A little before 10:00 AM -- 9:56, to be exact -- Russell "Rusty" Yates's cell phone rang in the sixth-floor Shuttle Vehicle Engineering Office he shared with three other National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employees. It was his wife, Andrea, calling. Not even an hour had passed since he had left her at home with the kids. She'd been sitting at the kitchen table eating Corn Pops out of the box. He'd given her a 300-milligram morning dose of the antidepressant Effexor and, the previous night, a 45-milligram dose of the antidepressant Remeron with a 15-milligram dissolvable Remeron SolTab booster. His mother was due at the house to watch the kids at any minute. He had a 10:30 AM presentation to give to the Space Shuttle Program manager on the progress of the space vehicle's instrumentation systems upgrade.
"You need to come home," Andrea said, in a "firm, sober" voice Rusty had heard only once before -- and dreaded. Not long after the birth of their fourth son, Luke, two years earlier, she'd had a sort of nervous breakdown. That time, she had asked Rusty to come home from work; now she wasn't asking him, she was telling him.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"It's time," Andrea said.
"What do you mean?"
"It's time," she repeated, later recalling that she hadn't "said it well."
Rusty Yates didn't need to hear any more. When his wife's father had died three months before, she'd gotten sick again. And there was a new baby at home, 6-month-old Mary. He left his office, stopping only to tell a colleague he had a "family emergency." On the elevator he wished for the days before Andrea had become sick, when he didn't have to communicate with her through a filter of mental disease, wondering whether she was really well or might try to kill herself as she had twice before. Wondering whether he'd micromanaged life well enough to be there to stop her if she did.
He raced through the lobby and out the front doors of NASA Building One, dialing his mother on the way. Dora Yates had come from her home in Hermitage, Tennessee, to help out when Andrea became ill. A couple of weeks had stretched into a couple of months. Her daughter-in-law had been hospitalized twice, but she hadn't improved much. They were all running on fumes.
"Mom, are you there yet?" Rusty asked.
"No," Dora Yates answered. She hadn't left the Extended Stay America Hotel on NASA Road 1 yet.
"Hurry," he told her. "Something's wrong at the house."
He was ten minutes away. He sprinted across the employee parking lot to his SUV and dialed Andrea from behind the wheel. Thank God she answered.
"Is anybody hurt?" he asked.
"Yes," Andrea answered.
The kids? What did she mean? "Which ones?" Rusty asked.
"All of them" was her unfathomable answer.
At 9:48 AM on Wednesday, June 20, 2001, eight minutes before she called her husband, Andrea Yates had dialed 911. "I need a police officer," she said, her breath heaving unsteadily into the phone.
"What's the problem?" police telecommunicator Dorene Stubblefield asked with a whiff of attitude.
"I just need him to come," Yates said.
"I need to know why they are coming," Stubblefield persisted. "Is your husband there?"
"What's the problem?"
"I need him to come."
"I need to know why they are coming," Stubblefield repeated.
No answer. Nothing but Andrea Yates breathing irregularly, as if an intruder might be holding a gun to her head.
"Is he standing next to you?"
Yates fumbled the phone.
"Are you having a disturbance?" Stubblefield asked, thinking this might be a domestic problem. No answer. She had to determine whether she was sending officers into a dangerous situation. "Are you ill, or what?"
"Yes, I'm ill."
"What kind of medical problems?"
Valuable seconds ticked by. Who could explain this to a stranger on the phone?
"You need an ambulance?" Stubblefield suggested.
"No, I need a police officer," Yates said.
"Do you need an ambulance?" Stubblefield repeated.
"No...Yes, send an ambulance..." Yates's breath became even more labored. Then nothing but static.
"Hello?" Stubblefield asked, urgency finally mounting in her voice.
Still no answer. "Is someone burglarizing your house?" she asked.
"What is it?" asked Stubblefield, frustrated.
"What kind of medical problems are you having?"
More time slipped away. At length, Yates once more asked Stubblefield for a police officer.
"Are you at 942 Beachcomber?"
"Are you there alone?"
"Yes," Yates said. Suddenly there was more static, then another long silence. Stubblefield wondered if she'd lost her. The sound of panicked breathing returned.
"Is your husband there?"
"No. I'm sick."
"How are you sick?" Stubblefield asked. Yates's answer was unintelligible.
"Andrea Yates, is your husband there?"
"Why do you need a policeman, ma'am?"
"I just need him to be here."
"I just need him to come."
A long silence ensued, followed by static.
"You're sure you're alone?" By now Stubblefield knew something was wrong, but was Yates refusing to answer her questions or was someone stopping her from answering? After eight years on the job, Stubblefield thought she knew how to recognize a battered wife when she heard one.
"No," Yates said finally, she was not alone. "My kids are here." But her rasping breaths continued.
"How old are the children?"
"Seven, 5, 3, 2, and 6 months."
"You have five children?"
She might not know exactly what was wrong, but five children were enough to satisfy Stubblefield. "Okay. We'll send an officer."
