at: 942 Beachcomber Lane, a Spanish-style home with three bedrooms, two baths, trees, a high wood fence around the backyard and a spot to park the bus. Rusty took Andrea to close the deal. She was now receiving Haldol monthly and looked like a zombie, says Rusty, but he remembers she could hold the pen, signing here and initialing there, agreeing to pay the mortgage along with him. "I wanted her name to be on the deed," Rusty says, hoping the serenity of the backyard would speed her recovery.

And as the months passed, Andrea improved. She started swimming again, doing a furious 70 laps at dawn in the neighborhood pool. She planted milkweed to attract the butterflies that she and Noah loved. In a rare confession, she told Rusty she felt she had "failed" at the simple life in the bus. But she turned the front den into a classroom to home school Noah and the other kids. When they studied horses, they read Black Beauty and went riding real ones. When they were learning about Indians, she crafted a cardboard diorama including pretend deerskin stretched across twigs. To show off musical instruments, they paraded as a marching band in front of the video camera so Daddy could see them. She insisted on buying extra workbooks to expand their home-schooling curriculum. "You make it difficult on yourself," Rusty says he told her. "You're making it more complicated than it needs to be."

Andrea baked elaborate birthday cakes from scratch and stayed up late sewing costumes for her friends' kids, not just her own. The boys bragged about her chicken pot pie, and Rusty loved her chocolate-covered cookies. She traveled with the best-stocked stroller and diaper bag in the neighborhood, complete with apples cut into kid-size bites. "She did love to nurture her children," says Traci Winkler, another mother who would hang out with Andrea at the park and at kids' birthday parties. "She never seemed like she was in a rush with them." On Wednesday nights Rusty would take one of the boys out for pizza. Mommy's Night Out was Thursday. Andrea usually took one of the younger kids with her.

The family had Bible study three nights a week in the living room because Rusty had not found a church he liked. He had learned the faults of organized religion from Michael Woroniecki, the traveling preacher who had sold him the bus. Rusty did not agree completely with the extreme views of his old spiritual mentor. But Andrea, moved by the repent-or-burn zeal, wound up exchanging letters with the preacher and his wife for years after they bought the bus. Woroniecki wrote that "the role of woman is derived ... from the sin of Eve" and that bad children come from bad mothers. Sometimes her family life seemed to parallel his: raising kids on the road, home schooling, God fearing. At one point, she asked Woroniecki to write a letter to help convert her Catholic parents. The influence worried the Kennedys. What had Rusty got her into? But even Rusty grew concerned with her obsession with Scripture. Still, he says, "a guy cannot really complain that his wife is reading the Bible too much."

Andrea was continuing her Haldol injections and driving twice a month to see a social worker for counseling. At that time, neither Rusty nor Andrea chose to find out more about the complexities of depression that had threatened their family. He once asked what her illness had been like. "Very dark," she told him. She would not discuss it further, and Rusty admits that he asked nothing else. "I didn't want to pry," he says. He still knew nothing of the knives she saw or the bloody visions, he says, and believed she was fully recovered.

Rusty had used birth control while Andrea was on psychotropics. But toward the end of 1999, when she was happily baking cookies and exercising again, she stopped taking her meds and they stopped using contraception. By the spring of 2000, she was pregnant again. "We weren't trying to have a baby," Rusty says, "but we weren't trying not to, either."

Dr. Starbranch had warned that if Andrea's illness returned, it could be more severe. But Rusty and Andrea both believed, Rusty says, that if the depression were to return, Rusty could easily recognize the symptoms and seek early intervention. The birth of Luke may have triggered her illness, but he was a blessing too. "To us," says Rusty, "the trade was simple."

Not everyone thought so. Andrea's mother was already concerned that Rusty had contributed to his wife's first breakdown. Andrea's former nursing colleague Debbie Holmes tried to talk to Andrea about the burdens of motherhood. Andrea already had four kids. Did she really need another? But Andrea told her friend that Rusty wanted the baby. "Rusty only cares about Rusty," Holmes told Time. Through the years, she heard Andrea describe her husband as controlling and manipulative. Holmes told police she was "the only friend allowed to visit" Andrea, and Holmes wrote down her friend's stories about Rusty in her diary. When Andrea trimmed Rusty's hair, Holmes claimed, her hands supposedly trembled because he belittled her for every goof.

