Few murders provoke as much shock and horror as when someone takes the lives of their own family members. We’ve discussed men who’ve killed their families, but it seems all the more shocking when a woman kills her family, the children she brought into this world and nurtured for some time.
Why does this happen? What could motivate a mother to deliberately end the lives of her own children? As we will discover in this list, grief, anger, and an inability to give her children the life she thinks they deserve are just a few reasons a mother could do the unthinkable.
She would keep her kids home from school because the television said there would be a school bus accident that day. She would not eat food because she believed it was poisoned. She would stay up all night because she was convinced someone was outside, ready to break into her home.
Such was the psychosis of Aubrianne Moore, single mother to three children: Alaina, age two, Cassidy, six, and Kyrie, eight. A Newaygo County, Michigan, social worker had stated in probate court that it was only a matter of time before Aubrianne endangered herself or someone else and should be committed to a mental institution.
Less than five months later, on February 18, 2019, Aubrianne shot and killed her three children before turning the gun on herself.
Using a fake doctor’s note to remove the children from school, Aubrianne took the kids to lunch before going to a heavily wooded area on a property belonging to her great-grandmother. She then brought each child into the woods individually and shot them with a hunting rifle. Afterward, she put the bodies in her car and drove to her boyfriend’s house. She shot herself in his driveway.
Investigation into Aubrianne’s life showed that she had been hospitalized in the past for her mental state and had been diagnosed with “unspecified schizophrenia.” Family members say there were actions being taken to remove the children from the care of their mother, but Child Protective Services was not involved. Overall, it is believed that she most likely was not taking her medication and had a psychotic break, leading to her horrific actions.
On May 6, 1930, Ethel Geller Yeldem took the seven children from her second marriage into town to have a group photo taken. Afterward, she took them home, bathed each one, and tucked them into bed. Then, one by one, she shot them in the heart before turning the gun on herself.
“I am so tired, I can’t go on,” said a suicide note Ethel left behind for her three remaining children, all from her first marriage. It was believed that she was struggling to support herself and the children while her husband was serving time in the Ohio State Penitentiary.
Police arrived on the gruesome scene to find Ethel still alive. After they did what they could for her wound below the heart, she was taken to the city prison to await her trial. Nine days later, however, she died suddenly of what the coroner believed was a blood clot to the brain.
The Hart family were well-known in their area due to their participation in political rallies and festivals. Their son Devonte was even featured in a viral photograph of him tearfully hugging a cop during a police violence march after the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. The lesbian couple adopted six children, and people thought they were inspiring and devoted, homeschooling and giving all of their time to the children, but behind closed doors, the situation was very different.
For almost ten years, child abuse allegations followed the Hart family. Parents Jennifer and Sarah constantly moved the family from state to state to avoid neighbors who called child services on the family and eventually removed them from school after one of the children reported abuse to a teacher, leading to Sarah being charged with malicious punishment of a child and misdemeanor domestic assault.
In March 2018, just days before an impromptu trip to California that would end in the family members’ deaths, a social worker had stopped by the house to check on the family’s living situation after new allegations of abuse had surfaced. Police believe this was the motive behind the family eventually ending up in Mendocino, California, where they would meet their fate.
With Jennifer driving, Sarah in the passenger seat, and all six kids in the back, Jennifer, without any hesitation (as indicated by the lack of tire or brake marks at the scene), drove the family’s SUV off a cliff, plunging almost 30 meters (100 ft) to a rocky shoreline below.
A toxicology report stated that Jennifer had a blood alcohol level of .102, and Sarah and two of the children had a significant amount of a Benadryl-type substance in their systems. No one in the car was wearing a seat belt.
After the crash, Jessica and Sarah, along with three of their children, Markis, Jeremiah, and Abigail, were found in and around the vehicle. Devonte, Hannah, and Sierra, their other three children, were missing. Sierra’s body was found a week later in the ocean near the crash site, and as the weeks progressed, authorities hoped Devonte and Hannah were traveling together and still alive. Ten months after the crash, though, partial remains discovered near the crash site were positively identified as Hannah’s, confirming that she had not survived the crash and dashing hope that Devonte had survived, as well.
