sudden infant death syndrome. Medical experts now believe that between I and 20 percent of the 7,000 to 8,000 American babies who are annually diagnosed as having died of SIDS may have actually died of other causes. 7 Research also indicates that there is a discomforting connection between mothers who make use of home apnea monitors and children who are later determined to be the victims of homicidal smothering. 8 Although the great majority of infant deaths are due to genuine medical complications, hundreds of these children die inexplicably each year. Sadly, many of these infants may die at the hands of their mothers. Psychiatrists believe that many of the mothers who compulsively kill their young suffer from Munchausen syndrome by proxy--a psychological disorder than can go unnoticed and undiagnosed for years until the murderer is apprehended or there are no more children to harm.I.
It is possible that mothers who kill their young often go undetected because they are the most unlikely of suspects. Our culture is rooted in the concept of family--a fundamental unit of survival that is predicated on love and trust. To the majority of Americans, it is inconceivable that the symbolic embodiment of love and trust--a mother--could, in fact, be a brutal serial murderer. Beyond this social bias lies another obstacle to prevention: medical misdiagnosis is common in cases of sudden infant death because the determination of the cause of death is often in the hands of a coroner who may have little or no medical experience in dealing with the complex issues of such a tragedy. Unless the cause of death is blatantly obvious, many coroners understandably choose to rely on the statements of supposedly bereaved parents rather than view them as possible suspects in an apparently motiveless homicide. 9 This combination of social bias and the inexperience of key medical personnel allowed Waneta Hoyt to unremittingly murder her children and remain undetected for over three decades.
District Attorney Fitzpatrick expressed the inherent unwillingness of Americans to recognize the potential of a mother as a serial murderer when he said, "We have prejudices about what killers look like, and they don't look like nice middle-class moms from the suburbs." 10 Sadly, to all who knew her, Waneta Hoyt fit this description perfectly--even after she had murdered five of her own children.