"Thank you," Yates said politely and hung up.
Officer David Knapp was patrolling alone in his marked police car. He was a "uni" -- a uniformed police officer -- doing the 6:00 AM to 2:00 PM shift in south Houston. At 9:52 AM his radio announced a dispatch to Beachcomber Lane, a 911 call. He needed to do a "welfare check." Welfare checks made him glad he'd done crisis intervention training in his spare time. What was up this morning?
A wet, white female with long, dark hair met him at the front door to the single-level brick home. She was wide-eyed and breathing heavily.
"What do you need a police officer for, ma'am?" he asked.
"I just killed my kids," she said, looking him straight in the eye.
Okay, he hadn't been prepared for that. All he could think to ask was "Why?"
"I killed my kids," she repeated flatly.
"Where are they?"
"They're in the bed." Andrea Yates motioned Officer Knapp into the house, past the dog barking from her kennel in the family room, down the hallway lined with framed family photos and carpeted in beige plush, and into the master bedroom. A king-size mattress and box springs sat on the floor. The first thing Knapp noticed was a small child's arm sticking out from under the deep burgundy cotton sheets, the arm was porcelain white, and Knapp later learned it belonged to 2-year-old Luke Yates. There were "what appeared to be four lumps in the bed." When he pulled back the covers, he had "the impression the children were all in bed resting peacefully. It appeared the children were tucked in. Mary's head was lying on her older brother's arm."
Methodically, Knapp checked each of the children for signs of life. He noticed a frothy substance under three of the children's noses -- it was the sign that their lungs had "more or less burst." There was no way Knapp or Emergency Medical Services could revive them now. He was too late.
He wished the dog would stop barking.
Twenty-one years in the Houston Police Department specializing in narcotics and hostage negotiation had done little to erase Officer Frank Stumpo's New York City accent, or his hard-edged cop prose. Like Knapp, Stumpo had been called to the scene on a welfare check. He pulled up in his blue-and-white, approached with caution, knocked, and opened the door. He found Officer Knapp in the family room with Andrea Yates.
Stumpo retraced Knapp's steps down the hallway to the left. "I saw a sparsely furnished room with a mattress on the floor, and I saw a little head on the mattress," he said. "I thought it was a doll. The closer I got, the more [it] came into focus and when I got close enough, I realized it was the head of a child....I touched the child's head....It was warm to the touch." In the guest bathroom tub he discovered a fifth child, 7-year-old Noah, floating face down with no pulse. He wanted to hurl.
Andrea Yates sat on a blue love seat. Knapp sat beside her. He asked for her driver's license, which she gave him, and permission to use the telephone in the adjacent kitchen to call his supervisor.
For John Treadgold, it was a slow news day. Treadgold was a roaming cameraman for KPRC, Houston's NBC Television affiliate. Ten public safety radios cluttered the dash of his well-worn, white Ford Explorer. His radios were tuned to the ambulance chasers' "Top Ten" favorites: Houston's Fire Department; Emergency Medical Services; Police Department; Coast Guard; Sheriff's Department; Life Flight Helicopter; Pasadena, Texas, Fire and Police Departments; and area VHF and UHF Volunteer Fire Departments. He used his "go to" radio when he keyed in on a story. Camera gear crowded the back of his van. He stored his $20,000, broadcast-quality Beta Cam SP in a camera safe. The safe, along with tripods, light stands, weight bags, videotape, and other equipment were stowed behind a locked cage purchased at a police supply store.
One had to have an ear for filtering through the shrill radio static to catch one code word that might be tonight's lead story. That, and an unusual tolerance for noise. Treadgold was dodging the crisscross of downtown Houston streets, every one of them, it seemed, perpetually under construction. He'd spent enough time hanging outside the front doors of the old Criminal Courts building with his video camera weighing on his shoulder to notice a quotation etched in the sidewalk: "I think I'll like Houston if they ever get it finished." Oveta Culp Hobby, a matriarch of contemporary Houston, had said that in 1946. Houston still wasn't finished.
Somebody had a kitchen fire. An elderly Houstonian had died of natural causes. The police band droned on like the rest, requesting an officer to this address or that, a supervisor for...what was that? He spun the volume dial on the police radio. Automatically, his brain searched his audio memory for a sentence fragment. He couldn't have heard right. "Multiple pediatric DOAs?" That was something he'd never heard. The dispatcher must have said GOAs: Gone on Arrival. Crackling on another channel he recognized the ambulance number of a southeast Houston EMS unit in service for something major.
Treadgold called his assignment editor back at KPRC and asked her to check for a police computer dispatch record. There it was at10:00 AM. The editor double-checked the listing with Fire Dispatch. It was a respiratory problem, "unconscious," with a tag note indicating "possible children," the editor told him, intersection of Beachcomber and Sealark in Clear Lake. A twenty-minute drive southeast -- with no traffic. He headed for the Gulf Coast Freeway.
