Characteristics: She would murder her own kids so she could get sympathy from others
Number of victims: 2 - 9
Date of murders: 1972 - 1985
Date of arrest: February 4, 1986
Date of birth: September 11, 1942
Victims profile: Her children
Method of murder: Smothering with a pillow
Location: Schenectady County, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to 20 years to life in prison on October 1, 1987
Mary Beth Tinning -- Schenectady, N.Y., 1985
Tinning smothered her 3 1/2-month-old daughter in 1985. Though she confessed to also killing two of her sons, she is suspected in the death of all eight of her other children, who originally had been thought to have died of natural causes, dating to 1972. All of Tinning's children died before their fifth birthday. Tinning, now 59, is serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Marybeth Tinning (née Roe, born on September 11, 1942) is an American prisoner currently serving a sentence of 20 years to life after being convicted of the murder of one of her children. She would murder her own kids so she could get sympathy from others.
Marybeth Roe was born in Duanesburg, a small town in New York. She and her younger brother attended Duanesburg High School, where she was a typical student. Her father, Alton Roe, worked as a press operator for General Electric. She tried to kill herself several times as a child.
Over the next few years, she worked in a series of low wage jobs. Eventually, she became a nurse's aide at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady. In 1963, she met Joe Tinning on a blind date. The couple married in spring 1965.
On Thanksgiving Day 1973, she gave birth to a son, Timothy. On December 10, three weeks after his birth, Timothy was brought back to the same hospital. He was dead. Tinning told doctors she found him lifeless in his crib. Doctors found nothing medically wrong. His death was officially attributed to SIDS.
Two years later, on March 30, 1975 (Easter Sunday), Tinning gave birth to her fourth child, Nathan. On September 2, she showed up at St. Clare's Hospital with the baby dead in her arms. She said she was driving in her car with the baby in the front seat when she noticed that he had stopped breathing. Again, there seemed to be no explanation for his death. His death was also attributed to SIDS.
In 1978, the couple made arrangements to adopt a child. The same year, Tinning became pregnant again. The Tinnings did not cancel the adoption and chose to keep both children. In August 1978, they received a baby boy, Michael, from the adoption agency. Two months later, on October 29, she gave birth to her sixth child, Mary Frances. In January 1979, Tinning rushed Mary Frances to the emergency room, directly across the street from her apartment, saying the baby had had a seizure. The staff were able to revive her. However, on February 20, Tinning came running into the same hospital with Mary Frances, who was brain dead. Once again, Tinning said she found the baby unconscious and did not know what had happened to her. Her death was also attributed to SIDS.
Once Mary Frances was buried, Tinning once again became pregnant. On November 19, she gave birth to her seventh child, Jonathan. In March 1980, she showed up at St. Clare's hospital with Jonathan unconscious. Like Mary Frances, he was successfully revived. Due to the family's history, Jonathan was sent to Boston Hospital where he was thoroughly examined. The doctors could find no valid medical reason why the baby simply stopped breathing. Jonathan was sent home. A few days later, Tinning returned to the hospital with Jonathan, and he was brain-dead. Jonathan died on March 24, 1980.
Less than one year later, on the morning of March 2, 1981, Tinning showed up at her pediatrician's office with Michael, her adopted child, then two and a half years old. He was wrapped in a blanket and unconscious. She told the doctor that she could not wake Michael and had no idea what was wrong. When the doctor examined Michael, he was already dead. Since Michael was adopted, the long-suspected theory that the deaths in the Tinning family had a genetic origin was discarded.
On August 22, 1985, Tinning gave birth to her eighth child, Tami Lynne. On December 19, next-door neighbour Cynthia Walter, who was also a practical nurse, went shopping with Tinning and later visited her home. Later that night, Walter received a frantic telephone call from Tinning. When Walter arrived, she found Tami Lynne lying on a changing table. Walter testified that the child was not moving and she could not feel any pulse or breathing. At the emergency room, the baby was pronounced dead.
Confession and conviction
Suspicion mounted against Tinning, who was always alone when the children died, but there wasn't any evidence of wrongdoing. However, after a police interrogation, Tinning confessed to smothering Tami Lynne, Nathan, and Timothy (which she later retracted). She denied having harmed the other children. She was convicted in Tami Lynne's case and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
Her first attempt for parole was in March 2007. At the parole board meeting Tinning said, "I have to be honest, and the only thing that I can tell you is that I know that my daughter is dead. I live with it every day," she continued, "I have no recollection and I can't believe that I harmed her. I can't say any more than that." Her parole was denied.
In late January 2009, Tinning went before the parole board for the second time. Tinning stated "I was going through bad times," when she killed her daughter. The parole board again denied her parole, stating that her remorse was "superficial at best." Tinning was eligible for parole again in January 2011. In 2011 parole was denied again. Her next opportunity for parole will be in January 2013.
Egginton, Joyce (February 1989). From Cradle to Grave: The Short Lives and Strange Deaths of Marybeth Tinning's Nine Children. New York: Morrow.
Unnatural Death, Confessions of a Forensic Pathologist, Michael Baden MD with Judith Adler Hennessee, 1989.
For a devoted mother, Marybeth Tinning seemed to have no luck at all in raising children. In the thirteen years from 1972 to 1985, she lost nine infants in Schenectady, New York, and police would later charge that eight of those were slain deliberately, for motives no one has been able to articulate.
The first to go was daughter Jennifer, a mere eight days old when she died on January 3, 1972.
An autopsy listed the cause of death as acute meningitis, and since the baby never left St. Clare's Hospital after her birth, authorities consider her death the only case above suspicion. We may never know what psychic shock waves were triggered in Marybeth Tinning's mind by the death of her new-born daughter, but more of her children soon joined the casualty list.
Less than three weeks later, on January 20, two-year-old Joseph Tinning, Jr., was pronounced dead on arrival at Ellis Hospital, in Schenectady. Doctors blamed his death on a viral infection and "seizure disorder," but no autopsy was performed to verify those findings. Four-year-old Barbara Tinning died six weeks later, on March 20, and autopsy surgeons, lacking an obvious cause of death, attributed her passing to "cardiac arrest." Barbara's death was the first reported to police, but officers closed their file on the case after a brief consultation with hospital physicians.
And the deaths continued. When two-week-old Timothy died at Ellis hospital, doctors were once more unable to determine a cause, tossing his case into the grab-bag of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). On September 2, 1975, Nathan Tinning died at the age of five months, an autopsy blaming his case on "pulmonary edema." SIDS was the culprit again on February 2, 1979, when Mary Tinning died six months short of her third birthday, while no cause was ever determined in the death of three-month-old Jonathan, on March 24, 1980.