Devonte’s remains have yet to be discovered.
Emma Cooper’s life was not ideal after the birth of her last child. She was rendered mentally unstable, with long fits of insanity, and her husband was out of work, leaving them to scrape together to provide for their six children.
But one night in June 1908, Emma wanted to show her family a great time (as it would, unbeknownst to them, be their last) by taking them to a special vaudeville show at the Alamo Theatre in Cadillac, Michigan. She bargained with the girl selling tickets to get the whole family in for 50 cents, and when the girl said this would be the only time it would be allowed at that price, Mrs. Cooper replied with, “You will never need to again because none of us will ever come here after tonight.”
And they never would be back.
After returning home, Emma used chloroform to drug her family and then shot them all in the head as they lay in their beds. She then turned the gun on herself in the same fashion. Her son Fred survived the attack but had little recollection other than hearing a revolver go off and then waking up in the hospital. He died shortly after.
Immanuel and Rachel David lived a very strange life with their seven children in the 1970s. They lived in a $90-a-night luxury hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, though staff said they never saw Mr. David go off to work. The family never took their meals in the hotel restaurant, preferring room service and takeout to be delivered to the room, and they homeschooled their children, who the hotel staff rarely ever saw.
Oh, and Immanuel David thought he was God.
But because Mr. David paid their room charge each day with a $100 bill and the family kept mainly to themselves, no one really ever questioned them; they just thought they were an overly religious, reclusive family.
That was until August 1978, when Mrs. David pushed her seven children off the 11th-story balcony before throwing herself over. All but one child, a teenage girl also named Rachel, succumbed to their injuries from the fall. Witnesses below said the older children seemed more willing to go, but the younger children struggled and clung to the bars of the balcony, forcing Mrs. David to remove their hands. After all the children had been pushed, witnesses called for Mrs. David to jump, too, so she did.
Days before the murder-suicide, Immanuel David took his own life by piping exhaust into his truck. He was being investigated for wire fraud for the cult he ran, Family of David. Though Mrs. David’s exact motive for taking the lives of her children and herself is unknown, Mr. David’s brother, also a member of the cult, believes the family was lost without Immanuel and didn’t know how to continue after his death.
The daughter who survived the fall, Rachel David, lives with her uncle in Aurora, Colorado, where they still live the ideals of her father’s cult.
On March 25, 2000, Judy Kirby, depressed and suicidal, turned without hesitation onto the wrong-way ramp of Indiana State Road 67 and drove for nearly 3.2 kilometers (2 mi), reaching speeds of up to 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph), before she collided head-on with a minivan with four people inside. Rescue workers and police officers who arrived at the scene said it was one of the most brutal accidents they had ever seen. The physical damage to the victims, three of her children and a nephew inside her car as well as a father and two daughters in the minivan, was extensive.
Somehow, Kirby survived.
Many motives were given as to why Judy caused the crash that would take seven lives. Her family said she had been suffering from postpartum depression ever since her youngest was born five months previous, and she was having relationship issues. Her defense attorney said it was an undiagnosed thyroid problem that caused her mental distress.
Whatever the reason, Judy Kirby was convicted of seven counts of murder, four counts of neglect of a dependent, and one count of aggravated battery and will serve a 215-year prison sentence for her crimes.
Using a breech-loading shotgun to murder five of her children, Mrs. McAninch had to break the gun, take out the spent shell, reload the weapon, place it between the eyes of each sleeping child, and pull the trigger.
She would finish by pulling the trigger on herself.
Her two oldest children, who had been out for the night to celebrate Halloween, discovered the ghastly scene as well as a suicide note from their mother stating, “I have stood all I can take . . . ” They later claimed they were saved because she did not have enough shells to shoot them, too.