Andrea hoped for a girl. "Let's get enough boys for a basketball team, and then we can talk about girls," Rusty joked. By Thanksgiving 2000, she got her wish: a daughter named Mary Deborah.

Darkness Visible
In spite of keeping house, home schooling and a new daughter, Andrea never missed a day of visitation when her father lay dying in the spring of 2001. She took all the children with her to the local VA hospital. She cared for him after doctors sent him home. The man who once taught her to sail was now confined to a wheelchair and could only gargle the water Andrea gave him. The night he died, Andrea insisted on driving to her parents' house. But the sight of her father's corpse devastated her. Rusty still wonders how guilty Andrea felt about the death--whether she believed her father could have lived longer at home with an IV, which as a nurse she could have administered. But he never asked her about her feelings.

Andrea began to fray. She became absorbed in the Bible. Rusty came home one day to find Noah upset because Andrea had berated him about an assignment. "Nothing would get her to laugh," says her brother Andrew. "She would not ask us for help. Maybe she didn't know how." She constantly held Mary but would not feed her. She stopped talking. She went days without drinking liquids. She began scratching her head to baldness again. It was just three weeks since her father's death.

At Dr. Starbranch's advice, Rusty decided to rehospitalize his wife and, guided by his Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance coverage, found the Devereux Texas Treatment Network, a sprawling campus amid the woods in nearby League City. But it was not easy to get her there. On March 31, 2001, Andrea refused to leave the house. As Rusty remembers it, he and her brother Brian had to drag her into a truck, and at Devereux's parking lot they had to drag her out. Andrea then refused to sign forms admitting herself to Devereux, leading her attending psychiatrist Mohammed Saeed and the staff to prepare letters asking a Texas judge to confine her to the Austin State Hospital because, they said, her condition was dangerous. After Rusty pleaded for hours, she complied. What the psychiatrist learned about her history came from her husband, who did all the talking, not from the psychiatrists and other professionals who had treated her in the past. Rusty says he still did not know about the visions and voices his wife had described in 1999, but he urged Dr. Saeed to read Andrea's medical records because the psychiatrist seemed skeptical about her earlier treatment involving a Haldol cocktail. When Saeed finally received a partial batch of records, he wrote in her chart, "No new info."

At Rusty's urging, Saeed agreed to put Andrea on Haldol, but discontinued the treatment after only a few weeks because he thought her "flat face" might be a side effect. In a pretrial hearing last month, Saeed testified that he partly based his treatment decision on the limited responses of a patient who rarely spoke. "I had not seen any evidence of psychosis," he testified, referring to medical files, "and I have a notation that she had denied hallucinations and delusions." (Saeed has declined comment to the press, citing a gag order.) Saeed said she never opened up to him about her inner torment. At the hospital, she watched videos about drug addiction, which Devereux officials say offer therapeutic advantages, such as coping skills. v It took 10 days for Andrea to begin feeding herself again. That was enough improvement for Saeed to discharge her, even though her medications were not yet stabilized. She wanted to go home, where Saeed said she might respond. Says Rusty: "He saw me. He thought I could take care of her. He calculated the risk."

Home, however, was a demanding place. Andrea had resisted the idea of a nanny or a housekeeper, says Rusty, who felt that keeping house "was a source of pride for her." The Kennedys thought he should have hired somebody long ago. "I had five children, but I had a very good husband who helped," Jutta says. Rusty's mom Dora, however, came from Tennessee to help, sleeping at a motel and watching Andrea and the kids by day.

On May 3, while he worked, Andrea and her mother-in-law took the kids for a walk. After they returned, Noah saw Andrea filling up the tub. He told his grandmother, who turned off the water. Asked why, all Andrea said was, "I might need it." Debbie Holmes stopped by the house to drop off food, but Andrea would not let her in. Holmes doubted whether Rusty realized the severity of Andrea's depression; she believed he was not "big" on pills. Holmes also believed her friend had been possessed by the devil, something the two discussed after her 1999 illness, say sources close to the case. About this time in 2001, the sources say, Holmes was worried that the demons had returned a hundredfold.