Three-year-old Michael Tinning was still in the process of being adopted when he was rushed into St. Clare's Hospital on August 2, 1981. Physicians could not save his life, and while they viewed his passing with a "high level of suspicion," the cause of death was still listed as bronchial pneumonia.
The real questions began on December 20, 1985, when three-month-old Tami Lynne Tinning was found unconscious in bed, blood staining her pillow. Rushed to St. Clare's Hospital, she was beyond help, and while doctors ascribed her death to SIDS, they also telephoned the state police. An investigation led to Marybeth Tinning's arrest on February 4, 1986, after she confessed to pressing a pillow over Tami Lynne's face when the child "fussed and cried."
In custody, she also confessed to murdering Timothy and Nathan, but staunchly denied harming any of the others. "I smothered them with a pillow," she told detectives, "because I'm not a good mother."
On July 17, 1987, Tinning was convicted of second-degree murder in Tami Lynne's death, jurors acquitting her of "deliberately" killing the child, blaming her for a lesser degree of homicide through her "depraved indifference to human life." With trials pending in two other confessed slayings, husband Joseph Tinning seemed bewildered by the whole affair.
In newspaper interviews, he admitted occasional suspicion of his wife, but had managed to push it aside. "You have to trust your wife," he said. "She has her things to do, and as long as she gets them done, you don't ask questions."
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Marybeth lived in Schenectady, New York state with her husband. It is a tragic story of a woman who over a 14 year period gave birth to eight children and adopted one more.
The first death occured in January 1972 when baby Jennifer died of meningitis only nine days old. Only 15 days later Marybeth rushed her two year old son Joseph to the hospital because he had suffered some sort of a seizure. He had stopped breathing but responded well to treatment and was kept in for 10 days while being treated for a viral infection. He was released but was rushed back in the same day and was declared dead on arrival. This time death was attributed to cardio respiratory arrest.
Marybeth's four year old daughter Barbara was admitted to hospital in March but she died shortly after arrival. This time the autopsy showed that Barbara had died from Reyes syndrome. Strange though it may sound even this death did not raise any suspicions. November the same year Marybeth gave birth to another baby, a little boy who they named Timothy. He survived 19 days before dying from what was thought to be cot death syndrome.
All was quiet until 30 March 1975 when once again Marybeth gave birth to another boy this time named Nathan. Three weeks later he too was in hospital suffering from pneumonia. He had been having difficulty breathing and was bleeding from the mouth and nose. He remained in hospital for a month before being returned home. By September he was dead this time from acute pulmonary edema. In October 1978 Mary Francis was born and by the time she was three months old was in hospital fighting for her life. The treatment was successful and she was given a reprieve only this did not last long and on 20 February she had a relapse and died. This was also put down as cot death syndrome.
In 1978 a rather strange event occured, the Tinnings applied to adopt a child. Now based on their past history you would assume that they would not stand a chance but far from it, in fact the adoption agency felt so sorry for the Tinnings that they granted the application and they were able to adopt Michael. Adoption did not stop Marybeth having her own children and baby Jonathan was born in November 1979. Three months later Jonathan died from breathing difficulties. A year late in February 1981 Michael was also rushed to hospital but found to be dead on arrival.
Tami Lynne was Marybeth's ninth and last child. She was born in August 1985 but lived only four months. She was found dead in her cot and blood was spotted on her pillow. This aroused suspicion and an investigation was carried out. An autopsy revealed that Tami Lynne had died from suffocation.
Marybeth was arrested and soon confessed to killing Tami Lynne as well as Timothy and Nathan. She also admitted that she had been slowly poisoning her husband. Shocked though he must have been by this confession her husband Joseph stood by his wife throughout the trial. When the case came to trial she was only charged with the one murder, that of Tami Lynne and after a six week trial was found guilty on the 17 July 1987. She was brought back to court for sentencing on 1 October and was sentenced to twenty years to life.
Rare glimpse into child killer's mind
In appearance before parole board, Marybeth Tinning said prior child deaths ''damaged'' her
By Robert Gavin - TimesUnion.com
February 11, 2011
The Times Union obtained transcripts of the Jan. 26 parole hearing at Bedford Hills in which Tinning reveals her guilt in the murder more than ever before. In 2009, her only explanation for her grisly crime was that she was "going through bad times" when she committed the murder.
And in 2007 she was admonished by the board for a lack of remorse.
On Jan. 26, parole commissioner Mary Ross asked Tinning: "This charge involved the murder of your 4-month-old child who was smothered with a pillow, is this right?"
"Yes, ma'am," Tinning replied.
"Did you do that?" Ross asked.
"Yes, ma'am, I did," Tinning answered.
Ross later asked Tinning what she thought when her children were dying.
Tinning replied: "Two things that I wanted in life was to be married to someone who cared for me and to have children and, other than that, I can't give you a reason."
She said sudden infant death syndrome caused the deaths of her other children.
In the interview, Ross noted Tinning has certificates of achievement from nonviolence and anger management programs and that she now works for a chaplain. Ross and parole commissioner Jared Brown also cited letters of support for Tinning from people she has worked with in prison, as well as from Georgetown Law School, with some describing her as the "most loving, most generous, caring person that they have ever met."
At one point Ross asked Tinning, "When you look back at your actions ... what insight do you have into it or yourself?"
Tinning replied: "When I look back I see a very damaged and just a messed up person and I have tried to become a better person while I was here, trying to be able to stand on my own and ask for help when I need it, others when they need it. ... (S)ometimes I try not to look in the mirror and when I do, I just, there is no words that I can express now. I feel none. I'm just, just none."
Tinning, noting she worked with AIDS patients in prison, said she would like to volunteer with such patients if released -- and that some places have told her husband, Joseph, they would be willing to use her.
She said she would live with her husband if released. He visits once a month but it is "getting harder," she told the board.
Tinning was also suspected of trying to poison her husband, but never charged.
On Feb. 5, the parole board's decision found Tinning's release would be incompatible with public safety and would diminish the seriousness of her crime.
She is eligible for parole again in January 2013.
The parole board's ruling stated: "This decision is based on the following factors: You stand convicted of the serious offense of murder in which you caused the death of your infant daughter by smothering her with a pillow. This was a heinous crime. You were in a position of trust and violated that trust by taking the life of an innocent child."
