Tiny victims of Mum’s killing hour
Could any mother in her right mind murder her children?
It was a scene as tragic as it was harrowing.
On the morning of 20 June 2001, Rusty Yates went to work, leaving his wife Andrea, then 36, and their five kids having breakfast.
As soon as he left, Andrea turned on the bath taps. She had an hour till her mother-in-law arrived. Starting with Paul, 3, she took the children, one by one, to the bathroom.
And, there, she calmly drowned them in the bath.
After Paul, she killed John, 5, then Luke, 2. Then she put them on her bed, covered in a sheet. As she was drowning Mary, 6 months, her eldest, Noah, then 7, wandered in.
‘What’s wrong with Mary?’ he asked, spotting his baby sister floating in the bath.
Sensing danger, he ran. Andrea dragged him back to the tub and drowned him.
Noah’s body was left floating in the bath, while Mary was placed in the arms of her other brothers.
Andrea then called the emergency services.
‘I’ve just killed my kids,’ she said.
And, as sobbing police officers discovered the awful scene, there was no doubt what
Andrea had done. But why?
Andrea had graduated top of her class in 1982, was captain of the swimming team. She’d begun working as a nurse.
On their wedding day in April 1993, Andrea and Rusty announced plans to have ‘as many children as nature provided’.
Noah arrived in February 1994, John in December 1995, and then Paul in September 1997.
But, after Luke was born in February 1999, Andrea was depressed. She’d shake, chew her fingers. Admitted to psychiatric hospital, she was diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis. Andrea was prescribed antidepressants and eventually sent home. But she refused her medication, self-harmed and neglected her babies.
In July 1999, she was hospitalised again – in a catatonic state for 10 days. After being treated with anti-psychotic injections, her condition improved. It seemed a turning point.
Treated as an outpatient,
Andrea returned to cooking, swimming – and she began to dote on her children.
Yet, despite the doctors warning another pregnancy could bring on more psychotic behaviour, Andrea had Mary in November 2000.
At first, Andrea seemed to cope. But, sadly, after her father died in March 2001, her mental health spiralled.
She stopped taking her medication, refused to speak or drink liquids. She wouldn’t feed baby Mary. Worried, Rusty admitted her to a new hospital.
On her release, the doctors warned she shouldn’t be left alone with the kids. But, that June morning, Rusty left Andrea unsupervised for an hour, before his mother was due to take over.
When the police arrived at the family home in Houston, Texas, Andrea was arrested for murder, and her trial began in March 2002.
She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Giving evidence for the defence, doctor Melissa Ferguson, a psychiatrist who’d treated Andrea, said she was ‘one of the sickest patients I had ever seen’.
Dr Ferguson said Andrea felt her children were ‘tainted and doomed’ to suffer in the fires of hell because she was evil.
During her confession, officers said she’d appeared ‘zombie-like’. She’d said she was a bad mother and the children were ‘not developing correctly’, so she needed to be punished.
The Chief Medical Examiner told the court the postmortems indicated the children had struggled, and marks left on Noah made it clear he’d fought back.
During her confession, Andrea admitted chasing Noah around the house.
She’d also asked the police officers when her trial would be – clear evidence, the prosecution’s expert psychiatrist said, that she knew what she’d done was wrong.
The psychiatrist, also a consultant on Law & Order, a TV drama Andrea watched, also suggested the idea for the killing may have come from a recently aired episode.
In it, a woman drowned her child and was acquitted of murder due to insanity.
Andrea Yates was found guilty and jailed for life, to serve a minimum of 40 years.
Later, it emerged no such episode of Law & Order existed – the psychiatrist had been confused.
Based on this false testimony, Andrea was granted a retrial. In January 2006, she again entered an insanity plea.
‘We all agree that Mrs Yates is mentally ill. That does not mean that she is insane,’ said the prosecutor.
‘It will be plain from the evidence again that she did know exactly what she was doing.’
The defence detailed Andrea’s long history of depression.
‘She was acting under a severe delusion that, by drowning her kids, she was saving her children from a lasting damnation in hell,’ said her defence lawyer George Parnham.
In the four years since her original conviction, Andrea’s mental health hadn’t improved. She was heavily medicated, just to get through the trial.
Once again, it was put to the jury – were these the actions of a desperately sick mother, in the grip of postpartum psychosis?
Or a calculating woman using mental illness to get away with murder?
The jury found Andrea Yates not guilty by reason of insanity. The verdict sparked international debate about mental health.
Andrea was moved from prison to a mental-health facility, where she remains today. The facility focuses on treatment, not punishment.
‘She’s where she needs to be,’ says her lawyer George Parnham.
Yates spends her time watching videos of her children, walking around the gardens and doing arts and crafts.
Some of her artwork is sold through the facility’s shop and any money is put in a memorial fund that assists in screening lowincome women for mental-health issues.
In a 2015 interview, Oprah Winfrey asked Rusty Yates if he forgives his ex-wife.
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Forgiveness kind of implies that I have ever really blamed her. In some sense, I’ve never really blamed her because I’ve always blamed her illness.’
Despite her case coming up for yearly review, as of September 2016, Yates has never sought release.
L-R: Luke, Paul, John, Noah and (inset) Mary
The smiling family
Andrea and Rusty married in 1993
Illness to blame? Andrea Yates
Andrea Yates arrives in court Forgiving: Dad Rusty