June 20, 2001: Tragedy on Beachcomber Lane Jun 22, 2014 1:18:08 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Jun 22, 2014 1:18:08 GMT -5
June 20, 2001: Tragedy on Beachcomber Lane
Around 10 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, June 20, 2001, 36-year-old Rusty Yates, a NASA engineer, answered his telephone at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The call was from his wife. “You need to come home,” she said.
“What’s going on?” Yates asked.
“It’s time. I did it,” she answered.
Not entirely sure what she meant, he asked what was going on.
“It’s the children,” his wife said.
Now thoroughly panicked, he asked which one.
“All of them,” she replied.
Yates dropped everything, hurried to his car and approximately 15 minutes later, pulled up at his home at 942 Beachcomber Lane, a Spanish-style three-bedroom, two-bath house that he shared with his wife and five children, ranging in age from 6-months to 7 years. There were police cars and ambulances in the driveway and parked on the street. When he exited his car and hurried toward the door, an officer stopped him and explained he could not enter the house. He pressed his head against the brick wall and waited. After a few minutes, he went to a window and then to the back door where he screamed, “How could you do this?!”
A short while later, Andrea Yates, a thin, bespectacled worn-out looking woman with stringy brown hair, was led from the house in handcuffs. She looked dispassionately at the gathering crowd of curious neighbors as she was led to the police vehicle.
John Cannon, a police spokesperson, addressed news reporters and described what police found when they arrived at the Yates home that morning. The door was opened by a frumpy woman whose hair and striped shirt were soaked. Without any traces of emotion, she told officers she had killed her children, then sat down while they checked the bed and bathrooms. On a double bed in the master bedroom at the back of the house, four soaking-wet children were carefully laid out and covered with a sheet. All where dead, their eyes open and staring. In the bathtub, they discovered the body of a young boy submerged in filthy water. As investigators continued to process the scene, they noted one room contained child-size school desks, where someone, presumably Mrs. Yates, home-schooled the older children. The house was generally cluttered and dirty with unwashed dishes in the kitchen and the bathrooms were a mess.
Andrea Yates was booked on suspicion of murder and reporters, anxious for a scoop, began hounding Rusty Yates for a statement. Everyone wanted to know why a mother would murder her children. Andrea Pia Kennedy, born July 2, 1964, in Hallsville, Texas, was the youngest of five children. Her mother was a German immigrant and her father’s parents were born in Ireland. During her teenage years, Andrea was bulimic, suffered from depression and spoke of suicide at age 17. Nevertheless, she was valedictorian of her high school class, captain of the swim team and an officer in the National Honor Society. Following high school, she completed a two-year pre-nursing program at the University of Houston, obtained her nursing degree from the University of Texas School of Nursing in 1986 and began working as a registered nurse at the Anderson Cancer Center. Those who knew Andrea considered her studious and shy. She did not date seriously until age 23 and suffered a bout of depression over a failed relationship at age 24.
In the summer of 1989, Andrea met Russell “Rusty” Yates at the Sunscape Apartments in Houston, where they both lived. The two soon moved in together and were married April 17, 1993, announcing they “would seek to have as many babies as nature allowed.” Andrea continued to work until their first son, Noah, was born February 26, 1994. Shortly after Noah’s birth, Rusty accepted a job in Florida and the family relocated to Seminole, where they lived in a small trailer home. Their second son, John, was born December 15, 1995, in Florida. However, when their third son, Paul, came along September 13, 1997, they were back in Houston, where they purchased and lived in a customized Greyhound bus. By the time their fourth son, Luke, was born February 15, 1999, the multiple pregnancies and stress of caring for four children were beginning to catch up with Andrea. Like many mothers, she was breast-feeding her newborn every three hours and sleeping no more than a few hours a night, if that. On June 16, 1999, when Luke was four months old, Andrea called Rusty at work to advise she was extremely anxious. When he arrived home, he found his wife shaking and barely able to speak. “I need help,” she pleaded.
The following day, Rusty took his wife and children to the home of her elderly parents, where he thought she could rest. That afternoon, she took 40 Trazodone tablets, medication used to treat major depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. If her mother hadn’t found her and rushed Andrea to the emergency room, the overdose would likely have killed her. She was transferred to the psychiatric unit at Methodist Hospital, where James Flack, M.D., diagnosed “major depressive disorder, single episode, severe.” This marked the beginning of a spiral into full-blown psychosis that was never adequately treated.