But even Rusty knew that Andrea needed treatment. When Dr. Saeed agreed to a rehospitalization, Rusty drove her back to Devereux. Lori, 32, her roommate there, remembers Andrea as eerily mute as she lay in the windowless room farthest down the hall from the nurses' station in Unit 3. "Her eyes were real wide. She looked like a scared person," says Lori. "It was like nothing I'd ever seen before." Despite the rules, Rusty would walk into their room, and Lori complained to nurses. "To me, he was sneaky," she says. One night Lori hallucinated and screamed so loudly that nurses ran to their room. Andrea, lying in bed, did not flinch. Lori's parents, David and Janna Fashenpour, came to daily group therapy for families. At first they liked Rusty. But he dominated the discussions when others tried to talk, and he answered questions the counselor asked his wife, who wouldn't nod her head. Says David Fashenpour, a retired Air Force officer and nasa contractor: "It was almost like her silence was a payback to the husband--like a control issue going on."

During this hospital stay--unlike the three previous ones--Rusty did not bring the kids to see her. For Mother's Day, though, the four boys and Mary brought her a heart-shaped helium balloon and Russell Stover chocolates with a rose on the box. On a concoction of Haldol and antidepressants, she had improved marginally. She remained on 15-minute suicide checks, and she mostly stayed in her room. But for the first time, when Saeed asked if she was having suicidal thoughts, she answered no. The next afternoon, May 14, Rusty came by for his daily visit and found Andrea waiting by the nurses' station. She was ready to go home, released by Saeed, who wrote in her chart that while she still appeared depressed, she was eating and sleeping "much better." Hospital workers noted that in group therapy, she would still say nothing except her name. Nurses noted that her affect was "flat," her mood "somber" and her judgment still "impaired"; however, she was showering and eating with "minimal prompting." So Rusty took Andrea home.

Last Acts
On June 18 the lot behind the discount cigar and liquor store was nearly empty when Rusty pulled into the strip shopping center where Dr. Saeed parks his Mercedes. Andrea, silent and somber, had not changed her clothes or combed her hair before the appointment. In the month since her release from Devereux, Saeed had sent her to six days of outpatient therapy that again included four hour-long sessions on substance abuse and addiction. He had discontinued Haldol and tinkered with her drug combination, sending Rusty to Walgreens five times to fetch pills.

"She's declined," Rusty says he told Saeed. "And I'm concerned." Rusty, as had been his practice, answered most of the questions, at one point describing how Andrea woke up screaming from a nightmare in which she was "trapped in bed." Each gradual improvement, he told Saeed, had been followed by slightly faster declines, particularly in the previous few days. He wanted Saeed to consider shock therapy again.

Saeed was not as displeased by Andrea's progress. Shock treatments were usually temporary fixes for severely ill patients, he told Rusty. He still did not want to go back to prescribing Haldol. "It's a bad medicine," he said. He thought about putting her on lithium, typically used to treat bipolar patients with mood swings. Andrea's mood had been flat but steady until the past week, Rusty told him. Asked if she were suicidal, Andrea murmured "No" to Saeed. He did not ask if she thought of hurting others. Again Saeed adjusted her dose of antidepressants, but no Haldol, Rusty says. The psychiatrist then suggested, "Maybe you can see a psychologist." Before she walked out, Saeed turned to Andrea and said that he needed her help. Find new ways of controlling the mind, he told her. "Think positive thoughts."

On the afternoon of the next day, Andrea watched cartoons in the living room, and later she joined in a brief round of basketball with Rusty and Noah in the garage, taking about 15 shots. Then without a word she went back in and crawled into bed without changing her clothes. She did not wake till the next morning, June 20. The nightmares had taken over. That day Rusty Yates noticed a nervousness in the way Andrea moved around the kitchen, setting out cereal bowls and milk for the kids.

Rusty asked her to get ointment for Paul's lip, which he'd hurt at the playground. Andrea hurriedly dabbed on the gel. John asked Rusty if he could finally have his long-awaited turn going to work with him at nasa and playing games at Space Center Houston. But Rusty had a space-shuttle design meeting that morning and was not in the mood to take John along. He told him to stay with Mommy. Rusty made certain Andrea had swallowed her morning dose of antidepressants, and as he left he saw her eating handfuls of Sugar Pops from the box.

