What causes wives and mothers to kill?
This episode continues the conversation with Dianne Berg, author of What's behind our enduring fascination with wives and mothers who kill. In this episode, Nat Cardona and Diane talk about what causes wives and mothers to commit murder and how the public, judicial system and medical fields contribute and/or react to these criminal events.
To listen to the first half of the interview with Dianne, click here.
To learn more about Dianne Berg, click here.
Note: The following transcript was created by Slack and may contain misspellings and other inaccuracies as it was generated automatically:
Welcome to Lee Enterprise's Late Edition Crime Beat Chronicles. I'm your host Nat Cardona. In this episode, we're continuing the exploration of a niche area of true crime stories, the obsession that fans seem to have with killer wives and mothers. We're back with Diane Berg, a professor at Clark University and author of the article What's behind our enduring fascination with wives and mothers who kill? She is very much an expert on this complex topic. If you haven't listened to the first episode, go back and listen to the first half of my interview, please. Otherwise, we pick up the conversation back up by discussing some causes of what makes mothers and wives kill.
I'm a mother myself and I'm, I'm actually pregnant.
So I'm gonna have a baby in four weeks.
I'm actually pregnant, but I'm having a baby in four weeks. Thank you. So I'm kind of like, you know, going through all these things and, you know, very much in the, you know, what makes me different from these other women who have done this historically or in more recent history.
But the thing that comes to mind is there is just something so grabbing about when women do this, because you carry the child for so long and you birth the child and it's so much more intimate than the father who's removed and can kind of clean his hands in the sense of when there is a murder, you can go.
You know, and that's because he's not involved. So in the natural process of pregnancy and birth. So, yeah, when there are these women historically or modern day that do this, it's like, well, you know, you just sit there and go, how how could this happen? How could this happen? And you do. The next point I want to get at is the openness nowadays that we have about talking about postpartum depression, because there seems to be a link with that postpartum psychosis.
And you mentioned it's Lynsey Clancy who's kind of the most recent with that. So in your research and I is something you mentioned, I just want to clarify. Have you you've seen a difference between, let's say, 20, 30 years ago media coverage and nowadays media coverage of like like just jump into that.
Okay. I mean, I kind of want to take those in order, if I may. So, yeah. First, going back to what you were talking about, how okay, when a man does it. Yes, that's terrible and bad and they're they're bad people. But when a woman does it, when a mother does it, especially, there's all this kind of language of the unnatural and the monstrous.
And again, going back to, you know, right now, I've been rereading Euripides Medea all week to get ready for this class, because Medea is like the her murderous mother. Right. And a lot of times these these early modern mothers who kill their children, who, as you point out statistically are fewer than men who kill their children. It is then is now like men commit way more domestic violence than women do.
But women do it. It gets more attention. And it's because of this unnatural list. Right? Women mothers are supposed to be, as you say, it's the natural process whereby we actually think we incubate the child. And there's a lot of that kind of language of like, how could she like a bloody like a bloody tiger? A tiger wouldn't do a thing like this.
A snake wouldn't do a thing like this. The child that she nursed in her body for 40 weeks and fed with her breasts, and there's all this kind of language of like how unnatural this is that you would destroy your own creation in this way. And I think that's really deep. Obviously, that plays it. I think at a really macro level, it plays into fears about like God destroying the earth.
But I think on the more kind of social and cultural level, it just flies in the face of everything that women are supposed to be. We're supposed to be kind and gentle and nurturing and giving and selfless, and all of these things are intimately tied up with our concept of the mother, right? The mother just gives and gives and gives.
The mother is is a a you know, a vessel that never runs dry. Right. That's what it's supposed to be. And so if a mother not only fails to deliver on all those counts, but actually turns on her children and even destroys them, this like, taps into, I think, some really elemental fears. And I think that's why we're so interested in it.
And I think that's why we stay interested in it. And as a mother, I'm a mother as well. I think it's it strikes a particular chord because it's that on the one hand, yes, there's that schadenfreude or. Right, There's that. Well, I didn't do that. You didn't do that? Yeah. My, my, my kid cried all day, too, but I didn't, you know, throw him out a window.
There's that. But there's also the more interesting thing is that on some level, I think anyone who has ever had to care for a small child, an infant, especially if you have recently given birth and your own body and your own mind are still you know, you're not yourself yet. I think anyone who's been in that position has been that exhausted, that frustrated, felt that inadequate, felt how hard it is to live up to all those things.
I just enumerated that mothers are supposed to be can understand how it happens. And that's terrifying that there but for the grace of God go. I write that if I hadn't had my support network, if I hadn't had my level of education, if I hadn't known how to find help. Right. That the I might have done a thing like that.