By Mark Gado
Mothers who Kill
When Susan Smith murdered her two children in South Carolina in October 1994, people were horrified that a mother could do such a thing to her own children. The public anger directed at Smith intensified when it was realized she led police on a fictitious manhunt for suspects that did not exist and played on media sympathy for her loss. Smith blamed her behavior on troubles with her current boyfriend, who did not want the responsibility of her children.
In Texas, a deeply disturbed Andrea Yates, 36, drowned her five young children, including a 6-month-old infant, in the family's bathtub. She then called her husband and told him, "It's time. I did it." Yates defense team said later in court that a severe post-partum depression triggered her murderous rage.
It is a crime that is unthinkable for most people because the thought of losing one's own child is a life-long subconscious fear for parents. That may help explain why there is little public sympathy for one who commits this type of crime. Though courts may be willing to listen to explanations from the accused, usually there is no forgiveness. Smith received a life sentence without parole while Yates was sentenced to life with a chance at parole in the year 2040. A cursory review of such cases shows a similar pattern of long prison sentences. One of the most extraordinary cases of child murder in 20th century America took place in Schenectady, N.Y. But unlike the Smith and Yates cases in which the victims were killed during one tragic incident, these events took place over a period of nearly fourteen years. On February 5, 1986, Marybeth Tinning, 43, a local housewife and former school bus operator, was arrested and charged with the murder of her 4-month-old daughter, Tami Lynne. As crime stories go, Mrs. Tinning's tale would have barely made the 6 o'clock news.
But Marybeth Tinning was a familiar sight in Schenectady's trauma centers. She usually came running into one of the city's emergency rooms, confused and hysterical, typically with one of her babies cradled in her arms, either dead or near dead. The medical staff knew Marybeth well. Some hated her. Others felt great sorrow and pity for her. That's because from January 3, 1972, the day her daughter Jennifer died, until December 20, 1985, when Tami Lynne was found dead in her home, all nine of Marybeth Tinning's children died suddenly and usually without any rational explanation.
And no one knew why.
Welcome to Duanesburg, town signMarybeth Roe was born on September 11, 1942, in Duanesburg, a small town located on State Route 20 about ten miles south of Schenectady, New York. She had one younger brother and together they attended Duanesburg High School where she was nothing more than an average student. Her father, Alton Roe, worked as a press operator in nearby General Electric, the area's largest employer. Marybeth once claimed that when she was a child, her father abused her. During a police interview in 1986, she told one investigator that her father had beaten her and locked her in a closet. But later during court testimony, she denied that her father had bad intentions.
"My father hit me with a flyswatter," she told the court, "because he had arthritis and his hands were not of much use. And when he locked me in my room I guess he thought I deserved it."
Though Mary Beth aspired to go to college upon graduation, it never happened. Over the next few years, she worked in a series of low paying, unskilled jobs that did not offer much of a future. Eventually, she became a nurse's aide at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady where she performed her duties in an adequate manner. In 1963, she met Joe Tinning on a blind date with some friends. He was a shy young man with a kindly disposition who had never been in trouble with the police. The couple got along reasonably well and in the spring of 1965, they married. Joe was a quiet man who worked for General Electric, not prone to outbursts of temper and seemed to take life in stride.
As an adult, Marybeth was a woman of average appearance. Photographs of her that appeared in newspapers over several years, show a person who was attractive to the camera at times. On other occasions, she did not fare as well. She was 5-feet 4-inches tall, had blue eyes, blonde hair and a trim, though not a sexy figure. Marybeth kept her hair short and maintained a neat, proper appearance.
In almost all aspects, Joe and Marybeth were like many other young married couples in that part of New York. They worked hard, tried to make a decent living and build a better life. Except for one strange and persistent problem: Their children began to die.
Parade of Death
A mysterious set of coincidences surrounded the deaths of Marybeth's nine healthy children over a period of 14 years. It wasn't that no one had noticed that all of her children had died. Everyone noticed. But few people, very few, knew all the details of all the deaths. The Department of Social Services, the Medical Examiner's Office, several police departments, friends, neighbors, family and even the local funeral home had, at one time or another, registered their shock and disbelief at the odd calamity that had befallen the Tinning family. It is true not everyone thought it was a tragedy. Some saw the deaths as questionable and even made official reports of their suspicions. But in each and every case, no decisive action was taken against either Joe or Marybeth. There was simply no conclusive evidence that anything was amiss.
In the first five years of her marriage to Joe, the couple had two children, Barbara and Joseph Jr. In October 1971, Marybeth's father died of a sudden heart attack. In December that same year, Marybeth gave birth to a third child, Jennifer. On January 3, 1972, Jennifer died in a Schenectady hospital of severe infection, which was diagnosed as meningitis. At that time, most investigators did not believe that this death was suspicious because Jennifer was sick at birth and never brought home. The successive deaths of her father and her baby may have irritated Marybeth's fragile mental condition. Never a happy, well-adjusted adult and frequently described as "strange" by many of her friends and family members, Marybeth seemed to become even more distant after Jennifer's death (Egginton).
Seventeen days later, on January 20, 1972, Marybeth took Joseph Jr., age 2, to the Ellis Hospital emergency room in Schenectady. She reported that he had some type of seizure. The child was kept under observation for a time. When doctors could not find anything wrong with him, Joseph Jr. was sent home. Several hours later, Marybeth returned to the ER with little Joey. This time, he was dead. She told doctors that she had placed him in bed and returned later to find him tangled in the sheets and his body was blue.
"He was taking a nap," Marybeth told detectives in a later statement, "it was close to his birthday and he had slept, taken a nap, slept unusually long. Unfortunately, I did not go in to check on him and when I did, he appeared to be having respiratory problems of which I did not cause" (Tinning). His death was listed as "unknown" and no autopsy was performed.
Barely six weeks later, Marybeth was back at the same emergency room with her daughter, Barbara, age 4. She told the staff that the little girl had gone into convulsions. Though the doctors wanted the child to remain overnight, Marybeth insisted on taking her home. Several hours later, like the incident with Joseph Jr., she returned with Barbara who was unconscious. The child later died in a hospital bed from unknown causes. When police asked Marybeth about this incident years later, she barely remembered it.
"Had a daughter," she told investigators, "while we were sleeping, she called out to me and I went in and she was having a convulsion. I guess I don't even remember whether ... I think maybe we just ... I don't remember whether we took her by ambulance or whether we took her, but anyway we got there and they did whatever they did."
A rare, little understood condition, known as Reyes Syndrome, was suspected in Barbara's death, but never proven.