The kids were still having breakfast when she began. First was "Perfect Paul," the 3-year-old who had been her most joyful and least trouble. He died in seconds, held violently underwater by the mother whose hands had carefully washed his hair so that the soap would not sting his eyes. She carried his soaked body to her bed, tucking him beneath a maroon blanket, his head on the pillows. After Paul, she drowned Luke, 2, and moved on to John, 5. Next she killed their baby sister Mary, whom she had distracted with a bottle so she wouldn't scoot away and hurt herself while her brothers were being killed.

Noah, her firstborn, was the last to die. The 7-year-old left his half-eaten cereal on the kitchen table when Andrea summoned him. Walking into the bathroom, Noah saw his sister facedown in the water, her tiny fists clenched. He asked, "What's wrong with Mary?" and then, according to the account Andrea would give police, he tried to run away. His mother chased him down, dragged the wailing boy to the bathroom and forced him facedown into nine inches of cold water in the tub, his sister's body floating lifeless next to him. Noah came up twice as he fought for air. But Andrea held her grip. She then laid Mary in bed with her brothers, wrapping their arms around the baby. She left Noah in the tub.

Waiting for Death
Drinking a diet Coke, Andrea told homicide sergeant Eric Mehl what she had done and why. She did not hate the children. Nor was she mad at them. "They weren't developing correctly," she said. The soft-spoken sergeant asked how long she had considered murder. Two years, she said. "Since I realized I have not been a good mother to them." Mehl watched her movements. She looked him in the eye. She nodded. Sometimes she answered, "Yes, sir." But she would sit in 15 seconds of stone-cold silence if he asked too much. She could give only short answers to simple questions in their 17-minute conversation as she twice recounted the order in which her children were born and died.

Later she told jail doctors that nothing could mute the patter that said she was a lousy mother. The death of her children, she said, was her punishment, not theirs. It was, she explained, a mother's final act of mercy. Did not the Bible say it would be better for a person to be flung into the sea with a stone tied to his neck than cause little ones to stumble? And she had failed her children. Only her execution would rescue her from the evil inside her--a state-sanctioned exorcism in which George W. Bush, the former Governor and now President, would come to save her from the clutches of Satan. Had not Scripture taught that the government is a minister of God, "an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil?" She told the doctors she wanted her hair shaved so she could see the number 666--the mark of the Antichrist--on her scalp. She also wanted her hair cropped in the shape of a crown, perhaps the kind the Bible says Jesus will give to those who have won salvation.

When Rusty visited her two days after her arrest, Andrea had gone from robotic to bizarre. The blank look on her face appeared to be strained, even skeptical as Rusty sat and told her he had done some thinking and knew she did not intentionally kill the children. He had stood in front of television cameras to defend her. "I love you and I support you," he told her. Leaning back in her chair, she interrupted. "You will be greatly rewarded," she said in a cold voice, echoing the Sermon on the Mount. When Rusty tried to introduce her lawyer, she said, "I don't need an attorney. I'm not going to plead not guilty." As he left, Andrea said, "Have a nice life."

Since then, Andrea has been put back on Haldol and other drugs. Though she has a distorted recall of June 20, other memories are coming back. "It's like a fog being lifted," she tells Rusty when he visits her on Wednesdays and Fridays. Their discussions are blunt but sincere. "If I am going to have an ongoing relationship with her," Rusty says, "I need her to be open." Andrea calls him once a week from jail. They talk while Rusty cradles the cordless phone and paces the empty house. Before Christmas, Andrea asked him to play her snippets of home videos archived in the electronic shrine that he has created at www.yateskids.org. Only recently had she been allowed to see photos of her children. Rusty made sure he played her clips of all five. Listening from a pay phone, Andrea wept to hear Noah's brothers singing him the Happy Birthday song and Paul's giggles as he held newborn Mary.

The children are buried near a stream of running water at the Forest Park East cemetery. Rusty comes by often to talk out loud and to hear his own thoughts. He wishes he had let John come along to work with him that day. He misses Noah, misses the basketball games. He feels in his heart that each of the children has forgiven their mother. He feels they can hear him speak, can hear his thoughts. And so, on one December day, he whispered one plea to them. "Pray for Mommy."