And I think that's why we can't look away. I think that's a big part of it.
Yeah, that is actually one of the notes that I was just rereading here is that it's hard to make peace with that because, you know, whether it be it's like take guys who who commit murder, there's often the you find out that they had childhood trauma they were abused but then there's plenty of people say, well, so was I.
But I didn't it you know kill five people. It's kind of the same thing here. It's there's there's so many women who deal with postpartum depression and then it's very easy to say, well, I didn't do that and I would never think of doing that. But it's exactly what you say. It's when you stare in the face, it's like, well, it's a really thin line of what, you know, the possibility of it.
It's just it's a weird thing to kind of I just grapple with an iron out. Yeah.
And if there's actually, you know, things out of whack that would respond to medication, this isn't just even a this goes beyond just being exhaustion of being overwhelmed, feeling inadequate, all of which are incredibly legitimate things that, you know, I certainly experienced as a mother of three children. But then you actually add in some sort of, you know, chemical balance or mental illness or, you know, various factors.
Women have no resources. They have no help, they have no money, no one cares about them. We have a government that cares very much about fetuses or at least claims to care very much about fetuses. It doesn't care so much about babies or their mothers. You know, if they wind up needing extra help. So in answer to your question about the sort of coverage of these things, I do think and I hope I'm not being optimistic, I do think that I'm seeing a shift in the coverage.
It's not that there wasn't any mention when the when the Yates murders happened in 2001 or maybe it was. Yes, it was one. There was talk of the fact that this woman hadn't for one reason or another, she didn't get the care that she needed. And there were a lot of factors at play there. She and her husband were evangelical Christians.
They were part of this quiver full movement, which basically they want you to have as many children for Jesus as possible. It's God's will. You just keep having children as long as God sends them to you. She was homeschooling them all she had already had. I can't remember now if it was after her second or third child. She'd had a pretty serious case of postpartum depression to the point where her her gynecologist said she shouldn't have any more children.
This is going to happen again. It's going to get worse. But they had, I think, two more children after that. Anyway. She was being insufficiently monitored. I mean, there was a lot of talk about the fact that this woman was, in her own way, a victim. And there was a lot of finger pointing at the husband. His name was Rusty.
Rusty Yates for continuing to, you know, have children with her and allowing her to homeschool the children. She had five children under the age of seven and, you know, wasn't taking her medication. And there was a lot going on there. So it wasn't that the coverage of her was completely unsympathetic, but there was an awful lot of she's a monster.
She she couldn't have done it if she because the insanity defense, they're doing same thing with Lindsey Clancy. The prosecution is saying, well, no, no, she can't have been insane because she knew what she was doing. She was able to make a plan and carried out both Lindsey Clancy, Andrea Yates and Margaret Robinson, for that matter, wait until their husbands were away and they knew they had a window in order to commit the crimes.
And the prosecution in Clancy's case and in this case have argued that that's impossible, because if she was insane, she couldn't have made a plan, she couldn't have carried it out, etc., etc.. Of course, we know that's not true. People, people suffering from psychosis can commit, make plans and carry them out all time. And it was initially charged with first degree murder and found guilty.
And the jury didn't. They could have given her the death penalty. They they didn't, but they sent a sort of life in prison initially. And then they appealed several years later using an insanity defense, which which succeeded I don't actually think I don't have a crystal ball, but I think that the passage of 22 years is going to have made a difference in the Lindsey Clancy case.
She is, you know, remains in a psychiatric facility. I, I think that there would be a great outcry if she actually were brought to trial for murder charges. And I think that there's been so much more in the press about postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis in the wake of Lindsey Clancy's. I mean, it's a crime. I but I hesitate to use that word.
But in the wake of this very tragic incident, there's been so much more coverage of that and a lot more people coming forward, a lot of kind of op ed pieces, people saying, I have postpartum depression. This is what it's like. I you know, again, that could have been me. So I feel like there's a broader discussion about it.
And you know, it was just I think two weeks ago that the government approved this medication for women with postpartum depression to be more widely distributed, which I feel is like a huge step forward. And, you know, I mean, I can talk obviously, I can talk about this all day. At the root of this, the fact that it's 2023 and we're only now it seems like having a really serious conversation about this just speaks to the degree to which women's issues are always pushed down the list.
Right. Women's health, women's wellbeing, women's mental health. It's always bumped down the list. And of course, again, we're going back to mothers, right? Mothers aren't supposed to need anything. We're supposed to take care of everyone all the time and no one takes care of us. So I feel like, yes, progress. But wow, it's, you know, the 21st century.