All three of Marybeth's children were dead. They had died within 90 days of each other, a highly unusual occurrence, even if it were Reyes Syndrome or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The deaths came as a surprise to everyone because up to the time of their demise; Joseph Jr. and Barbara were healthy and active. Some people thought it must be some type of genetic disorder that was passed from mother to child. That's why people were even more surprised when in the following year, Marybeth became pregnant with her fourth child.
On Thanksgiving Day 1973, she gave birth to Timothy, a small baby weighing just more than 5 pounds. Marybeth took Timothy home two days later. On December 10, just three weeks after birth, Timothy was brought back to the same hospital. He was dead. Marybeth told doctors she found him lifeless in his crib. Again, doctors found nothing medically wrong. Timothy seemed to be a normal baby. His death was listed officially as SIDS.
Two years later, on March 30, 1975, Easter Sunday, Marybeth gave birth to her fifth child, Nathan. One of Marybeth's friends told author Joyce Egginton years later, "I can still see his darling little face. His hair was so blonde, and with those big blue eyes and the smile he was the most perfect specimen of a little baby boy. He was just beautiful!"
On September 2, Marybeth showed up at St. Clare's Hospital with little Nathan, only five months old, in her arms. He was dead. She said she was driving in her car with the baby in the front seat when she noticed that he had stopped breathing. Again, there seemed to be no rational explanation for his death. Friends and neighbors were aghast. Five of Marybeth's children had died. Four of them were in her exclusive care when they simply stopped being healthy. It was horrible, scary, incredible.
And there was more to come.
In 1978, Marybeth and her husband, Joe, made arrangements to adopt a child. That same year, Marybeth became pregnant again. But the Tinnings did not cancel the adoption. Instead, they chose to keep both children. In August 1978, they received a baby boy, Michael, from the adoption agency. Two months later, on October 29, Marybeth gave birth to her sixth offspring, a girl they named Mary Frances. In January 1979, the baby apparently developed some type of seizure, according to Marybeth. She rushed Mary Frances to St. Clare's emergency room, which was directly across the street from her apartment. A capable staff was able to revive her. They saved the baby's life, but only for a time. On February 20, Marybeth came running into the same hospital with Mary Frances cradled in her arms. The baby, just four months old, was brain dead. The explanation was the same as the others. Marybeth said she found the baby unconscious and didn't know what had happened to her.
"There is really nothing to say," she told investigators years later, "than I found her in her crib unresponsive. I believe Joe was there. I can't remember." When an autopsy failed to find a reason for the death, again it was attributed to SIDS.
Once Mary Frances was buried, Marybeth wasted no time in getting pregnant. On November 19, that same year, she gave birth to her seventh baby, Jonathan. In the meantime, the Tinnings still cared for their adopted child, Michael, who was then 13 months old and seemingly in good health. In March 1980, Marybeth showed up at St. Clare's hospital with Jonathan unconscious. Like Mary Frances, he was successfully revived. But because of the family history, he was sent to Boston Hospital where he was thoroughly examined by the best pediatricians and experts available. The doctors could find no valid medical reason why the baby should simply stop breathing. Jonathan was sent home with his mother. A few days later, Marybeth was back at St. Clare's, this time with a brain dead Jonathan. He died on March 24, 1980.
Less than one year later, a pivotal event occurred in the Tinning household. On the morning of March 2, 1981, Marybeth showed up at her pediatrician's office with Michael, then two and a half years old. He was wrapped in a blanket and unconscious. Marybeth told the doctor that she could not wake Michael that morning and had no idea what was wrong. She described what happened next to police, "When I went in, in the morning to get him up and so we could go to the doctors, he was not, I mean he was responsive to a point but he was very limp and so on and so forth and so instead of calling an ambulance, I went from our house...put him in the car, literally threw him in the car and went to St. Clare's or I mean I went to Dr. Mele's office and went in there and...by the time one of the doctors...I guess took me and they said that he died of viral pneumonia" (Tinning).
When the doctor examined the boy, he was already dead. Later, an autopsy found traces of pneumonia but not enough to cause death. Since Michael was adopted, the long-suspected theory that the deaths in the Tinning family had a genetic origin was discarded. Something else was happening, only no one knew exactly what it was. After Michael died, some of the nurses questioned Marybeth's odd behavior. They noticed that when she first realized that Michael was sick that morning, Marybeth could have easily walked across the street to the emergency room to obtain medical care. In fact, she had done just that when the others had died. But instead, she let hours pass until the doctor's office opened for business.
It didn't make sense.
On August 22, 1985, Marybeth, then 42, gave birth to her eighth child, Tami Lynne. Like all the other children in Marybeth's care, she was destined to have a short life. On December 19, next-door neighbor, Cynthia Walter, who was also a practical nurse, went shopping with Marybeth and later visited her home. "I stayed for a few minutes and I wanted to hold Tami," Walter later testified, "but Marybeth asked me to give the baby back, so I handed her back and then I went home" (June 25, 1987, Albany Times Union)
Later that night, Walter received a frantic telephone call from Marybeth. "Cynthia!" she said. "Get over here right now!" When she went next door to see what was wrong, she found little Tami Lynne lying on a changing table. "She wasn't moving," Walter said in court, "She was purple and I couldn't feel pulse or respiration. She was not breathing" (ibid).
Walter tried to determine what was wrong, but there was nothing obvious. At that point, an EMS team arrived at the scene. They immediately scooped up Tami Lynne and sped off to the hospital. When Cynthia asked Marybeth what happened, she told her neighbor that Tami Lynne "was tangled in the blanket." At the emergency room, the baby was pronounced dead. There was no cause of death apparent to the emergency room staff, but since they were fully aware of the Tinning family history, suspicion quickly settled upon Marybeth.
The next morning, Cynthia Walter visited the Tinning home to see if she could be of any comfort to Marybeth, who she assumed would be grieving over the death of her newborn daughter. When she entered the house, Walter found Joe and Marybeth in the kitchen. "They were sitting there, eating breakfast," Walter said later in court, "and I told them where I'd be if they needed me" (June 25, 1987, Knickerbocker News). Later, after Tami Lynne's funeral, Marybeth had people over her house for a brunch. Her demeanor had changed noticeably. "She was smiling. She was eating, conversing with everyone there," Walter testified, "didn't appear to be upset." Sandy Roe, who was married to Marybeth's brother, later testified that when she met with Marybeth after Tami Lynne's death, she didn't seem upset. "We spoke about Christmas," Roe said, "She never really talked about the death of the baby. It didn't seem to bother her."
