No parent can look after their child 24/7, and while it’s perfectly natural to worry, leaving them in the care of others is inevitable. But the unfortunate reality is that you never really know whom you can trust. From sisters to socialites, here are 10 people who killed the children in their care.
10 Christine Falling
In 1963, Christine Falling was born in Florida to an unwed teenage mother. She never had an easy life: Her mother briefly married an 84-year-old junkyard worker before abandoning Christine and her sister, Carol. The girls were later adopted into an abusive home, where Christine lived for two years before reuniting with her mother and marrying her new stepbrother. It was around this time that she began working as a babysitter and carer.
Falling’s first victim was two-year-old Cassidy Johnson, who became sick and died after being left in Falling’s care. Though one of the doctors suspected foul play, the death was ruled natural and Falling returned to work.
The same happened for Falling’s next two victims, two-year-old Joseph Spring and four-year-old Jeffrey Davis. These two boys were being cared for by Falling when they both died of heart inflammation in the same week. Despite the connection to Falling, the deaths were ruled accidental and she was allowed to continue working again.
A few months later, Falling’s eight-month-old niece, Jennifer, became her next victim. Jennifer’s mother, Betty Jean Daniels, left Falling alone with the child in her car as she ran in to get some groceries. By the time she returned, Jennifer had been suffocated. Once again, the death was not treated as suspicious.
Falling’s undoing was the night she murdered 10-week-old Travis DeWayne Coleman. Travis had just been discharged from the hospital, where he was being treated for pneumonia. Falling was hired to babysit him that night, during which time he mysteriously stopped breathing. After looking at her history, suspicion was finally raised and 19-year-old Falling was arrested.
She immediately confessed to the killings, saying that she had “no reason” but later claiming that she heard voices. Psychiatric evaluation revealed that Falling tortured cats as a child and was highly likely to be imitating abuse she had suffered herself. Three years into her life sentence, Falling also admitted to killing 77-year-old Wilbur Swindle, whose death had been ruled as a heart attack.
9 Melissa Haskell
Losing a child is pretty much the worst experience any parent can go through, but the pain isn’t limited to mourning. Years after the death, many parents are haunted by questions of why and what if. Usually, these questions are rhetorical and will fade over time as the parents come to terms with their loss. But not for one Iowa couple.
After the death of their five-month-old son, Ryan, in 1992, Michael and Lisa Baurley kept a secret. Not because they were afraid of being found guilty but because they were afraid they’d blow their chance. Though their son’s cause of death was officially ruled as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the Baurleys believed that he had been murdered. So for 19 long years, they sealed their lips and bode their time until, in 2011, they got the evidence they had been waiting for.
Melissa Haskell was babysitting Ryan on the night that he died. She claimed that she had found Ryan unresponsive in his crib. Despite bruising on his body, the cause of death was ruled as SIDS and the case was closed until Michael Leflar appeared in 2011.
The estranged husband of Melissa Haskell, Leflar claimed that she had confessed the murder to him. Although Haskell would later claim that Leflar was just trying to gain custody of their children, police placed a wiretap and recorded her making a now-infamous “pinky swear” to Leflar that she wouldn’t suffocate their son “like I did to that baby.”
After a revised autopsy revealed alcohol in Ryan’s blood, Haskell was accused of giving alcohol to Ryan before suffocating him. Haskell admitted that she had taken too much heroin that day and shouldn’t have gone to work. But she denied killing Ryan. In October 2012, she was found guilty of third-degree murder and sentenced to 10–20 years in prison.
8 Engelica E. Castillo
In June 2009, 18-year-old Engelica Castillo was babysitting her two-year-old cousin, Jada Justice, in Indiana. Jada’s mother, Melissa, had taken her to Indiana for a two-week trip, during which time they stayed with Engelica and her live-in boyfriend, Timothy Tkachik.
What followed was a torrent of physical abuse that included slapping, hair pulling, tying Jada to a chair, and hitting her with a belt. Jada had apparently spilled some juice and was generally misbehaving, which set off the abusers. In exchange for a maximum sentence of 50 years, Tkachik testified that Castillo had delivered the majority of the abuse, although he had also beaten the girl severely to get her to behave.
After beating the child, Castillo and Tkachik were in their car on their way to buy heroin when they realized that Jada was not breathing. When CPR failed to revive her, they returned home, covered the body, and switched cars. Before disposing of the child’s remains, they went and bought the heroin.