Nine minutes after Officer Knapp entered the house on Beachcomber, Sergeant David Svahn, a patrol supervisor with sixteen years on the force, arrived in answer to the "code one" call from his men. Knapp remained with Yates on the love seat, while Stumpo met his sergeant at the front door. "She killed her kids," he told him.
Svahn authorized Stumpo to arrest and handcuff Yates, then did a walk-through of the home that was now a crime scene. He saw a typical suburban residence with family photos on the refrigerator door, cereal bowls on the kitchen table, and toys on the floor. He noticed a child's wet gray-and-white sock lying on the hallway carpet. Outside, additional officers were already putting crime-scene tape around the house.
Svahn stationed himself in the entryway to the Yates house. He heard a scream outside and ran out the front door. An athletic man in his mid-thirties ducked under the yellow tape. He was "visibly upset and hollering some things," Svahn said. The man was Rusty Yates, Andrea's husband, the father of all five children.
"What did she do to my kids? What did she do to my kids?" Svahn remembered Rusty Yates pleading. "He said, his wife had called him at work and told him it was time to come home. His wife told him she had hurt all five of the kids and that she finally did it."
"I told him all five of his children had passed away," Svahn said. "He fell to the ground and pounded the ground and began screaming." Hell, after seeing the child in the bathtub floating in fecal matter, Svahn felt like doing the same thing. He could be another sixteen years on the force and never get used to a crime like this one. At length, Yates got up off the ground and, in his pain, grabbed a plastic yard chair and threw it at nothing in particular. Then he fell to the ground again and coiled into a fetal position, still screaming.
Rusty Yates wanted to see his kids. Wanted to hold them, talk to his wife, be told that this was a bad dream. Instead, Svahn explained that the Yates home was off-limits. Perhaps the backyard of the L-shaped corner lot would be a more private place to wait out the crime-scene investigation.
At the rear of the cedar-fenced house, through a slit in the curtain fashioned from a white pin-striped bedsheet, Rusty Yates could just see his wife sitting on the couch. He yelled through the glass, through the depth of the house, through the shell of his wife. "How could you do this? I don't understand," he yelled again and again. He was sinking to his knees. And then he was just sinking. For a second, Andrea's eyes rested on the sliver of her husband's face. "Rusty is crying," she thought. "He wants to come in but the police officer won't let him."
Stumpo walked to the French doors and shut the curtain tight, then turned to Andrea Yates. "Do you realize what you've done?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered.
Who?...Whoever...whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble...I'll tell you what he has explained to me...I'm looking for the scripture, something like...it would be better to tie a millstone around their necks...hang on.
Shut out, Rusty heard sobbing from the front of the house. He thought it was Andrea, but it was his mother. An officer had just told her that her grandchildren were dead.
Rusty turned and banged his fists against the side of his house. He was a NASA engineer; his life mission was to anticipate consequences. He had baby-proofed every electrical outlet in the house, put plastic corners on every table, installed keyed locks on cabinet doors where the bleach and cleaning products were stored. But he had not anticipated this. He had failed. He had not protected his wife, he had not protected his children, and he had not protected himself. "I was crying for the kids and crying for Andrea and crying because I knew I could never trust her again. It broke my heart. Andrea's the only person I met that I ever wanted to marry," he remembered later.
The only person he'd ever wanted to marry had done this. What did that say about him? With or without his wife he wasn't safe: he'd chosen her. Even before his wife was arrested, Rusty Yates had been sentenced to life. His mother patted his back, sobbing and trying to console her son at the same time. He turned and cried in her arms.
John Treadgold pulled out of the tight camera shot of Rusty and Dora Yates. No other news crew had made it through before police locked down the street. He warned the KPRC news helicopter not to shoot footage of street signs to prevent competing stations from intercepting the microwave signals and pinpointing the scene from the air. Treadgold had an exclusive. That night his videotaped footage led the NBC Evening News with Tom Brokaw. He was a father himself. He wished there were no exclusive.
Stumpo went outside and took a break, leaving Andrea Yates with Knapp. He noticed that Rusty Yates briefly recovered his composure, then became distraught again. To say that this day sucked didn't begin to cover it. Stumpo offered the guy and his mom some water -- it was their house. Yates replied that Stumpo would be lucky to find a clean glass: five kids had just eaten breakfast in front of the TV. Stumpo searched the kitchen. "The guy was right," he muttered, "there aren't any clean glasses."
"There are glasses in here," Andrea Yates said, helpfully pointing to the china cupboard. The stuff suspects say never ceased to amaze Stumpo. He thought "stoic" was a good word to describe Andrea Yates's demeanor.
Outside, in the 90-degree heat, Rusty and his mother sat in yard chairs talking as crime-scene personnel filtered in and out of the house. Between bouts of crying, they pieced together their new reality. "It was hard enough to comprehend she had killed one of the kids -- much less all of them," Rusty said. Before his mother arrived, he'd babbled something about how maybe Noah was with his grandmother. "I knew Noah had been in the house when I left for work, but my mind wanted to believe one of my kids had somehow survived." Dora Yates's grandsons sometimes took turns going back to her motel room at Extended Stay America for an overnight -- a coveted treat for kids with four siblings. "I remember holding out hope Noah had been spending the night with Mom," Rusty said. "Then the press wrote I didn't know whether my own son was in the house."
