Arias and Smith: Mothers, girlfriends and cold-blooded murders

Jodi Arias, Susan Smith and mothers who murder their children: Common features that define who and what they are.

Photo: Susan Smith

WASHINGTON-March 27, 2013- “Parents kill their children about once every three days”-Cheryl Meyer- psychologist and author of “Mothers Who Kill Their Children”

Filicide (Latin - filius-son-or filia-daughter and cide-kill ) according to the Department of Justice is the third leading cause of death of children between the ages of five to 14. Out of 559 deaths reported in 2010 regarding children under the age of four, 350 were caused by parents.

SEE RELATED: Female killers Jodi Arias and Susan Smith: The “Scale of Evil”

Cheryl Meyer, author of “Women Who Kill Their Children” and a psychologist at Wright University in Ohio, claims there are several categories that depict reasons why women kill their offspring.

  • The first year of an infant’s life is the most dangerous for filicide. Meyers suggests postpartum depression may play a key role.
  • Abuse-physical abuse manifesting from stress, anxiety, responsibility overload or psychotic tendencies.
  • Neglect of infant or child
  • Purposeful-the infant or child gets in the way of a Mother’s plans and ideals
  • Most mothers use suffocation as a method of death.

Another reason Mothers may murder their children is Munchausen Syndrome, a disorder of people who attempt to garner sympathy by inventing illness, personal tragedies etc; but a twist is to abuse or murder their child for similar yet greater effect. This is called Munchausen’s by proxy or MSPbP/MSP.

The 1994 bone-chilling murders by Susan Smith of her three and 14 month old boy’s falls into the category of “purposeful”. Smith reported the children as victims of a car-jacking by black men and received substantial sympathy from authorities, the public-at-large and the media. She stood by this claim until she confessed to a clever detective who persuaded her to tell the truth.

SEE RELATED: Jodi Arias and the sorority of female killers

Smith killed for convenience.  Her children were obstacles in her potential love life.

Smith was married but had an affair with a man who was well to do in the little town of Union South Carolina where they lived. This man, Tom Findlay, the owner of the largest business in Union, wrote Smith a letter praising her yet telling her he did not wish for a ‘ready- made family’.

As a result, Smith planned to remove her children from the equation and win Findlay’s heart. Her chosen method of removal was murder.

Smith parked her mini-van on a ramp jutting from a lake, put the van in neutral and let the emergency brake off. The van, holding the children, drifted into the lake as the children slept in the rear seat and slowly sank to the bottom of the lake. The deed was done but her relationship with Findlay never came to fruition.

After Smith confessed, she was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Meyers claims many Mothers who commit filicide feel remorse and grief over the death of their children. However, purposeful murder and expressing grief seems incongruent without an explanation of psycho/sociopathy.

Scott Peterson, who drowned his pregnant wife to unburden himself of his family to be with his mistress and collect insurance money displayed similar characteristics.

Jodi Arias is not charged with killing children. She is charged with a brutal, premeditated murder of a so-called loved one.

What these people have in common is a violent response to losing control, jealousy, inability to form stable attachments, lack of empathy and sympathy for others.  They are charming manipulators who become enraged when they fall short of the effort, These  other symptoms that meet the criteria for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual fourth edition (DSM IV) of Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD), an abscence of sense of morals and conscience.

Clearly, Smith and Peterson planned and premeditated heinous murders displaying psychotic forethought, execution and post murder denial. Charges suggest Arias followed a similar patternt. The evidence indicates she had malicious forethought to a violent conclusion if she did not receive the answers from Alexander she was seeking. She, as the others, invented an elaborate cover storiy that fell apart. The difference lies in Arias not accepting a plea and relying on a novel, difficult to believe psychological defense from a discredited psychologist-Dr. Richard Samuel- asserting dissociative amnesia resulting from self-imposed Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Hopefully, the new DSM-5th edition coming out in May from the American Psychiatric Association will break from parochial and contemporary 1994 thinking when the current DSM IV was revised from the third and so on, to include a separate disorder of psychopathy and be in alignment with the legal fraternity and societal thinking.

Until this trial ends and the legal system speaks with a defining voice, there are many who have concluded Arias as psychotic.

Susan Smith openly and easily discussed the murder of her children with detachment. She displayed a glib attitude in discussions with me, and later in a letter asked whether I believe she suffered from a temporary dissociative issue, which I did not.

She concluded the interview by commenting, “I miss my kids.”


Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.









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