March 2, 2002

Yates Said She Killed to Save Kids


Filed at 9:53 a.m. ET

HOUSTON (AP) -- Three weeks after she drowned her five children, Andrea Yates told a a psychiatrist that she was failing as a mother and believed she had to kill the children to keep them from going to hell.

``These were their innocent years,'' Yates told psychiatrist Phillip Resnick. ``God would take them up.''

Defense attorneys introduced a videotape of the interview into evidence Friday as Resnick took the witness stand in Yates' capital murder trial. Resnick's testimony concluded the second week of the trial; he will return to the stand when the trial resumes Monday.

Yates, 37, is charged with capital murder for the June 20 deaths of 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John and 6-month-old Mary. Charges could be filed later in the deaths of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.

Resnick testified that Yates suffers from schizophrenia and major depression that impaired her behavior and thinking, causing delusions, hallucinations and social withdrawal.

Yates has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. She faces life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of drowning her children.

Resnick first met with Yates at the Harris County Jail on July 14, nearly three weeks after her children's deaths.

Resnick told jurors Friday that from his interviews and a review of police and medical records, he concluded Yates didn't think that what she did was wrong.

``Even though she knew it was against the law, she did what she thought was right in the world she perceived through her psychotic eyes at the time,'' Resnick said.

Resnick has also testified in the cases of such high-profile defendants as serial killer Jeffery Dahmer, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Susan Smith, who was sentenced to life for drowning her two sons in 1994 in South Carolina.

On the tape, Yates stared blankly at the camera with a clenched jaw, her eyes ringed by dark circles.

At one point in the interview Resnick asked her how she felt about her children.

``I didn't hate my children,'' Yates responded.

``Did you love your children?'' Resnick asked.

She responded after a long pause. ``Yeah. Some. Not in the right way though.''

Yates said she believed that if she killed her children, the state would execute her, Satan would be eliminated from the world and the children would be saved.

Resnick said Yates began having delusions in 1999 following Luke's birth and attempted suicide twice that year. The voices and delusions again grew intense after Mary's birth in November 2000.

Not long after that, Yates told Resnick, she became frustrated by what she felt was a lack of development by her children. If she didn't do something, Yates said, the children would be destined for eternal damnation.

``They did a lot of silly stuff and didn't obey,'' Yates said. ``They did things God didn't like.''



March 3, 2002

Standing by His Woman



You probably want to see the house,'' Russell Yates said wearily when I called him. ''Everybody else does.''

Beachcomber Lane hasn't been quiet since the morning Yates sped home from his job at NASA and found a crime scene where he had left his wife and kids eating breakfast. Curiosity-seekers drive by just to see the house where Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary were drowned one by one in the bathtub by their mother, Andrea Yates, last June. Since then, Rusty Yates has been living in his six-room house alone. He gave away the four-bunk-bed system he built in the boys' room to friends and many of their toys he gave to charity -- except their favorites, which he put away as mementoes. (''I kept some of them, you know, for later.'') For months, he slept on a new queen mattress set in the third bedroom, which the Yateses had used for storage, rather than on the master bed where four of his children had been placed in a gruesome tableau after their deaths. A few months before his wife's trial began, Yates moved back into the master bedroom.

Instead of a visit to the house, I suggested dinner. ''Anywhere you want to go,'' I said. ''The sky's the limit.''

I've been tracking the Andrea Yates case for eight months and asked him to meet me before the gag orders were handed out. Through it all, the pretrial hearing, jury selection and now the trial itself, Yates has sat on the same oak bench outside the courtroom, usually from start to finish of each day's proceedings. Because he was called as a witness, Rusty, like his mother, Dora, has been barred from the courtroom. His family has been there, on and off, long enough for me to watch them take turns reading the book -- Women's Moods: What Every Woman Must Know About Hormones, the Brain and Emotional Health'' -- that Yates gave each of them for Christmas. First he read it. Then his mother. Then his aunts. And most recently, his younger brother, Randy, picked it up.