"One to two hours after we'd found out they were dead, and we were crying the whole time, we were thinking about when Andrea filled the tub in May. 'I guess she finally did it,' " Rusty Yates said offhandedly to his mother, still bewildered and grasping for answers. According to Rusty, Sergeant Svahn overheard the conversation and reported it to his colleagues inside the house. Later that day, it appeared in the media. Speculation took on the force of fact, treated as concrete evidence of premeditation in the drownings.
There was actually no connection between that incident and the children's drownings. When she'd filled the bathtub on May 3, 2001, Andrea Yates was acting on a different delusion. She'd just been discharged from Devereux Texas Treatment Network in League City following her third inpatient hospitalization and had had two follow-up sessions with her psychiatrist there, Mohammad Saeed, MD. She was on a regimen of 4 milligrams of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, plus 300 milligrams of the antidepressant Wellbutrin SR and 150 milligrams of the antidepressant Effexor XR. According to witnesses, she had seen a water truck on the street and began to imagine her family's bills were unpaid and the utility workmen were going to cut off water to her house. When Dora asked her daughter-in-law why she was filling the tub, Andrea said, "I might need it." Filling one's bathtub with water for washing dishes and flushing toilets was prudent. Wasn't that what one did as a precaution before losing running water in a Gulf Coast tropical storm like the one that had just flooded Houston?
The next day, May 4, 2001, Andrea's husband put her back in the hospital. Andrea was "sad, tearful, depressed, not talking," according to Devereux records. On May 7, Saeed wrote that her "husband was gravely concerned." Andrea had refused to eat "anything even on his [Rusty's] request -- which was unusual for patient. We discussed the options including ECT [electroconvulsive therapy]. They remain reluctant and want to try exactly the same treatment that got her better last time." Andrea was discharged as an inpatient after ten days in Devereux, on May 14.
She spent eight more consecutive days at Devereux's daytime Partial Hospitalization Program, mostly in substance abuse groups. Lacking a program for postpartum disorders, Devereux drug counselors instead taught Andrea how to avoid chemical and alcohol dependency and how damaging these substances were to the brain. By the time of her discharge on May 22, 2001, she was once again able to speak in complete sentences.
At 11:00 AM, Officer Bob King and his partner, Officer Douglas Bacon, both homicide investigators, arrived at the crime scene to begin collecting evidence along with Sergeant Boyd Smith, who interviewed Dora Yates outside.
King took one look at Andrea Yates and asked that her handcuffs be removed. He pulled a worn card from his pocket and read Yates her rights "one at a time from the card verbatim." She "gave him her yeses."
"You have the right to remain silent and not make any statement at all. Do you understand that?" he asked her.
"Any statement you make may be used -- and probably will be used -- as evidence against you in court," King continued. "Do you understand that?"
"You have the right to have a lawyer present to advise you prior to and during any questioning. Do you understand that?"
"If you are unable to employ a lawyer you have the right to have a lawyer appointed to advise you prior to and during any questioning. Do you understand that?"
"And finally, you have the right to stop this interview at any time. Do you understand that?"
"Are you willing to give up your right to remain silent and to have an attorney present?" he asked.
"Yes," Yates replied.
Then he asked for Yates's consent to search the house, handing her a Voluntary Consent for Search and Seizure. She spent thirty seconds reading the form and signed it.
King selected some dry clothes from the master bedroom closet: some underwear, a purple short-sleeved T-shirt, white socks, blue jeans, and tan shoes. He asked Yates whether that clothing would be all right; she nodded. King handed the dry clothing to Stumpo. Without a female officer present, Andrea Yates would have to change back at the jail.
Stumpo wanted to take Andrea to his squad car through the back of the house to avoid the media activity in front. Another officer was taking a statement from Rusty Yates at the cedar picnic table in the backyard. Stumpo tried the knob on the side door to the garage with no luck. "Great, it's locked," he said out loud.
"The keys are there," Andrea volunteered, pointing to a cork bulletin board in the kitchen. Wherever Andrea Yates's mind had gone, Stumpo thought, she damn sure knew where things were.
Stumpo drove Andrea Yates to police headquarters at 1200 Travis for interrogation and later to the Mykawa police facility. He tuned the car radio to a talk show reporting on the Yates homicides. It was "harsh," he recalled. Andrea Yates was already "the Medea" of Houston. Already the stuff of which myths were made. The "Rub-a-dub-dub, five dead kids in a tub murderer," one shock jock called her. Stumpo "noticed her reacting to the words the gentleman was saying on the radio show." She was "quivering" and began to look "sullen." "Honestly," he recalled, "she seemed very embarrassed." He later told Yates's lawyer that he didn't recall purposely turning up the radio. "I may have," he said. "I was on the freeway." But Andrea Yates heard the volume rising, or thought she did.
