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The Tragic Case of Andrea Yates: A Dive into a Heartbreaking Crime

Andrea Yates is a name that has become synonymous with one of the most tragic and disturbing cases in American criminal history. On June 20, 2001, Yates drowned her five children in the family bathtub in their Houston, Texas home. This horrendous act shocked the nation and sparked widespread discussions about mental health, postpartum depression, and the legal system.

Yates was born in Houston in 1964 and struggled with bulimia and depression during her teenage years. At 17, she confided in a friend about suicidal thoughts.

Between 1986 and 1994, Yates was employed as a registered nurse at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In the summer of 1989, she crossed paths with Russell "Rusty" Yates, a NASA engineer, at the Sunscape Apartments in Houston. They quickly moved in together and tied the knot on April 17, 1993.

Yates and her husband, who was a committed evangelical Christian, expressed their intention to have as many children as nature allowed. They purchased a four-bedroom house in Friendswood, Texas. Their first child, Noah, was born in February 1994, just before Rusty accepted a job offer in Florida, prompting them to move to a small trailer in Seminole.

After giving birth to her fourth child, Luke, Yates experienced a resurgence of depression. On June 16, 1999, Rusty discovered her trembling and biting her fingers. The following day, she tried to end her life by taking an overdose of pills, which led to her hospitalization and the prescription of antidepressants.

Upon being discharged, Yates pleaded with Rusty to allow her to die while holding a knife to her neck. Following another hospitalization, she was administered a variety of medications, including Haldol, an antipsychotic drug. Yates responded well to the treatment and was prescribed it upon leaving the hospital. In response to this incident, Rusty relocated the family to a smaller home to prioritise her well-being. Yates seemed to stabilise temporarily.

In July 1999, Yates experienced a mental health crisis, resulting in two suicide attempts and two hospitalizations due to postpartum psychosis. Her psychiatrist advised against having more children, warning of future mental health issues. Despite stopping medication, Yates gave birth to her fifth child and seemed stable until her father's death in March 2001. On April 1, 2001, Yates came under the care of Dr. Mohammed Saeed, at this point she was exhibiting self-harm tendencies, intense religious behaviour, and neglect towards her daughter, leading to hospitalization. Yates was initially treated and discharged but later relapsed into a nearly catatonic state, planning to harm her children but ultimately deciding against it. She was hospitalized again the following day due to concerns of suicidal tendencies.

The Crime

On that fateful morning, Andrea Yates, then 37 years old, methodically drowned her five children—Noah (7), John (5), Paul (3), Luke (2), and Mary (6 months)—one by one in the bathtub. After ensuring all her children were dead, she called 911 and then contacted her husband, Rusty Yates, urging him to come home.

Yates’ crime was not impulsive but premeditated. She had waited until her husband left for work to carry out her plan. When the police arrived, they found Yates calm and unemotional, a demeanor that would later become a focal point in her trial.

Houston Police Officers stand outside the house in Clear Lake City, where Andrea Yates drowned her 5 children. June 2001.

During the time of the murders, the Yates family resided in the Houston suburb of Clear Lake City. Yates remained under Dr. Saeed's supervision until June 20, 2001, when Rusty went to work, leaving her alone to care for the children despite Dr. Saeed's advice to monitor her constantly. Rusty's mother, Dora Yates, was supposed to arrive an hour later to relieve Andrea. Within that hour, Andrea Yates drowned all five children.

Yates started by drowning John, Paul, and Luke, and then placed them in her bed. She proceeded to drown Mary, leaving her in the tub. Noah came in and inquired about Mary's condition. He then ran away, but Yates caught up with him and drowned him. She left Noah in the tub and placed Mary in John's arms on the bed. Following this, she contacted the police, repeatedly requesting an officer without disclosing the reason. Subsequently, she called Rusty, instructing him to return home immediately.

Russell and Andrea Yates with four of their five children (left to right): John, Luke, Paul and Noah.

Understanding Why: The Struggles of Andrea Yates

To comprehend why Andrea Yates committed such an unimaginable act, one must delve into her mental health history. Yates had a long-standing battle with severe postpartum depression, psychosis, and schizophrenia. After the birth of her fourth child, she experienced a major depressive episode and attempted suicide twice. She was hospitalized and prescribed antipsychotic medication, but her condition continued to deteriorate.