Norma Tauriac, a social worker who investigated the Yates situation and visited the home, described Andrea as “unwilling” or “not able to identify any recent life stressors.” She described Rusty as “aware and accepting” of his wife’s problems and more comfortable calling her condition postpartum depression than major depression and his concern was that his wife was “struggling with the concept of salvation.” Ms. Tauriac also found the Yates home objectionable. “As a rule the patient and her husband and the four children live in a converted bus,” she noted. In fact, Ms. Tauriac was so concerned that she called the Houston Child Protective Services Abuse Hotline June 23, 1999, to report the family’s “living arrangements and the fact the patient’s husband allows the 3½-year-old son to use a power drill.” CPS declined to investigate. Seven days later, CPS Supervisor Dan Willbur wrote to thank Ms. Tauriac for her concern, saying “because the situation does not appear to involve the occurrence and/or substantial risk of abuse or neglect, we plan no further inquiries.” The letter indicated her concerns had been forwarded to the Houston Police Department, because “they do appear to have jurisdiction in such matters.” Ms. Tauriac jotted: “Important. Please place in the chart of Andrea Yates” at the bottom of the letter, which lay dormant in Andrea’s file until after she killed her children two years later.
Andrea was remorseful over her suicide attempt. “I have my family to live for,” she said. While hospitalized, she mentioned to a nurse that the Trazodone would make it unsafe to continue breast-feeding. She never discussed her hopeless situation. “She was only able to ask if she had done any permanent damage to her body,” her treating doctor indicated. After just seven days, Andrea Yates was discharged because of insurance restrictions. The dosage of her antidepressant Zoloft was increased and she was referred to outpatient psychiatric treatment with Eileen Starbranch, M.D. In addition to Zoloft, Dr. Starbranch prescribed Zyprexa.
Three weeks later, Rusty found his wife in the bathroom attempting to slit her throat and she was admitted to Memorial Spring Shadows Glen Hospital, where she indicated she had been taking Zoloft, but had flushed the Zyprexa down the toilet when she discovered it was an anti-psychotic drug. “I had a fear I would hurt somebody,” she revealed to psychologist James P. Thompson. “I thought it better to end my own life and prevent it. There was a voice, then an image of the knife. I had a vision in my mind – get a knife, get a knife.” She also acknowledged obsessive thoughts “over our children and how they’ll turn out ... the kids, trying to train them up right, being so young ... big responsibility. I don’t want to fail.” When asked to write a sentence spontaneously, Andrea wrote: “I love my husband and kids.”
She was transferred to the psychiatric unit of Methodist Hospital, where James Flack, M.D., diagnosed “major depressive disorder, single episode, severe.” This marked the beginning of a spiral into full-blown psychosis that was never adequately treated. It soon became apparent that Andrea Yates was suffering from postpartum psychosis, a medical emergency that endangers both mother and child. It affects roughly one in 1,000 mothers and should not be confused with postpartum depression, which affects about one in 10 new mothers, or the common “baby blues,” which results in mild emotional symptoms in up to 75 percent of new mothers. Psychiatrist Arturo Rios, M.D., recommended electroshock therapy, but both Andrea and Rusty were against it. Instead, she was treated with an anti-psychotic described in medical records as an “injectable cocktail including Haldol and Cogentin,” in addition to the antidepressants Effexor and Wellbutrin. Slowly, she began responding. Rusty visited his wife diligently on the psychiatric ward and nursing notes describe him as “supportive and caring.” He brought flowers, complained when his wife hadn’t been bathed in three days and worried about the effects of the drugs she was administered. On one occasion, a nurse wrote: “Most of visit, patient was lying on sofa with husband sitting next to her stroking her head.”
After three weeks, Andrea was discharged to the PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) where she continued daily hospital care, but slept at home. Home was now a three-bedroom house in Clear Lake, a master-planned community in Houston. “She never complained about the bus,” Rusty claimed, “I just thought the house might be better for her. I didn’t even know if she liked the house until one day she told me, ‘I’m glad you bought it.’” Rusty constructed bunk beds for their sons in one of the bedrooms.
