Susan Smith and the Drowning of her Children

To date I have published 186 blogs and while I have referenced Susan Smith several times I have never been able to bring myself to do this case.  I believe that is for a variety of reasons.  For one, cases that involve children are often difficult for me to sit and research and compile together but that has not stopped me as I have told several stories involving children here, and nearly all of them are heartbreaking stories in their own way.  I could say that I have not done this one because the story just angers me so much, but I have to say that the one case that spurred my anger the most was the Casey Anthony case and yet I have told that story here.  No, I believe the reason that I have never been able to tell this case is because of the impact it made on me when it occurred in 1994.  At the time I was 22 years old, just one year younger than Susan Smith. I was married with two young boys.  While Susan's sons were three years old and 14 months at the time of their deaths, mine were 3 1/2 and 12 months old. We even share the same first name! I remember this case like it was yesterday but what I remember most is that I knew from the beginning Susan Smith was lying about what happened to her children.  I cannot tell you why I knew, I just knew.  I remember telling my mother a day or two before Susan Smith confessed that I was sure she had murdered her children and I recall my mother claiming I was wrong.  Then I woke up one morning and turned on the news and there was prosecutor, Tommy Pope, announcing to the world that Susan Smith had confessed to drowning her children.  I immediately picked up the phone and called my mother to tell her. 

Over the years I have done little keeping up with the case because I have to say I really do not care what happens to Susan Smith while she is in prison.  I remember a few years back hearing that the father of her sons, David Smith had moved on with life and had not only remarried but had more children, which was great to hear. But when it came to Susan I was, and still am, angered that she was allowed to continue to live and despite efforts by the prosecutor to have her sentenced to death, she received a life sentence.  For me, and maybe it is because I felt such a connection with my life at the time, I feel and felt there was no one more deserving of the death penalty.  I have often said here I think it should be reserved not just for the worse of the worse but also when there are no questions left to answer as to who is responsible. This case MORE than qualifies for me.  As I began to research this case to at least give a feeble attempt at giving the facts in the most unbiased way I could (Yes, I know I have already failed) I found myself being even more angered by the behavior that Susan Smith CONTINUES to show while in prison.  But, that is for later in the story.  I really should start with those of you who do not know the case.  Is there really anyone out there? Well to be fair I am sure there are since not all of us were around in 1994 or old enough to remember maybe and despite apparent attempts by Susan Smith to grab the spotlight when she can there must be people who do not know the story.

Late in the night on October 25, 1994 23 year old Susan Smith contacted the police saying that she had been carjacked by a black man at an intersection in Columbia South Carolina. She would claim that the man took off with her car and that inside the car were her two young children, Michael, age 3 and Alexander, 14 months.  For the next few days Susan and her estranged husband, David were pleading with the public for the return of their children. While not publicly stating so, investigators would later say they immediately were suspicious of Susan's story.  Flags were first raised when they examined the area in which Susan said the children were taken.  Apparently at that time of night the lights at that intersection only changed if there was a car approaching from the opposite direction, to which Susan claimed there was none and yet she was required to stop, giving the supposed kidnapper the opportunity to approach her car, apparently on foot.  In fact, on the second day of the search for the children investigators were already looking into ponds and lakes in the area, including John D Long Lake where the bodies of Susan Smith's children would eventually be found.  But, on that day they were not found as they had miscalculated apparently just how far a car would drift out into the water.  That being said, until there was proof of what happened investigators had to go with the information they had and all they had came from Susan Smith.

In 1989 in Boston a man by the name of Charles Stuart had reported to police that while driving with his pregnant wife he had become lost and ended up in a bad neighborhood.  Charles' story was that in the process of driving through this neighborhood he and his wife were shot.  His wife and child died after she was shot in the head but Charles was shot in the stomach.  Charles would claim that a black man had approached their car and had been the one to shoot them. Racial tensions were high as the police scoured neighborhoods and by all accounts harassed black men.  They rose higher when it was discovered that Charles had lied about his story and it was he, himself who had committed the crime.  The same thing seemed to be happening here in the deep south where racial tensions are not always the best at any rate.  However, it seems that since the investigators were already suspicious of Susan's story from the beginning the racial tension was more focused after her confession came out. There was anger, rightfully so I may add, that this woman had not only murdered her own children but that she had blamed the "unknown black man" as the perpetrator. 