A key aspect of Yates’ mental illness was her religious delusions. She believed that by killing her children, she was saving them from eternal damnation. Yates was heavily influenced by the preaching of Michael Woroniecki, a traveling minister whose teachings centered on the concept of sin and the need for salvation. Yates’ delusions became more pronounced after the birth of her fifth child, leading her to believe that she was a bad mother who was corrupting her children and that their death would save their souls.

While in prison, Yates stated that she had considered killing the children for two years, adding that they thought she was not a good mother and claiming that her sons were developing improperly. She told her jail psychiatrist:

"It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren't righteous. They stumbled because I was evil. The way I was raising them, they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell."

The Trial

Andrea Yates was charged with capital murder and went to trial in 2002. The prosecution argued that Yates knew her actions were wrong, presenting evidence of her calm demeanor and her call to 911 as proof of her awareness. The defense, however, focused on her severe mental illness, arguing that she was incapable of understanding the morality of her actions due to her psychosis.

Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist, testified for the prosecution, stating that Yates was aware of her actions’ wrongfulness. However, this testimony was later discredited when it was revealed that Dietz

Before the murders, it was claimed that an episode of Law & Order aired, showing a woman who drowned her children and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Suzanne O'Malley, a writer for O: The Oprah Magazine and The New York Times Magazine, as well as NBC News, who covered the trial, had previously worked on Law & Order and confirmed that such an episode did not exist. The appellate court unanimously decided that Dietz's false testimony could have influenced the jury, necessitating a new trial. (Law & Order: Criminal Intent did later air an episode inspired in part by Yates' case).

The jury found Yates guilty of capital murder, but rather than recommending the death penalty, she was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

The Appeal and Retrial

In 2005, Yates’ conviction was overturned on appeal due to erroneous testimony by Dr. Dietz. In 2006, during her retrial, the defense presented stronger evidence of her mental illness, including testimonies from experts in psychiatry who emphasised the severity of her condition and her delusional beliefs.

During the trial in 2006, it was revealed that Dr. Saeed had advised Rusty Yates against leaving his wife unsupervised. Despite this advice, Rusty started leaving her alone with the children for short periods of time before the drownings, thinking it would help her become more independent, going against the doctors' recommendations. Prior to the tragic event, Rusty had shared at a family gathering his decision to leave Yates alone for an hour each morning and evening to prevent her from relying too much on him and his mother for her maternal duties.

During a broadcast of CNN's Larry King Live, Andrea Yates' brother, Brian Kennedy, recounted a conversation with Rusty in 2001 while they were taking her to a mental health facility. Rusty had mentioned that all depressed individuals just needed a "swift kick in the pants" to motivate them. Upon hearing Rusty's plan at the gathering, Yates' mother was shocked, stating that Rusty wasn't mentally stable enough to care for the children. She pointed out that Yates had shown signs of being mentally unstable when she had almost choked Mary while trying to feed her solid food.

This time, the jury found Yates not guilty by reason of insanity. She was committed to the North Texas State Hospital and later transferred to Kerrville State Hospital, a low-security mental health facility, where she remains today.

Impact and Legacy

The case of Andrea Yates brought significant attention to postpartum mental illness and the need for better mental health support for mothers. It also highlighted the complexities of the legal system in dealing with defendants with severe mental illnesses.

Dr. Melissa Goldberg, a forensic psychologist, noted,

“Andrea Yates’ case was a tragic intersection of severe mental illness and a legal system that struggled to understand and appropriately address her condition” .

Moreover, the case prompted discussions about the adequacy of mental health care, the stigma surrounding mental illness, and the importance of early intervention and support for mothers experiencing postpartum depression.


The story of Andrea Yates is a sobering reminder of the devastating effects of untreated mental illness and the need for a compassionate and informed approach to mental health care. While her actions were undeniably horrific, they underscore the importance of recognising and addressing the signs of severe mental distress before it leads to tragedy.


1. “The Andrea Yates Case: Insanity on Trial” by Prentice Hall.

2. “Are You There Alone?: The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates” by Suzanne O’Malley.

3. Texas Monthly, “The Last Day of the Rest of Her Life” by Suzanne O’Malley.

4. NPR, “Andrea Yates Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.”

5. ABC News, “Timeline: Andrea Yates’ Mental Illness.”

6. “Postpartum Depression and Infanticide: How Could This Happen?” by Dr. Melissa Goldberg.



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