When Jada’s body failed to burn, the coupled mixed cement, poured it over the body, let it set, and dumped it in a swamp, all the while injecting themselves with heroin. Then they came up with a story about Jada having been abducted at a gas station, but Tkachik ultimately told police the truth.
Castillo’s original sentence of life imprisonment was reduced to 65 years, meaning she will be a senior citizen before she can leave prison. During the trial, Castillo took offense at being called the “lowest of the low.” She snapped back, “How dare someone put that label on anybody. You’re not perfect.”
7 Betty Smithey
In December 1962, 20-year-old Betty Smithey responded to a newspaper ad for a live-in babysitter in Phoenix. She was promptly hired to look after a family of four children. On New Year’s Day 1963, 15-month-old Sandy Gerberick was found dead.
Smithey fled and was hitchhiking when she was apprehended by police the next day. She gave conflicting versions of events. First, she said that she might have strangled the baby with a pair of stockings. Then she claimed that she had awakened to find the child unresponsive and that she didn’t recall killing her but assumed she did.
The trial revealed that Smithey had quite a tumultuous upbringing. She and her six sisters were taken from their mother and separated after the death of their father when Smithey was just four years old. She spent the next few years going from home to home. She was repeatedly abused and even spent four years in juvenile prison for attempting to kidnap an 18-month-old baby.
Smithey managed to escape prison four times. Then one day in 1983, everything changed for her. Erma Simmons, the mother of the murdered child, wrote to Smithey to let her know that she had been forgiven “long ago” after Simmons found God. Smithey began to reflect on her life and became a more well-behaved prisoner. In August 2012, she was released after spending 49 years behind bars, making her the longest-serving female inmate in US history.
6 Laurie Dann
Laurie Dann was a relatively normal, if somewhat shy, girl growing up. Coming from a well-off background, Dann never had any major aspirations in life other than to find a rich husband, which she achieved (but not before a little help from a plastic surgeon).
The marriage wasn’t great, with Laurie rarely going outside or helping with the housework. During divorce proceedings in 1986, Laurie bought an ice pick and stabbed her husband 2.5 centimeters (1 in) from his heart. At the same time, her ex-boyfriend began receiving death threats. Police were never able to connect these events, however, and the attempted murder went unpunished.
Dann went to college in 1987. There, she quickly gained a reputation as the “elevator woman” because she rode the elevator up and down all day. She was eventually kicked out after numerous complaints from other students about Dann leaving garbage and raw meat around the dorm, slashing furniture and books, and walking around naked. The dorm was later set ablaze, but Dann was never implicated.
On May 20, 1988, Dann finally snapped. Staying up all night, she prepared drinks and snacks laced with arsenic and delivered them to a number of houses, including frat houses. Although some was ingested, nobody died from the poisoned food. She then collected two children she was babysitting, who threw away her poisoned drinks because they tasted off.
Dann took the boys to a daycare center, which she then lit on fire along with the neighboring school. She was chased away and brought the boys back to their house, which she also lit on fire. Then she went to a second elementary school, where she shot and killed eight-year-old Nicholas Corwin and seriously injured five others.
She fled the school before quickly crashing her car. Replacing her bloody shorts with a plastic bag, Dann broke into a nearby home where she held a family hostage for six hours, claiming the police were after her for shooting her rapist. Eventually, 20-year-old Phillip Andrews tried to wrestle the gun from Dann and was shot in the chest. At this point, Dann put the gun in her mouth and killed herself.
5 John Robert Freeman Jr.
On the night of August 27, 2008, Crystal Walker left her five-year-old daughter, Isabella, in the care of her great-grandparents, Henry and Sharon Lascelle. When they decided to go to bed, they left their neighbor, 16-year-old John Freeman, in charge. That night, he strangled Isabella to death after she said, “It’s your turn to color.” Apparently, he was upset because he couldn’t get her to sleep.
Freeman woke up his friend Tyler Best, and they hid the body in a trash can. Best went to police the following morning, saying he only helped move the body because felt threatened by Freeman.
Freeman was given the maximum sentence of 22 years to life. During the sentencing, he quietly mumbled a paltry apology. “I’m so sorry for all the family,” he said. “I’m just sorry. I can’t say anything else.”
Isabella’s father, Michael, could not bring himself to appear in court for the sentencing and is now suing the great-grandparents for negligence.
