The headlines are troubling. The discovery of infant corpses in the garage of a home in Pleasant Grove, a small town south of Salt Lake City, Utah is enough to make anyone shiver. What would make the mother – any mother – resort to such a heinous act, to kill her newly born children and stuff them in boxes hidden in the garage?
While the true reasons behind the grisly actions of the 39-year-old Utah mom of three living daughters, aged 13, 18 and 20, may not be known for some time, surviving family members and others wonder, what could possibly cause this?
According to police reports, the mother admitted to killing the six infants, either suffocating or strangling them shortly after they were born. The babies were born over a 10-year period from1996 to 2006.
Alcohol Problems, Mood Disorder or Something Else?
According to at least one neighbor’s account, the Utah mom had an apparent problem with alcohol, frequently being seen passed out on the lawn.
Post-partum blues have been implicated in other cases where moms have killed their children following the birth of a baby. But repeated neonaticides is nearly unheard of, according to Philip Resnick, psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. “Repeated neonaticide usually occurs where a woman has not had her earlier crimes discovered,” Resnick told a news outlet.
Anxiety, depression, mood disorder, schizophrenia – were any of these potential causes or contributing factors in the Utah mother’s deadly decision?
A CNN story referenced Resnick’s 1999 article listing five major reasons for filicide (a parent killing a child):
- Altruism – a belief that killing the child is in its best interest
- Acute psychosis – the parent is not in touch with reality
- Unwanted child – the infant is killed because it is a hindrance
- Accidental – the child’s death is the accidental consequence of physical abuse
- Spousal revenge – one parent kills the child to get back at a spouse
Were Signs Missed?
While neighbors said the Utah mom never appeared to be pregnant, some wonder if there were clues they might have missed. Most said they had no idea of the pregnancies, saying the woman appeared “skinny.”
What about the living daughters? Were there indications that something was wrong and were they afraid to let other family members know?
What about the mother herself? Did she feel reluctant or ashamed to seek help? Utah is among a number of states with safe haven laws that allow women to drop off unwanted babies with authorities with no questions asked. Why didn’t the Utah mother make use of this option?
For now, there are more questions than answers. The tragedy that continues to unfold in media accounts is nothing compared to the anguish of the three surviving daughters and other family members left to deal with the fallout. The grisly corpse removal was said to be so disturbing that counseling was made available to the officers involved. Surely the three daughters and family members need assistance to get through the grieving process and come to grips with this awful reality as well.