Marybeth Tinning: America’s Worst Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Case

     In January 1972, Marybeth Tinning’s 8-day-old daughter Jennifer died of acute meningitis. The death brought Marybeth a wave of sympathy from her friends and neighbors. The nurse’s aide, married to a cold and indifferent man who work…

     In January 1972, Marybeth Tinning's 8-day-old daughter Jennifer died of acute meningitis. The death brought Marybeth a wave of sympathy from her friends and neighbors. The nurse's aide, married to a cold and indifferent man who worked at the Local General Electric plant in Schenectady, New York, welcomed the attention she did not get from her husband. Three weeks after Jennifer's death, Marybeth rushed her 2-year-old son, Joseph, to Schenectady's Ellis Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Without the benefit of an autopsy, doctors diagnosed the boy's cause of death as a viral infection accompanied by a "seizure disorder."

     The tragic loss of two children within a span of three weeks brought Marybeth Tinning an intense amount of sympathy and attention. This once ignored and lonely woman fit the criminal profile of a person with the so-called  Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy personality disorder. Mothers with MSBP hurt or kill their children for the sympathy and attention they receive from friends, family, and hospital personnel. However, it wasn't until 1977 that members of law enforcement and the medical community became aware of this homicidal motive.

     Tragedy hit  the Tinning family six weeks after Joseph's death when 4-year-old Barbara Tinning died. Following the third death of a Tinning child, hospital personnel, suspicious of foul play, notified the police. The pathologist, however, by identifying the cause of death as cardiac arrest, killed any chance of a criminal investigation.

     A year and a half after Barbara Tinning's sudden death, 2-week-old Timothy Tinning died at Ellis Hospital while being treated for a mysterious illness. The pathologist, unable to identify the cause of death, recorded it as a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) case. ( SIDS is not a cause a death but merely a description of the death. However, it sounds more scientific than "unknown death.")

     In September 1975, Nathan Tinning, five months old, died of "pulmonary edema." While hospital personnel were growing increasingly suspicious, the police didn't get involved because all of the deaths except one had been classified as natural, and the one exception had gone into the books as SIDS.

     Three and a half years after Nathan Tinning died, Marybeth lost another child to sudden death. Mary Tinning, age two and a half, had been a healthy child who, for reasons that baffled physicians, simply died. Although she was not by definition an infant, her death was recorded as another SIDS fatality.

     In 1980, after the sixth Tinning child had died of undetermined causes, sympathy for Marybeth was hardening into suspicion of murder. At the Ellis Hospital, among a dwindling group of Marybeth sympathizers, there was speculation that perhaps the Tinning family had been cursed with a "death gene." On August 2, 1981, emergency personnel rushed 3-year-old Michael Tinning, suffering from breathing difficulties, to the hospital where he died shortly thereafter. The official cause of death--bronchial pneumonia--didn't stem the tide of suspicion. The fact that Michael had been adopted laid waste to the death-gene theory. (It's hard to believe this woman was allowed to adopt a child.)

     In less than ten years, seven children from the same family had died mysteriously, and no one in the health care or law enforcement communities had ever asked the person most closely associated with each fatality, Marybeth Tinning, if she had anything to do with these deaths. While a few of her friends and neighbors still considered Marybeth a tragic, cursed figure deserving of their sympathy, her husband Joe seemed unfazed by it all.

     On the night of December 19, 1985, four years and three months after Michael Tinning's death, Marybeth telephoned her neighbor, also a nurse's aide, and said, "Get over her now!" The neighbor arrived at the Tinning house and found 3-month-old Tami Lynne, born when Marybeth was forty-two, lying on a changing table. The infant had turned purple and was not breathing. According to Marybeth, the baby had been fusing all evening, and when she couldn't stand it anymore, she got up from watching television to ascertain why the baby was crying. She said she found her child tangled in blankets and not breathing. Unable to revive her, she had gotten Joe out of bed, called her neighbor, and then telephoned for an ambulance. The emergency personnel reached the house shortly after the neighbor arrived. At St. Clare's Hospital, doctors pronounced Tami Lynne dead.

     The forensic pathologist who performed the infant's autopsy knew the Tinning family history of sudden death. Notwithstanding this knowledge and the purple coloration that suggested death by suffocation, the pathologist classified this fatality as a case of SIDS. Hospital personnel, however, suspected criminal homicide. They believed that Marybeth Tinning was a serial killer.

     The local police had been suspicious of Marybeth for years, but because none of the autopsies had resulted in a finding of homicidal death, they could not justify a criminal investigation. All they had to go on was the statistical unlikelihood of so many mysterious deaths occurring under the same roof, to the same mother. After Tami Lynne's death, a detective from the Schenectady Police Department came to the Tinning residence to ask Marybeth about the circumstances of the infant's passing. When he entered the house, Marybeth was reported to have said, "I know what you're here for. You're going to arrest me and take me to jail." The detective did not take her into custody, but the investigation had begun.