Although the Yates family now had a stationary home, instead of getting rid of the refurbished Greyhound bus, Rusty parked it beside the house. The previous owner of the bus was a preacher by the name of Micahel Warnecki, who traveled the United States with his family proselytizing on college campuses. Wornecki referred to women who worked outside the home as “witches,” insisting “As man was created to dominate, God reveals that woman was created his helpmate. Thus, the role of woman is derived, not from culture, but from the sin of Eve at the creation of the world.” The Warneckies recommended seeking Jesus in the New Testament – at home. Rachel home-schooled the six Warnecki children so the family could remain together on the road. On one occasion, she wrote to Andrea saying: “Life is so short. It is so very cruel. It is so lonely and empty. You must accept the reality that this life is under the curse of sin and death.” Andrea began pleading with her mother and siblings to renounce Roman Catholicism and sent them copies of a newsletter warning that Catholics would be banished to hell.
During this period, Rusty was conducting family Bible study classes for his wife and children roughly every three nights and Andrea was home-schooling Noah and caring for her three toddlers. Every month, she saw Dr. Starbranch, who noted in early December 1999 that Andrea indicated she was “doing great – baking cookies and getting ready for Xmas.” Rusty accompanied Andrea to her January 2, 2000, appointment and Dr. Starbranch noted Andrea “admits she’s off all meds since 11/99. Her husband says he didn’t like her doing this but [she] seems to be doing okay. [Patient] wants to be off meds unless symptomatic. Husband agrees.”
By March 2000, Andrea was pregnant again and on November 30, 2000, gave birth to Mary Yates. Three months later, her father, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for seven years, died and Andrea’s psychosis returned. She held Mary in her arms almost continually, afraid to put her down. She stopped eating, drinking and speaking and Rusty took her to nearby Devereaux Hospital, where he told the admitting physician his wife “could not survive another night at home.” This time her attending psychiatrist, Mohammad A. Saeed, M.D., and Patricia Corke, M.D., an examining physician, quickly appealed to the probate court of Galveston County, Texas, to commit Andrea to Austin State Hospital. Both doctors checked committal form boxes indicating she was a danger to herself and unable to make a rational treatment choice. One box was left unchecked: “is likely to cause serious harm to others.” Rather than have his wife committed to a state hospital, Rusty convinced her to voluntarily sign herself into Devereux. Had she been committed to the state hospital, her stay would not have been limited by health plan maximums. After just 12 days, she was discharged.
During Andrea Yates’s two-year span of severe depression, neither her family, friends, nor the many doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers who treated her, indicated she was a threat to her children. The many Father’s Day cards she'd art-directed, the costumes she'd sewn, the Valentine’s certificates for hugs and kisses she’d given her children, rendered filicide unthinkable.
As with her 1999 hospitalization, Andrea was back at Devereaux in a matter of weeks. “The patient was near catatonic. Sat in the chair and did not move at all,” Saeed wrote. “At this time we decided to try the Haldol again at the husband’s request.”
On June 4, 2001, Saeed discontinued Haldol.
During Andrea’s illness, Rusty’s mother, Dora Yates, had come from Tennessee to help with the children. Her mother-in-law later recalled that in the days leading up to the murders, Andrea paced in circles around the house, scratched her head and stared at walls. On one occasion, she filled the bathtub with water and when Dora asked why, she said, “In case I need it.” On June 19, according to Dora, Andrea stood and stared at cartoons while she and her grandchildren sat and watched them.
Andrea Yates drowned 2-year-old Luke, followed by Paul, age 3, and John, 5. After each drowning, she carried the child’s body to the bed where she and her husband slept, and laid it out. While she was in the process of drowning 6-month-old Mary, her eldest son, Noah, age 7, confronted her asking, “What’s wrong with Mary?” Then, realizing what was happening, he fled. His mother, leaving the baby in the tub, chased Noah through the house and dragged him kicking and screaming to the bathroom where the corpse of his baby sister lay dead in the now filthy tub. Some of the children had vomited and defecated as they struggled to breathe and feces and vomit floated on top of the water. Andrea forced Noah into the tub and held him down until he ceased struggling. She then pushed his corpse aside, picked up Mary’s limp little body, carried her to the bedroom and placed her on the bed beside her brothers. For reasons unknown, she left Noah in the tub.