On the night of the murders, Mr. McAninch had been held overnight at the Polk County, Iowa, jail for an investigation into some petty crimes with his brother. Shortly after being released, he was reunited with his sons and learned of the fate of his family. He claimed he was afraid something might happen, as his wife had not been in the right state of mind for quite some time.
Mrs. McAninch and her children were laid to rest in one large grave in November 1937.
Screaming, “My babies! My babies!” Tracey Shaw, cradling her five-month-old son, stood outside her Philadelphia row house as flames engulfed it on the morning of December 23, 1994. Inside were her four children, Catria, Jerra, Shawn, and Mary, and two babysitters, Inez and Linda. They would not survive, succumbing to smoke and soot inhalation.
Andre Broggins, a former boyfriend, testified at her hearing that Shaw had threatened to burn her house down and kill her children if he left her. He said that at one point, she even poured lighter fluid on the ground and said all that was missing was a match.
Shaw denied this and instead claimed that Broggins was to blame, stating he set the fire out of anger at being kicked out of the house. The jury discounted this defense, and Shaw was found guilty of six counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to six consecutive life terms.
Surprisingly, Ronald Holman, the father of Shawn, four, and Mary, two, his children with Tracey who perished in the fire, believes in Tracey’s innocence and sends her money each month in prison. He claims to still love Tracey and wants justice for their children by having the real arsonist and murderer caught.
Though she has run out of appeals and money, Shaw still continues to try to overturn her conviction by reaching out to friends and family.
“You’ll see when you get here,” Elizabeth Gregor said to the Butler County, Pennsylvania, coroner on a summer’s night in June 1963, right before she killed herself with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Earlier that day, while they watched TV, she shot three of her children, Joseph Jr., 14, Thomas, 12, and Rosemary, ten, and then shot her 19-month-old twins, Richard and James, in their cribs. Claiming one of the children was sick, she called her husband Joseph and asked him to come home. As he entered the house, she shot him dead.
The tragedy shocked the small town the Gregors lived in. Neighbors described Elizabeth as a nice person and had no idea that anything was wrong in the house.
Elizabeth had been under a doctor’s care for a nervous condition, and police found letters written by Gregor disclosing that she had apparently been planning the killings for weeks. However, a neighbor who had spoken with her on the phone earlier that morning said that Mrs. Gregor seemed to be doing fine and did not appear to be in any distress, making the eventual outcome of the day even more shocking and horrific.
The case of the Newton family murders was one for debate up until the very end.
On the night of April 7, 1987, while visiting her cousin, Frances Newton left a duffel bag with a gun inside at an abandoned house next to her cousin’s. They then drove to Newton’s apartment, where they discovered her husband Adrian dead behind the living room couch. Her two children were dead in their beds. All had been shot.
Immediately, Newton was a suspect. She and her husband had been having marital problems. They’d both been having extramarital affairs, and Adrian had developed a drug addiction. She had also recently taken life insurance policies out on Adrian and their youngest daughter, totaling $100,000, which prosecutors said was the main motive for the murders.
And then there was the gun she stashed, which investigators claimed was the murder weapon. But Newton didn’t have gunpowder on her hands or her clothing, and it is believed that two guns of the same caliber were discovered in Newton’s apartment. Adrian’s brother also claimed that he and Adrian owed a drug dealer $1,500, a lead Newton’s court-appointed trial attorney did not investigate.
All along, Newton claimed her innocence. She appealed her case many times, right up to hours before her scheduled lethal injection, claiming that her trial attorneys were incompetent and that evidence was destroyed for her trial. (Her clothing had been stored with the victims’ bloody clothing, making it impossible to retest). She always lost the appeals.
On September 14, 2005, Frances Newton became the first black woman since the Civil War to be executed on death row in Texas.
Tracy spends her days writing and designing in a tourist town where she lives with her dog.