4 Jesse Joe Hernandez
In April 2001, 10-month-old Karlos Borjas and his four-year-old sister were left in the care of Jesse Joe Hernandez and his wife. While both the children’s mother and his wife were out of the house, Hernandez beat the two children, possibly with a flashlight. When the women returned, he told his wife that the kids were sleeping. But when the little girl complained that her head hurt, she was taken to the hospital. As this occurred, Hernandez’s wife found Karlos and alerted the authorities.
Although his sister survived the ordeal, Karlos died in a hospital a week later. His skull had been severely fractured, and his body was covered in bruises, including on his genitals. Hernandez had previously served three years for possession of cocaine and molesting a child. Although he initially denied any involvement in the case, police managed to get him to confess using DNA evidence and stick figure drawings from the little girl.
Hernandez spent 10 years on death row before he was executed in 2012. His last words were: “Tell my son I love him very much. God bless everybody. Continue to walk with God. Go, Cowboys! Love y’all, man. Thank you. I can feel it, taste it. It’s not bad.”
3 Brenda Gail Cutro
Brenda Gail Cutro operated a daycare center out of her home in Richland County, South Carolina. In January 1993, she claimed her first victim, four-month-old Parker Colson. Cutro claims that she found the child unresponsive in his crib and that attempts to save him were unsuccessful. The autopsy would later attribute his death to sudden infant death syndrome, and Cutro became a SIDS activist.
When four-month-old Asher Maier was injured five months later and subsequently diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome, police began investigating Cutro and the baby’s mother. After the death of four-month-old Ashlan Daniel in September 1993, police began to look into the possibility that Cutro linked the three cases. Cutro was found guilty of murdering Daniel in 1994, but this was overturned four years later. A retrial in 2000 found her guilty of both murders.
Prosecutors claimed that Cutro had Munchausen syndrome by proxy, which is when people fake illnesses or inflict injuries on children to gain attention. Cutro had previously fabricated a story about an infant who had died of SIDS. This gave credence to the theory, although she was never officially diagnosed.
2 Gyulchekhra Bobokulova
On February 29, 2016, a number of small local news stations in Russia broadcast some very disturbing images: A woman, claiming to be a suicide bomber, was brandishing the head of a child in the streets of Moscow. The Uzbekistani woman, Gyulchekhra Bobokulova, was apprehended by police, who quickly determined that she had no explosives.
Bobokulova had been working as a carer for Nastya Meshcheryakova, a four-year-old Russian girl with special needs, for about 18 months when the incident took place. The family had never had any trouble with Bobokulova before, although a popular Uzbekistani newspaper reported that she had struggled with schizophrenia for at least 15 years.
Bobokulova claimed that voices had told her to commit the murder. Apparently, the straw that broke her health had come two months earlier, when she discovered that her husband back in Uzbekistan had started a new family.
After being taken in by police, Bobokulova led them to the apartment where she had strangled the girl before cutting off her head with a knife. Bobokulova left Nastya’s body in a cot before lighting the apartment on fire.
Mainstream Russian media outlets came under fire for not covering the story, which they said was too gruesome to be shown on television. It must be noted that women in Russia cannot be sentenced to more than 25 years in prison, even for the murder of a four-year-old child.
However, Bobokulova was found to be clinically insane and is currently being held in a psychiatric ward, where she fears she is getting “fat and unattractive.” She hopes to be free within three years, despite saying there’s a 50–50 chance that she’ll kill again.
1 Louise Woodward
In November 1996, Louise Woodward was hired as a live-in nanny for eight-month-old Matthew and two-year-old Brendan Eappen. Almost immediately, their father questioned her ability to care for the children. Woodward would frequently stay out late, wake up late, or not come home at all. She allegedly spent only one night there in her first month. On Christmas Day, she threw the family dinner on the floor and opened all her presents without them.
On January 30, 1997, the parents gave Woodward a choice: Follow the rules, or get out. Woodward agreed to perform her duties to a higher standard, but within one week, Matthew was hospitalized. On February 4, Matthew was admitted to the hospital for a fractured skull and subdural hematoma, symptoms consistent with shaken baby syndrome. While the baby was hospitalized, doctors also discovered a wrist fracture that had gone unnoticed for about a month.
Woodward was arrested the following day and charged with assault and battery. But when Matthew died on February 9, this was upgraded to murder. Woodward denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the police asked leading questions. On October 30, she was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 15 years. By November 10, this was reduced to involuntary manslaughter and Woodward was released for time served (297 days). At the beginning of 2014, she had a child with her new husband, Antony Elkes.
Simon is a 26-year-old Irish writer who enjoys living up to Irish stereotypes such as drinking and loving the potato. You can follow him on Twitter here.