I know. We need to take a quick break, so don't go too far. It's fascinating to me. And I wonder if it's repeatedly fascinating to you just if this small increment of time is where we're starting to see that little switch turn to, you know, more in favor of the other possibilities that could be at play here. But 2023 compared to, you know, 16, 16, we're not you know, how how in the media things are typecasting with these types of crimes.
Is it for it to be so not that much different? Is, oh, you know, how many how many things can you count, How many topics can you say are like that?
Yeah, I mean, that's a great money generator. So I mean, I mean. Margaret Vincent, you know, I mean, she said ultimately that she had been, you know, she had fallen under evil influences and basically the devil made her do it. And you know, there's this great woodcut on the cover of the pamphlet about her, which is called The Pity Lost Mother Goes on, but we'll just call it a pity loss.
Mother, for the sake of brevity that shows her with her children and she's strangling them and the devil is standing behind her. And he's got horns and claws and and he's he's basically making her do it. And after she had been in prison when she was apprehended, she said that she had been, you know, laboring under this terrible delusion.
And there had been, like Roman Catholic neighbors who were trying to persuade her to become a Catholic. And that's like a bad influence at this time. And once she had been spoken to at length by a proper, you know, Protestant minister, she repented and recanted. And obviously she had to be hanged for it, but she at least was able to repent and make her peace.
And so, like the the the end game of the pamphlet is that since she was truly repentant, you know, maybe she can be saved, right? Like, her body has to die, but maybe her soul can still be saved. But the important part is the repentance, right? Kind of say, yes, I did that. Yes, it was wrong in those days, you know, like, you know, I like to say yesterday's demonic possession might be today's postpartum psychosis or the other way around.
Right. That, you know, these behaviors, there's got to be some kind of a just be an explanation as to be a reason. So, you know, if it's that, you know, I have a chemical imbalance and I need to, you know, take medication and be treated for it or like, oh, like I was actually possessed by it by a demon when this happened.
There has to be some kind of resolution and you have to be sorry.
Do you know off the top of your head with Lindsay Clancy if she said anything like in.
Yeah, she said at her arraignment or I guess her she didn't speak at her arraignment, but her her counsel said that she said that she heard a voice in her head when her husband was gone. She sent her husband out on an errand. He was working from home because she was that she was sick. He had been working from home and she was doing well, apparently seemed to be doing well and hadn't had a good day with the children playing outside in the snow.
And he was working from his home office and she texted him, recalled him and said, let's get takeout. And he said, Yeah. And so he sent him to a place that was about a half hour's drive away. And she said she heard a voice in her head telling her that she had to do it now, because if she didn't do it now, she wouldn't have another chance.
That sounds pretty psychotic to me right? Andrea Yates said something pretty similar that, you know, she she knew that she would have to do it. Now. This was the chance and she had to take it. And something would have prevented them from doing these things. If, you know, if they hadn't taken these these opportunities, created, you know, these opportunities and and taken them.
That's all we've really heard from her thus far. But apparently, she you know, she told her husband that you've done it. The husband has argued very movingly. I think that she deserves compassion and not condemnation, and that if he can forgive her, then, you know, then the people, the people on Facebook comment threads should probably, you know, dig deep and either find compassion or find the ability to get off that Facebook comment thread.
Oh, my gosh. Amen to that. I mean, and that that kind of brings me to my my parting thoughts here was how you ended your piece was there. It seems to be that there's two lanes of thought here when someone's digesting all of the true crime that they can, especially when it comes to wives of mothers. It seems it's the what did you call it, the shattered fruit.
It just means that kind of it's a nasty word and there isn't a word in English that means this. Exactly. It basically means that the sort of pleasure, often a kind of guilty pleasure. We take in the misfortunes of others.
But yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, you know, when when the Lindsay Clancey situation occurred, I know my immediate thought was like, oh my goodness, like, you know, social media, like, that's going to be an absolute pit of despair. You know, if you do the things that people the people's hot takes. Right. But but I feel like that visceral reaction that people have where they feel like they have to get in there and say, look, she's a monster and she should go to hell.
Oh, those poor little angels, etc., etc.. That's very much part and parcel of that. Pushing it away. That can't be me. I'm not like that where you know, I'm not like that. I'm not a person who with my children, I'm not a person who would kill my husband. I'm not a person who, you know, would do X, Y, Z, terrible thing.
And so I have to jump in here and do this very kind of like performative public condemnation of this thing to kind of distance myself from it, but also kind of reassure myself that, you know, that's not me, I'm different than that. I'm better than that.
