Her Dark Places

Up until the moment Andrea Yates murdered her five children, she could have been any mother in America: setting aside her own wants and needs for her loved ones. Which is why, in addition to being horrified, so many of us are sympathetic.
Illustration by Marshall Arisman

She was such a familiar woman—a quiet, thoughtful, suburban mother with dark brown eyes and a generous smile on her good days. She was a devout Christian who read Bible stories to her five children. She constructed Indian costumes for them from grocery sacks. She gave them homemade valentines on Valentine’s Day with personalized coupons promising them free hugs and other treats. She was so protective of her brood that on trips to the grocery store, she had each of her four boys hold on to a corner of the grocery cart while her infant daughter sat in a car seat in the basket. On June 20 she decided she had had enough. Andrea Yates, 36 years old, called the police and asked them to come to the family’s one-story, Spanish-style house in Clear Lake, southeast of Houston. She led the officers past the plaque in the living room that read “Blessed Are the Children” and took them to a back bedroom where four of the Yates children lay shoulder to shoulder, their eyes wide open. In a calm voice she described how she had filled up her bathtub with water, then held the children, one by one, under the water until their little bodies had stopped squirming. The only one who had given her a problem, she noted, was seven-year-old Noah, who had tried to flee when he saw her drowning his baby sister, Mary. But she had caught him, brought him back to the tub, and then held him under the water until he could hold his breath no longer.

Why?” the police detectives asked her. “Why?” She stared off into the distance. She was a bad mother, she said, and she felt that the children were disabled and not developing normally.

And so she decided to send them to God. She gave each of her children a baptism, then laid them out on the bed (except for Noah, who was left in the bathtub) like perfect little Christian saints.

And that, in three short paragraphs, sums up one of the most sickening and yet mesmerizing murder stories in modern Texas history. Even now, more than a month since the drownings,

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