But police, who had suspected something was amiss at the Tinning household, went to interview Marybeth the same day. Schenectady Police Investigator Bob Imfeld questioned her about Tami Lynne's death and wanted details on how she died. "I know what you're here for," Marybeth told him, "you're going to arrest me and take me to jail" (Egginton). An autopsy failed to provide a valid medical reason for the death of Tami Lynne and as a result, her demise was listed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
As for Marybeth's husband, nothing seemed to bother Joe. After each death, he would dress up in the same clothes and dutifully go to the services at the same funeral parlor. He would sit quietly at the wake without complaining and rarely make conversation with anyone. "There were things to make me suspicious," he once said to a Times Union reporter, "but you have to trust your wife. She has her things to do and as long as she gets them done you don't ask no questions" (Wallace).
The Genetic Factor
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was once responsible for thousands of infant deaths each year in America. Sometimes called "crib death," SIDS was a condition that was not well understood in the 1970s. Since that time, a great deal of research has been completed on this baffling affliction that takes the lives of babies in their cribs without any warning. SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion. That means a determination of a SIDS death is usually made after everything else is ruled out. Doctors felt sure that SIDS was respiratory-related and that babies probably died from apnea, a sudden and unexplained cessation of breathing. It usually occurs in infants less than one year old and 80% of the victims are between two and four months old. Most experts do not believe that a baby will suffocate from being snarled in blankets and bed sheets.
Three of the Tinning babies were eventually diagnosed as SIDS deaths. This should have been a cause for concern since statistically, having two or three SIDS deaths in one family, is nearly impossible because SIDS is not and never has been, genetic in nature. Therefore, to have two occurrences in the same family is an extreme abnormality. Dr. Michael Baden, former Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York, once said, "About three babies in a thousand die from crib death. The odds against two crib deaths in one family are enormous. The odds against three are astronomical" (Baden).
Over the years, several physicians investigated the mystery in the Tinning home that led to the deaths of nine children. Hereditary factors were strongly suspected, though the unexplained death of Michael, the adopted son, lessened the possibility that there was some type of "death gene" being passed on to the Tinning children. Marybeth and Joseph also submitted to numerous medical examinations over the years to search for a cause. This proved to be of little value. Dr. Baden comments on the genetic theory in his book, Confessions of a Medical Examiner, "There is no known genetic disease that can cause sudden death in healthy children," he wrote.
Reyes Syndrome, an ill-defined condition that causes the brain to swell, was also suspected, though this explanation proved controversial and had little basis in fact. Reyes Syndrome produces noticeable symptoms. Family and friends observed Marybeth's children shortly before they died. With the exception of Jennifer, the babies seemed healthy.
"Just about everyone who came into contact with the family, the hospital, doctors, social service workers, was suspicious," said Schenectady Police Chief Richard E. Nelson to the press, "and communicated that suspicion to each other, many from the very beginning" (Feb. 8, 1986, New York Times). However, the problem wasn't that people weren't skeptical. The problem was that an exact cause of death for the babies could not be determined. Without a definitive ruling from the medical examiner's office a unified investigative effort from the police department could not take place. Dr. Robert Sullivan, the medical examiner of Schenectady was interviewed by author Joyce Egginton for her book on the case, From Cradle to Grave, "As I look back," he said, "the main problem is that different persons or agencies knew about every one of these deaths, but there was no centralized collection of information. It was all of us together...and all of us failed" (Egginton).
Neighbors of the Tinnings knew all too well the story of their dead children. "I knew she had lost five children and I had my suspicions," one neighbor told the New York Times, "But who was I to point a finger?" In between deaths, Marybeth was frequently pregnant. When her baby was born, she was often seen walking down the streets, pushing a baby carriage, chatting with neighbors and fussing over the new addition to her strange and tragic family. Another neighbor once told a reporter from the Albany Times Union, "When the last child was born I asked myself, 'How long is this one going to last.'"
"I'm Not a Good Mother"
After the death of Tami Lynne, police investigators from several departments met in Albany to discuss the bizarre Tinning family history. The deaths of the nine children, along with all the existing evidence in each case, were carefully reviewed. Medical reports were scrutinized, statements were reexamined and the available autopsy reports were studied. Even with the mountain of paperwork which spanned a period of 14 years, there was a consensus that a successful prosecution still could not take place without additional evidence. It was decided that Marybeth had to be interviewed again regarding the death of Tami Lynne.
On the afternoon of February 4, 1986, Schenectady police detective Bob Imfeld and State Police Investigator Joseph V. Karas went to Tinning's home to ask her into police headquarters for questioning. Of course, Marybeth was under no obligation since there was no arrest warrant. The police told her that her cooperation was needed if she wanted to clear up suspicions about her child's death. Marybeth agreed, though she later said she felt compelled to go with the police. Shortly after they arrived at the state police building at Loudonville, New York, police said they advised her of the Miranda warnings and she agreed to talk to investigators. At her trial, Marybeth denied she ever received these warnings and said police intimidated her. "She said she understood them," Karas later told the court, "She said she'd waive them. She was willing to proceed without them" (Dec. 9, 1986, Knickerbocker News).
Marybeth spoke about her life as a child and growing up in Duanesburg. She stated that she grieved over the deaths of each of her nine children and denied any role in what happened to them. With the exception of Jennifer, whose cause of death was an infection, she assumed her children died from SIDS or genetic problems. Concerning Tami Lynne's death, Marybeth said that on the night of December 19, 1985, she put her daughter to sleep in her crib like she normally did. Tami Lynne was crying that night, she said, which annoyed her because it made her feel like an unfit mother. She said that she watched television for a while alone. When she returned to check on the baby, Marybeth discovered she wasn't breathing. She said she picked up the baby and made an attempt to revive her. But nothing worked. Then she woke her husband and called for an ambulance.
But police didn't believe her story. It was too much like the other seven deaths in the Tinning household, all of which occurred when Marybeth was alone with the child. And SIDS deaths only occur while the baby is in the crib. A baby does not die from SIDS in its mother's arms. In fact, picking up a baby is the only known way to prevent a sudden infant death. In all the cases, there were no other witnesses. Most of the facts available on each death had come from Marybeth. She told the initial story; she provided the much-needed details; she described the last moments of each child's life. It was all too convenient and there was no one to challenge her version of events.
"I Smothered Them!"