Right? That's actually the flip side of things. The other lane is what you had mentioned is that the appeal might lie in the fact that, oh, that light bulb thing, we might be capable of these things. It's kind of funny. And the thought that immediately came to me and this is always how I've felt about true crime, and especially on this topic, is like it's better to what is it the devil you know versus the devil you don't know, right?
Yeah, that's just right.
Well, I've been, you know, again, I've sort of been down this kind of classical tragedy rabbit hole this week. You know, I come back to what do we get out of this kind of stuff, Like, you know, here you are. You confess to being like you're constantly devouring this material, right? I do it. Lots of people I know do it.
True crime, you know, has been so massive in recent years. Right. People just devour this stuff. I mean, it's always been very popular. It does seem like it's really kind of having a moment culturally. There's what we get from this stuff is is catharsis, Right? I mean, it's the same thing as as classical tragedy, right? We we watched the terrible thing happen, but the terrible thing hasn't happened to us.
Now, if we're talking about a drama, if we're talking about Medea or Oedipus Rex or even Hamlet, yet the body, you know, the bodies are littering the stage and all these terrible things have happened. We have the the purging of pity and terror that comes. But no one has actually died. Nothing terrible has actually happened. We leave the theater feeling kind of scoured out and then we go and we we get a coffee and we chat about it.
Right. But with the true crime stuff, someone has died. Something a real tragedy has occurred. And yet I still feel like it's that catharsis that you know, we see it, we watch it. You know, people watch to watch these trials when they can. Right? They need to see how it ends. And then they can walk away from it and it hasn't happened to us.
Mhm. Right. We sort of had the, the, the purging of pity and terror but something terrible really has happened and still it's not like when a play is over and now the play is over. As you say, these stories happen over and over again.
It's so, so accessible. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's, I mean yeah that, yeah, yeah. And then there's that other thing. Go ahead, Go ahead.
No, no, it's just kind of. I just feel like this. This appeal is kind of timeless, and it speaks to something in in like, the human condition. And I'm not sure it's a very nice thing in the human condition, but it certainly is. There.
That's my thinking. Exactly. Yeah. It really it all ties in together. It's just. Yeah, definitely something to chew on, to use. I mean, what's next for you in this grand scheme of things. And I think going forward, I mean that's kind of a really open ended question.
I, I mean, I'm excited for this, this course. I'm going to start teaching on Monday, which is again, we're going to start with with Medea and we're moving on to so then we're moving on to some everything inside of mothers and we're going to move on to some some women who kill, too. I don't know. We're moving on to petty tyrants after that.
So we'll have some texts about fathers who abuse their authority by killing their wives and or children. And we're going to end up with wives who who kill their their husbands sort of petty traitors. And I will be putting kind of early modern texts in conversation with more modern cases throughout the semester. So I think it's going to be really fun and interesting.
And I'm hoping my my I have I have every intention of writing a book, which is I have a title. It's going to be the same title as my seminar are actually Pulp Pulp nonfiction, Oh, True Crime and Fake News and Early Modern England. So that's that's my next big project. I'm currently working on a of what I think is going to be more public facing piece which is kind of different but kind of not.
It's actually about Barbie and Paradise Lost. Milton's Paradise Lost, which I think is kind of interesting, is sort of Barbie Land as a kind of Eden and Ken as a kind of Adam figure. But that's that's what I'm kind of working on right now on the side. We'll see what happens with that. But yeah, I think going forward, you know, it's going to kind of be more murder and mayhem for me.
I really safe to say that's the life, right.
I hasten to add, I'm actually a very nice person. And it's funny that I know. I mean, I have three children of my own. And I think they they think it's they're a little bemused that this is kind of like my my reputation. I was once at a conference and I was introduced to someone and he said, Oh, you're the infanticide woman.
And I was like, Please don't call me that. But, you know, yeah, I have children, I have children, I have dogs and cats. I, you know, I, I'm, I'm a nice person. I swear to God, you know, I'm vegan. I've been begging for for a very long time. So, yeah, this is all purely intellectual, I assure you.
Yeah. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, Well, these are wrenching, all of that. And is there any way, if a listener is interested in following you and is not obviously at one of your classes at university, one of your son winners at university, is there a way that people can follow what you're doing or publishing.
A I'm not really very I I'm not on Twitter or whatever it's called this week, so I have to go. Yeah, right. Perhaps going forward at this at this point, mainly, you know, just through, through what I publish. Yeah. And up to Clark University. I, I teach English at Clark University in Massachusetts.
Okay. Okay. So Google search, people.
And that is that, my friends, special thanks to Diane Berg for joining the show and then giving us a look at what's mesmerized true crime fans for centuries. Thanks for listening to Late Edition Crime Beat Chronicles. Hit that subscribe button so you don't miss what's coming next. See you later on.