Stumpo exited onto Airport Boulevard, turned right onto Mykawa, then made a left into the driveway. There were hordes of cameramen. Even a seen-it-all guy like Stumpo was impressed.
"You're a celebrity," he told Andrea Yates.
Andrea Yates looked across the table at the man who had brought her the Diet Coke. Her eyes were dead black.
"If you could, just go ahead and, and name your children and give their ages," Sergeant Eric Mehl said as the audiotape whirred on in Interview Room 6 of the Harris County Police Headquarters at 1200 Travis in Houston. Mehl, a twelve-year veteran homicide detective, never used videotape to interview a subject. It wasn't his habit.
"Noah, 7 years old. John, 5 years old. Paul, 3 years old. Luke, 2 years old. Mary, 6 months old," Yates replied. She had no attorney. There was a readiness in her answers that didn't match the lethargy of her speech. Mehl had been over these questions with her already, taking notes before interviewing her on tape. She was the only one left alive who'd been in the house during the drownings, and she was about to tell exactly what had happened in her own words.
"Okay, and we also talked about earlier -- you've been treated for depression," Mehl said, consulting the interview notes he would destroy the next day. "Is that right?"
"And who's your current doctor?"
"And the last time you saw him?"
"Two...two days ago."
"Okay, and what time does Rusty leave for work?"
"He left about 9."
"And, by the time Rusty left, were all of your children awake at that time?"
"Okay. What was going on in the household at that time? Were they eating breakfast...?"
"What were they having?"
"After Rusty left, you filled the bathtub with water, is that correct?"
"How many bathtubs in your home?"
"One." There was a stall shower in the bathroom off the master bedroom.
"Okay, so it's just the -- the master bath, I guess you would call it?"
"Yes," Yates replied, incorrectly. The shallow white enamel tub was in the blue-walled guest bathroom.
"Okay, is it a regular-sized bathtub or is it a big one?"
"How far did you fill it?"
"About three inches from the top."
"About three inches from the top -- after you drew the bath water, what was your intent?" Mehl asked, hoping to steer the questioning toward motive. "What were you about to do?"
"Drown the children," Yates said in the same monotone in which she had answered all of Mehl's other questions. No wailing, no moaning, no facial expression, he recalled. "Okay. Why were you going to drown your children?"
As if her script had come to a sudden dead end, for fifteen seconds Andrea Yates said nothing. "She was staring directly at me," Mehl recalled. "She was within two feet of me, and she just sits there and stares. Her lips maybe quivered like she wanted to say something, but it wasn't coming out."
How long would he have to wait for an answer if he didn't prompt her? Mehl had no idea. It was important to try to establish motive. "Was it, was it in reference to, or was it because the children had done something?" he asked.
"No," she said, simply.
"You were not mad at the children?"
"No." He'd struck out there.
"Okay, you had thought of this prior to this day?"
Bingo. "How long have you been having thoughts about wanting -- or not wanting to -- but, drowning your children?"
"Probably since I realized I have not been a good mother to them."
Better to...to...I'm looking for it...tie a millstone around his neck and be thrown...have I lost you? Wake up...thrown into the sea...
"What makes you say that?" Mehl asked, searching for the premeditation that is the difference between manslaughter and murder.
"They weren't developing correctly."
"Behavioral problems?" Mehl suggested.
"Yes," Yates agreed.
"Learning problems?" Mehl continued.
"So after you drew the bath water, what happened?"
"I put Paul in," Yates answered. "Perfect Paul" was the best behaved and most compliant of all the children.
"And how old is Paul?" Mehl asked. The children had died so recently, they lingered in the present tense for both Mehl and their mother.
"Paul is 3."
"Okay, and when you put Paul in the bath water, was he face down or face up?"
"He was face down."
"And did he struggle with you?"
"How long do you think that struggle happened?"
"A couple of minutes."
"And you were able to forcibly hold him under the water?"
"Yes," Yates said, agreeing to Mehl's description.
"By the time you brought him out of the water, had he stopped struggling?"
"There was no more movement?" Mehl asked.
"And after you brought him out of the water, what did you do?"
"I laid him on the bed."
"Face up or face down?"
"Did you cover him?"
"Did you cover his entire body?"
Mehl didn't ask why. The confession to the first drowning was complete. "Okay, so after you put Paul on the bed and covered him, then what happened?"
"I put Luke in," Yates answered wrongly. In fact, she had drowned John, her most rambunctious boy, second, not Luke, but it would be months before anyone knew that.
"Okay, how old is Luke?" Mehl began again, as he would for each child.
"Okay, and was he face down in the water or face up?"
"Did he struggle?"
"How long do you think that struggle lasted?"
"Just a couple minutes."
"Okay, and when you brought Luke out of the water, was he -- any movement at all?"
"What happened to Luke then?"
"I put him on the bed."
"Did you cover him with the same sheet that you'd used to cover Paul?"