The interview at police headquarters continued for hours. During that time, investigators Imfeld and Karas touched upon the deaths of all the children. Some events went back 14 years and the details as remembered by Mary Beth did not coincide with the known facts. But after so many deaths, it would be plausible that a mother could be confused. At about two in the afternoon, another State Police Investigator, William Barnes, who knew Marybeth Roe since childhood, joined in the interview.
When Mary Beth was confronted with suspicions over the deaths, she initially denied any malfeasance. "I didn't do it!" she repeated. But after several hours of persistent questioning, Mary Beth gave in. Though she continued to insist she never hurt most of the children, she said Tami Lynne, Nathan and Timothy were the exceptions. "I did not do anything to Jennifer, Joseph, Barbara, Michael, Mary Frances, Jonathan," she said to Barnes and Karas, "Just these three, Timothy, Nathan and Tami. I smothered them each with a pillow because I'm not a good mother. I'm not a good mother because of the other children" (Tinning).
During the interrogation, police had contacted her husband, Joe, at his job at General Electric and he responded to state police headquarters. When Marybeth was allowed to meet with him, they had a brief conversation. Joe asked her to tell the truth whatever it was. She began to cry while police stood nearby. After a few minutes, Marybeth admitted the murders to Joe. "After 5 or 10 minutes," Joe Tinning later said in court, "Marybeth said 'I killed Tami' very low. She had to repeat it." Joe had no reaction to his wife's statements. "I had withdrawn into myself," he said, "I was hearing but I wasn't reacting" (July 3, 1987, Knickerbocker News). But investigators had also heard Marybeth's damaging statements. State Police reports written on the day of the interview describe the event: "[Joe Tinning] also related the circumstances of the children's death generally and then reported that during the conversation with his wife that day at Loudonville she admitted that she had killed their children and that now she is sorry" (New York State Police reports case No. 86-66 and 113).
Police called in a stenographer and together, while investigators asked questions and Marybeth responded, they compiled a 36-page statement. In it, Marybeth admits to suffocating three children but continued to insist that she never harmed the others. She told police that on the night of Tami Lynne's death, she was sleeping on the living room couch. "I was about to doze off when Tami woke up and started to cry," 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." Then she took the pillow, she said, and put it on the couch to convince Joe she had been sleeping. "I screamed for Joe and he woke up," she said, "I told Joe Tami wasn't breathing...I did do CPR, stupid as it sounds, but I knew that she wasn't alive anymore." When she was asked why she killed Tami, Marybeth responded, "Because she was always crying and I couldn't do anything right" (Tinning).
At the end of the statement, Marybeth wrote: "I did not do anything to Jennifer, Joseph, Barbara, Michael, Mary Frances, Jonathan, Just these three, Timothy, Nathan and Tami. I smothered them each with a pillow because I'm not a good mother. I'm not a good mother because of the other children. Marybeth Tinning 1-4-86 8 pm" (New York State Police reports case # 86-66 and 113). Later, she was arrested and formally charged with the murder of Tami Lynne.
"Everyone Did Their Jobs"
After the arrest of Marybeth Tinning, there was a lot of finger pointing in the Schenectady community. There was already a great deal of media attention on the case and the story of the nine dead children was well known. It was reported in the nation's newspapers and the television show "60 Minutes" broadcast a segment on the case. New York Times reporter Amy Wallace wrote, "There were six autopsies, but never any signs of abuse. There were whispers and suspicions. But somehow no one not the police, the coroner, doctors, social workers or neighbors, not even Mrs. Tinning's husband-detected something evil in the strange pattern of deaths."
Part of the problem in the investigation was the lack of communication between the medical examiner's office and doctors who handled deaths of the Tinning babies that were not autopsied. Some of the deaths, like Barbara in 1972 and Michael in 1981, had a valid cause listed on the death certificate. If a death can not be characterized as a homicide, then, theoretically, a crime has not been committed. "Everyone did their jobs," Schenectady Police Chief Richard E. Nelson told the press, "but when you have a legitimate cause of death, where do you go from there?" (Feb. 8, 1986, New York Times). But some of the other Tinning children had died from unknown causes, which doctors listed as SIDS. Though police had made some inquiries in those cases as well, their investigation went nowhere.
Soon after Marybeth's arrest, police and the D.A.'s office decided to take the investigation a step further. On May 29, 1986, under the direction of Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Thomas Oram, chief of pathology at Schenectady's Ellis Hospital, the bodies of three of Tinning's children were exhumed from the Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Schenectady County. They were transported to the Medical Examiner's Office for further testing. Defense Attorney Paul M. Callahan told the press, "My client was bothered, upset by them exhuming the bodies" (May 29, 1986, Knickerbocker News). He asked the court for a postponement on Marybeth's appearance because, "She wouldn't be in the best condition to be in court" (ibid). But it really didn't matter. Confusion over the location of the gravesites resulted in the exhumation of the wrong corpse in one case. The other two bodies were too decomposed for a conclusive examination.
In the meantime, Joe Tinning, Marybeth's unflappable husband, told reporters, "I wouldn't like them to do anymore, but I guess that's their prerogative." One of the doctors that performed the autopsy on Tami Lynne, Dr. Oram, took notice of Joe Tinning's apparent detachment from his family. In a profile that he prepared on the parents of the dead child, Dr. Oram described the father as somewhat distant. "The father seems to have shown little curiosity in the circumstances of all these children's deaths," he said. "He has difficulty in remembering all their names" (Egginton).
"I Just Became Scared!"
Marybeth Tinning was indicted for the murder of only one of her children, Tami Lynne. Police and Schenectady County District Attorneys Office felt that was the single case in which they had the strongest evidence. Her admissions on February 4 to police investigators were crucial and would certainly be persuasive to any jury that heard them. In December 1986, pre-trial hearings took place in county court to determine the admissibility of those statements at a later trial. For the very first time, the public would hear Marybeth Tinning's explanation of what happened in her household where so many babies had died.
State Police Investigator Joseph Karas testified that Marybeth came to police headquarters voluntarily and was not under arrest at the time. "She said she'd talk but didn't want to sign anything," he said in court (Dec. 10, 1986, Albany Times Union). Karas stated that he read Miranda rights to Marybeth and she understood them. Another state police investigator told the court that after Marybeth confessed to killing three of her children, she seemed relieved that it was over. The stenographer who took Marybeth's statement on February 4, 1987, Margot Bernhardt, also testified that Marybeth was not forced to answer any questions and seemed to understand everything that was said to her. But the real drama came on December 16 when, for the first time, the world heard Marybeth's version of how eight of her children died, essentially in her arms, for no known medical reason.