Ten days after she drowned her children, Andrea Yates, age 36, was charged with capital murder and at her arraignment, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
During the trial, which began February 18, 2002, the prosecution’s expert psychiatrist, Park Dietz, M.D., testified Mrs. Yates got the idea to drown her children from an episode of Law and Order, though no such show had ever aired. Melissa Ferguson, M.D., director of psychiatric services at the Harris County Jail, provided a glimpse of the Defendant’s madness. “She believed that the children would be tormented and perish in the fires of hell unless they were killed,” Dr. Ferguson testified and recounted how Mrs. Yates screamed at her: “I was so stupid. Couldn’t I have killed just one to fulfill the prophecy? Couldn’t I have offered Mary?” On one occasion, Andrea asked Dr. Ferguson for a razor so that she could shave her head and pointed to a spot where she continually picked at her scalp. “She told me she wanted a razor to see if the marks are still there,” the jail psychiatrist related. “She referred to them as the marks of the beast and 666.” She also spoke of George W. Bush, saying, “Gov. Bush (Bush was president at the time) would have to destroy Satan. In all the patients I’ve treated for major depression with psychotic features,” Dr. Ferguson continued, “she is one of the sickest I’ve ever seen.” Another defense witness, Phillip Resnick, M.D., the director of the division of Forensic Psychiatry at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, testified: “She faced a cruel dilemma. If she did nothing, because the children were not being raised righteously, they would burn in hell. She could allow them to end up in hell burning for eternity or take their lives on earth. It was a horrible dilemma for any mother to have.”
Despite the fact the Defendant was obviously insane and in dire need of hospitalization in a psychiatric facility, on March 12, 2002, the jury found her guilty of the murders of Noah, John and Mary Yates. She was not tried for killing Paul and Luke. Andrea Yates was sentenced to life in prison and interned in the psychiatric unit of Skyview Prison in Rusk, Texas. On January 6, 2005, the Texas First Court of Appeals reversed Mrs. Yates’s capital murder conviction indicating that erroneous testimony by psychiatrist Park Dietz may have prejudiced the jury.
In the beginning, Rusty visited his wife but two years later, in August 2004, he filed for divorce. A final judgment was entered March 17, 2005, and Andrea received $7,000 in cash, the right to be buried near her children and a nursing chair. She was also awarded a portion of Rusty’s retirement benefits when he retires.
On January 9, 2006, in her first court appearance since 2002, Andrea Yates pled not guilty by reason of insanity and on February 1, Judge Belinda Hill approved a $200,000 bond on condition that Mrs. Yates voluntarily commit herself to Rusk State Hospital. Her second trial began in June 2006, five years after she drowned her children. After deliberating more than 12 hours over three days, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. “It’s a shame it took us this long to get the right verdict,” commented Wendell Odom, one of her attorneys.
Since early 2007, Andrea Yates has been confined at the Kerrville State Hospital in Kerrville, Texas. In May 2012, she submitted a petition to attend weekly church services outside the hospital, but her request was denied. Earlier this year, she and her doctors asked a judge for permission to allow her to leave the institution for supervised events with other patients. The request came under heavy scrutiny from both the media and public and her doctors rescinded the request. She is the only patient at the facility who has never received a group-outing pass. She makes greeting cards and sews aprons, which are sold anonymously at craft shows. The proceeds go to the Yates Children Memorial Fund, which was founded in 2002 to improve the mental health of mothers of new babies in the region.
In 2006, Rusty Yates married Laura Andrews, a woman he met at church, and the two now have a son named Mark. He makes occasional appearances on cable news shows. Most recently in April 2014, Yates commented on the Michelle Schlemmer case in the Pittsburgh area in which Ms. Schlemmer is accused of drowning two of her three children in a bathtub. Yates opined that the use of prescription drugs may have been a factor in the case.
The Yates children are all buried at Forest Park East Cemetery in Webster, Texas. Their grave is marked by an ornate monument featuring etchings of their faces.
The Season 4 (2004) Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode “Magnificat,” in which a mother, the wife of a domineering husband, kills three of her children, is based on the Andrea Yates case.
Sources: Are You There Alone? The Unspeakable Crimes of Andrea Yates by Suzanne O’Malley; The Houston Chronicle; A Cry in the Dark, Crime Library; Andrea Yates Revisited; and CBS News.