Under Arrest - Y is for Yates

Photo by Manuel Velasquez on Unsplash

Welcome back to A-Z. Final Sprint!

Y is for Yates. 

Sound familiar? Not sure? 

Let me start by asking you what you did on June 20, 2001

It was a Wednesday. G. W. Bush was president, people were listening to Lady Marmalade by Christina Aguilera, and the movie Legally Blonde was playing.

I can tell you what you, unlike Mrs Yates, most certainly didn't do: 

Get out of bed at 8:10am and kill your kids.

Andrea Yates-Kennedy is the Texas Mom who drowned each of her five kids in the bathtub, laid their lifeless bodies side by side, placed baby Mary in Noah's arms, and then called 911. 

  • Noah Jacob, (aged 7 at death)
  • John Samuel, (aged 5 at death)
  • Paul Abraham, (aged 3 at death)
  • Luke David, (aged 2 at death)
  • Mary Deborah, (aged 6 months at death) 
Andrea grew up in Houston as the youngest of five children, she was a good kid, helping out other people, did great at school, was captain of her swim team, graduated valedictorian of her senior high school class and completed UT school of nursing

During her teenage years she suffered from bulimia and depression, and at 17 she spoke to a friend about suicide. 

A perfectionist and people pleaser she submitted herself to her husband Rusty who thought they should have as many babies as possible, and Andrea was to stay at home, looking after them, which she did. 

In documentaries about her and her kids you can see she did a great job. The children looked well fed and cared for, they knew their ABCs (and we all know how important A-Z is, don't we), painted beautiful artwork, so far so good.

Andrea and Rusty Yates followed this independent, non-denominational Christian missionary, Michael Woroniecki and his wife. Through sermons, videos, personal telephone calls and letters, the Woronieckis condemned the Yates' for their hypocritical Christian lifestyle (like holding down a job and living in a nice house), saying their children were doomed to hell because of their parents' sins. 

That's why the Yates downsized from living in their suburban home in Friendswood, TX,  to a mobile home at an RV Park in Seminole FL, where Rusty had a new job, and after Paul's birth they moved back to Houston and lived in a 350 square foot bus converted into some kind of a family home.

By the summer of 1999, Andrea was caring for her father who was very sick, home schooling her three oldest kids and nursing her new infant, all the while living in that makeshift bus home and corresponding with Michael Woroniecki who told her she was an evil witch.

Imagine the levels of stress and overwhelm any sane woman would experience in this situation, let alone somebody who had a background of depression.

In July 1999, two weeks before her 35th birthday, Andrea suffered her nervous breakdown. She called Rusty at work and said "Come home, I need help." Rusty found her shaking involuntarily and chewing on her fingers. He took her and the kids to the beach because he didn't know what else to do.

I dunno, why not call 911? Just a thought.

The next day he took Andrea and the kids to his Mom's house where Andrea took an overdose of her Dad's sleeping pills. She was rushed to the psychiatric unit of the nearby Methodist Hospital and was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. She was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft. Andrea was there for about a week. After that she was released - not because she was better, but because her insurance had ran out. 

Whatever happened to being a danger to yourself and others? Is it really always about the money?

The doctor she was referred to, Eileen Starbranch, recommended to switch from antidepressant to antipsychotic drugs to treat bipolar mania and schizophrenia, which Andrea didn't like, therefore she flushed the expensive meds down the toilet.

Her visions told her to get a knife and kill herself.

Another stay at a private hospital followed, where she was put on Haldol which helped her.
Andrea and Rusty decided against the recommended electric shock therapy and went home with a bag full of well balanced meds. 

Andrea's Mom told Rusty "no more living in a bus, get your family a real house!"

He did, they moved into their home in Clearlake, TX, and Andrea, with the help of her meds, got better.

But then she stopped taking them in order to get pregnant - against her doctor's warnings that going off the Haldol would guarantee future psychotic depression. 

Their fifth baby, Mary, was bon November 30, 2000. 

March 12, 2001, her father died, and Andrea's condition deteriorated. She didn't eat, didn't talk, didn't feed baby Mary and mutilated herself. 