"They were telling me what to say," she told the court, "A lot of time the police made a statement and then I just repeated it. These gentlemen were telling a story and I just repeated it" (Dec. 12, 1986, Knickerbocker News). She said that the police yelled and threatened her and any statements she may have made, were in response to that intimidation. "I was just tired," Marybeth offered, "I didn't want to go on. I knew what they were doing was wrong, but it would appear they had me in their clutches" (ibid). She said that she resisted the suggestions of the police for hours but finally broke down when they threatened to dig up the bodies of her children. "They said that if I did not tell the truth," she told the court, "they would take my kids out of their graves and rip them limb from limb!" The Albany Times Union reported that Marybeth "calmly responded to almost all of the questions...but she fought back tears when she testified about what she claimed was a police threat to unearth her children's bodies" (Dec. 16, 1986).
The murder trial of Marybeth Tinning opened in Schenectady County Court on June, 22, 1987. The prosecuting attorney, John Poersch, had been on the case since before Marybeth was arrested. During contentious pre-trial hearings, the prosecution argued successfully that the crucial statements made by the defendant on February 4, 1986 at State Police headquarters were not coerced and would be admissible. Marybeth's full 36-page confession would be available at trial. "Once you have heard all of the evidence and assimilated it," Poersch said in his opening statement, "you will come back with a verdict of murder in the second degree against Marybeth Tinning, who murdered her child by smothering it." Defense attorney Paul Callahan challenged the prosecution to come up with a cause of death for Tami Lynne. "That is going to be very critical," he said to the jury, "How did this child die?" (June 23, 1987, Knickerbocker News).
The medical testimony at the trial was complex, involving several doctors, all experts, who held different opinions on the disturbing tendencies of the Tinning children to die suddenly and without explanation. Some of the testimony helped the defendant. Other portions were extremely damaging. Dr. Bradley Ford, who examined Tami Lynne when she was an infant, advised the Tinnings that in view of their family history, a crib monitor should be installed. The device would sound an alarm if Tami Lynne stopped breathing. Curiously, Marybeth refused. "The monitor was recommended," he told the court, "but the parents elected not to use it" (June 25, 1987, Knickerbocker News). Ironically, the doctor did not insist on the monitor because the baby was in such good health. Dr. Thomas Oram testified on the cause of death. He denied that Tami Lynne died from SIDS. "I'm saying sir, in essence that I came to the definite, positive conclusion that this child was smothered," said Dr. Oram to the court, "This would be the only thing that would answer all the evidence" (July 1, 1987, Knickerbocker News).
The defense called several physicians to the stand to refute that allegation and to offer evidence that all the Tinning children suffered from a genetic defect. Dr. Arnulf Koeppen, a pathologist at Albany Veteran's Administration Hospital, told the court that it was his belief that Jonathan, the seventh child, had died from Wernig-Hoffman Disease, a genetic disease that attacks the spinal column. When pressed on that assertion, he was unable to state that Tami Lynne had that disease as well. Dr. Jack N.P. Davies, a well-known pathologist, went a step further. He claimed that the affliction that killed all nine children was unknown. "Frankly," he said to the court, "I think this may be a new syndrome, a new disease" (July 6, 1987, Knickerbocker News).
However to refute defense claims of genetic diseases, the prosecution called Dr. Marie Valdez-Dapena, a nationally recognized expert on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Noting that Tami Lynne had a perfectly normal spinal column, she said that "it's highly unlikely that this is a case of Werdnig-Hoffman Disease." Rather, she believed that "there is a stronger probability that this was a suffocation with a soft object, in light of the family's history" (July 8, 1987, Knickerbocker News). Following Dr. Valdez-Dapena's testimony, the defense was allowed to call further witnesses to refute the prosecution's medical experts. It became the battle of the doctors with both sides calling six pathologists, all who had different opinions on how Tami Lynne died. Dr. John L. Emerey had the most interesting observation. "I'd like to investigate the family," he said, "The ideal experiment would be to let her have more children and look at them biochemically" (July 10, 1987, Knickerbocker News).
In closing statements, District Attorney Poersch stood on the facts of the case and relied on the jury's common sense. "I don't think there is any question that the prosecution has proved this case," he told the court, "I don't think there is any other thing we could offer to substantiate that Mary Beth Tinning killed those three children" (July 16, 1987, Albany Times Union). Defense counsel Paul Callahan appealed to the jury's sense of fair play. "Don't be led into the conclusion that there are inferences and innuendos that are proof that she may have killed Tami Lynne," he told the jury in his summation. "If she didn't cry at the right time, if she laughed at the wrong time, does that mean she is guilty of murder," he added, "or that she's a human being with emotions?" (ibid)
But the jury could not help noticing one important point. Marybeth Tinning, who was accused of the worst crime a mother could commit, who had been labeled a baby killer and faced a life sentence in prison if convicted, had refused to take the witness stand in her own defense.
The Schenectady County jury deliberated almost 20 hours over three days. The panel later reported there was at least some initial confusion over the wording in the New York murder statute. However, once that uncertainty was cleared up, the panel quickly reached a decision. On the afternoon of July 17, 1987, Mary Beth Tinning, 44, was found guilty of murder in the second degree in the death of Tami Lynne, showing "a depraved indifference to human life." The jury could not agree on the issue of whether she actually intended to kill the child. But her statements to the police were the pivotal factor in the jury's decision.
"I think we could have convicted her without it," one juror told the Albany Times Union, "but that was a great part of it. We went over and over it, and there's no way in my mind that I feel she gave it unwillingly." The defense claimed that Marybeth was intimidated by police and would have admitted to anything. But the jury disagreed. "[Police] gave her so many opportunities to say 'I want to stop, I want a lawyer, I want to use the phone," the juror said later, "but she never did that." The conviction carried a potential 20 years to life sentence.
After the verdict was announced, Marybeth covered her face with her hands and began to weep. Joe Tinning was typically unmoved. "I can't really complain that they didn't think about it," he said later of the jury, "they did their job, I just have a different opinion on it" (July 18, 1987, New York Times). Defense attorney Paul Callahan told the press he would file an appeal immediately. The appeal, he said, would be based on Tinning's epic 36-page confession to investigators on February 4. Callahan said the document should never have been admitted into evidence.
District Attorney John Proesch said he was pleased with the decision and Mrs. Tinning may have to stand trial in the deaths of some of her other children. "I can assure you this is round one," he said to reporters outside the courthouse, "I will see Mrs. Tinning and the defense again!" (July 18, 1987, Albany Times Union).
