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Constance M. FISHER

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Constance's diagnosis changed over the years from paranoid schizophrenic to postpartum psychosis to sociopathic to dissociative disorder
Number of victims: 6
Date of murder: March 8, 1954 / June 30, 1966
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1929
Victim profile: Her children Richard, 6, Daniel, 4, and Deborah, 1 / Her children Kathleen, 6, Michael, 4, and Nathalie, 9 months
Method of murder: Drowning
Location: Waterville, Kennebeck County, Maine, USA
Status: Found innocent as a result of mental illness in 1954. Committed at the Augusta State Hospital. Released in 1959. Found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1966. Recommitted at the State Hospital. On the night of Oct. 1, 1973, she slipped off the hospital grounds and threw herself into the Kennebec River. Her body was found nearly a week later in South Gardiner
 
 
 
 
 
 

Constance Fisher of Fairfield, Maine was twice committed to the Augusta Mental Health Institute in Augusta, Maine, each time after drowning three of her own children.

The first was in 1954, in Waterville when she drowned three of her children in the bathtub. After numerous appeals from her husband Carl Fisher and having been declared 'cured' and sent home, she repeated the performance with three more kids in 1967, in rural Fairfield Center, Maine and was recommitted.

She was a troubled soul and deeply religious. She had been adopted and was afraid that her children would be doomed and not go to heaven once they grew up to be adults. Duck hunters found her body in 1973, in a stream near the hospital, where she had drowned.

 
 

Constance Fisher

In 1954, Fisher drowned her first three children in the bathtub. After five years at the hospital, Fisher was declared cured and returned home. In 1967, she drowned three more of her children.

On March 8, 1954, while battling post partum depression, a 24 year old Maine housewife drowned her three children in a bathtub before attempting suicide. After spending only 5 years at the Augusta State Hospital, Constance Fisher was released from the institution.

Her release marked the beginnings of a new era in the treatment of the mentally ill in America, as the nation moved to phase out the large state run mental hospitals.

On June 30, 1966, Constance Fisher again drowned her three children in a bathtub in what has been called the most bizarre murder story in the history of New England. The incident was foretelling of another American tragedy; the plight of the acutely mentally ill with no facility left to properly care for them.

Found innocent as a result of mental illness, Fisher was recommitted. In October 1973, duck hunters came across Fisher's drowned body about seven miles downriver from the hospital.

 
 

'The Constance Fisher Tragedy'

By Karlene K. Hale

October 2, 2011

On March 8, 1954, Constance Fisher drowned her three children in the bathtub of her family's second-floor apartment in Waterville.

The 24-year-old Fisher, distraught and severely depressed, took the life of her 11-month old baby, then wrapped the child in a blanket in her crib.

Daniel Fisher, 4, was the second child to die before being placed on the couch in a blanket.

When the oldest child, Richard, 6, arrived home from school anxious to see his mother, she offered to run a warm bath for him on the chilly afternoon.

After playing with him for a few minutes in the tub, she put her hand around his neck and submerged his head under water.

He struggled so hard that Constance had to climb into the tub with him to force him under.

Then she drank part of a bottle of poisonous shampoo and crawled under the bed in an electric blanket.

The deaths became a state and national scandal as people reacted with emotions ranging from outrage to sympathy.

Why did she do it?

In this stunning book, author Bob Briggs of Hallowell tries to answer that question and a great many others as he relates Fisher's story against the backdrop of the Augusta State Hospital and its regimen of fresh air, recreation, good food from the hospital's working farm and medications available at the time.

Constance Fisher was found by the court to be not guilty by reason of insanity in the deaths of the three children. She was sent to the state hospital where she was both a curiosity among other patients and a patient much in demand by doctors because of her highly-publicized actions.

The work Briggs put into this book is astounding. He gained access to Fisher's medical records after trying for three months. He was stonewalled by people who worked at the old state hospital while Fisher was there and had to take a number of routes to gain information.

He scoured old newspapers for details of the tragedy and talked to people who remembered Constance, including her sister, Louise Bowker.

Briggs spends much of his book describing the history of the asylum movement that began around 1820 as a way to free the mentally ill from jails, back rooms in private homes, and other places where they were often abused and given no help at all.

Mental hospitals were built to remove the patients from the dysfunctional environments that were contributing to their illnesses.

The hospitals which included the old state hospital that later became the Augusta Mental Health Institute featured large working farms where patients could achieve a sense of accomplishment and benefit from outdoor activity.

There also were fruit trees, shade trees, shrubs and other landscaping to encourage peace of mind.

Briggs relies heavily on the work of Dr. Isaac Ray, a superintendent at the hospital who believed the brain could become ill just like any other organ.

An agitated or sick brain, he said, would respond to a healthy lifestyle, sports and games, music and art, among other activities.

Constance Fisher spent five years in these surroundings, along with about 1,500 other patients in more than 50 buildings. The hospital superintendent at the time was Dr. Francis Sleeper, an unabashed promoter of the institution.

He invited members of the community to picnics on the grounds, sent out press releases and helped patients start a newspaper, and gave keys to the buildings to Brooks Hamilton, a reporter at Kennebc Journal, telling him to roam the hospital at-will, day or night.

Constance's diagnosis changed over the years from paranoid schizophrenic to postpartum psychosis to sociopathic to dissociative disorder, whereby she stood outside herself and watched as she killed her children.

One thing bothered her doctors. She never showed remorse for what she'd done. Instead, she said the children were better off because she couldn't care for them properly and now they were in heaven.

A voice, a presence, kept telling her that, she said.

Her depression and nervous spells began the winter before she took her children's lives, right after she stopped breast-feeding her baby.

She made visits to her family doctor and to a psychiatrist. Both told the family to move from a two-room cabin where they were living on a pond with no running water and no toilet. In the winter, they chipped ice to draw water.

The family moved to Waterville where they would be closer to relatives and a downtown.

Constance's moods went up and down. Some days she couldn't get out of bed; other days she functioned through confusion, sadness and extreme anxiety. And there were days when she was on a high, unable to sit still.

Five years after entering the state hospital, she was released, despite some misgivings from her medical team. There was no real follow-up plan for her, and no real regimen for continued sanity.

She was the poster child for the good work at the state hospital and its methods, which included insulin shock therapy that nearly killed Constance at one point. That therapy was later abandoned by the hospital because it was ineffective.

It was recommended by at least one doctor that Constance be sterilized, a common procedure in those years.

Instead, Constance went to the new home in Fairfield her husband had built for her and immediately became pregnant.

Two years later she gave birth to a second baby, and within three years, a third child. They were Kathleen, Michael and Natalie.

When those children were 6 years old, 4 years old, and 9 months, their mother again filled the bathtub and drowned all three. Her husband Carl came home and saw his beautiful older daughter face down in the tub. He ran out of the house, never to return again.

It was Father Joseph Brannigan who went in and found not only the three children, but Constance in a coma from an overdose of pills. The house was a shambles of rotting food, toys and clutter.

Brannigan later left the priesthood and started a halfway house for the mentally ill in Portland. He later became a legislator and state senator.

This time, Constance knew she was in the state hospital for good. Her condition worsened and she spent most of her time watching television and mumbling to herself. She didn't mingle with other patients as she had before, and visitors including Carl came less frequently.

On the night of Oct. 1, 1973, she slipped off the hospital grounds and threw herself into the Kennebec River. Her body was found nearly a week later in South Gardiner.

Carl became even more reclusive, although he continued to work. He eventually died from cardiac problems or, as nurses said, a broken hear.

 
 


 

 

 
 
 
 
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