For the next nine days, while investigators were still suspicious of Susan it seems she took every opportunity she could to be in front of a camera pleading for her children.  Maybe it was me but as I said I knew from the beginning she was lying.  Her demeanor was just not what it seemed it should have been. Her tears did not seem genuine to me.  However, when it came to David Smith, who stood by his wife those first nine days you could almost feel your heart breaking for him.  And then came November 3, 1994.  Investigators had apparently had enough of Susan and her charade and confronted her with the fact that she had failed a lie detector test and other information.  Susan Smith sat down and wrote out a written confession to the murders of her children, even if to this day not everyone believes everything she stated.  Investigators immediately headed back out to John D. Long lake and discovered Susan's car, with her children still strapped in their car seats some 60 feet from the shore and 18 feet under water.  
In her confession Susan stated that she was so depressed and distraught that she had driven to the lake intending to drive her car into the lake with not just her children inside but herself also.  She had parked near a boat ramp and released the emergency brake and yet at the last moment, as the car was descending she had gotten out and watched at it entered the water with her children inside.  

The following morning the news was filled with the story of her confession and we never again saw David Smith by his wife's side.  He would later say that he had believed her "100%" and never imagined that she was capable of doing what she did but that the moment he was told of her confession his world crumbled.  He had the children buried in a casket together and arranged their funeral while their mother sat in jail for their murder.  He would be quoted after Susan's trial as being disappointed she was not given the death penalty for her crime.

In July of 1995 Susan Smith faced trial for her actions.  To gain a conviction was not the hard part for the prosecution.  The prosecutors would claim (and despite Susan's recent denial of this) that the motive for the murders was not the fact that she was so depressed and wanted to take her own life but that she had taken the lives of her children because of a man.  Prior to the murders Susan had been dating a man off and on by the name of Tom Findlay.  Findlay was Susan's boss at a mill company (the largest employer in the area) where she was a secretary and he was the owner's son so not only was he her boss, he was also wealthy.  Most reports about Findlay were unfavorable but in my opinion they were unjustly so.  Prosecutors would claim (and produce apparently) a letter written to Susan from Findlay on either October 17th or 18th in which he broke things off with her and while the tone of the letter (I have read some) seemed to be an attempt to let her down easy so to say he was rather blunt in the fact that he was not interested in a long term relationship with a woman who had children as he was not interested in having children.  Prosecutors would say that Susan murdered her children believing that if they were not in the picture she and Findlay could continue their relationship and that she had hoped to marry him one day.  Now... to Findlay's defense, he had the right to not want children and his letter to Susan was apparently in response to a letter she had sent to him a few days prior speaking of how much she loved him.  The tone of the letter indicated as if this was not really the first time Tom had eluded to these feelings about his thoughts about children.  Not only was Susan criticized, as she should have rightfully been in my opinion, for in essence killing her children for a man, Tom was also criticized for his actions too.  If Susan's nine days in front of a camera proclaiming for the return of the her children that she already knew were dead does not show you that the woman had the ability to be manipulative maybe other things could. Tom would testify at Susan's trial that a mere six hours prior to the murder of her children she had called him on the phone and had told him that she had also had an affair with Tom's father.  She was supposedly suicidal and distraught during the call.  Three hours later she called him again only this time to say that the supposed affair with his father had never happened and that she had only told him that to see how he felt about her.  Three more hours would pass and Susan would be standing on a boat dock watching (and possibly hearing) her children as their lives would end. 

During the penalty phase of her trial, Susan's defense attorney's would argue that she no only suffered from what experts would call major depression and dependent personality disorder but had endured a tragic childhood that included molestation by her stepfather.  Her stepfather, who until that time was considered to be an upstanding member of the community, would admit to molesting Susan while she was a teenager but would claim that as she became an adult and they continued to have sex it was consensual.  He testified the last time had been a mere two months prior to the murders.  The defense would also point out that Susan's father had committed suicide when she was six years old after his divorce from Susan's mother and that her parents' marriage was riddled with abuse and violence.  Apparently this worked on the jury.  I will gander to guess it was her stepfather's testimony and admittance that saved her from the death chamber. I would hardly expect that if this was simply a claim made by Susan herself without any collaboration that the jury would have been unwilling to believe her since she was already proven to be an imaginative liar.  The defense had also point out that once at the age of 13 and again just after she graduated high school in 1989 she herself had attempted suicide, although I must admit that I am unsure of the circumstances or the treatment she may have received.  