"Okay, so Paul and Luke are on the bed, then what happens?"
"I put John in."
"Okay, and how old is John?"
"John is 5."
"Okay. How did you get John to come into the bathroom?"
"I called him in."
"Okay, and, and he came in -- "
"Yes," Yates replied, her yeses beginning to come with such robotic quickness that Mehl couldn't finish the question before she answered.
"Did you say anything to him?"
"I told him to get in the tub," she answered.
"Okay, and did he?"
"What did he do?"
Yates gave no description of what John did. She responded automatically, "I put him in the tub."
"Did you pick him up?" Mehl asked. "How? Under the arms?" he suggested.
"And did he go into the water face down or face up?"
"Okay. Did he struggle with you violently?"
"Yes," she said, again agreeing with Mehl's description.
"Did that struggle last longer than with the younger children?"
"A little bit, yeah," Yates said.
"Okay, but still you were able to hold John under the water? And eventually he stopped struggling?"
"Okay, when you brought John out of the water, was there any movement at all from him?"
"Okay, and then what happened?" Two more deaths to document, and then it would be over.
"I put Mary in."
"Did you actually have to go out into the other room to get Mary?" Sergeant Mehl asked, apparently noticing he'd skipped a question.
"No, she was in there already."
"Was Mary in the bathroom with you when Paul, Luke, and John all went in the water?"
"Okay, what was she doing?"
"She was crying."
"Okay, was she, was she sitting in a chair, one of those -- " What was the word he wanted? Infant seat?
"She was sitting down," Yates said.
"On the floor?"
"Okay, so you picked Mary up?"
"She go into the water face down or face up?"
"Okay, she was able to struggle with you?"
"Because she's only 6 months old, right?" Mehl pressed on, not stopping over Yates's affirmative answer.
"Uh-huh," she responded.
"But she struggled, and how, how long do you think she was able to struggle for?"
"A couple of minutes."
"Okay, and after Mary had died, what did you do with her body?"
"I left it in there and called Noah in." Noah, namesake of the last good man left on earth, spared from death in an Old Testament flood, came immediately when his mother called.
"When Noah walked in the bathroom, did he see Mary in the tub?"
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'What happened to Mary?' "
"And what did you say?"
"I didn't say anything. I just put him in."
"Did he try to run from you?"
"Did he get out of the bathroom or were you able to catch him?"
"I got him." Andrea Yates would later say she had not chased her eldest son around the house as detectives and prosecutors later alleged and Time magazine reported in lurid detail.
"Okay, and Noah is 7, is that correct?"
"Did Noah put up the biggest struggle of all?" Establishing a drowning order from younger to older might be helpful to prosecutors, Mehl thought.
"Yes." Yates nodded.
"Okay, did he go in the water face down or face up?"
"He was face down."
"When you were struggling with Noah, did you have to, did he try to flip over and come up for air at any time?"
"Did he ever make it out of the water long enough to get a gasp of air or anything?" Without his descriptive questions, Mehl thought, Andrea Yates's confession would be little more than a series of lifeless yeses and nos.
"How many times?"
"A couple times."
"But you forced him back down into the water."
"How long do you think that struggle lasted?"
"Maybe three minutes."
"Okay, and after Noah was dead, when you brought him out of the water, was there any sign of life from him?"
"What did you do with his body?"
"I left it there."
"Okay, so Mary and Noah were left in the bathtub?"
"I took Mary out," Yates said.
"After John, excuse me, after Noah was dead?"
"Okay, what did you do with Mary's body?"
"Put her on the bed."
"Did you cover her?"
"And you left Noah's body in the tub?"
"Yes," Yates said.
A string of the words yes and no, facedown, a couple of times, and a couple minutes, and what would become Andrea Yates's iron-clad confession was over.
"Okay, you had told me earlier that, that you'd been having these thoughts about hurting your children for up to two years. Is that, is that about right?"
"Okay, is there anything that happened two years ago that, that made you believe -- led you to have these thoughts?"
"I realized that it was time to be punished," she answered.
"And what do you need to be punished for?"
"For not being a good mother."
"How did you see drowning your five children as a way to be punished?"
No answer. Mehl had to encourage her.
"Did you want the criminal justice system to punish you or did you -- "
"Yes," Yates answered, cutting off the end of his question.
"Okay, we were also talking earlier and there was one other time when you filled the tub with water and were going to do this and did not do it," Mehl reminded her. "Is that correct?"
"Yes," Yates again agreed in monotone.
"How long ago was that?"
"It was two months ago," she said.
"Okay, were all the children at home at that time?"
"Yes. Rusty was there, too."
"Rusty was there, too? Do you think Rusty would have stopped you?"
"So you filled the tub with water that time. What is it within yourself that stopped you from, from doing it that time?"
"Just didn't do it that time."
"Okay, Noah, what's his date of birth?"
"February 26, 1994." She ticked off each birthday in turn as Mehl prompted her: John, December 15, 1995; Paul, September 13, 1997; Luke, February 15, 1999; Mary, November 30, 2000. She remembered dates with a precision that disappeared rapidly within the next twenty-four hours.