"She is a Wicked Woman!"
On October 2, 1987, Marybeth was brought into Schenectady County Court for the last time. Judge Clifford T. Harrigan was the sentencing judge. Prosecutor John B. Poersch asked the court for a maximum sentence of 25 years to life. "This woman knew the consequences of all her acts," he told the court, "she is a wicked woman." Defense attorney Paul Callahan requested the minimum 15 years. When the judge asked Mrs. Tinning if she had anything to say, she read from a prepared statement.
"I want you and the people in this courtroom to know that I am very sorry that Tami Lynne is dead," she said. "There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of her. I miss her very much. I just want you to know that I played no part in the death of my daughter, Tami Lynne. I will try to hold my head high and accept the punishment that society and the court requires for the crime I was convicted of. 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 Lord above and I know I am innocent. One day the whole world will know that I am innocent and maybe then I can have my life back once again or what is left of it."
Immediately following her statement, Marybeth was sentenced to 20 years to life. Amid shouts from the audience such as, "Baby killer!" "Bitch!" and more, she was taken from the courtroom and remanded to the county jail. Though the district attorney's office promised additional prosecutions for the deaths of the other children, it never happened. In August 1989, Marybeth was indicted for the murders of Nathan, who was six months old, and Timothy, who was 16 days old. However, charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence. Tami Lynne was the only murder of which Marybeth was ever convicted.
An appeal on her conviction was made to the New York State Appellate Court based on the notion that Marybeth's confession was not voluntarily given. "Our review of the record," the court said in their decision, "leads us to conclude that the people have shown the legality of the police conduct. Defendant testified that she willingly accompanied the police officers for questioning and that before leaving home she spoke with her husband, who advised her not to call an attorney...further evidence in the record supported findings that defendant was not handcuffed, threatened or coerced, that she was free to leave...Accordingly, defendant's conviction must be affirmed on all respects" (People v. Tinning 142AD 2d 402).
What could have been the motive behind Marybeth's bizarre behavior towards her children? Some investigators believed she became enamored with the attention and sympathy she received after each baby's death. Some deep psychological need may have been satisfied by the consideration that friends and relatives displayed for her. At each of the funeral proceedings, Marybeth was always the focus of adulation. She was viewed mostly as a victim of some terrible unknown tragedy, which no mother would ever want to experience. This may have given her some unique sense of being someone special and deserving of the attention that everyone lavished upon her despite the morbid circumstances. These symptoms point to a rare and mysterious psychological condition called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSP). This affliction inspires the mother to physically abuse her child while showering the victim with love and care.
And what about Jennifer's death? She died in 1972 at the age of eight days, never leaving the hospital after birth. The cause of death was listed as meningitis. Dr. Michael Baden comments on this baby's death in his book, Confessions of a Medical Examiner. "Jennifer looks to be the victim of a coat hanger," he writes, "Tinning had been trying to hasten her birth and only succeeded in introducing meningitis. The police theorized that she wanted to deliver the baby on Christmas Day, like Jesus. She thought her father, who had died while she was pregnant, would have been pleased." In Egginton's book, From Cradle to the Grave, the author says that maternity ward nurses knew "Marybeth tried to induce the birth of Jennifer so that the baby would be born on Christmas Day, the reincarnation of her father in heaven."
Marybeth Tinning, now inmate No. 87G0597, is housed at the Bedford Hills Prison for Women in New York. She has a parole hearing scheduled for March 2007.
Parole Support from Unusual Source
In one of the most bizarre and perplexing murder cases in the history of American criminal justice, Marybeth Tinning, now sixty-four, appeared before a New York parole board last week. After a contentious trial in 1987, in which Tinning was convicted of the murder of her baby daughter, Tami Lynne, age four months, the former school bus driver was sentenced to twenty years to life.
During the police investigation that led to that trial, Tinning also admitted to the murder of a son, Nathan, in 1975. But there was so much more. Police were convinced that Tinning murdered all eight of her children over a period of fourteen years. She was later indicted in the killing of two of those children, but charges were later dismissed for lack of evidence.
Though she was never convicted in any of the other deaths, and it seems likely she never will be convicted, suspicions persist that Marybeth Tinning is one of America's most unusual female serial killers.
Tinning's parole hearing was held this past March 29, at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York. It is the same prison that holds Pamela Smart, the New Hampshire school teacher convicted in the murder plot of her husband in 1990. Also incarcerated there is Carolyn Warmus, the blonde heiress who was convicted in 1992 of the killing of her lover's wife, a crime frequently referred to as the "Fatal Attraction Murder" by the New York tabloids. Tinning appeared before the three-member board who interviewed her about her crimes, her incarceration and her hopes for the future. It was her first application for parole.
Marybeth Tinning's bid for release had support from some surprising sources. Oddly, former State Police Investigator William Barnes, who elicited her confession and whose testimony helped convict Tinning at her trial, stands behind efforts to have her released. "She is no danger to society at that age," Barnes said to reporters from Albany's Times-Union. "What harm is she to somebody and how much are you going to get from her by keeping her in?" Barnes was also joined by County Judge Clifford Harrigan, who sentenced Tinning to prison back in 1987. According to press reports, he allegedly wrote a letter of recommendation to the board that she be released.
Parole Board Rules
During the interview, the parole commissioners emphasized Tinning's apparent lack of remorse and her insistence that she simply does not remember what happened to Tami Lynne. "You were found guilty of causing the death of your infant daughter by asphyxiation. The victim was vulnerable and totally reliant on you for love, care and safety....you stated that during the interview that you could not believe that you would harm your child but could not recall exactly what occurred....you appear to have little insight into your crime and display little remorse. You have absolved yourself of responsibility."
The parole board takes several factors into consideration, including the inmate's understanding of the crime, remorse, responsibility and rehabilitation. Tinning failed on all those points. "Your depraved indifference to human life leads this panel to conclude your release is incompatible with the welfare of society. To release you would deprecate the serious nature of this crime...parole is denied."
The Schenectady County District Attorney's Office has not actively investigated the baffling case in many years. Detectives have long ago moved on to other assignments, pursuant to the demands of the office. But the statute of limitations never expires on murder. It is the only crime in which the books are never officially closed. However, since all the available evidence has been collected in the Tinning case and there are no new leads to follow, a prosecution for the remaining seven deaths does not seem feasible. And unless Marybeth suddenly confesses to what many investigators feel they already know, that she killed all eight of her children, one of America's strangest murder cases will remain unsolved.
Tinning was again denied parole in March 2009.