Andrea was forcefully admitted to Devereux-Texas Treatment Network where Dr. Mohammed Saeed tapered off the Haldol that had been doing such a great job and prescribed a series of psychotropic drug treatments. He also instructed Rusty to supervise Andrea 24/7, meaning not to leave her alone at any time.

Two days later the unthinkable happened.

Even though Yates had confessed and considered herself guilty and deserving punishment, her lawyer entered a not guilty by reason of temporary Insanity plea - remember we talked about it just a few days ago.

The questions the jury needed to determine were if Andrea was legally sane and criminally responsible? What are the elements?

  • Proof of mental disease or defect
  • Proof that she could not discern right from wrong at the time of the crime

Looking at her extensive medical history of mental health challenges, element number one is a no-brainer. 

Element number two, though?

There is the aspect of intent. She had to prepare for her actions. She admitted to have waited for Rusty to leave the house so she could draw the bath without him preventing her from harming the kids. It also had to happen before her MIL arrived around 10am. Andrea was aware that the dog could have interfered with her plan to drown the kids, so she locked him into his cage. If that's not deliberation and knowing what she was going to do was wrong, I don't know what is.

The jury thought so, too, and she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole in 40 years.

Snippets from an interview with a psychiatrist while Andrea was in prison:

Q: What were you trying to accomplish when you took your children's lives?
A: Maybe in their innocent years, God would take them up.
Q: If you had not taken their lives, what do you think would happen to them?
A: I guess they would have continued stumbling and ended up in hell.
Q: What sort of things did they do which showed you they weren't right?

A: They just did a lot of silly stuff and didn't obey, call names, be disrespectful.

On grounds of a prosecution expert witness' false testimony, Andrea was granted a retrial, in which she was actually found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a secure mental hospital. 

Today Andrea's a patient at low security Kerrville State Hospital. She lives in a private room and watches videos of her children prior to June 2001. She takes walks in the facility's garden but isn't allowed to leave the premises. She requested to be allowed to go to church but was denied. Later she requested to be allowed to attend outings with fellow patients, which was granted, but as soon as she set foot outside the grounds, the public reacted hostile, so she withdrew.

Andrea crafts greeting cards featuring rainbows and butterflies and sells them anonymously, proceeds go to the Yates Children Memorial Fund, a charity benefitting women's mental health.
Poor woman, and I'm not being sarcastic. I just wonder what turns her life would have made if we rewinded to 1989 before she met Rusty. She was working as a nurse at UT Anderson Cancer Center and recovering from another relationship at the time. 

Let's just for the sake of it (and to leave this post a little bit more light-hearted) give Andrea's story a fictional alternative ending.

Maybe she could have met a nice doctor, somebody who might have recognized depression and got her real help if it was triggered at some point at all. Through his first class health care plan if she had ever been admitted to a psychiatric hospital, she wouldn't have been kicked out after a week.

Maybe she and the doctor couldn't have their own children which would have never given her postpartum depression, psychosis, postpartumnanything.
She could have gotten into volunteering at a refugee center or a children's orphanage. Clearly she was excellent at caring for others. 
They might have adopted a kid or two and lived happily ever after.

What do you think, could this whole tragedy have been prevented? How? 

Let me know down below. As always, thank you so much for visiting, see you back one more time tomorrow for Z!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


  1. so tragic i don't know where to begin. i hate so called "christians" who use God's name to refuse people prescription drugs for depression/anxiety, judge so harshly without offering some sort of recourse, and find it so hard to think kindly of mothers who kill their own children. but you're right - poor woman. and imagine the heartache the husband/father must have felt coming home? the whole situation is so tragic. much less cut and dry compared to susan smith and diane downs IMO.

    Joy at The Joyous Living

  2. She sounds like she needed help. But the lovely US healthcare "system"...

    June 20, 2001... My eldest niece was seven days old. She graduates from high school in a little over a month. (If you saw the bulky blanket I knit in January, that was for her.)

  3. What a sad tale. Definitely some missed opportunities to help this poor woman. Unfortunately, it is about the money a lot of times. I cannot imagine living in such a small space with all those kids!

    Janet’s Smiles

  4. Such a sad post, it is easy for some to judge, but that said I h ave no idea how a parent can kill their child


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