"Okay, after all your children were dead, did you let the water out of the tub or did you..."
"I left it in."
"Okay, so when the first officer got there, Noah was still in the tub?"
"And the other children were on the bed?"
"Were they still covered?"
"Okay, it's now 1:23 in the afternoon and I'm going to stop the tape."
It had been three hours and thirty-five minutes since Andrea Yates had dialed 911. Mehl took three Polaroids of her. She had only one question, he later recalled. "She wanted to know when her trial would be."
Back at the crime scene, Officer King and his partner remained in the house identifying evidence for the crime-scene unit. King searched the three bedrooms. Bacon took responsibility for the hall bathroom, where Noah's body still floated facedown in the tub, and the rest of the house, including the family room, kitchen, and living room (used as a homeschooling classroom). On the stackable drawers in a corner of the master bedroom, King found a Post-it note referring to a doctor's appointment two days earlier on June 18, at 5:30 PM, and the business card of Dr. Mohammad Saeed, "Board Certified in Adult, Child, Adolescent and Addiction Psychiatry," noting a future appointment on June 26, Tuesday, at 6:00 PM. The only prescription drugs the officers found in the Yates home were the psychiatric medications in the kitchen cabinet prescribed by Dr. Saeed. Bacon called Saeed's office. He and the other detectives speculated about the mental status of Yates that day. "Something like this, you just got to wonder," King said, shaking his head.
Outside, Rusty Yates and his mother waited -- and waited -- for Noah, John, Paul, Luke, and Mary to be brought out of the house. The police wouldn't let the father and grandmother in, and Rusty and Dora wouldn't leave without seeing the children. It took maybe thirty minutes to drive from the medical examiner's office to the house on Beachcomber. It bothered Rusty that one of his sons was still floating facedown in bathtub water. It had been at least three hours since the tragedy. He and his mother had spent some of that time with the Schultzes, neighbors across the street.
CSU photographer Glenn West arrived and drew a diagram of the crime scene while he awaited the arrival of Senior Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Jesus Sanchez, MD, Assistant ME Patricia Moore, MD, and Investigator Harold Jordan. It was after lunchtime when Sanchez arrived and personally lifted Noah, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, out of the nine-inch-deep bathwater. He rested the child on his back on the bathroom floor. West videotaped and photographed Noah's water-logged body. Noah's arms were raised over his head, his fists were clenched, knees bent. Rigor mortis had begun to set in as a result of the boy's struggle at death. Sanchez maneuvered Noah's body into a white body bag, zipped it shut, and tagged it #1.
Next, West photographed the gruesome tableau of the four slain children lying in bed. He shot other subjects as well: a close-up of the refrigerator door, family repository of children's drawings, colorful magnets, and photographs; cereal bowls; the boys' bunk beds; the ceramic-tiled middle bedroom earmarked to be Mary's big-girl room; Mary's portable crib in the master bedroom; close-ups of the frothy substance beneath the noses of Paul and John and Mary; close-ups of the OshKosh B'Gosh and Carter's clothing the children wore; Luke's foot with one sock missing. A tech had attached a "toe tag" marked #2 around the big toe of Luke's bare left foot. Until he got to the bed in the master bedroom and the bathtub, "it looked like a pretty normal house to me," West said. "Weren't those five bodies in absolute stark contrast to everything else in the house?" one of Yates's attorneys, Wendell Odom, later asked him. "I have to say yes, sir."
By 4:00 PM the police cleared out. "The media people watched us go back inside the house," Rusty Yates remembered. "They were calling us. Nonstop. One after another. And I'd answer the phone. I remember they asked me to bring some pictures out."
Thoughts of what he usually saw when he returned home from work careened inside Rusty Yates's head. The homeschooling room was empty. The family room, also empty. No shouts, no cries, no whispers, no hyper hellos or cries for watching Johnny Bravo on Cartoon Network. Even the familiar havoc of Blackie's barking was missing -- the police had taken her out of the family room and penned her up in the backyard.
Rusty Yates looked up the hallway to his left and inhaled sharply. The water in which his children had drowned still spilled out of the bathroom, watermarking the hallway carpet. He wanted to retreat to the Extended Stay America Hotel, but he needed clothes and toiletries. To get them, he had to pass by the bathroom and enter the master bedroom, where the burgundy sheets were still damp with the shapes of his children. "It was really hard," he said. Rusty talked the NASA speak of "the right stuff." "Concerned" was how you felt when Apollo 13 was stuck on the far side of the moon with no way back to Earth. "Hard" was walking twenty paces past the spot your children had died.
Rusty Yates would have difficulty remembering the details of that evening. He spent the night at the Extended Stay America Hotel with his mother and his only sibling, Randall "Randy" Yates, 35, whose co-workers at Tech Data had pitched in to buy him a plane ticket from Tampa.