Yates seemed uncertain of where to go to eat. Most of his dining had been at home with the kids, ''but I used to like to go to a place called Houston's,'' he said. He called back 10 minutes later to say he had changed his mind. He had forgotten he was famous. What would it look like, him dining alone with a woman? I assured him that I would wear my dowdiest business suit and prevailed on him to try Morton's, an upscale steakhouse conveniently located on the second floor.

Arriving at the restaurant, Yates parked his blue Chevy Suburban -- the kind of S.U.V. any parent of five might drive -- in the lot adjacent to the Container Store. He had been there before, he explained, when he and Andrea bought plastic containers to organize the kids' toys. In fact, most of Houston's shopping strips reminded Yates of his former life. He had dined at Mr. Gatti's and Jason's Deli on kids-eat-free nights, and Noah invariably wanted to show off his reading skills at Barnes & Noble.

Yates wore jeans, polo shirt and black Dr. Martens-style shoes, the basic uniform he wore most days I'd seen him. At the dinner table, he ordered iced tea and whistled in genuine disbelief at the price of a Morton's filet mignon ($33.95), but still ordered one -- medium. Yates has been called self-centered, controlling, and abusive on late-night TV and talk shows, but once we were tucked away in a corner, no one sneered or looked his way. Even the party of six nearby didn't seem to notice him or his unsteady laugh. When I asked him about people's bitterness toward him, he swore he didn't understand it. ''How can people hate my family without even knowing them?'' he asked, bewildered. ''How could I have done it better? Tell me, because I really want to know.''

These days, Yates sees his wife only through a glass partition during their twice-weekly 15-minute meetings in Harris County Jail.

''She cries a lot,'' he said. ''She doesn't understand how I can forgive her.''

''Do you?'' I asked.

''Yes. I told her that her brain was sick.'' Andrea, who was given a diagnosis not only of postpartum psychosis but also schizophrenia, now takes 15 milligrams a day of Haldol, an anti-psychotic drug. ''I asked her what if I had a heart attack while I was driving with the kids and had a wreck? What if I was the only one who survived? Would she blame me?''

''What did she say?''


But Yates knows that many people do blame him: he didn't intervene forcefully enough in his wife's treatment, hadn't insisted on outside day care and, worst of all, had fathered a fifth child when Andrea was at risk for postpartum psychosis. I asked him to dinner, in part, because I was one of the people who thought that he nudged his wife over the edge. But now, I wondered whether I would have done any better.

''You know how they say sometimes your dreams reflect some kind of hope you have?'' Yates said. ''I'll have dreams that two of my children are still alive, that Andrea only killed three. Think of that, dreaming that only three are dead, not five.'' He was now visibly upset. ''My nightmares are better than my reality.''

Whether his wife was sane or insane, guilty or innocent, life sentences of a kind have already been dispensed for many people, including Rusty Yates. ''If Andrea gets well and works through her guilt and can go on, we've got a chance,'' he said hopefully as the evening drew to a close. ''But I know I can't hold her hand for 50 years while she cries. I just don't have the strength to do it.''

Suzanne O'Malley, an investigative reporter, is a consultant for ''Dateline NBC'' on the Andrea Yates trial.



March 17, 2002


Crime and Motherhood


NATIONAL gasp went up last week when Andrea Pia Yates was found guilty in a Texas courtroom of capital murder — possible punishment: life behind bars or death by lethal injection. As it turned out, on Friday the jury opted for life in prison.

But questions remained. What did the verdict say about the American system of justice, its system of values? Mrs. Yates had been described over and over during the trial as mentally ill, suffering from hallucinations, postpartum psychoses and suicidal tendencies (she had tried to kill herself twice). How could any mother after giving birth to those five babies seen on the haunting home videos do what she did: drown them systematically, one after the other — any sane mother?

But was she sane? That was the question. In fact, that wasn't the question before the court. Under Texas law, the question was narrower: did she know right from wrong when she killed her children? On those grounds, the jury found her guilty despite her history of mental illness. What, in effect, happened in that courtroom is that while the defense tried to make the case about mental illness, the prosecutors made it about motherhood — and motherhood trumped mental illness.

"The children had become a hindrance, and she wanted them gone," said Kaylynn Williford, one of the lead prosecutors, conjuring the image of an overwhelmed stay-at- home mother unable to cope with the needs of a deeply religious, demanding husband and ever-growing brood. She was, in short, the ultimate maternal failure turned murderer, the demon mother writ large. She had to be punished — severe mental instability notwithstanding.