     Detectives from the Schenectady Police Department and investigators with the New York State Police met in Albany to review the eight Tinning autopsy reports, hospital records, and statements that had been made by ambulance and emergency room personnel. After the meeting, the officers agreed that without physical evidence of child abuse, an eyewitness, or a cooperating spouse, they would need a confession. If Marybeth did not confess to killing her children, they had no case. A little help from the forensic medicine community would have gone a long way in aiding the police, but it wasn't there. Marybeth Tinning would have to confess.

     Seven weeks after Tami Lynne's death, a Schenectady detective and a state police investigator came to the Tinning house and asked Marybeth to accompany them to the state police station in Louderville for questioning. Although she knew she was not under arrest, Marybeth agreed to be questioned. In the interrogation room, the suspect said she understood her Miranda rights, and agreed to waive them. Initially, according to the police account of the interrogation (which was not recorded) Marybeth denied doing anything to her children that would have caused their deaths. The detectives made it clear that they did not believe this, and not long into the interrogation, they were joined by another officer, a state trooper who had known Marybeth from childhood. "I didn't do it!" she kept saying. The interrogators, convinced she was lying, pressed on.

     Eventually breaking down under the pressure of the station house interrogation, Marybeth admitted that she had killed three of her children. She said she had used a pillow to smother 3-month-old Tami Lynne, 5-month-old Nathan, and 2-week-old Timothy. She denied foul play in the other five unexplained sudden deaths. Detectives brought her husband Joe into the interrogation room and she repeated her admission to him. Joe Tinning seemed unmoved by the news that his wife had murdered three of their children.

     A stenographer typed up the confession in a question-and-answer format, a transcript that ran to 36 pages. When describing Tami Lynne's death, Marybeth said, "I got up and went to her crib and tried to do something with her to get her to stop crying. I finally used the pillow from my bed and put it over her head. I held it until she stopped crying."

     A team of forensic pathologists examined the exhumed bodies of three infants. Two were too badly decomposed to render any clues, and the third turned out to a body taken from the wrong grave. On December 16, 1986, at the preliminary hearing, Marybeth rescinded her confession, claiming that her interrogators had forced her into confessing falsely. "They were telling me what to say," she said. "The police made a statement and I just repeated it." Marybeth's attorney asked the judge to exclude the 36-page confession on the grounds it had been acquired in violation of his client's Miranda rights. The judge denied the motion.

     A local prosecutor charged Marybeth Tinning with the murder of Tami Lynne, the last child to die. The case went to trial in 1987. The forensic pathologist who had initially ruled the death a SIDS fatality took the stand and testified that the child had been smothered to death. Five other pathologists for the prosecution agreed with this postmortem diagnosis.

     The defense countered with six forensic pathologists of their own who attributed Tami Lynne's death to a variety of natural causes. One of the defense experts testified that the child had died from Wernig-Hoffman disease, a genetic disorder that attacks the spinal column.

     The jury, confused by the conflicting medical testimony, relied on the defendant's confession to find her guilty. The jurors may also have found it hard to believe that eight children from one family, including an adopted child, could have died of natural causes. (Actually nine if you count the first child's death.)

     At the Tinning trial, forensic science, instead of guiding this jury to a rationale verdict, had cancelled itself out. Apparently unsure if Marybeth had intentionally killed the child for the attention she would get, the jurors found her guilty of murder in the second degree, an offense that carried a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

     At her sentencing hearing, Marybeth, reading from a prepared statement said, "I just want you to know that I played no part in the death of my daughter, Tami Lynne....I did not commit this crime but will serve the time in prison to the best of my ability. However, I will never stop fighting to prove my innocence." The judge imposed the maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

     Although the Tinning case is an extreme manifestation of the Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy personality disorder, it is not the only case in the history of sudden infant death where an alarming number of babies have died before law enforcement authorities launched criminal investigations. (The Marie Noe case in Philadelphia is another example.) Before England's Dr. Roy Meadow introduced this syndrome into the vocabulary of murder, mothers in multiple death cases were less likely to come under suspicion of murder.

     In March 2007, after living twenty years in prison, Marybeth Tinning had her first parole board hearing. To the board members she said, "I have to be honest, and the only thing I can tell you is that I know that my daughter is dead. I live with it every day. I have no recollection and I can't believe that I harmed her." The board denied her request for parole.

   In late January 2009, at her second parole hearing, Tinning said, "I was going through bad times when I killed my daughter." The board, believing that her remorse was "superficial at best," denied her parole. She was denied early release in 2011 and 2012.

     In June 2016, the parole board, for the fourth time, denied Tinning's bid for freedom.

     Marybeth Tinning will never be paroled because everyone familiar with the case believes she is a serial killer. As a sociopath she feels no guilt, no shame, and no remorse. She is beyond rehabilitation. People like her cannot be helped because psychiatrists and therapists cannot give a sociopath a different personality.

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/