Susan Smith was convicted on July 22, 1995 and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.  I went to the South Carolina Department of Corrections website to look up her profile and I have to say I was impressed, not with Susan but with the information they have available.  I have looked at many, many state websites in which I have looked up people who are incarcerated and South Carolina has the most detail into the inmates actions.  While there were some articles that indicated that Susan had been disciplined several times in prison there was little detail in the articles.  The website however showed every time she was disciplined,  the charges and the consequences.  There is also lists that show every job description she has taken while in prison and work credits earned as well as if an inmate has continued their education.  Several articles that I read stated that she is eligible for parole in November of 2024 after serving a minimum of 30 year of her sentence.  The Department of Corrections website confirms this as a "projected parole eligibility" but I find comfort in knowing under the line, "projected release date" the words "not eligible" are listed.  Then again as much as I did not want to know more about Susan I have a feeling she will not be see freedom for a very, very long time, if ever considering she had done little in prison to help herself.  Although I have to say I was hoping to see a very haggard picture of the now 45 year old but instead I saw the picture of a woman in which prison seems to have been good to.  That being said she has had several disciplinary problems over the years and quite often has lost many privileges such as canteen and visitation for long periods of time.  Most of her prison works seems to be in areas involving with landscaping and out doors and I saw a report that she helps prisoners obtain their GED but has not gained any sort of other education while in prison.  One of her most famous disciplinary issues involved her conduct in prison was at her first prison in 2000.  A former DOC director has said due to what he called Susan's manipulative ways male guards were advised not to engage with her and yet at least two broke that rule.  She was disciplined for sexual misconduct and moved to another prison while the two guards were fired.  That same director would be quoted in a 2015 article that most murderers commit a one time action in a crime of passion but in the end become good people but that Susan "does not fit that mold."  He described her as "vain and manipulative; narcissistic and thrives on media attention."  His disdain for her was quite evident.  The article that was written in 2015 had exerts of a letter Susan had written to the journalist while in prison.  She continued to maintain that she was all but mentally ill on the night of the murder but said she is most angry that people believe she killed her children for a man (i.e. Tom Findlay) and claimed that is not true.  She went on to say that her excuse for the lies she told to family, friends, investigators and the public at large was due to her being unable to tell "those who loved Michael and Alex what had happened to them."  She maintained that she is not "the monster" she is believed to be and you could almost feel all the behaviors the DOC director said about her jumping off the page at you..... then again, maybe it was just me.  

Nothing good came out of this crime.  David Smith lost the only children he had at that time and other family members lost those boys too.  The one thing I think that haunts me about this case is that I feel I can picture those poor babies in their seats, crying in fear, probably for their Mama who had a DUTY to protect them and yet this is what she did..... I always wonder, could she physically see them from her angle?  Could she hear them crying out?  Or did she even stay long enough at the scene?  Even still if she did something tells me she did for her own satisfaction to make sure the car was gone before she started the next segment of her story and not because she was in shock or even thought of saving her children.  Maybe she did hear their cries and stood there so she could... I do not know.  

David Smith has moved on in life.  He's apparently happily married with a son and daughter.  He has been quoted as saying even 20 years later certain days are horrible for him... the anniversary of their deaths... their birthday's in particular.  He visited his ex wife once early on in prison to see if he could not get answers as to why she did what she did, he got none.  Had his boys been alive today they would be in their early and mid-20's.  They would be at the age where the world is at their fingertips and David would be interacting with them as young men and no longer children.  They quite possibly would have children of their own.  And yet that was taken away from them by their own mother.  

As a side note.... 
A memorial was erected at the site of the boat ramp in which Susan Smith allowed her children to drown on that fateful night in 1994.  In 1996 a group of people, consisting of 10, had gone to that ramp apparently to see the memorial for themselves.  Seven of the ten were still inside the van they had driven to the area. It was said later that the vehicle had been experiencing transmission issues and some how or another it disengaged and due to the slant of the ground began rolling into the lake at the exact spot Michael and Alex and died not 2 years before.  All seven occupants, five from the same family, died at the site.  In November of 1996 officials decided to dismantle the boat ramp to prevent further tragedies. 

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