The flip side of this demonization of Mrs. Yates is the American sentimentalization of motherhood. It is seen as a sacred and sacrosanct sphere. The circle of mother and child is a Hallmark card place, where the selfless mother nurtures her young, no matter her dreams or ambitions, conflicts or terrors. Motherhood is seen through gauze, in soft, religiously inflected focus. Madonna and child. Through all that gauze, it's hard to see a mother like Mrs. Yates as she really is — one of the desperate, destructive mothers nobody takes seriously until too late.

"To capture how deep this is in our culture — this sentimentality about motherhood — you have to go back to the 18th century," said Victoria Brown, a professor of American history at Grinnell College. "That's when there was a profound shift in Protestant literature from an image of woman as Eve to an image of woman as Mary. That is how she redeems herself from original sin, that is how she is valuable to the community — as the self-sacrificing mother.

"And along comes the American Revolution. Women do not get the vote, they do not get full citizenship. They are defined as Republican mothers who will keep the nation together and insure democracy by being these selfless creatures at home, who raise virtuous citizens."

It seems apparent that Andrea and Rusty Yates bought into this vision big time — a vision he apparently held fast to even as she fell ill, even when she became pregnant that fifth time against doctors' advice (for fear of sending her into another postpartum psychotic episode). He insisted on home-schooling the children, tightening that sacrosanct motherhood circle around his increasingly fragmented wife.

That was her historically and religiously ordained role, motherhood, and she would do it even at peril to her own sanity. If her anger at him or her angst over her role was part of her madness, we will probably never know. But no question, the prosecutor skillfully played up that motif of wifely anger and revenge.

But what of the rest, the people who stood by and watched her disappear into madness, those close enough to see beneath the gauze of motherhood? What could they, what should they, have done — the relatives, friends and doctors — all of whom say they knew she was unstable? They made stabs at helping, but not enough to avert tragedy.

"We don't have an ethic in this country that says it's suitable to interfere," said Professor Brown. "So it's not just the sentimentalization of motherhood that's at play here, it is the privatization of it."

Motherhood is a no-entry zone, a zone of privacy. That's apparent throughout the culture — from a husband's refusal to heed the cry of a deranged wife to the state's reluctance to take children from mothers, however abusive or addicted. It goes beyond the hands-off, romantic cult of motherhood. Privacy — and individualism — are basic to our democratic, capitalistic system, where nonintervention in motherhood is the personal analog to nonintervention in the marketplace.

The ultimate question the Yates case raises is this: Is there is a point where intervention should occur, where mothers at risk should be helped or children protected — even from their mothers? Can't such tragedies be prevented?

After all, it's not that the public doesn't involve itself in motherhood at some level. There is always a chorus pushing and pulling at mothers, telling them how to do this or that, a lot of it from women themselves, as they try not to feel guilty about failing to live up to the myth.

The airwaves and bookshelves are full of didactic advice — be it the hippie homeopathic insistence on natural childbirth or the pro-family brigade's insistence on the virtues of stay-at-home motherhood. The advice, though often contradictory, can end up at the same place: reinforcing the myth of the all-important mother who should be able to meet all her children's needs — physical, psychological, emotional and economic — without help or "interference" from anyone. The new importance of fathers has sometimes ameliorated this mother- centric view of parenting, but sometimes it has had the perverse effect of upping maternal guilt. Mothers are tough on themselves — and each other.

And who was tougher on herself than Andrea Yates? That's why, she said, she tried first to kill herself and then killed her children — to save them from her inept mothering. They were turning out wrong, going to the devil. There is a grisly, demented rationality in her irrationality, this overwhelmed, unbalanced mother who will now spend virtually the rest of her life in prison.


Anne Taylor Fleming is an essayist on "The Newshour With Jim Lehrer."

Unnatural Acts
A look at the aftermath of a crime that shocked the nation.

