Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Baby Killer

"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."

Bedford Hills Prison for Women, tower
Bedford Hills Prison for Women, tower

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.

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