It was like old times, his mother in one room, Rusty and his brother sharing another -- not in a good way like old times. It was as if the past eight years of his life, including the existence of his wife and kids, had been erased.
Later that night, Dr. Saeed called Rusty on his cell phone. Rusty had never received a phone call from Saeed over the twelve weeks
he had been his wife's psychiatrist. "Is this happening?" the former Pakistani native asked worriedly.
"I asked her about suicide, but not this. Wasn't your mother there?"
"She was on her way," Rusty said.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Dr. Saeed asked.
"It's a little late for that now," Yates answered. If Saeed had put Andrea on the proper medication sooner and hadn't taken her off too soon, Yates thought, his kids might be alive. Thirty minutes later his cell phone rang again. It was Magellan calling.
"Magellan?" he asked, unable to place the name. A representative explained that Magellan Health Services handled psychiatric claims for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the Yateses' health insurance provider. The rep wondered whether there was anything the company could do. Yates thought the concern would have been nice when his sick wife needed longer hospital coverage and their children were still playing in the backyard.
Rusty struggled with his thoughts all night. As the reality of his loss soaked in, he wondered, was there something, anything, he could have done differently? Stunned family members would be arriving in Houston. There was so much to do. When he finally fell asleep, he dreamed that only three of his children had been killed. His nightmares were better than his reality.
Melissa Ferguson, MD, was the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Administration psychiatrist on call that first night. Over the phone, she prescribed 2 milligrams of Ativan every six hours and approved Andrea Yates's admission to the third-floor psychiatric unit of the jail. Ativan is a common medication used for calming patients down, milder than Valium, but similar. It is also used to treat patients who stop speaking. Like alcohol, Ativan has a disinhibiting effect. Ferguson was unaware of the antidepressant medications -- Remeron and Effexor -- Yates was taking, or the antipsychotic medication her doctor had previously prescribed. So Ferguson did not prescribe them. Andrea Yates went cold turkey into the night.
At 1:30 AM on June 21, 2001, Andrea Yates appeared before Magistrate Carol Carris, who found "probable cause for further detention" and ordered her held with no bond. Defendant Yates was returned naked -- a precaution against her using her clothing to kill herself -- to isolation cell 2H6. Her cell lights remained on throughout the night, another antisuicide precaution. At 3:00 AM and again at 4:00 AM, she asked for a phone. She remained awake, alternately lying in a fetal position or sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest.
Dr. Ferguson saw Yates in person for the first time at 9:00 Thursday morning. "Client [Andrea Yates] had requested to her [psychiatrist] that she be allowed to attend her children's memorial service," Registered Nurse John Bayliss reported in that day's progress notes. "She also requested that her doctor cut the consumer's [patient/inmate's] hair in the shape of a crown." She wanted to see whether the "mark of the beast," the number 666, was still there. She asked for her husband and wanted to see a religious person. Ferguson inquired whether she preferred Catholic. "Yes," she replied.
Ferguson saw Yates again at 11:40 AM. "Mrs. Yates, how could this have happened?" the doctor asked.
Yates talked guardedly about a "prophecy" but couldn't explain what she meant.
"I'm so stupid," Yates wailed, hitting herself in the head with her fist. "Couldn't I have killed just one to fulfill the prophecy? Couldn't I have just offered Mary?"
"Mrs. Yates, could I tell you the truth about what's going on here?" Dr. Ferguson asked. "Your mind is playing tricks."
"No, it's not. I'm not mentally ill. It's real....The state will impose the death penalty on Satan....The drowning was the way,...Are they in heaven?"
Dr. Ferguson had treated more than six thousand patients since becoming a psychiatrist. When she saw Andrea Yates on June 21, 2001, "she was one of the sickest patients" she'd ever seen. To date, not a single doctor has disagreed with that characterization. Ferguson terminated the interview when Yates disintegrated into moaning and crying. She prescribed an additional dose of Ativan to calm her.
Copyright © 2004 by Suzanne O'Malley
The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates
Are You There Alone?
The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates
As a journalist, Suzanne O'Malley began covering the murders of Noah, John, Paul, Luke, and Mary Yates hours after their mother, Andrea Yates, drowned them in their suburban Houston home in June 2001. Over twenty-four months, O'Malley interviewed or witnessed the sworn testimony of more than a hundred participants in this drama, including Yates herself; her husband, Rusty Yates; their families; attorneys; the personnel of the Harris County district attorney's and sheriff's offices; medical staff; friends; acquaintances; and expert witnesses.
O'Malley argues persuasively that under less extraordinary circumstances, a mentally ill woman would have been quietly offered a plea bargain and sent to an institution under court supervision. But on March 12, 2002, Andrea Yates was found guilty of the murders of three of her five children. She is currently serving a life sentence and will not be eligible for parole until 2041.
O'Malley's exclusive personal communications with Andrea Yates and her interviews with Rusty Yates allow her to offer fully realized portrayals of people at the center of this horrifying case.
In "Are You There Alone?" O'Malley makes a critical contribution to our understanding of mental health issues within the criminal justice system.