Reviewed by Debbie Nathan

Sunday, January 25, 2004; Page BW05


The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates

By Suzanne O'Malley. Simon & Schuster, 281 pp., $25

On a sunny June morning in the Houston suburbs in 2001, Andrea Yates fed her five young children breakfast and ate a bowl of Corn Pops herself. Then she drowned all the kids in a bathtub, arranged their dripping corpses on a bed and phoned 911. The nation was transfixed by the infanticides all summer, until the terrorist attacks of September pushed its attention elsewhere. Interest revived during Yates's capital murder trial in early 2002, in which she pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Though the jury didn't buy it, they declined to put her on death row. Yates is now serving a life sentence, all but forgotten except by people interested in law and mental illness -- especially when women are involved.

As journalist Suzanne O'Malley makes clear, Yates could be a poster girl for the insanity plea, which is based on the notion that people who do bad things aren't to blame if they were out of their minds and couldn't help it. O'Malley started covering the Yates murders hours after they happened, then spent three years digging deeper. Hers is the second book about the case; it follows a potboiler by true-crime writer Suzy Spencer that was published while the Yates trial was still going on.

Like Spencer, O'Malley reviews copious evidence that Yates was gravely mentally ill long before she filled the bathtub. Beginning in 1999, she was hospitalized several times for depression and psychosis after attempting suicide. During these episodes, she would go catatonic and stop eating. She scratched her body and pulled out her hair. She had hallucinations about killing someone with a knife, and worried that demonic elements within her were hurting her children. According to one of her first psychiatrists, Yates was among "the sickest patients that I have ever treated." Under that doctor's care, she improved for awhile. But when she relapsed, Yates started seeing a different doctor who seemed to treat her on the cheap. He spent very little time with her. He declined to give her medicine that had helped her before, possibly because it was no longer covered by the Yates family's HMO. And -- again, apparently due to managed-care restrictions -- he discharged Yates from the hospital in just a few days, though other staff members said she was too ill to go home. Weeks later, she killed the children.

O'Malley isn't the first reporter to discuss cut-rate treatment, but she breaks ground by suggesting Yates was misdiagnosed from the beginning. Even psychiatrists who paid attention to her blamed her illness on postpartum depression or psychosis -- post-birth "baby blues" that plague many new mothers and that can be deadly. But O'Malley's research suggests that Yates was actually suffering from manic depression.

With five kids irrevocably gone and their killer behind bars, disputing a old diagnosis might seem academic. But this is where the book gets interesting. With mania in the mix, Andrea Yates's hellish descent begins to sound like a feminist issue: like family values or Martha Stewart home-makerism gone mad.

Yates and her NASA-engineer husband were fundamentalist Christians. They were loyal to an itinerant pastor who believes that women are tainted by the sins of "Mother Eve," and if they fail to raise their children right, they should be "drowned in the depth of the sea." The Yateses eschewed birth control; thus the four sons and a daughter in seven years. Andrea cared for them all day, without help. She used to bake elaborate cakes from scratch and stay up late making Halloween costumes by hand. She home-schooled the older children and instructed them about Jesus and Satan while juggling the babies' diaper changes. Her friends praised her "supermom" energy; her husband has said it's what he loved about her most. In hindsight, Yates's maternal heroism appears to have been little more than the high end of psychotic mood swings that turned murderous.

But if she was so clearly nuts, why was she convicted, not to mention charged with capital crimes? According to O'Malley, Texas DAs often lay capital charges so they can get "death-certified" juries -- panels so supportive of lethal injection that they'll most likely vote for conviction. (And Texas juries are not told that people don't go home if they're judged insane, but instead enter mental hospitals. Yates's jury may have mistakenly believed that only a guilty verdict would keep her off the streets.) Capital murder involves premeditation, and during trial, a prosecution expert testified that Yates -- whose favorite TV show was "Law and Order" -- might have hatched a homicide plan after seeing an episode where a woman drowns her children in a tub and successfully pleads insanity. O'Malley discovered that no such episode exists, and she rushed to tell Yates's lawyers. Her revelation came too late to spare Yates from a guilty verdict, but apparently did contribute to jurors' later rejection of the death penalty.

O'Malley's writing is often tedious: long on detail, short on analysis, and panderingly overstocked with items like those dripping juvenile corpses. But her dogged research may have saved Andrea Yates's life. That is reason enough to value this book. •

Debbie Nathan is an editor at City Limits magazine in New York and co-author, with Michael Snedeker, of "Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt."