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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Claimed that a black man stole her car and kidnapped her sons
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: October 24, 1994
Date of arrest: November 3, 1994
Date of birth: September 26, 1971
Victims profile: Her two sons, Michael Daniel, 3, and Alexander Tyler, 14-month-old
Method of murder: Drowning (strapped her sons in their car seats and let her car roll into a lake)
Location: Union County, South Carolina, USA
Status: Sentenced to thirty years to life in prison on July 27, 1995

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State of South Carolina v. Susan Vaughan Smith


Susan Leigh Vaughan Smith (born September 26, 1971) is an American woman sentenced to life in prison for murdering her children. Born in Union, South Carolina, and a former student of the University of South Carolina Union, she was convicted on July 22, 1995 for murdering her two sons, 3-year-old Michael Daniel Smith, born October 10, 1991, and 14-month-old Alexander Tyler Smith, born August 5, 1993.

The case gained worldwide attention shortly after it developed, due to her claiming that a black man stole her car and kidnapped her sons. She later claimed that she suffered from mental health issues that impaired her judgment.

According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections, Smith will be eligible for parole on November 4, 2024, after serving a minimum of thirty years. She is currently incarcerated at South Carolina's Leath Correctional Institution, near Greenwood.

The case

On October 25, 1994, Smith reported to police that she had been carjacked by an African-American man who drove away with her sons still in the car. She made dramatic pleas on television for the rescue and return of her children. A Usenet chain letter circulated in the following days, asking Internet users to be on the lookout for the vehicle.

However, nine days later on November 3, following an intensive, heavily publicized investigation and a nationwide search, Smith confessed to letting her 1990 Mazda Protegé roll into nearby John D. Long Lake, drowning her children inside. She allegedly wanted to discard her children so that she might resume an affair with a wealthy local man who had no interest in a "ready-made" family.

It later emerged that investigators had been suspicious of Smith's story from the beginning. From the second day of the investigation, the authorities suspected that she knew where the children were. While they suspected she'd killed them, they held out some hope that the boys were still alive. Lakes and ponds were searched, including the lake in which they were eventually found. The authorities originally thought the car could have traveled out only about thirty feet. Later, they found it about sixty feet out because of its speed when it entered the lake; and it drifted on top of the water for about thirty feet. She had taken a polygraph along with her husband, David, two days after the boys disappeared. The results were inconclusive but investigators did feel that it indicated that she was lying when she said she did not know where they were. She was polygraphed during every subsequent interview with investigators and failed that question each time. There were also no other cars near the intersection where she said the carjacking had occurred. A big break in the case had to do with her story on where she was carjacked. The particular red light at which she said she stopped is only triggered when a car is coming from the cross street. According to her, there were no other cars around so there would be no reason for her to stop at this intersection.

Smith's defense psychiatrist diagnosed her with dependent personality disorder. Her biological father committed suicide when she was 6 years old, and she rarely had a stable home life. It was disclosed in her trial that Smith was molested in her teens by her stepfather, who admitted that he had molested her when she was a teenager and had consensual sex with her as an adult. At 13, she attempted suicide. After graduating from high school in 1989, she made a second attempt.

At one time, she was incarcerated in the Administrative Segregation Unit in the Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. While she has been in prison, two guards have been punished for having sex with Smith: Lt. Houston Cagle and Capt. Alfred R. Rowe, Jr. Consequently, she was moved to a prison in Greenwood where she is currently held. In 2003, she placed a personal ad at, which has since been retracted.


  • Rekers, George (September 1995). Susan Smith: Victim or Murderer. Glenbridge Publishing. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/0-944435-38-0|0-944435-38-0]].

  • Russell, Linda; Stephens, Shirley (April 2000). My Daughter Susan Smith. Authors Book Nook. ISBN 978-0-9701076-1-9.

  • Smith, David (July 1995). Beyond All Reason: My Life With Susan Smith. Zebra. ISBN 978-0-8217-5220-3


Carolina Jury Rejects Execution For Woman Who Drowned Sons

By Rick Bragg - The New York Times

July 29, 1995

A jury today decided that Susan Smith should not be put to death for the drowning of her two young sons, and instead should spend the rest of her life in prison, to remember.

It took the jury two and one-half hours to reject the prosecution's request for the death penalty and settle on the life sentence. The jury's unanimous decision saved Mrs. Smith, 23, from death row, but left her alone in a tiny cell with the ghosts of her dead children, for at least the next 30 years, her lawyer said.

"This young woman is in a lake of fire," said the lawyer, David Bruck. "That's her punishment."

Mr. Bruck had argued that Mrs. Smith was so distraught over the deaths of her children, Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months, that she did not want to live. But as the jury's verdict was read, she gasped, and slipped her arm around Mr. Bruck's waist to give him a quick, firm, hug.

Mrs. Smith, at the center of a murder case that first drew the sympathy and later the loathing of the nation, was convicted last Saturday of murder.

To reclaim a lover who said he did not want a relationship with a woman who had children, the prosecutor contended, Mrs. Smith drove to a dark lake on the night of Oct. 25 and sent her car rolling into the water with the two little boys strapped inside in their car seats.

For nine days, Mrs. Smith looked into television cameras and mournfully begged a phantom carjacker, whom she described as a young black man with a gun, to bring her babies back.

Then, after thousands of volunteers had combed back roads, dredged lakes, passed out flyers and prayed for her sons' safety, she broke down after a prayer with a plain-spoken, methodical county sheriff and said the words that no one wanted to believe.

Now, after nine months of what residents here call a collective pain over these murders and the national attention -- for all the wrong reasons -- it has brought to this little mill town, it is over.

Almost on cue, as the county court clerk read off the verdicts in the courtroom, it started to rain hard, washing away for at least a little while a summer heat wave that has lasted throughout this trial.

"Poetic justice," said Andy Wallace, a state investigator, as he watched the rain run down the street.

Inside the courtroom, Mrs. Smith's family members clasped their hands and prayed as the verdict was read. The boys' father sat like a statue. David Smith had said he wanted his estranged wife to die for what she did.

It was a lifetime of deep depression, punctuated by destructive sexual affairs and suicide attempts, that caused Mrs. Smith to snap the night of the murders, and do what few human beings could ever do, her lawyers claimed.

That sickened Mr. Smith, who buried his children in the same coffin as Mrs. Smith sat in her prison cell.

"Me and my family are disappointed that the death penalty was not the verdict," he said, his lips quivering as he held back his tears. "But it wasn't our choice. They returned a verdict they thought was justice.

"I'll never forget what Susan has done to me, my family and her family. I can never forget Michael and Alex.

"But forgive? That's something I guess I'll have to deal with further down the road."

He said he would probably leave town. There are too many memories here, crowding in on him.

"There are a lot of things I would rather not look at for the rest of my life," he said.

The state's lead prosecutor, Tommy Pope, had tried to show that Mrs. Smith was fooling everyone with her claims of remorse, the way she fooled everyone for nine days in October and November.

"She may be sorry now," Mr. Pope said, his voice rising from a near whisper to a shout as he urged the jury for a death sentence in his closing argument. "But was she sorry when she dropped that hand brake down," and sent her children to their death.

He laid photographs of the two little boys on the rail of the jury box as he spoke of what the boys must have felt as the car slid under the lake at about 9 P.M., and how Mrs. Smith ran from the edge of the lake with her hands over her ears.

"When that car filled up with water they probably didn't see it," said Mr. Pope, because of the dark of the night. "But they felt that water in the darkness as it covered their faces."

His case against Mrs. Smith, and his refusal to accept a plea bargain for life in prison, caused the town to have to relive the worst thing that has ever happened here.

The prosecutor has been criticized, and accused by Mr. Bruck and others of using Mrs. Smith to build a reputation.

"I stand by it," Mr. Pope said of the decision, "and I always will. Even at the end of this road we've all been through, I'd say it was still worth it. It had to be done."

If he had not done what he did, Mr. Pope said, the horror of what she did would have slipped easily by, with the lives of the children.

Mr. Bruck said that would not have happened, because Mrs. Smith will pay every day for her crimes.

She is afraid, he said, because of her mental condition, to be alone, and her depression deepens every time she is left alone.

"Her life doesn't look too much different today than it did yesterday," Mr. Bruck said. "She is relieved for her family. She knew the people she loved could not bear her death."

But now Mrs. Smith will go back to a cell so small she can almost touch the walls from side to side when she stretches out her arms.

She will be permitted to have visitors, but she will spend most days alone, except for the guards.

"There is no good outcome in this case. This case was an awful case of tragedy from the beginning and still is," Mr. Bruck said. "It was such an awful thing, an unbearable thing.

Mr. Bruck countered Mr. Pope's appeal for an eye for an eye with his own scripture and verse.

Holding a Bible in his hand, he read the story from the Gospel of John about the woman who committed adultery, and was to be stoned.

"He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone," Mr. Bruck read, in his nondescript Yankee accent.

In South Carolina, state law requires a death penalty verdict to be unanimous. If one juror holds out, it is an automatic life sentence, with a chance of parole after 30 years.

The jurors refused to comment on the case today, so it was not clear why they decided to spare Mrs. Smith. But during jury selection, several of the jurors had talked of the enormity of the decision of life or death.

Guilt was always a foregone conclusion. Mrs. Smith confessed on Nov. 3, and her childrens' bodies were recovered later that day. Divers had missed the car in their first search of John D. Long Lake, a recreation area outside Union, because they did not search far enough into the lake.

The jury of three women and nine men, eight whites and four blacks, took the same amount of time to convict her -- two and a half hours -- as it did to reject the death penalty. In such a small place, picking a jury with no ties to her had been impossible. One of them, the wife of the police chief, had been Mrs. Smith's babysitter when she was a child, and others had friends or co-workers who saw members of her family almost every day, at the mill, at the Wal-Mart, at ball games.

"I think a part of each person in the courtroom was swayed by the nature of the crime, and the impact on its victims," said the Judge, William Howard, during the sentencing.

"I know your hearts have been torn, as everyone's hearts have been torn," he told the jury.

For black residents of Union, there was a special pain. Mrs. Smith chose a black man as a scapegoat, they believed, because it was more believable.

But everyone here was affected, one way or another, residents said. Beverly Russell, the stepfather who molested Mrs. Smith when she was a teen-ager, was once a big man in town, a respected political leader, church goer and businessman. Other secrets have been spilled.

Most are just glad it is done, and want life to resume some normalcy, if that is possible.

Others felt cheated, because they still are not sure which of the two Susan Smiths killed the boys that night.

"There are some things that are going to remain somewhat mysterious," said Mr. Bruck. "I wish it wasn't so."

One fact still haunts Mr. Pope. Mrs. Smith parked her car on a steep incline that night, in what her lawyers said was a failed suicide. She let go the hand brake, reconsidered and pulled it up again, then let it go and -- in some instinct for survival -- jumped from the car.

But Mr. Pope, and common sense, say that is impossible. She would have had to have flung herself as the car began to roll immediately, and would have certainly torn or dirtied her clothes. Her clothes were clean when she walked to a nearby house to tell her lie about the carjacker.

Mr. Pope, and common sense, say she must have stood outside the car, leaned in to let go the hand brake, and jumped back.

And how, many people here wonder, was that a suicide attempt?


Mother in South Carolina Guilty Of Murder in Drowning of 2 Sons

By Rick Bragg - The New York Times

July 23, 1995

A jury tonight found Susan Smith guilty of two counts of murder, one for each of the little boys she left under the water of John D. Long Lake.

Mrs. Smith trembled but her eyes were dry as a clerk read off the verdict in a state Circuit courtroom.

The 12-member jury took two and a half hours to decide what Mrs. Smith, 23, had already confessed to, that last Oct. 25 she allowed her car to roll down a boat ramp and into the lake as her two children, strapped in their car seats, cried and screamed inside.

Mrs. Smith's former husband, David Smith, who has said he wants her to die for the murders of Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months, raised his eyes to the sky when the verdict was announced. Mrs. Smith's mother, Linda Russell, wept and covered her face with a handkerchief.

The verdict, which came after five days of testimony, is only the first stage of Mrs. Smith's trial. A penalty phase begins with a hearing scheduled for Monday, after which the same jury will decide whether to sentence her to death by electrocution or to life in prison. The jury includes several people who have said they were reluctant to send anyone to the electric chair, and a death sentence must be unanimous.

Mrs. Smith's lawyer, David Bruck, said he was not surprised by the jury's decision. "We were never hopeful that the verdict would be anything other than murder," he said.

When asked how Mrs. Smith had reacted, he said: "She was comforting her family. She expected this."

Earlier in the day, Judge William Howard granted a defense motion that the jury be allowed to consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. If the jury had had convicted Mrs. Smith on that charge, the judge could have sentenced her to three to 10 years in prison.

The ruling had upset Mr. Smith and other family members, who were concerned that it would make a death sentence moot.

The judge's decision had appeared to put a new face on the trial, in which a guilty verdict to the murder counts had seemed preordained because Mrs. Smith had confessed.

When the judge gave the jury this alternative, Mr. Smith shook his head in disgust.

Mrs. Smith's lawyers had repeatedly said that she knew her actions on Oct. 25 were wrong when she rolled her car into the lake outside of Union. Prosecutors said she killed the boys to rekindle a romance with a wealthy man who had told her he did not want children.

For nine days after the boys' disappearance, Mrs. Smith had claimed that they had been abducted by a carjacker. She eventually confessed and said the claim had been a hoax.

Tommy Pope, the lead prosecutor, said it did not worry him when it took the jury more than two hours to reach a verdict that many legal experts had called a foregone conclusion. He said it is impossible to predict what a jury will do.

"At some points in the first stage, it looked like we were fighting in the second stage," Mr. Pope said, referring to the penalty phase. The prosecutors were forced to do that, he said, because the defense presented so much evidence aimed at building sympathy for Mrs. Smith.

Mr. Pope said he had not decided whether Mr. Smith would take the stand in the penalty phase, although his grief over the deaths of his sons presumably would make him the prosecution's most compelling witness.

But Mr. Smith's effectiveness may have been hurt by testimony this week that portrayed him as a vindictive, jealous and irrational man who threatened to expose Mrs. Smith's affairs and report her to the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr. Bruck would not say whether his client, Mrs. Smith, who did not testify in the first phase, would take the stand at her sentencing hearing.

Her lawyers' strategy during the trial had seemed to be to blame severe mental depression for the deaths, calling the killings a failed suicide in which she planned to drown herself as well.

In the penalty phase Mr. Bruck and Mrs. Smith's other lawyer, Judy Clarke, are expected to continue to portray her as a damaged young woman, molested as a child, depressed as an adult. By asking the jurors to look into their hearts, they hope to save their client's life.

The judge's decision to give the jury an option to consider the lesser charge made prosecutors seethe and sickened some relatives of the boys.

"Any construction of this crime as unintentional is a mockery of what happened to those children," Mr. Pope said before the jury returned with a verdict.

After a methodical, somewhat dull prosecution in which the judge barred evidence and photographs of the boys, ruling that gruesome photographs and testimony would be prejudicial, Mr. Pope punctuated his case today with an impassioned closing argument.

It was the first time anyone brought out the full horror of what happened that night at the lake outside of Union, when Mrs. Smith released the hand break and let the car roll down a boat ramp and into the water.

"I submit to you that they were in that car, screaming, crying, calling for their father, while the woman who placed them in that car was running up the hill with her hands covering her ears," said Mr. Pope, stabbing the air every few minutes with three stiffened fingers, as if he were trying to a punch hole in the jury's conscience.

Mrs. Smith's defense lawyers have said repeatedly that she twice set and released the hand brake as she sat in the car, contemplating killing herself and her children.

But Mr. Pope said that was not how it happened. Mrs. Smith did not release the brake and jump from the car in a last-second instinct for survival. Her clothes were not dirty, not torn, he said.

Instead, he said, she would have had to stand outside the car and release the brake, which meant that she had no intention of dying that night.

"The fact is that she is not insane," Mr. Pope said. "She knew what she was doing."

He said she used the emergency brake handle like a gun, and eliminated her toddlers so that she could have a chance at a life with Tom Findlay, the man she said she loved.

In contrast to Mr. Pope's argument, Ms. Clarke in her closing statement continued to work on the jury's sympathy, saying that Mrs. Smith had never shown anything "expect unconditional love for her children."

There was no malice in what she did, so it was not murder, she said.

After about 35 minutes of deliberation, the jury asked to see two television interviews with Mrs. Smith, including one in which she pleaded for help a day after the boys' disappearance, The Associated Press reported.

Just before the deliberations, the judge dismissed one juror, saying he had a family tie to the case, and replaced him with an alternate.


Judge Rules Susan Smith Is Fit for Trial on Murder Charges

By Rick Bragg - The New York Times

July 12, 1995

The presiding judge has ruled that Susan Smith is mentally competent to stand trial in the drownings of her two sons, even though the state's psychiatrist says she may try to sabotage her own defense if she takes the stand, because she wants to die.

Mrs. Smith, pale, listless and dependent on the anti-depressant drug Prozac to help her understand the court proceedings, is aware that she is on trial for her life, Judge William Howard of Circuit Court ruled today.

The judge pushed ahead with selecting a jury to hear the capital murder case, even as legal experts questioned whether a woman who seems so self-destructive is mentally ready to be tried. The experts also said that Mrs. Smith's use of the drug could be included as part of an appeal of a conviction.

Mrs. Smith, 23, has confessed to drowning her sons, Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months, in a lake in late October, and then masking the crime for nine days by claiming that the children had been taken by a carjacker.

But some Union residents wonder whether the apparent instability of her mind is just another trick.

When the judge asked Mrs. Smith whether she understood the charges against her, she quietly answered, "Murder."

When he asked whether she understood the punishment she could receive if convicted, she responded, "The death penalty."

"At any time, have you not been able to understand your attorneys and they not been able understand you, because of your mental condition," Judge Howard asked.

"No, sir," Mrs. Smith said.

The judge said the anti-depressants that Mrs. Smith was now taking have helped her to understand the proceedings, because "she is rendered more rational."

"I find that Mrs. Smith is competent to stand trial and can proceed with this matter," he said.

Judge Howard asked Mrs. Smith's lawyer, David Bruck, whether she was cooperating in her defense. Mr. Bruck and his co-counsel Judy Clarke said that Mrs. Smith was doing so, but that she might not help herself if she was called to testify.

The lawyers are afraid that she may use the witness stand as a soapbox to beg the jury to sentence her to death.

Mr. Bruck, a longtime opponent of the death penalty and an expert on death row appeals, told reporters that he saw nothing wrong with defending a client who claimed that she wanted to die. He compared it to talking a jumper from the ledge of a tall building.

The state's psychiatrist, Dr. Donald Morgan, has testified that Mrs. Smith would kill herself if she could. Failing that, Dr. Morgan said, she might try to sabotage her defense if she took the stand.

The agreement between Dr. Morgan and Mrs. Smith's lawyers is just one of many strange turns the case has already taken.

The prosecution and defense were able to seat just two jurors as of 7 P.M. tonight, partly because of the insular nature of this town and partly because many residents do not believe that Mrs. Smith should die for her crime.

One woman was rejected because she went to school with Mrs. Smith and said she would not vote to send her former classmate to the electric chair. Others were rejected because they said they could not send a person to death under any circumstance, and one was rejected because she said the case would give her a nervous breakdown.

There are still people here who said Mrs. Smith should die for the crime and her deceit -- a national and international audience hung on her every word eight months ago as she begged the fictional carjacker, whom she described as a young black man, to bring her children home. Black residents of Union were offended that Mrs. Smith, who is white, chose to give the phantom carjacker their color, saying that she did it only because she thought the authorities would more quickly accept her story.

Since those early days, though, the mood of black as well as white residents has softened. Churches hold prayer vigils to ask God and the courts for leniency, and more and more, people seem willing to accept that Mrs. Smith is sick.

Mr. Bruck will try either to convince the jury that she is not guilty by reason of insanity or guilty but mentally ill.

At the time of the killings, Mrs. Smith was divorcing her husband and had recently broken up with another man who said he did want a relationship that included children.

In the insanity defense, evidence must show that Mrs. Smith could not recognize moral or legal right from wrong. If found not guilty by reason of insanity, she would be hospitalized for up to four months to determine the extent of her illness, and, if found to be a danger to herself or others, could be held indefinitely in a mental institution. She could later be released, if doctors decided she was cured.

In the "guilty but mentally ill" defense, Mr. Bruck must prove that Mrs. Smith lacked the mental ability to comply with the law at the time of the crime. If the jury agreed, she would be sentenced to a mental hospital or to a prison where she could get treatment. The state Supreme Court has ruled that this verdict might also carry a death sentence, so it is risky, legal experts say.

The prosecutor, Tommy Pope, has rejected an offer to have Mrs. Smith serve 30 years in prison.

That might backfire.

"I think it's extremely unlikely that she's going to get the death penalty," said William McAninch, a specialist in criminal and constitutional law at the University of South Carolina. "In South Carolina, the decision to recommend death has to be unanimous."


Susan Smith's handwritten confession

The following is a transcript of Susan Smith's handwritten confession to drowning her 2-year-old son Michael and 14-month-old son Alex. Her statement was released Nov. 22, 1994.

When I left my home on Tuesday, Oct. 25, I was very emotionally distraught. I didn't want to live anymore! I felt like things could never get any worse. When I left home, I was going to ride around a little while and then go to my mom's.

As I rode and rode and rode, I felt even more anxiety coming upon me about not wanting to live. I felt I couldn't be a good mom anymore, but I didn't want my children to grow up without a mom. I felt I had to end our lives to protect us from any grief or harm.

I had never felt so lonely and so sad in my entire life. I was in love with someone very much, but he didn't love me and never would. I had a very difficult time accepting that. But I had hurt him very much, and I could see why he could never love me.

When I was at John D. Long Lake, I had never felt so scared and unsure as I did then. I wanted to end my life so bad and was in my car ready to go down that ramp into the water, and I did go part way, but I stopped. I went again and stopped. I then got out of the car and stood by the car a nervous wreck.

Why was I feeling this way? Why was everything so bad in my life? I had no answers to these questions. I dropped to the lowest point when I allowed my children to go down that ramp into the water without me.

I took off running and screaming "Oh God! Oh God, no! "What have I done? Why did you let this happen? I wanted to turn around so bad and go back, but I knew it was too late. I was an absolute mental case! I couldn't believe what I had done.

I love my children with all my (a picture of a heart). That will never change. I have prayed to them for forgiveness and hope that they will find it in their (a picture of a heart) to forgive me. I never meant to hurt them!! I am sorry for what has happened and I know that I need some help. I don't think I will ever be able to forgive myself for what I have done.

My children, Michael and Alex, are with our Heavenly Father now, and I know that they will never be hurt again. As a mom, that means more than words could ever say.

I knew from day one, the truth would prevail, but I was so scared I didn't know what to do. It was very tough emotionally to sit and watch my family hurt like they did. It was time to bring a peace of mind to everyone, including myself.

My children deserve to have the best, and now they will. I broke down on Thursday, Nov. 3, and told Sheriff Howard Wells the truth. It wasn't easy, but after the truth was out, I felt like the world was lifted off my shoulders.

I know now that it is going to be a tough and long road ahead of me. At this very moment, I don't feel I will be able to handle what's coming, but I have prayed to God that he give me the strength to survive each day and to face those times and situations in my life that will be extremely painful. I have put my total faith in God, and he will take care of me.

[Signed] Susan V. Smith

[Dated] 11/3/94 5:05 p.m.

The confession was signed by a FBI agent and a State Law Enforcement Division agent.


Susan Smith: Child Murderer or Victim?

By Rachel Pergament

The Letter

The beginning of the letter read, "You will, without a doubt, make some lucky man a great wife. But unfortunately, it won't be me." Another passage began, "Susan, I could really fall for you. You have some endearing qualities about you, and I think that you are a terrific person. But like I have told you before, there are some things about you that aren't suited for me, and yes, I am speaking about your children." The letter was a mixture of a "Dear John" letter and a pep talk. The letter was dated October 17, 1994 and was written on a word processor and had the appearance of a formal, business document. The writer was Tom Findlay, 27, the son of the owner of Conso Products, the largest employer in Union, South Carolina. Tom was considered by some to be Union's most eligible bachelor, although when judged strictly on his physical appearance, Tom was average. Tom's hair was thinning and his facial features were indistinct. The letter was addressed to Susan Smith, a secretary at Conso, and a woman Tom Findlay had dated on and off in 1994.

The tone of the letter was gentle and sections of the letter were flattering toward Susan. Tom wrote that he thought Susan was a great person and that he was impressed that she had enrolled in night school at the local college. Tom encouraged Susan to continue her studies. Tom also wrote that he was proud that Susan was trying to improve her life.

The "Dear John" part of the letter was where Tom explained that he was not Susan's "Mr. Right" because he did not want the responsibility of caring for another man's two small children. Tom also wrote that he was afraid that their backgrounds -- he was a child of privilege, she was a child of a mill worker who committed suicide when his wife had divorced him -- were just too far apart. Tom wrote that he was upset by some of Susan's behavior, especially at a hot tub party that he had recently thrown. At that party, Susan and the husband of a friend of Susan's kissed and fondled each other while they were naked in Findlay's hot tub. Findlay wrote, "If you want to catch a nice guy like me one day, you have to act like a nice girl." "And you know, nice girls don't sleep with married men."

Susan was furious at Tom and hurt by his rejection.

The Unthinkable

It was a mild October night in Union. Susan had been driving around for the last hour, trying to calm herself. She drove along Highway 49 and followed the signs to John D. Long Lake. Before driving to the lake on this evening, she had never before been there. Susan preferred to take her sons to the pond at Foster Park, which was closer to her home. At Foster Park, Susan and her sons would feed breadcrumbs to the ducks.

Once she arrived at the shore of John D. Long Lake, Susan drove across a portion of the seventy-five-foot boat ramp and parked in the middle of the ramp. The ramp was unpaved and consisted of gravel and stones. Susan sat quietly behind the wheel of her 1990 burgundy Mazda Protégé, listening to the sounds of her two young sons sleeping. Michael, her oldest son had celebrated his third birthday two weeks earlier and Alex was fourteen months old. Susan was twenty-three, with long, sandy blond hair that she tied in a ponytail. She wore wire-rimmed glasses and was in the best physical shape she had been in since before becoming pregnant with Michael.

Susan shifted the Mazda into neutral and felt the car slowly begin to roll down the remaining length of the boat ramp. The car only traveled a few yards before Susan stepped on the brake. With a shift tug, Susan pulled the emergency hand brake, stopping the car from further rolling forward. She opened her door and stepped out of the car. Susan stood outside of her car, on the boat ramp, on the banks of John D. Long Lake and thought about suicide. Susan looked around and saw only black. The lake was not illuminated and she stood alone thinking about her life. The darkness and loneliness of the deserted lake mirrored how Susan felt.

Susan wanted relief from her loneliness and the problems in her life. Susan and her husband, David, were in the middle of a divorce and her boyfriend, Tom Findlay, had just rejected her the week before. She wanted to commit suicide, but she did not want her sons to suffer. Susan believed if she killed her sons first and then committed suicide, that her sons would suffer less, rather than if she committed suicide and left them on their own. Yet, something was stopping her from surrendering to her depression and loneliness. She did not want to commit suicide, what she wanted was relief from all the stresses and burdens that overwhelmed her. She felt that her life was filled with loss and rejection, and that the responsibilities of being a single mother were overwhelming.

Susan's next decision will never be forgotten. Attempts to explain it will always fall short and continue to leave the question "why?" open to further speculation.

Susan Smith released the emergency brake and softly closed the driver's side door. Michael and Alex were asleep in the back seat, strapped into their car seats. As the car drifted into John D. Long Lake, the headlights were on. The car entered the water slowly and did not submerge immediately. Instead, it remained on the surface, bobbing peacefully, while slowly filling with water.

Susan watched the car submerge into the lake. She turned away from the sinking car and began to run toward a small house. The story that Susan would tell would capture the nation's sympathy. Susan's story would also raise doubts in some and cause a community to question some of its own citizens, based solely on the race of those citizens.

After the truth was revealed, many would try to imagine the thoughts running through Susan Smith's head the night of October 25, 1994, when she took the lives of her children. To this day, the question still asked is how could she do it? Susan Smith committed the most unthinkable act when she broke humanity's most sacred trust, the love of a mother for her children.     


Susan Leigh Vaughan Smith was born in Union, South Carolina on September 26, 1971. She was the only daughter born to Linda, a homemaker, and Harry, a firefighter who later worked in one of the textile mills that surrounded Union.

Union, South Carolina is in Union County and both the city and the county received their names from the old Union Church that stood a short distance from the Monarch Mill. When it was first founded, Union was known as Unionville; later it was shortened to Union. The county's first white settlers came from Virginia in 1749. Union County's population grew the fastest between 1762 and the start of the Revolutionary War. Settlers built log cabins and cultivated tobacco, flax, corn and wheat. Union was one of the first towns settled in the area and was untouched during the Civil War because the Broad River flooded and turned Sherman's troops away from the town.

Today, Union County has a population of 30,300. The city of Union, the county's largest town, has a population of 9,800. 69.8% of the population of Union County is Caucasian and 29.9% is African American. Union County includes several smaller towns: Lockhart, Carlisle and Buffalo. There are many industrial and manufacturing plants located in these towns which employ 13,000 people. A large portion of Union County is part of Sumter National Forest.

The per capita income in the town of Union is $9,230; the median family income is $25,760 and the median household income is $18,790. Downtown Union is composed of a shopping area, four shopping centers and a branch of the University of South Carolina. Union is also home to the first Carnegie Library in South Carolina.

In 1960, Harry Ray Vaughan was twenty and Linda was seventeen and pregnant from a previous relationship when they married. Together, Harry and Linda had a son, Scotty, a daughter, Susan and they raised Linda's son, Michael. Harry and Linda's marriage had many conflicts and some of those conflicts escalated to the point where Harry became violent and threatened to kill Linda and then himself. Harry's violence was the result of his alcoholism and his obsession with the idea that Linda was unfaithful. During Susan's early childhood, her home life was very dysfunctional.

The turmoil in the Vaughan's household caused Susan and her older brother Scotty to be very frightened. They were especially frightened by the behavior of their parents toward one another. Before Susan entered preschool, her half-brother, Michael, tried to commit suicide by hanging himself. Michael was treated at Duke University Medical Center and at other residential treatment facilities during Susan's childhood. As a result of her turbulent home life, Susan was an unhappy child. The mother of one of her playmates described Susan as "unusual and sad." "Susan would stare in space, like she wasn't there."

Although Susan was a sad child, she was especially close to her father and would "light up" whenever Harry was around. In 1977, after seventeen years of marriage, Linda divorced Harry. Susan was six years old. Harry was devastated by the divorce; he became even more depressed and continued to drink heavily.

On January 15, 1978, five weeks after Harry and Linda's divorce became final, Harry Vaughan committed suicide. The suicide was preceded by an argument that Harry and Linda had that escalated and forced Linda to call the police. When the police officers arrived at Linda's house, they saw Harry strike Linda. The police report also noted that Harry had broken a window to gain entry into Linda's home. After the police came to Linda's home, Harry apparently feared that he would hurt someone and appealed to one of the police officers to take him to court so that he could have himself jailed.

Harry committed suicide by placing a gun between his legs and aiming the gun at his abdomen. Harry then pulled the trigger, mortally wounding himself, but he did not die immediately. Harry called 911 for assistance and was rushed to the hospital, but emergency surgery could not save his life. Harry was thirty-seven years old when he died.

Harry's suicide left a huge void in Susan's life. During her childhood, Susan would treasure two possessions: Harry's coin collection and a tape recording of his voice.

Two weeks after her divorce from Harry became final; Linda married Beverly (Bev) Russell, a well-to-do businessman who owned an appliance store in downtown Union. Bev had been previously married and had several daughters from his first marriage. Bev had once been a Democrat, but had switched to the Republican Party, becoming a South Carolina State Republican executive committeeman and a member of the advisory board of the Christian Coalition.

After her mother's remarriage, Susan and her brothers moved from the Vaughan's modest home outside of Union, into Bev's three bedroom home in the exclusive Mount Vernon Estates section of Union.

Susan did well in school. Throughout her elementary, junior and high school years, Susan excelled. While she was in high school, she was a member of the Beta Club, a club for students with a grade point average of B or better. She also was a member of the Math, Spanish and Red Cross Clubs. Susan volunteered in Union's annual Special Olympics and worked with the elderly. Susan was named president of the Junior Civitan Club, a high school club that performed volunteer work in the community, and from 1986 to 1988, Susan and her best friend, Donna Garner, volunteered as candy stripers at Wallace Thompson Hospital in Union.

During Susan's senior year of high school in 1989, she was voted "Friendliest Female" at Union High School. Susan's classmates remembered her as "cheerful and down to earth." Although she was a bit chubby in high school, Susan wore miniskirts and blouses which flattered her figure. Susan was vivacious and outgoing, but this only masked her insecurity and burning need for male attention.

Despite Susan's record of achievement and her image as a model daughter and friend, Susan's life was filled with turmoil. Some of it came from her relationship with her stepfather. Over the years, Bev's attention and approval became increasingly important to Susan and she found herself competing with her mother for his attention.

In 1987, when Susan was about to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, one of Bev's daughters from his previous marriage stayed overnight in the Russell home. The daughter was given Susan's bedroom and Susan was to sleep on the family room sofa. When Susan was ready to go to sleep, Bev was sitting at one end of the sofa. Rather than ask Bev to move, Susan crawled into Bev's lap and began to fall asleep. It was odd for a fifteen-year-old to act like a two-year-old, but Susan may have felt that this behavior was harmless. Bev, on the other hand, seemed to feel that Susan's behavior was provocative. Susan fell asleep, but gradually awoke to the awareness of Bev's hand moving slowly yet firmly from her shoulder to her breasts. Bev then took Susan's hand and placed it directly on his genitals. Susan pretended to be asleep while the molestation took place. Susan later told her mother that she did not object to Bev's behavior because she "wanted to see how far he would go." Susan's response was clearly inappropriate.

Susan filed a compliant against Bev that was investigated by the South Carolina Department of Social Services and the Union County sheriff's office. Linda contacted Susan's guidance counselor and obtained the name of a family counselor. Bev, Linda and Susan only went for family counseling four or five times before discontinuing the sessions. While the matter was being investigated, Bev agreed to move out of the family's home, but returned a short time later.

During Susan's murder trial, it was revealed that the abuse never stopped. According to Seymour Halleck, the defense's psychiatric expert, "the family seemed to blame Susan as much as Bev." The family was concerned that stories about the sexual abuse would spread into the community and they blamed Susan for worsening the situation by making it public and reporting it to the Department of Social Services.

In February 1988, Susan was seventeen and sought out her guidance counselor, Camille Stribling for advice. Susan told Stribling that her stepfather had been molesting her. Stribling was required by law to report the sexual abuse allegations to the South Carolina State Department of Social Services. An official in that department called the Union County sheriff's office.

Records from the Union County sheriff's office indicate that in March 1988, Susan reported an incident of sexual molestation by her stepfather to her high school guidance counselor and to her mother. Linda told officials from the sheriff's office that when she confronted Bev, he had not denied that the incident of abuse had occurred. The Department of Social Services sent a caseworker to interview Susan, Susan's guidance counselor and several of Susan's teachers.

At Susan's trial, the caseworker testified that she had learned that Bev Russell had on repeated occasions, fondled Susan's breasts on top of her clothing, french-kissed her and had taken Susan's hand and placed it on his genitals.

No charges were brought against Bev Russell regarding this second series of molestation acts and there was no court hearing because Susan, probably under pressure from Linda, agreed not to press any charges against Bev. The Department of Social Services caseworker did not let the matter drop so easily and notified Assistant Circuit Solicitor Jack Flynn. The caseworker tried to convince Flynn to take the matter to court in order to obtain a court order so that charges of "assault and battery of a high and aggravated" nature could be brought against Bev. However, an agreement was reached between Robert Guess, Bev's attorney, and Solicitor Flynn and charges were never filed against Bev. The agreement reached by Guess and Flynn was presented to Judge David Wilburn on March 25, 1988. Judge Wilburn sealed the agreement, which meant that the agreement would never be made available to the public.

In the summer of 1988, between her junior and senior years of high school, Susan began working at the Winn-Dixie supermarket in Union. Susan's first job at the market was as a cashier, but within six months she was promoted to head cashier and later she was promoted again and became the market's bookkeeper. At the beginning of her senior year in high school, Susan began to secretly date one of her co-workers from Winn-Dixie, an older married man. Shortly after her relationship with the older, married co-worker began. Susan became pregnant and had an abortion. At the same time that this relationship was occurring, Susan was also dating another co-worker. After the abortion, the older married co-worker found out about the other relationship, and ended his relationship with Susan. Susan became deeply depressed over the breakup. In early November 1988, Susan attempted to commit suicide by taking an overdose of aspirin and Tylenol. Susan was admitted to the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center on November 7, 1988 and remained hospitalized for one week. During her hospitalization, Susan's doctors discovered that this was not Susan's first suicide attempt. When Susan was thirteen years old, she had taken a similar overdose of aspirin. Susan spent a month recovering from her suicide attempt. The managers of Winn-Dixie were supportive and allowed Susan to return to her job.

Prior to her suicide attempt, Susan became friendly with David Smith, one of the stock clerks at Winn-Dixie. Susan knew David because they had attended Union High School together at the same time. During the time Susan was involved in her two relationships, David was dating his long time girlfriend, Christy Jennings. David and Susan became friendly and when Susan returned from her month long recovery, David broke up with Christy and began to pursue a relationship with Susan.


David Smith was born on July 27, 1970, the second of three children born to Barbara and Charles David Smith. Charles Smith was also called David and was a Navy veteran who had served two tours of duty in Vietnam. Barbara Smith was a devout Jehovah's Witness who sheltered David from many outside influences during his childhood. When David was two years old, the Smith family moved from Royal Oak, Michigan to Putnam, five miles northwest of Union. David's father worked in a clothing store in downtown Union and later as manager of Wal-Mart. While David was growing up, his mother had two part-time jobs: she worked in a lawyer's office and in a dialysis clinic. David's mother also attended college part-time and studied to be a nurse. David had an older stepbrother, Billy, from his mother's first marriage, an older brother, Danny and a younger sister, Becky.

David's parents' marriage was troubled. Over the years of their marriage, David's father grew to dislike his wife and her devotion to her religion. As David grew older, he found the strict religious practices of his mother's religion and its insistence on isolation from the larger community distasteful. In David's long time girlfriend Christy Jennings' opinion, David's childhood was difficult and deprived. David followed his father's example and rejected the Jehovah's Witnesses. This caused friction within the Smith household and when David was seventeen, he distanced himself further from his mother and moved out of his parents' home and into his great-grandmother, Forest "Moner" Malone's home next door. David's older brother Danny was also living at their great-grandmother's house.

At the age of sixteen, David began working after school at Winn-Dixie. David was an average student, but he had a very strong work ethic and was a pleasant and personable young man.

During the summer of 1990, David and Susan began to date, although at the time, David was engaged to Christy Jennings. David viewed his relationship with Susan as casual and not serious. In January 1991, after dating for about a year, Susan found out she was pregnant. David told Christy about Susan and Christy broke off her relationship with David immediately.

David and Susan decided to get married because they were both against Susan having an abortion. Although marriage represented safety and stability to Susan, it also meant that she would have to give up her plans to attend college. Susan desired to go to college, but she really had no idea what college she wanted to attend or what she wanted to study.

In their own ways, Susan and David were emotionally needy people who found comfort and in the beginning of their relationship, similarities with each other. David and Susan seemed to fulfill what the other needed emotionally, however their relationship was filled with many stresses and strains. Susan and David's backgrounds were completely different and this also caused friction between them. David was raised in the country and Susan was raised in the city. In Union, the city kids like Susan looked down on the country kids like David.

Susan's mother and stepfather were not pleased by the news of Susan's pregnancy and marriage. Susan's mother was disappointed that David did not have a college education and was not from the same economic background as Susan.

On March 4, 1991, David's older brother, Danny who was twenty-two, died of complications from Crohn's disease, a painful inflammation of the intestinal tract. During the winter of 1991, Danny had undergone surgery at the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. After the surgery, Danny developed a bacterial infection and, in his already weakened condition, quickly deteriorated and died. Eleven days later on March 15, 1991, Susan and David wed at the United Methodist Church in Bogansville. Susan was nineteen and two months' pregnant. David was twenty. Even though David's family was dealing with the death of Danny, Susan's mother, Linda, insisted that the wedding go forward as scheduled. Linda was concerned that Susan's pregnancy would begin to show before the wedding could take place.

David had worked steadily over several years renovating a small house located on the same property as his great grandmother's house. Before Susan and David were married, David had shown Susan the house and told her of his plans for living in the house after they were married. In David's eyes, Susan had agreed with him that they would live in the house after they were married, but those plans changed when Bev and Linda saw the house. Susan lost interest in living in the house after her parents' visit. To David, the simple country home was comfortable and ideal for his and Susan's needs. To Susan, it was a "tin-roofed country shack." Susan probably dreamed of moving into a new home that was bigger and grander than the home she had been raised in. Susan and David compromised, and Susan moved in with David at Moner's house.

In May 1991, three months after Susan and David's wedding, David's father attempted to commit suicide. Susan found him at his home on the floor. David's father had taken an overdose of pills. From the strain of Danny's death and David's father's attempted suicide, David's parent's marriage fell apart. David's mother, Barbara, moved to Garden City, South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach. David's father continued to live in Putnam. After his suicide attempt, David's father was hospitalized and treated for depression. During his hospitalization, David's father met Sue, the woman who would become his second wife.

Family Life

Susan worked at Winn-Dixie until she went into labor. Michael Daniel Smith was born on October 10, 1991 at Mary Black Hospital in Spartanburg. Michael's middle name was chosen in honor of David's brother, Danny. After Michael's birth, Susan continued to work part-time at Winn-Dixie and enrolled in several college courses at the branch of the University of South Carolina in Union.

Early in their marriage, David and Susan felt a great deal of tension. The tension and trouble was no surprise to their friends. In Union, it was customary for young people to marry after finishing high school and then begin to have children. Young couples often found themselves with demands and responsibilities that exceed their expectations of married life. One of the areas that caused tension between David and Susan was money. According to David, Susan was always interested in material things. Susan also worried about paying the bills and often asked her mother for loans. This angered David. David and Susan earned a fairly good income; David earned about $22,000 a year and Susan earned about $17,000 during the years that they were married.

Another area of tension in Susan and David's marriage was Linda and David's relationship. Linda and David did not get along with one another. Linda was very controlling and would often visit the Smiths without calling first. Linda often offered unsolicited advice and opinions about how David and Susan were raising Michael and how to deal with problems in their marriage. According to David, Susan seemed to almost always follow what Linda said.

Another stress on their marriage was the fact that Susan and David both worked at Winn-Dixie. At Winn-Dixie, David was Susan's boss. Another problem with David and Susan's marriage were their extramarital affairs. By their third wedding anniversary, David and Susan had separated several times. David moved between Moner's house and the Smith's house on Toney Road frequently.

During their first separation in March 1992, shortly after their one-year wedding anniversary, Susan rekindled a relationship with a former boyfriend at Winn-Dixie and this angered David.

During another separation in the summer of 1992, Susan and Michael lived at Linda and Bev's home. David and Susan tried to mend their relationship and throughout 1992, David and Susan's relationship seesawed back and forth. Susan became pregnant in November 1992. In December, David and Susan decided to try again to live under the same roof. Susan told David that the only chance their relationship had to succeed was if they had their own home. In the winter of 1993, David and Susan brought a small ranch style house with dark red shutters at 407 Toney Road in Union. Bev and Linda provided the down payment.

Susan's second pregnancy was not as happy an experience as her first with Michael. David remembers that Susan complained non-stop about becoming "fat and ugly." Slowly, Susan began to shut David out of her life. She complained about the physical aspects of their relationship and stopped sharing anecdotes about Michael with David. David became lonely and wanted someone to talk to. In June 1993, David began a relationship with a cashier at Winn-Dixie, Tiffany Moss. Susan and Tiffany had attended high school together at the same time. They were not friends, but they knew each other. Susan was jealous of David. Employees at Winn-Dixie remember incidents when Susan would visit David and scream at him when she saw David talking to women in the store.

Susan and David's second son Alexander Tyler was born on August 5, 1993. Susan had an emergency Cesarean section. After Alex's birth, Susan and David put aside their differences for a short time in order to settle their new baby at home and allow Susan time to heal from her Cesarean. Within three weeks of Alex's birth, Susan and David decided that their relationship was over and David moved out of the Toney Road house and into Moner's house. Although Susan and David's marriage was troubled and headed for divorce, by all accounts, Susan and David were devoted parents who adored their children.

After recovering from Alex's birth, Susan found a new job at Conso Products. Susan decided that she could not return to Winn-Dixie because she was not getting along with David, who would be her supervisor. Nor did she want to work in the same place as David's girlfriend, Tiffany Moss.

Susan was hired as a bookkeeper at Conso Products and eventually became the assistant to the executive secretary for J. Carey Findlay, the president and CEO of Conso. Findlay was an accountant from Charlotte, North Carolina, who bought Conso in 1986 with a group of investors. They had originally planned to reorganize Conso and turn around and sell the company for a quick profit, but Findlay was excited by the business and bought out his partners in 1988. Findlay settled permanently in Union and purchased an estate seven miles south of Union. In November 1993, Conso Products announced a public offering of its stock, becoming the first publicly owned corporation in Union. At the end of 1993, Conso had factories in Great Britain, Canada and Mexico.

Susan enjoyed working at Conso. She liked the responsibilities she had handling hotel arrangements for out-of-town clients, ordering flowers and arranging for Findlay's travel. Susan was exposed to elements of an expensive lifestyle were foreign to her. Susan also enjoyed working at Conso for another reason: Tom Findlay. Tom was one of three sons of J. Carey Findlay. Tom was twenty-seven and had grown up in an upscale suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Tom had graduated with a bachelor's degree from Auburn University in 1990 and had moved to Union to work as the head of the graphic arts department of Conso. Tom was responsible for designing and producing Conso's brochures. He was popular with young women in Union, because he was young, rich and available.

Conso also provided Susan with a new group of friends and Susan spent a lot of time socializing with them at Union's only bar, Hickory Nuts, which opened during the summer of 1993.

During Susan and David's last separation before Susan filed for divorce, Tom and Susan began to date. Beginning in January 1994 and for a period of several months, Susan and Tom frequently met for lunch or went to the movies. Susan visited Tom at his cottage on his father's estate and attended several parties thrown by Tom there.

During the spring and early summer of 1994, Susan and David tried one final time to make their marriage work. David moved back to the Toney Road house and stopped seeing Tiffany. During this time Susan and Tom had broken off their relationship as well. At the end of July 1994, Susan told David that she wanted a divorce. David had wanted the marriage to work, especially because he believed his sons needed their mother and father together.

In August, David rented a two-bedroom apartment in the Lakeside Gardens complex about two miles from the house Susan, Michael and Alex lived in on Toney Road. David brought new furniture for his apartment and set up a bedroom with a bed, a crib and new toys for Michael and Alex.

At the beginning of September, Susan began to believe that her life was finally settling down. She and David had an amicable relationship centered on taking care of their sons and Susan was beginning to believe that her dreams of love and stability might be realized with Tom Findlay, who she had begun to date again in September. However, Tom Findlay had different ideas. Tom liked Susan but he ended their relationship because he began to feel that Susan was too possessive and too needy.

On September 21st, Susan's attorney served divorce papers on David. Susan sought a divorce on the grounds of adultery. On October 21st, Susan's divorce papers were filed at the Union county courthouse; several days earlier she had received Tom Findlay's "Dear John" letter. Susan was furious and she sought Tom out at his cottage on Sunday, October 23 in the hope of restoring her relationship with him. Susan tried to gain Tom's sympathy by telling him about her sexual relationship with Bev Russell, but this only seemed to shock Tom.

The Big Lie

The fall of 1994 had been full of activity for Susan. She worked full time at Conso, managed a part time college course load at the University of South Carolina, had custody of her two toddler sons and was sexually involved with three men: Bev Russell, Tom Findlay and her estranged husband, David. Increasingly, Susan was filled with anxiety and when she was alone, she became deeply depressed. During this period of time, Susan had begun to take days off from work to drink. This was unusual behavior for her.

Tuesday, October 25, 1994 began like any other day for Susan Smith. Susan dressed and fed her children breakfast and then drove them to daycare. Susan went to work and at lunch joined a group of Conso employees, one of whom was Tom Findlay, at a restaurant in Buffalo. While the group laughed and talked, Susan sat quietly. At around 1:30 p.m., Susan asked her supervisor, Sandy Williams, if she could leave work early. Sandy asked Susan if something was wrong and Susan confided in Sandy that she was upset because she was "in love who someone who doesn't love me." Sandy asked Susan who that person was and Susan replied, "Tom Findlay, but it can never be because of my children." Rather than go home, Susan remained at her desk.

At around 2:30 p.m., Susan called Tom in his office to ask him to meet her outside of the building to talk. Susan told Tom that David was threatening to expose and make public some embarrassing information about her in their divorce proceedings. Tom asked her to explain what the information was and Susan told Tom that David would accuse her of "cheating the IRS and of having an affair with your father." After recovering from the shock of hearing about this alleged affair, Tom told Susan that their friendship would remain intact, but that "our intimate relationship will have to stop forever."

At 4:30 p.m., Susan sought out Tom again in the Conso photography studio. Susan attempted to return Tom's Auburn University sweatshirt that she had borrowed, but Tom refused to accept it. Tom told Susan to hold on to it.

After collecting her sons at day care, Susan headed in her car to Hickory Nuts, while she was driving there she spotted Sue Brown, the marketing manager at Conso, in her car. Both Sue and Susan pulled into the Hickory Nuts' parking lot. Susan talked to Sue and convinced her to return to Conso with her so that she could apologize to Tom for lying to him about sleeping with his father. Susan had concocted the story in order to see Tom's reaction to it. The woman arrived at Conso around 5:30 p.m. Susan wanted Sue to watch her children while she spoke to Tom. Tom was not happy to see Susan and quickly led her out of his office. Susan told Sue Brown that she was upset after talking to Tom and that she "may just end it." Sandy Williams was leaving Conso for the day when she spotted Susan Smith and Sue Brown in the parking lot. Sandy felt manipulated and deceived by Susan who had insisted that she could not stay at work and had to go home because she was so upset by her boyfriend's rejection. Susan dropped Sue Brown off at Hickory Nuts and drove home, it was about 6:00 p.m.

Later in the evening, Sue Brown was eating dinner at Hickory Nuts with several friends, including Tom Findlay. During the meal, a waiter brought a cordless telephone to Sue. Susan Smith was calling to ask Sue if Tom Findlay had asked about her. Sue told Susan that he had not.

At 8:00 p.m., Susan dressed her sons, placed them in their car seats in her car and began driving around Union. Susan later described her reaction to Tom's rejection by saying that she had "never felt so lonely and sad in my entire life."

Around 9:00 p.m., Shirley McCloud was relaxing in the living room of her home, located about one quarter mile from John D. Long Lake. Shirley was just finishing Tuesday's Union Daily Times when she heard a wailing sound coming from her front porch. Shirley switched on the porch light and saw a young woman sobbing hysterically. The young woman cried, "Please help me!" "He's got my kids and he's got my car." Shirley lead Susan Smith into her home and Susan told her, "A black man has got my kids and my car." Shirley's husband, Rick told his son Rick, Jr. to call 911.

At 9:12 p.m., the 911 dispatcher called the Union County sheriff's office to direct them to respond to the Rick McCloud's 911 call. Once Susan had calmed down, Shirley asked Susan to tell her what happened. Susan told her the following story: "I was stopped at the red light at Monarch Mills and a black man jumped in and told me to drive." "I asked him why was he doing this and he said shut up and drive or I'll kill you." Susan continued and told Shirley that, at the abductor's direction, she drove northeast of Union for about four miles until, "he made me stop right past the sign." Shirley confirmed that the sign was for the John D. Long Lake, which was located several hundred yards outside of Shirley's front door. "He told me to get out. He made me stop in the middle of the road. Nobody was coming, not a single car." Susan continued, "I asked him, 'why can't I take my kids?'" Susan told Shirley that the man said, "I don't have time." Susan said that the man pushed her out of her car while he was pointing a gun at her side. Susan continued by telling Shirley that "When he finally got me out he said, "Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt your kids." Susan described how she had laid on the ground as the man drove away as both of her sons cried out for their mother. After awhile, Susan wasn't sure how long, she began to run and stopped when she reached Shirley McCloud's porch. Susan asked Shirley if she could use the bathroom and if she could call her mother. When Susan was unable to reach her mother, she called her stepfather and then her husband, David at Winn-Dixie. By the time Susan reached David by phone, the Union County Sheriff, Howard Wells had driven to the McClouds' home and was directing the search for the Smith children.

Sheriff Wells knew Susan through his friendship with Susan's brother, Scotty and Scotty's wife, Wendy. Wells and his wife Wanda considered themselves close friends of Scotty and Wendy Vaughn. Wells asked Susan to repeat her story, although he had heard it from the 911 dispatcher and from Shirley McCloud. Wells took notes and asked Susan questions. Wells noted that Susan was wearing a gray sweatshirt with orange lettering spelling out Auburn University. Susan's face was red and puffy and her hands rested in her lap. Susan described the clothes that her sons were wearing. Michael was wearing a white jogging suit and Alex was wearing a red and white-stripped outfit. After Susan finished, Wells realized that the carjacking was not going to be solved quickly nor would the Union County sheriff's office have all the resources necessary to find the Smith children. Wells called Chief Robert Stewart, the head of South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known by the initials, SLED, for additional assistance.

Wells did not question the information Susan had provided to him or her story. Wells was concerned with collecting all the available information and following whatever leads developed. As time passed and more scrutiny could be applied to the information he had collected, Wells could begin to sort out fact from fiction.

The Investigation

Union County sheriff's deputies continued searching for the Smith brothers and Susan's Mazda while Susan, David and the Vaughn-Russell families gathered at the McClouds' home. Around midnight, Sheriff Wells suggested that Susan and her family find another meeting place. Susan volunteered her mother's home and Susan, David, Bev, Linda and assorted friends and family left the McClouds for the Russell home. Susan rode with David in his car to the Russells. On the way to the Russells, Susan told David that Tom Findlay might come and see her and that she didn't want David to become angry. David found Susan's statement incredible in light of the fact that their sons were missing. It seemed that Susan was more worried that David would become upset if her boyfriend came to visit, rather than worrying about finding their sons.

Wells returned to his office and began to organize the investigation. He called SLED to coordinate efforts to send divers to John D. Long Lake to search the lake. A SLED helicopter with heat sensors flew over John D. Long Lake and nearby Sumter National Forest. Divers who searched the lake did not find anything on the bottom of John D. Long Lake in the area they searched. Wells needed to obtain a better, more detailed description of the kidnapper from Susan and made arrangements for a police sketch artist to sketch a composite drawing. The police artist met with Susan and using the description she provided composed a sketch of a black man, around forty years of age, wearing a dark knit cap, a dark shirt, jeans and a plaid jacket.

Throughout October 26, 1994, Union County sheriff deputies and SLED agents searched the area surrounding John D. Long Lake. Agents conducted interviews of the McCloud family. Another organization also became involved in the search for Michael and Alex Smith, the Adam Walsh Center, located in the state capitol, Columbia, about 70 miles south of Union. The Adam Walsh Center was named in memory of six-year-old Adam Walsh who disappeared during a shopping trip with his mother from a Florida Sears store in 1981. Even though an intense search was undertaken to find Adam, he remained missing for ten days until his body was found 150 miles from where he had disappeared. Adam's killer was never found. In 1981 law enforcement agencies did not have standard operating procedures for locating missing children. There were no computer databases of child molesters, no clearinghouses of information on missing children, and no way for one law enforcement agency to communicate with another. John and Reve Walsh, Adam's parents, dedicated themselves to changing the system. As a result of their efforts, the 1984 Missing Children's Act was passed. The act organized a computerized system for sharing information and established four regional missing children centers in the United States, one of which was located in Columbia.

Later in the afternoon of October 26th, Margaret Frierson, Executive Director of the South Carolina Chapter of the Adam Walsh Center spoke to Susan's sister-in-law, Wendy Vaughn and offered the center's assistance to Susan and David Smith. Margaret told Wendy that she would need to speak to Susan and David and asked that they call her back. They never did. Instead, Bev Russell called Margaret later that same day and provided directions to his home. Before driving to Union, Margaret and her assistant, Charlotte Foster, worked with SLED to obtain pictures of Michael and Alex and arranged for fliers to be printed describing the missing boys.

Susan and David continued to stay with Bev and Linda Russell. David's father and his wife Sue flew to Union from California and David's uncle Doug and his wife drove from Michigan to be with him. The house quickly filled with other relatives, friends, neighbors and ministers. Susan never spent a moment alone. In her parents' home, her friends and family comforted Susan and provided the affectionate nurturing Susan so badly desired. This was in sharp contrast to the isolation and loneliness she recently felt.

Tom Findlay called Susan and expressed his sympathies about Michael and Alex. Susan shifted the topic of conversation away from her missing children and to her relationship with him. Tom told Susan not to worry about their relationship and to concentrate on her children. This telephone call would be the only one that Susan would receive from Tom. Tom never visited Susan, not even when a group of Susan's co-workers from Conso visited. When Sue Brown came to visit, Susan Smith asked her when Tom was planning to visit her.

Margaret Frierson and Charlotte Foster arrived at the Russell home on the afternoon of October 26th. Instead of talking to Susan and David alone, as they preferred, the women met with Susan, David, Bev, Linda and Scotty Vaughn. Margaret explained why the Adam Walsh Center was founded and what services it could provide to the parents of missing children. Margaret explained that she and Charlotte could act as the family's liaison with the news media and could arrange and schedule interviews and broadcast pictures of the missing boys and information about the crime. After 40 minutes, Susan and David excused themselves from the conversation and drove to the sheriff's office for interviews. Margaret followed David and Susan in her car. Sheriff Wells questioned Susan in his office. Margaret and SLED investigator Eddie Harris spoke with David about making a plea for the safe return of his sons to the news media. Margaret and Harris believed that a nationally televised appeal for the children's return would be instrumental in solving the boys' disappearance. David was nervous, but agreed that it was important to do anything that would return his sons.

The news media descended in large numbers on Union. At first the carjacking was covered by the local paper, the Union Daily Times and local radio stations, but interest in the story quickly grew and the national networks were soon covering the story.

David, with Susan by his side, stood on the steps of the Union County Sheriff's department and made the following statement: "To whoever has our boys, we ask that you please don't hurt them and bring them back. We love them very much...I plead to the guy please return our children to us safe and unharmed. Everywhere I look, I see their play toys and pictures. They are both wonderful children. I don't know how else to put it. And I can't imagine life without them." After he finished David, along with Susan, returned to the sheriff's office. Susan was questioned by both investigators from the Union County sheriff's office and agents from SLED for about six hours. Susan was asked on a number of occasions to repeat the details of her story.

At the end of the day, Sheriff Wells called David A. Caldwell, Director of the Forensic Sciences Laboratory for the State Law Enforcement Division in Columbia and asked him to drive to Union to interview Susan Smith.

Two days after the carjacking, on Thursday, October 27, 1994, both David and Susan submitted to polygraph tests administered by the FBI. Susan and David each read and signed a form advising them of their Miranda rights, their right to remain silent, their right to an attorney, and their right to stop talking to investigators. David's test showed that he knew nothing about the disappearance of his sons. Susan's test was inconclusive. Susan's test showed that her greatest level of deception was when she was asked the question; "Do you know where your children are?" The investigators did not hide the results of her polygraph from Susan. Susan told David that she thought she had not done well on the test. She wasn't sure that she failed the test outright, but she told David that she thought the police might begin to doubt her story. This would be the first of many polygraph tests Susan was given. Each time Susan was interviewed, she was given a polygraph test. This would be the one and only polygraph test given to David.

There were several inconsistencies in Susan's story. Over the course of the day, Agent Caldwell interviewed Susan on three separate occasions at the Union County sheriff's office. Agent Caldwell asked Susan to relate the details of October 25, beginning when she awoke in the morning until she spoke with Sheriff Wells at the McClouds' house. Susan told Caldwell she had called her mother after she came home from work to ask if she could visit her later in the evening. Susan's mother told her that she had other plans and would not be home. Susan made dinner for her sons, but they were fussy and did not want to eat. David called Susan during the time she was preparing dinner and later told the police that he could hear his sons in the background and that they seemed "fussy". Susan told Caldwell that at 7:30 p.m., Michael told her he wanted to go to Wal-Mart. Caldwell questioned Susan about this and Susan admitted that she suggested going to Wal-Mart. Susan told Caldwell she drove to Foster Park and stayed until 8:40 p.m., but did not get out of her car. Susan then claimed she returned to the Wal-Mart parking lot because of the bright lights so that she could search for Alex's bottle that he had dropped on the floor of the car. Susan then told Caldwell that Michael had suggested visiting Mitchell Sinclair, fiancé of her best friend Donna Garner, but then amended her answer when Caldwell questioned her further about it. Susan told Caldwell that Mitch lived less than a mile north of the Monarch intersection and that she had stopped at a red light on Monarch, but saw no other cars at the intersection while she had stopped.

Agent Caldwell told Susan that investigators had spoken to Mitchell and he told them that he had not been expecting her and that he wasn't home around 9:00 p.m. Agent Caldwell also told Susan that investigators had visited the Wal-Mart and had spoken to many people who were working or shopping in the store that evening and that no one remembered seeing Susan or her two children. Susan backpedaled away from her story and said that she had actually been driving around for hours with her two children strapped to their car seats. Susan had not said anything about this to investigators because she was afraid that her behavior sounded suspicious.

After interviewing Susan on October 26, investigators became suspicious of her story. The light at the Monarch intersection is permanently green unless a car on the cross street triggers the signal to switch. If there had been no other cars on the road that night, the light would not have been red.

While Agent Caldwell was interviewing Susan, David met with other SLED investigators and told them that Susan had been dating other men. The investigators wanted names and dates. David told them about Tom Findlay. David was frustrated that the investigators were focusing so much attention on Susan rather than searching for his sons. Agent Caldwell told Susan that investigators had obtained information that Susan had a boyfriend, Tom Findlay, and that Tom had broken off his relationship with Susan because of Susan's sons. Caldwell asked Susan, "Did this fact play any role or have any bearing on the disappearance of your children?" Susan replied that, "No man would make me hurt my children." "They were my life." Susan's answer indicated that she thought her sons were no longer alive.

Later in the day, when Susan was interviewed again by Agent Caldwell, she was confronted again by the inconsistencies in her story. Agent Caldwell demanded to know why Susan had not told the truth about Wal-Mart. Caldwell asked Susan about her children's fussiness and asked Susan, "is that why you killed them?" Susan slammed her fist on the table and said, "You son of a b-----!" "How can you think that!" Susan got up from her chair and left the office where the interview was taking place yelling, "I can't believe that you think I did it!"

Agent Caldwell noted that from time to time during his interview with Susan, she would sob, but tears would not always accompany her apparent crying. The FBI agent, who administered her polygraph test on October 27, noted that Susan made "fake sounds of crying with no tears in her eyes."

Another person who thought Susan was lying about the carjacking was the forensic artist, Roy Paschal, who had drawn the sketch of the carjacker from Susan's description. Paschal felt that Susan was vague in her description of the kidnapper, but she was very specific about some of the small details in the drawing.

Sheriff Wells and Agent Logan contacted the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit for assistance. Wells and Logan asked the unit to provide a profile of the characteristics of a homicidal mother. The profile the FBI provided fit Susan Smith almost perfectly. The FBI's profile described a woman in her twenties, who grew up or lived in poverty, was under-educated, had a history of either physical or sexual abuse or both, remained isolated from social supports, had depressive and suicidal tendencies and was usually experiencing rejection by a male lover at the time she murdered. The profile also described how the mother might also find herself enmeshed with her children and show an inability to define her boundaries as separate from her children. The profile also described how depression in the mother was often correlated with a blurring of boundaries. A mother's biological ties, her strong role expectations to be a mother, her significantly greater care giving responsibilities, her isolation in carrying out those responsibilities and her greater tendency toward depression and self-destruction were likely to result in her becoming trapped in enmeshment with her children.

During a homicidal act, a mother may view a child as a mere extension of herself rather than as a separate being. A mother's suicidal inclination may often be transformed into filial homicide.

The investigation continued into its third day. Sheriff Wells appeared on the Today show and on Larry King Live. He told Larry King that his office had received more than 1,000 calls but that none had developed into a strong lead to follow. Divers searched the bottom of John D. Long Lake, but they found nothing in the murky water.

Experts had made a tremendous error when they told the divers to assume that anyone trying to hide a car would drive it into the water at a high rate of speed. None of the experts considered that a driver might simply let a car roll from the edge of the banks into the water. It is easy to envision that a car driven into a body of water at a high speed would go further than a car driven slowly, in reality, the opposite occurs. The faster that a car hits the water, the more waves it creates which stops the forward momentum of the car. A car driven at a high rate of speed into water simply drops and sinks at the edge of the body of water. Because the Mazda had been rolled into the lake at a slow speed, it had drifted out much further from the edge of the water, nearly 100 feet. Drivers searched the edge of the water, while the Mazda remained submerged.

On Friday morning, October 28, 50 volunteer fire fighters and dozens of SLED agents and sheriff's deputies searched the north and south sides of Highway 49 near John D. Long Lake. They came up empty handed. Sheriff Wells held a press conference to announce that he had no solid clues in the kidnapping of Michael and Alex and he had not ruled out any suspects, including Susan and David Smith. Wells also stated that the investigators had uncovered several discrepancies in Susan's statements, but Wells would not elaborate about specific details. Wells also said, "We do not have a car, we do not have the children, we do not have the suspect."

The Saturday, October 29, 1994 edition of the Union Daily Times published a story about the discrepancies in Susan's story. The story described how Mitchell Sinclair had not been expecting Susan on the night of the carjacking, that no one had seen her or her children at Wal-Mart, and that Susan had told investigators that she had been driving around aimlessly in the hours before the carjacking. In many ways, the front-page story echoed the doubts many in the community were harboring but hesitated to express. Susan seemed reluctant to speak publicly in order to raise awareness of her missing children and this caused additional speculation that Susan was somehow involved in the disappearance of her children.

There was another issue surrounding the disappearance of Michael and Alex Smith that caused a greater amount of speculation, the fact that Susan claimed that the carjacker was a black man. Many in the black community found that Susan's story lacked credibility. They found it impossible that a black man would go unnoticed driving around with two white children, especially given the intensity surrounding the search for the Smith children.

The news media continued to descend on Union. Among the media that was attracted to the case was the television program American Journal. The producers of American Journal asked Marc Klaas, the father of Polly Klaas, the twelve year old girl from Petaluma, California who was kidnapped from her bedroom and murdered in 1993, to report on the Smith brothers disappearance. Klass had previously reported on three other cases of missing children for the television program. After his daughter's murder, Klaas became an advocate for children, giving up the ownership of a Hertz Rent-A-Car franchise at the San Francisco airport in order to devote his full attention to his new role. A year after becoming a board member of the Polly Klaas Foundation, Klaas formed his own organization, The Marc Klaas Foundation for Children which lobbied for stronger laws to protect children and keep violent, repeat offenders behind bars. Klaas also assists parents who are suffering through the disappearance of a child. When his daughter was kidnapped, Marc Klass met Jeanne Boyton, a cognitive graphic artist, who sketched the drawing of Richard Allen Davis, the man ultimately caught, tried and convicted for the murder of Polly Klaas. After Polly's murder had been solved, Marc and Jeanne had stayed in touch with each other. When Jeanne saw the drawing of the black man Susan had described to Roy Paschal, she felt that if Susan Smith had really been carjacked, a far more detailed drawing of the suspect would have been produced. Klaas suggested that Jeanne join him in Union. Before Jeanne agreed to go to Union, she called the FBI office in Columbia, South Carolina and obtained their approval. Klaas and Boyton arrived in Union on Friday, October 28, 1994. They had both traveled from the West Coast on red eye flights. As Boyton and Klass approached the Russell home where Susan was staying, Margaret Gregory met them on the driveway. Gregory is the wife of Susan's cousin and was employed by the Richland County Sheriff's public information office. Bev and Linda Russell had decided that Margaret Gregory would be the official family spokesperson since she was the only member of the extended Russell and Smith families that regularly dealt with the media. Gregory told Klaas and Boyton that Susan had no interest in meeting with them. Jeanne could not understand why Susan wouldn't meet with them. Jeanne had worked on over 7,000 criminal cases and she felt she understood what type of behavior was typical and what wasn't and Susan's refusal to see them was atypical.

Klaas stayed with the media camped out in front of the Russell home while Boyton went to the sheriff's office in Union. Boyton meet with FBI agents, SLED investigators and Union County sheriff's deputies and explained her criticism of the original drawing of the carjacker. Boyton explained how the positioning in the drawing was incorrect, how the suspect was devoid of emotion and how the drawing was of a person that was very passive. Boyton learned from the SLED investigators, the FBI agents and Sheriff Wells that they did not believe Susan Smith. Boyton tried to meet with Susan on her own. She changed from her black business suit into jeans and a casual shirt. She tucked her long blond hair into a baseball cap, but when she approached the Russell home, Margaret Gregory met her in the driveway and again told her that Susan was not interested in meeting with her.

Klaas had spoken briefly to Bev Russell and Margaret Frierson on Friday, his first day in Union, but he was unsuccessful in setting up a meeting with Susan or David Smith. Klaas eventually spoke to David's father who was supportive of the idea of Klaas meeting with David and Susan. Klass and David's father tentatively set an appointment for Sunday morning but when Klaas arrived at the Russell home to meet with Susan and David, he was met again by Margaret Gregory who told him that Susan and David were not up for meeting him.

After four days of trying to talk to Susan and David Smith, Boyton and Klaas gave up and went home. Marc Klass left Union convinced that Susan Smith was involved in the disappearance of her children. Klaas did not believe that Susan harmed her children, instead he thought that the Smiths were involved in a custody battle and that Susan had hidden the children from David.

Six days after the Smith children disappeared, the Union County sheriff's office received a call from police in Seattle about a fourteen-month-old white child. The child's description matched the physical description of Alex Smith. The child had been abandoned by a man driving a car with South Carolina license plates at a motel near Seattle. Sheriff Wells called the Russell home and spoke to Bev and told him about the boy in Seattle. For a short period of time, it looked like one of the Smith children had been located. Unfortunately, the good news was short lived. By 10:00 a.m., a call from the police in Seattle confirmed that the boy was not Alex Smith. Sheriff Wells meet with Bev, Linda, David, Susan, Margaret Gregory, her husband and Scotty and Wendy Vaughn in his office. Wells told them about the disappointing news. After their meeting with Wells, David and Susan held a short press conference in front of the Union County sheriff's office.

Sheriff Wells, Robert Stewart, the Chief of SLED, Agent David Caldwell, the behavioral specialist and the FBI Agents working on the case had each concluded on their own and together as a group that Susan Smith was lying about her involvement in the disappearance of her children. The investigators now faced the challenge of proving Susan's involvement in the crime. Investigators continued to interview Susan on a daily basis. Gradually they began to suggest to her that while they wanted to believe her story, they could not.

Agent Caldwell had accused Susan of murdering her children during an interview on October 26th. Susan's reaction shocked the investigators. The quiet, passive, semi-hysterical woman who continually repeated, "God, look after my babies," suddenly became angry and lashed out at the investigators. From Susan's response, investigators learned that Susan was not just a brokenhearted mother but a strong willed woman and that they would have a difficult time getting her to confess. There was nothing that the investigators could prove yet, but all the details of Susan's story: the red light at the Monarch Mills intersection; the absence of cars on the road; the conflicting stories about where Susan was headed the night of October 25, and the fact that Susan's car had vanished, made investigators doubt her. The issue that most nagged at the investigators was Susan's car. Very early in the investigation, investigators felt that Susan was culpable of the crime and that she had acted alone, but where was Susan's car? Investigators felt that the car and the children were within walking distance of the lake. They returned time again to search for the car in the two-mile area surrounding the McClouds' house.

From the start of the case, investigators carried out meticulously planned interrogations of Susan Smith that were designed to gradually break down her defenses so that she would confess. The investigators behavior and movements were carefully scripted and choreographed. There were no ad libbed or casual questions to Susan. Sheriff Wells and Agent Pete Logan acted as the "good cops." Logan has thirty-five years of law enforcement experience; twenty-seven of those years were spent in the FBI. Logan spoke gently to Susan and manipulated her into trusting him. The investigators believed that if they could build Susan's trust in them, they could coax her into confessing. Logan was careful not to push Susan too hard. Investigators were familiar with Susan's previous suicide attempts and they were concerned that if they pushed her too hard she would shut down or commit suicide.

The investigators all hoped that the Smith children would be found alive and unharmed, but they knew as the days passed that this wish was less and less likely to come true. The strongest weapon that investigators were able to use against Susan's steadfast claim that she was the victim of a carjacking was psychology. Investigators met several times each day during the nine days that the Smith children were missing to plot strategy and consider their next move in interrogating Susan.

Investigators met with Susan at two different locations away from the news media. Agent Pete Logan met daily with Susan and after each conversation, Logan would attach Susan to the polygraph machine and test her. Susan routinely failed the question: " Do you know where your children are?"

After Agent Caldwell interviewed Susan and studied her behavior, he wrote a psychological profile of her. Caldwell's profile described a cool, cunning woman with a strong drive to succeed. Agent Caldwell had obtained information from Tom Findlay, whom had met with investigators at the beginning of the investigation. Findlay had provided the investigators with a copy of the letter that he had sent to Susan ending their relationship. Findlay told the investigators that Susan had reacted vindictively to his rejection and Findlay had been surprised by Susan's bitterness. The investigators used Findlay's information and their own observations of Susan's angry outburst when confronted with their early suspicions to develop a possible motive: that greed and ambition had pushed Susan to rid herself of her children by murdering them. Agent Caldwell designed a series of questions and comments for Pete Logan to use in his length daily conversations with Susan. Several of the scenarios would be used to during the nine-day interrogations as part of Logan's efforts to pressure Susan into confessing.

One of the investigators' tactics was to build up the media frenzy directed at David and Susan Smith. One example of the way the investigators shaped the news was at the press conference held by Sheriff Wells on Tuesday, November 1; exactly one week after Susan made her claims about being carjacked. Wells met in the parking lot of the Union County courthouse with a dozen reporters. Wells' words were carefully scripted and impeccable planned. There was no question to whom Wells' statement was directed to: Susan Smith. Wells said, "I don't know that we're any closer to finding the car." "I have nothing encouraging." "We're following old information that we've just not gotten to. "I don't think it's developed into anything as of yet to be any more excited about than yesterday."

The investigators contacted the producers of America's Most Wanted and had them tape a segment on the disappearance of the Smith brothers. The investigators hoped that the additional media coverage would bring pressure on Susan and would push her to confess. The investigators contacted a group of Union's most influential ministers to arrange for them to hold a press conference to appeal to the carjacker. Agent Caldwell's most elaborate scheme involved the creation of an authentic appearing newspaper on desktop publishing software that contained an article about a young mother who had killed her children, then served a short prison sentence and upon her release from prison, married a wealthy physician. A photograph of a policewoman Susan did not know would be used. Caldwell's intention was to convince Susan to confess with the expectation that she might lead a different life with a wealthy man.

The America's Most Wanted segment never aired, the newspaper was never created and the ministers gathered in front of the cameras in front of the Union County courthouse, not to appeal to the carjacker, but to ask for understanding.

The Confession

On Thursday, November 3, 1995, the ninth day since the carjacking and disappearance of the Michael and Alex Smith, their parents, Susan and David rose early to prepare themselves for interviews on three television network morning programs. Susan and David sat together holding hands on the Russells' living room sofa during their interviews. On CBS This Morning, Susan was asked if she had any involvement in her son's disappearance. Susan answered the question by saying, "I did not have anything to do with the abduction of my children." Susan added that, "Whoever did this is a sick and emotionally unstable person." Although David and Susan were legally separated, when David was asked whether he believed his wife, he replied, "Yes, I believe my wife totally."

After the interviews, Susan and David had been scheduled to sit for an interview with the Union Daily Times, but Margaret Gregory called and cancelled the interview explaining that the couple were exhausted and had enough media attention for the day.

At 12:30 p.m., Susan told her mother that she and David were going to run errands. Susan did not tell her mother that Sheriff Wells had sent for her. Susan was taken to another safe house for another interrogation.

Susan was dressed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt and brought to her latest interrogation a newly revised statement that said the same things as her previous statement, the only change being that the name "Monarch Mills" had been changed to "Carlisle". Agent Logan asked Susan if she had anything else to add to her statement and she said no. At that point, Sheriff Wells was summoned to speak with Susan.

Susan was beginning to be worn down by the intensive and lengthy interrogations. Susan had also been facing increasingly skeptical news reporters who had started to pressure her for an explanation of Sheriff Wells' statement regarding the unspecified inconsistencies in her story.

At 1:40 p.m., Sheriff Wells and Susan met in a small room in the Family Center of the First Baptist Church, located on the same street as the Union County Courthouse. Sheriff Wells and Susan sat on folding chairs, knee to knee, facing one another and talked.

Sheriff Wells confronted Susan about her story of the carjacking. Wells told Susan that he knew that Susan's story of the black carjacker was a lie. He told her that she could not stop at the red light at the Monarch intersection if there were no other cars on the road. Wells told Susan that she had revised her statement because of this inconsistency and that even her back up story was a lie. Wells told Susan that he had undercover officers at the Carlisle intersection working on a drug investigation and that they did not see the alleged carjacker. Wells told Susan that he would have to tell the news media that her story about the alleged black carjacker was not true because Susan's accusation had caused tension in Union's black community. After Wells told Susan this, she asked him to pray with her. At the close of the prayers Wells said, "Lord, we know that all things will be revealed to us in time." Wells then looked at Susan and said, "Susan, it is time."

Susan dropped her head and wailed, "I am so ashamed, I am so ashamed." She asked Sheriff Wells for his gun so that she could kill herself. Sheriff Wells asked Susan why she wanted to do that and Susan replied, "You don't understand, my children are not all right."

Susan told Wells about the crushing isolation she had felt while driving her Mazda along Highway 49 on the night of October 25th and the consuming desire she had to commit suicide. Susan had planned to drive her sons to her mother's house, but emotionally she felt so bad that she felt even her mother could not help her. Susan told Wells that her whole life had felt wrong and that she felt she could not escape the loneliness, isolation and failure that had ensnared her. Susan told Wells about her abortion, her troubled marriage to David and her affair with Tom Findlay.

Susan collapsed and began to sob; other investigators entered the room to obtain her written confession. In her confession, Susan filled two pages with carefully written script, rounding off her letters and drawing little hearts whenever she wanted to use the word heart. Susan wrote that she had driven off Highway 49 and onto the road leading to John D. Long Lake because she wanted to commit suicide. She believed that her children would be better off with her and with God than if they were left without a mother and alone. Her plan was that the three of them: Susan, Michael and Alex would die together.

Susan told the investigators that she had tried to end all of their lives by putting the car in neutral and letting it roll down the boat ramp, but she pulled on the parking brake and stopped the car. She did this three times before she stood outside the car and overcome with grief, loneliness and pain reached into the car and released the parking brake sending the car into John D. Long Lake.

It is interesting to note that according to a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children study of murdered children in the United States, completed in the mid-1990s, mothers who murdered their children disposed of their bodies in a distinctively womb-like manner. The study found that some victims were submerged in water and others were found carefully wrapped in plastic. Furthermore, the study also described how all the victims' bodies were found within ten miles of their family home.

During her confession, Susan told investigators how much she loved her sons and that she never meant to harm them and that she was sorry. After the car had rolled into the lake, Susan wanted to undo what she had done, but she could not. As she ran towards the McClouds' house, Susan planned her alibi.

Susan told investigators that keeping her secret during the nine days her sons were assumed to be kidnapped was very difficult. She said that watching her parents and David and his parents hurt her very deeply. Susan said she was scared, but admitted that she thought she would be found out and that her story would not withstand scrutiny.

After nine days of theories, speculations and unanswered questions, Sheriff Wells was left with the task of confirming the answers Susan provided to Michael and Alex's disappearance in her confession. Sheriff Wells wanted to confirm the contents of Susan's confession before breaking the news to David, the Smith family and Susan's family. Sheriff Wells sent for a team of divers from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and SLED agents to secure and search John D. Long Lake for Susan's car. Sheriff Wells wanted to tell the families about Susan's confession in person as soon as confirmation that the Mazda and Michael and Alex were resting on the bottom of John D. Long Lake was obtained.

The first divers to arrive at John D. Long Lake were Curtis Jackson and Mike Gault. They paddled out in a small boat onto the lake and Jackson dove into the water. His first dive yielded no results. Gault told Jackson some of the details that Susan Smith had revealed during her interrogation that Gault had learned from Sheriff Wells. Six minutes into his second dive, Jackson located the underside of the upside down Mazda, however his diver's light failed and he was unable to see into the car. The next divers to arrive, Steve Morrow and Francis Mitchum, were equipped with more sophisticated diving lights. Morrow and Mitchum located the Mazda in approximately eighteen feet of water. At the place in the lake where the car was located, visibility was only twelve inches.

Morrow and Mitchum made a slow search around the Mazda Protégé and observed that all of the windows were rolled up and that all four doors were closed. Morrow later testified at Susan's trial that he saw a "small hand against the window glass." Morrow also testified that "we had to be down on the bottom of the lake to see inside the car...they were in car seats hanging upside down." Morrow added that, "I was able to determine one occupant on either side of the vehicle." Morrow and Mitchum reported their observations to Sheriff Wells. Sheriff Wells flew from the lake, in a waiting SLED helicopter, to the Russell home to inform David Smith and Susan's parents that Michael and Alex had been found. Unfortunately, the family had already heard an unconfirmed Associated Press report that Susan had confessed to murdering her children. Sheriff Wells stayed at the Russell home for about 20 minutes. Wells told the family members and friends assembled at the home portions of what Susan had told him during her confession and confirmed Susan's account of rolling the Mazda with Michael and Alex strapped inside the car into the lake. Wells also told them that Susan had been arrested and charged with two counts of murder. A bail hearing would be arranged the following day at the Union County Courthouse.

Immediately after her arrest, strong hatred was directed at Susan. Shouts of "baby killer!" and "Murderer!" greeted Susan as she was led from the sheriff's office to a waiting car to be driven to the York County Jail.

Sheriff Wells held a press conference at 5:00 p.m. to announce that Susan had confessed and had been arrested and charged with two counts of murder in connection with the deaths of her sons, Michael and Alex and that divers had located her car with two bodies inside. Wells would not answer questions about the motive, but the news media speculated on the letter Tom Findlay wrote to Susan that stated he did not want a ready made family.

The press conference attracted many residents of Union. Some in the crowd were angered that until Susan Smith's story was confirmed, the made-up story of a black carjacker was believed.

After his press conference, Sheriff Wells returned to John D. Long Lake to be on the scene when the Mazda was pulled from the water. It took about forty-five minutes to pull the car through the mud along the lake bottom and into shallow water. Once the car was in shallow water, it was flipped right side up. The windshield of the car had cracked from the temperature changes and water pressure at the bottom of the lake.

The bodies of Michael and Alex were placed in a waiting ambulance that was then driven to the University of South Carolina Medical Center in Charleston. Autopsies were performed on Friday, November 4th and confirmed that the children had been alive when their mother sent them in her car into the lake and that they had drown as the car submerged.

In the days immediately after Susan Smith confessed there were many newspaper editorials condemning those who were quick to believe blacks were responsible for the carjacking as well as for many of society's problems. In some of the editorials, the Smith case was compared to the 1989 case of Charles Stuart. Stuart was a Boston man who shot and killed his pregnant wife in a parked car and then called 911 to report that he and his wife had been attacked by a black man. Stuart's 911 call was broadcast repeatedly in the days after the crime took place. Stuart claimed that the black man robbed Stuart and his wife of their wallets and jewelry and then shot Mrs. Stuart in the head and Stuart in the stomach. During their investigation, the Boston police aggressively questioned a large number of black men in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. Roxbury has a large African American population. Gradually, investigators became suspicious of Stuart and his story. Stuart, fearing that the truth was about to emerge, committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. Boston's African American community was outraged by the treatment that the young men in their community had received during the Stuart investigation and leaders staged rallies and demanded the resignation of several policemen and an apology from city officials.

Fortunately Union was different than Boston. The town's black ministers preached messages of healing, rather than division. On Friday, November 4, the night after Susan confessed, the people of Union held a town meeting to pledge their desire for unity in the face of the Smith tragedy. More than one hundred blacks and whites attended the meeting hoping to find comfort as well as send a message to the nation that Union was not bitterly divided along racial lines. One of the black ministers, Reverend A.J. Brackett, the pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church, pointed out that only a few black men had been stopped by investigators during their search for the alleged carjacker and that only two black men had been brought to the sheriff's office for questioning. Both men were treated courteously and released after a short time.

On Friday, November 4, the day after Susan Smith confessed, her brother Scotty Vaughn, apologized to the black community of Union by reading a letter to the news media. In his letter, Vaughn said, "We apologize to all of the black citizens of Union and everywhere and hope you won't believe any of the rumors that this was ever a racial issue."

The night that Susan was arrested, she wrote David a letter. The letter was filled with the phrase, "I'm sorry," and complaints that Susan's feelings were getting lost in the midst of everyone else's sorrow. David was upset by the contents of the letter and thought, "what kind of person is Susan?" David had the same thoughts after he read Susan's confession.

The funeral for Michael and Alex was held on Sunday, November 6th at Buffalo Methodist Church. The funeral was preceded by a visitation on Saturday, November 5th. The casket remained closed during the visitation and funeral because of the water damage done to the bodies. Michael and Alex were buried together in a white casket with gold trim during a private ceremony in the cemetery behind the Bogansville United Methodist Church, next to the grave of Danny Smith, David's older brother and the children's uncle.      

The Trial

After Susan was arrested for the murders of Michael and Alex, she was held without bail at the York County Jail. On the evening that Susan was arrested, Bev and Linda Russell hired David Bruck, a Columbia, South Carolina attorney specializing in death penalty cases, to represent Susan. The Russells would eventually be forced to mortgage their home in order to pay for Bruck's services.

Bruck was 46 when agreed to represent Susan Smith. He had attended Harvard College and graduated magna cum laude. After college, Bruck attended the University of South Carolina Law School and graduated in 1975. Before beginning his law practice, Bruck traveled throughout United States and Canada, eventually returning to South Carolina to represent clients facing the death penalty because he was convinced that these defendants did not receive adequate legal representation. Bruck was also disturbed by the fact that the death penalty population in South Carolina was made up largely of poor black men. Prior to defending Susan Smith, Bruck had represented 50 people charged with capital murder before juries or at the appellate level. Of Bruck's 50 capital clients, he has only lost three to death sentences. He has saved many of his clients from death sentences by winning new trials that have resulted in life sentences and in one case, an acquittal. Other defense attorneys praise Bruck for being shrewd and for being able to "localize his intelligence." One admirer said Bruck can be "chameleon-like, he understands that arguing a case in Columbia, South Carolina is different than arguing a case in Union."

David Bruck hired Judith Clarke, an attorney who is an expert in death penalty cases, to assist him with Susan's trial. Judy Clarke is a federal public defender from Washington State who took a leave of absence from her job to work on Susan Smith's defense. In 1997, Clarke would work on the defense of the Unabomer, Theodore Kaczynski, helping to set up a plea that would spare Kaczynski from being sentenced to death.

The prosecutor for Susan Smith's trial was Union County Solicitor Thomas Pope, 32, who, at the time of the Smith trial, was the youngest prosecutor in the state of South Carolina. Pope grew up in Union and attended the University of South Carolina for college and law school. Before joining the Solicitor's office, Pope worked as an undercover drug agent for the State Law Enforcement Division. Pope is the son of a South Carolina sheriff and had tried one other murder case before the Smith case, the case of a father who confessed to smothering his son. In that case, Pope accepted a plea bargain of an eight-year prison sentence for the father. Pope was considered young, articulate and hardworking.

On Friday, November 5, a three-minute hearing was held before Judge Larry Patterson. Susan was not present because she had waived her right to be present at the hearing and her right to bail. David Bruck was present at the hearing, after having met with Susan for the first time at the York County Jail.

On November 18, 1994, a hearing was held before Circuit Judge John Hayes at the request of Solicitor Thomas Pope. Pope requested that Susan undergo a psychological examination by an impartial physician to determine whether she was criminally responsible for the crime she had confessed to and if she was competent to stand trial. David Bruck objected to the evaluation stating that the information contained in it could later be used against Susan if Pope chose to seek the death penalty. Judge Hayes put off ruling on the request and asked Pope to submit for his review a list of cases where judges ordered psychiatric evaluations of defendants. One week later, Pope filed a fifty-eight page brief. In late November, Judge Hayes ruled against the State, stating that the request for a neutral examination was premature, given that David Bruck had not yet said whether Susan would be offering an insanity defense at her trial.

From the time after her bail hearing until her trial, Susan was jailed at the Women's Correctional Facility in Columbia, 70 miles south of Union. She was given both physical and psychological evaluations by the prison staff and placed on a twenty-four-hour suicide watch. Susan was checked every fifteen minutes by a prison guard. This suicide watch continued for eight months until Susan's trial began. Susan was housed in a six-by-fourteen-foot cell where a light was on twenty-four hours a day so that a closed circuit television camera could monitor her. Susan was allowed to keep a bible, a blanket, and her glasses in her cell. She was also allowed short visits from her family. Because she was on a suicide watch, Susan wore a paper gown.

About three weeks after Susan had confessed, she asked David to visit her at the Women's Correctional Facility. David and Susan met for one hour. Susan apologized again and again for killing their sons, but when David asked her why she had committed the crime; Susan did not have an answer. David left feeling sorry for Susan, although his feeling later changed and he became angry with her.

David Smith learned some terrible details of the crime during the time leading up to Susan's trial. One of those things David learned was that Susan seemed to have known exactly where her car had sunk in John D. Long Lake. Divers had searched the lake twice during their nine-day investigation, once on Thursday, October 27th and again on Sunday, October 30, but did not find the car. David learned that when Susan confessed, she told investigators exactly where to find her car. David was left to draw one conclusion: that Susan waited to see her sons die. David also learned that when the car was dragged from the lake and flipped over, the lights came on. David believed that Susan intentionally left the lights on so that she could watch the car sink out of sight. David came to believe that Susan was desperate to win Tom Findlay back and terrified that her affair with J. Carey Findlay would be revealed. David believed that Susan would do anything and he believed that the murders were premeditated.

On January 16, 1995, Solicitor Thomas Pope filed a notice of intention to seek the death penalty against Susan Smith. The notice stated that the State of South Carolina would offer evidence at Susan's trial that two aggravating circumstances existed in the murders of Michael and Alex Smith. The two circumstances that made Susan Smith eligible for the death penalty were the fact that she murdered two people during one act and that the murders were committed against children under the age of eleven.

On January 27, 1995, Judge William Howard issued a gag order prohibiting the prosecutors, defense attorneys and investigators from releasing any prejudicial information that had not been presented to the court. Prior to the beginning of the trial, Judge Howard would rule in favor of a defense motion to ban television cameras from the courtroom during the trial. Judge Howard based his ruling on what he considered to be the circus like atmosphere that television cameras had created in the O.J. Simpson trial that was ongoing in Los Angeles as well as the pre-trial publicly the case had received. Judge Howard also wanted to keep a tight rein on the length of the trial as well as the conduct of the trial participants.

In February, the defense hired a team of psychiatrists led by Dr. Seymour Halleck to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Susan at the Women's Correctional Facility. Halleck interviewed Susan for 15 hours over four sessions in February, March and June.

Halleck diagnosed Susan as having a "dependent personality disorder" and described her as a person who "feels she can't do things on her own." "She constantly needs affection and becomes terrified that she'll be left alone." Halleck found that Susan was only depressed when she was alone. She almost always was in a normal mood when she was around people. In Halleck's opinion, Susan did not suffer from deep depression. Halleck found that Susan became suicidal when she was depressed. Halleck also studied Susan's family history and concluded based on her family history and his psychiatric interviews with her that Susan had a tendency toward depression that began in her childhood. Halleck believed that Susan's family tree had a genetic predisposition for depression because so many of her relatives had symptoms of depression and alcoholism.

Bev and Linda Russell separated in February and Bev moved in with his aunt, while Linda lived in their Mount Vernon Estates home. Bev resigned from the state Republican executive committee, explaining that for personal reasons, he could no longer serve.

On March 23, 1995, Judge Howard ordered Susan to undergo an evaluation by Dr. Donald Morgan, a psychiatrist from the University of South Carolina. Dr. Morgan's evaluation was conducted on behalf of the prosecution.

Susan and David's divorce became final in May. At a brief hearing, that Susan waived her right to attend, Tom Findlay testified about their adultery. In the final divorce settlement, David and Susan divided Michael and Alex's toys and clothing in half. David received the Mazda that he later had destroyed after Susan's trial was completed.

In June, Susan received a letter from Bev Russell. Russell wrote, "My heart breaks for what I have done to you." Russell also wrote that, "I want you to know that you do not have all the guilt for this tragedy." The letter was dated June 18, 1995, Father's day.

Before Susan's trial began on July 10, 1995, there was speculation about the arguments her attorneys would use in her defense during her trial. Many expected Susan's attorneys to argue that she was the victim of destructive relationships and influences since her birth. The prosecution was expected to paint Susan as a scheming monster who lied to her family, friends, hometown and the nation for nine days when she blamed a phantom black carjacker for the disappearance of her two sons, before confessing that she had drown her children.

Along with the speculation of what type of defense Susan would argue at her trial, there was speculation about Susan and Susan's personality. To many people in Union, it appeared that during Susan's 23 years she had developed a dual personality, she presented one side of her personality to some and the other side of her personality to others. One side of Susan's personality was described as manipulative and deceitful and capable of ending her children's lives in order to improve her own. Was it was possible that this side of Susan's personality murdered her children in the hope of reclaiming her boyfriend, Tom Findlay? Or was Susan suffering from a psychiatric condition that explained why her behavior caused the death of her children? Many people hoped that these questions would answer the question of why Susan had murdered her children.

Prior to the start of the trial, Bruck proposed that Susan plead guilty to the murders of her children and be sentenced to 30 years to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, but this plea bargain was rejected by Thomas Pope. Pope said that he sought the death penalty "after careful deliberation and consultation with family members of the victims." Pope also said that he sought the death penalty based on the facts of the case.

In a move that some questioned at the time that it was made, David Bruck did not request a change in venue from Union to another town. In retrospect, this was a very shrewd maneuver. Bruck was convinced that if he could gain the sympathy of Susan's hometown, her neighbors and residents of the community where she grew up, he could spare her life. Bruck had correctly noted that the mood of the black and white residents of Union had softened and that Susan had become the object of prayer vigils. Bruck found that more Union residents were willing to accept that Susan was mentally ill, than thought she was evil. Bruck believed that jurors from Susan's hometown would have a difficult time sentencing her to death.

A few days before the start of her trial and with the permission of David Bruck, Susan's pastor, Mark Long, held a press conference to reveal that Susan had undergone a jailhouse Christian conversion and baptism. There was some speculation regarding the timing of Susan's conversion. Some people expressed the feeling that it seemed too convenient and useful to Susan because of her upcoming trial.

On July 11, 1995, after a two-day hearing, Judge Howard ruled that Susan was mentally competent to stand trial. This ruling was made even though the state's psychiatrist, Dr. Donald Morgan, who had testified at the competence hearing, stated that he believed that Susan might try to sabotage her own defense, if she took the witness stand, because she wanted to die. Morgan had examined Susan in April, May and June for approximately ten hours and diagnosed Susan as manifesting an "adjustment disorder with mixed emotional features, including some depression." Although Susan appeared listless during the court session and was dependent upon Prozac, an anti-depressant drug to help her understand and follow the proceedings, Judge Howard ruled that the trial could proceed.

The trial was held at the Union County Courthouse, which was originally designed by Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument. The courthouse was rebuilt between 1911 and 1913 and renovated in 1974. Judge William Howard's courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse is one of the largest in South Carolina and contained thirteen rows of benches for members of the press and the public. The first two rows of benches on the left-hand side of the courtroom were reserved for Susan's family and friends and the first two rows of benches on the right hand side of the courtroom were reserved for David Smith's family and friends. During the trial, all the seats were filled and crowds of people were turned away from the proceedings. The courtroom was old and the acoustics were terrible. If the attorneys or witnesses moved from their microphones, it was difficult to hear what was being said. The floor creaked which forced Judge Howard to enforce a strict order prohibiting the public from moving from their seats when court was in session.

The pace of the trial would be fast. Judge Howard set a Monday through Saturday schedule beginning on the trial's first day, July 10, 1995.

Jury selection moved quickly and was completed on the sixth day of the trial, July 16, 1995. Lawyers interviewed 55 prospective jurors out of 250 people called during the jury selection process. Many of those interviewed said that they were strongly opposed to the death penalty. The jury was composed of 12 jurors and two alternates and was a mix of blue-collar workers, merchants and professionals. The 12 jurors were composed of seven whites and five blacks. Almost all of the white jurors, five men and two women, had friends or acquaintances on the list of witnesses for the trial, but they said they could put aside their feelings and friendships and decide the case based on the evidence presented. The black jurors, four men and one woman, did not seem to be acquainted with Susan, her friends, family or people listed as witnesses for the trial.

Originally, Judge William Howard had wanted six alternates, but after meeting with both the prosecution and defense attorneys, it was agreed that jury selection would be complete with just two alternates.

At one point, after the jury was selected, Bruck argued that the jury was biased because of the 12 jurors, nine were men and only three were women. Bruck argued that the jury was not representative of the community, but his argument was overruled.

On Tuesday, July 18, 1995, the day the trial was set to begin, the Union County Courthouse received a bomb threat that required the evacuation of everyone inside. The man who telephoned the threat was quickly found and arrested.

Opening statements began on Wednesday, July 19, 1995. Special Prosecutor Keith Giese, assistant to Solicitor Thomas Pope, began his opening statement by stating the facts of the prosecution's case. "For nine days in the fall of 1994, Susan Smith looked this country in the eye and lied." "She begged God to return her children to safety, and the whole time she knew her children were lying dead at the bottom of John D. Long Lake." Giese continued by telling jurors that Michael and Alex Smith died because their mother thought she could reclaim Tom Findlay, a lover who had discarded her. "The stumbling block to Mrs. Smith getting Tom Findlay back was her children." Giese added that, "Mrs. Smith removed that obstacle from her life." Toward the end of his statement, Giese told the jurors that, "this is a case of selfishness, of I, I, I, and me, me, me." Giese concluded his statement by asking jurors to "hold on to their common sense in the weeks ahead, because they would come to see Susan Smith as a selfish, manipulative killer who sacrificed her children for love of the son of a rich industrialist." The prosecution's case was based on the theory that Susan wanted to escape her loneliness, unhappiness and the stresses in her life by establishing an exciting, intimate relationship with her wealthy boyfriend. In order to live this new life; Susan would need to free herself of her children and the demands of motherhood.

The defense's opening statement was given by Judy Clarke who asked the jurors to look "into their hearts, and through that softer focus, find a disturbed, child-like figure who, after a lifetime of sadness, just snapped." Clarke told jurors that Susan was deeply depressed and had a sense of failure in her life. This sense of failure included acts of molestation at the hands of her stepfather, the suicide of her father and her own suicide attempts. All of these events contributed to pushing her to the edge of the lake to kill herself and her children. "At the last second, her body willed itself out of the car, and she lived and her toddlers died," Clarke added. Clarke told the jury that "When we talk about Susan Smith's life, we are not trying to gain your sympathy, we're trying to gain your understanding." Clarke stated that Susan's "lie is wrong." "It's a shame, but it is a child-like lie, from a damaged person." The defense's strategy was to outline Susan's emotional troubles that caused her to drown her two sons. The defense attorneys believed that by portraying Susan as a person with emotional problems, they could save her from the electric chair. Susan's defense attorneys did not claim she was insane or that a mental illness caused her to murder her sons.

Throughout the trial, Susan sat at the defense table quietly reading mail or playing with small objects she held in her hands. Susan had been jailed for eight months and her inactivity during those months appeared in a weight gain. Rather than appear child-like as her defense attorneys were trying to suggest during her trial; Susan appeared older than her 23 years. Her appearance was dowdy. Susan wore plain, conservative suits that aged her. Susan wore wire-rimmed glasses and her face generally had a serene expression, except when there was discussion about her sons, then she would cry, briefly and discreetly

The first witness to testify at the trial was Shirley McCloud. McCloud testified about Susan's appearance at her front door. McCloud told the jury that when Linda Russell came to be with her daughter, one of the first things that she did was to scold Susan for not locking her car doors.

Among the first witnesses called to testify were the law enforcement agents and investigators who were involved in the case. Sheriff Howard Wells testified how he had tricked Susan into confessing with a small lie of his own. Wells described how on the afternoon of November 3, 1994, he told Susan that he knew her claim that her children had been taken at an intersection outside of Union was a lie because he had assigned sheriff's deputies to conduct a surveillance at the crossroads. Wells told her that "this could not happen as you said." Wells told the jury that there had been no deputies at the intersection and that, "I told her I would release it to the media because the lie about a black carjacker was causing deep pain among blacks, and he owed it to the town to end the racial divisiveness it had caused." According to Wells, Susan then broke down and confessed to the murders. Wells also testified that even though he was suspicious of Susan, he did not arrest her because he was not certain until she confessed what had happened to Michael and Alex.

After the first day of testimony, Judge Howard removed a juror from the panel and had her jailed. Gayle Beam, the only black woman on the jury, was held in contempt of court and jailed because she did not disclose on her jury questionnaire that she had recently plead guilty to credit card fraud. Beam was questioned by Judge Howard and admitted that she had not looked at the questionnaire that the court required her to complete and instead had her daughter complete it for her. Beam faced a fine of $10,000 and a sentence up to six months in jail, if found guilty of the charges. One of the two alternate jurors was selected and replaced Beam.

On the second day of the trial, Pete Logan, the State Law Enforcement Division agent who spent 24 hours interrogating Susan testified. Logan described Susan's troubled life and her sexual relationships. Logan told the jury that Susan had sex with her estranged husband, David, on October 21, four days before murdering her sons. It was during this encounter that Susan claimed that David told her that he tapped her home telephone and knew about the affair she was having with Carey Findlay, the owner of Conso Products. Logan testified about Susan prior suicide attempts and the remorse that she showed during her confession.

Other investigators followed Logan and testified that from the beginning of the case, they were suspicious of Susan. These witnesses described a woman who cried without shedding any tears, who seemed more interested in how she looked on television than in having her sons returned and who spoke of going to the beach to get away from hounding reporters.

Roy Paschal, who drew the composite sketch of the phantom carjacker, testified that Susan "started off extremely vague," when describing the alleged carjacker's physical appearance.

David Espie, the FBI agent who administered several polygraph tests to Susan, testified that Susan "would make sobbing noises, but when I would looked at her eyes, there was no water, there were no tears."

Steve Morrow, a diving expert with the South Carolina Department of National Resources and one of the divers who searched for the missing car, also testified on the second day of the trial. Morrow testified about finding the car with the Smith children inside. Morrow described how along with the bodies of Michael and Alex Smith, the letter from Tom Findlay telling Susan that their relationship was over was also found in Susan's car.

Tom Findlay testified during the second day of the trial. Findlay testified that he had written a letter to Susan telling her that he did not want to be in a relationship that included children. By having Findlay testify and introducing his letter into evidence, the prosecution sought to portray Susan as so maliciously selfish that she would trade her sons lives for a chance to reclaim Findlay.

During Findlay's cross-examination by David Bruck, Findlay assisted Susan's defense by telling the jury that he thought Susan was a "sweet, loving person" rather than the monster the prosecution was trying to construct. Bruck also scored points with the jury when he asked Findlay about his sexual relationship with Susan. Findlay testified that the "pleasure she got from sex was not physical pleasure." "It was just in being close, being loved." Another area that Findlay may have assisted Susan was when he testified about David Smith's behavior. Findlay testified about an incident that occurred one year before the murders when he had telephoned Susan Smith one day at her home. Apparently David Smith had hidden in a closet and in an apparent fit of jealously, emerged from the closet, snatched the telephone from Susan and told Findlay that he would harm him if he continued to see Susan.

Three of Susan's co-workers from Conso testified that Susan had on separate occasions told them that she wondered how her life would be different if she had not gotten married and had children at a young age.

After two days of testimony, the state rested its case against Susan Smith. The last witness to testify for the prosecution was Dr. Sandra Conradi, the pathologist who performed the autopsies on Michael and Alex Smith. Conradi testified for 15 minutes because David Bruck stipulated to the identity of the Smith brothers and the fact that drowning was the cause of death. Judge Howard refused to allow prosecutors to show the jury horrific pictures of Michael and Alex after they had been under John D. Long Lake for nine days. Judge Howard also refused to allow prosecutors to question Conradi about the decayed nature of the bodies because he felt that the descriptions were so terrible that they would be prejudicial. Conradi testified that she received the bodies of Michael and Alex Smith still strapped to their car seats and that neither child was wearing shoes.

The state's case was expected to last at least two weeks, however, it moved more quickly than expected because Judge Howard prevented the state from presenting its full case against Susan. Judge Howard limited the evidence presented to the jury and David Bruck often stipulated to points in the case rather than forcing Solicitor Pope to prove them.

Because Susan had confessed to the murders of her sons, her attorneys were left with two choices in defending her. The first choice was to have Susan plead not guilty by reason of insanity. This required that Susan's attorneys prove that she was insane at the time of the murders by demonstrating that she could not distinguish between right and wrong, either morally or legally. The second choice was to have Susan plead guilty, but mentally ill. This would require that Susan's attorneys prove that she was mentally incapable of complying with the law at the time of the murders, even if she knew that her actions were wrong. The problem with the first choice was that Susan was not mentally ill. She was depressed and suicidal, but not insane.

A diagnosis of insanity means that an individual is delusional, schizophrenic or psychotic and Susan was none of these. David Bruck rejected the second choice because it was determined through examinations conducted by Dr. Halleck that Susan was not mentally ill. The only option open was for the defense to plead that Susan was suffering from severe mental depression and that the murders were a failed suicide in which Susan planned to drown herself as well as her sons.

On Thursday, July 20, 1995, the defense began its case. David Bruck recalled Pete Logan, the SLED Agent, and Carol Allison, the FBI agent who had been originally called by the prosecution, because both were so sympathetic to Susan's case when they testified. Bruck questioned both Logan and Allison about Susan's remorse. Thomas Pope tried to counter the agents' testimony by pointing out to the jury that Smith was an accomplished liar who had misled investigators for nine days.

Arlene Andrews, a social worker at the University of South Carolina, testified about a family tree she had constructed of Susan's family that showed a strong history of deep depression among the Vaughn family. Andrews described several attempted and successful suicides by members of Susan's family.

On Friday July 21, 1995, the defense's most important witness, Dr. Seymour Halleck, testified. Dr. Seymour Halleck is a University of North Carolina psychiatrist and law professor who led the team that examined Susan to determine whether she was competent to stand trial.

Halleck testified that Susan suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts in the months leading up to the October 25th murders and that these thoughts allowed her to fall into a destructive cycle of sexual relationships in order to ease her loneliness. Halleck testified that Susan had sex with four different men during the six-week period leading up to the murders. Susan had also begun to drink heavily during this period of time.

Halleck testified that Susan had sex with her stepfather, Beverly Russell; Tom Findlay, her boyfriend at the time; with J. Carey Findlay, the owner of the mill where she worked; and with her estranged husband, David Smith. Halleck said that Susan's sexual relationships temporarily eased her depression, but that her guilt ultimately deepened her depression. Halleck told the jury that "Much of her sexual activity was not for her own satisfaction." Halleck added that, "Susan was more concerned with pleasing others and making sure that they liked her."

Halleck's testimony was an attempt by the defense to poke holes in the prosecution's theory that Susan murdered her children so that she could rekindle her relationship with Tom Findlay. Halleck dismissed the prosecution's theory that Susan murdered her children to reclaim Findlay saying that it was an "absurd idea." He labeled Susan's affair with Findlay as "passing" and added that Susan had, "strong feelings for a lot of different men and that it was very unlikely that Tom Findlay was number one on her list."

Halleck testified that he thought Susan had sex with J. Carey Findlay because she was molested by her stepfather and had a need for love and approval of an older man. Halleck also testified that Susan had told him that when she slept with Beverly Russell, "it made her skin crawl," and that Halleck thought the reasons that Susan did these things was because she sought love and approval. Solicitor Pope had Halleck admit that most of his information came from Susan and that her constant need for affection was a symptom of "brief, intermittent depressive disorder," in which Susan was able much of the time to make her co-workers and friends believe that she was fine.

Halleck also described Susan's behavior on the night of the murders and said that he believed that she intended to kill herself, but that a "survival instinct" took over and that she blocked out the presence of her two sons at the instant she released the parking brake. Halleck also described how as Susan ran from the edge of the lake to the McClouds' home she began to make up her story of being carjacked by a black man because she was afraid of what others would think of her. Halleck told the jury that if Susan had been treated for depression with Prozac, the murders would never have occurred.

David Bruck asked Halleck the question that everyone wanted to ask, "Why didn't Susan go into the water?" Halleck answered that he could only assume that "when she ran out of her car, that her self-preservation instincts took over, and although up to that moment she fully intended to kill herself, she got frightened."

Several other defense witnesses testified that Susan had been depressed as a child and that she had been suicidal since the age of ten. After four days of testimony, the defense rested its case. David Bruck told the jury that Susan accepted responsibility for what she did, but that her actions were attributable to her depression.

Closing arguments were given on Saturday, July 22, 1995. Solicitor Pope was impassioned when he described the circumstances of Michael and Alex's deaths. "I submit to you that they were in that car, screaming, crying, calling for their father, while the woman who placed them in that car was running up the hill with her hands covering her ears." Pope went back to his theme that the murders were committed so that Susan could reclaim Tom Findlay and have a life with him. "She used the emergency brake handle like a gun, and eliminated her toddlers so that she could have a chance at a life with Tom Findlay, the man she said she loved."

Judy Clarke was less dramatic and used her closing argument to continue to appeal to the jury's sympathy, saying that Susan had never shown anything "except unconditional love for her children." Clarke continued by telling the jury that, "there was no malice in what she did, so it was not murder." Clarke told the jury that "this is not a case about evil, but a case of sadness and despair." Clarke added that, "Susan had choices in her life, but her choices were irrational and her choices were tragic."

In a ruling that surprised and upset the prosecution and the Smith family, Judge Howard ruled in favor of a defense motion to allow the jury to consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. If the jury had chosen to convict Susan of involuntary manslaughter, she would have faced a sentence of three to ten years in prison.

Before the jury began deliberations, Judge Howard dismissed one juror saying that he had a family tie to the case. The last alternate juror replaced the dismissed juror.

At 7:55 p.m. after deliberating for two and one half-hours, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of two counts of murder.

As the verdict was read, Susan Smith bowed her head in tears and trembled. The jury appeared to have agreed with the prosecutors who argued that Susan knew what she was doing when she released the emergency brake on her car, allowing it to roll into the lake with her sons inside strapped to their car seats. Prosecutors had argued that Susan killed her sons to rekindle her romance with Tom Findlay, a wealthy boyfriend who told her that he did not want children and the jury agreed with that theory.

The verdict came after five days of testimony and was the first stage in the three-stage process of trial, penalty phase and sentencing. The penalty phase would begin on July 24, 1995.

Penalty Phase

The same jury who convicted Susan Smith of murdering her two sons would decide whether she would die in the electric chair or receive a life in prison sentence in the penalty phase. The penalty phase would be similar to the trial, except that the prosecution had more latitude in building its theory that Susan Smith was a cold-blooded murderer who killed her children in the hope of reclaiming her lover.

Keith Giese's opening statement for the prosecution during the penalty phase was similar to his opening statement during the trial. Giese reminded the jury of Susan's "nine days of deceit and nine days of trickery."

In his opening statement, David Bruck told the jury that "the greatest punishment for Susan Smith would be life in prison, not death." This argument is what Dr. Morgan, the state's psychiatric expert witness, and other witnesses said she desired during her trial. Bruck reiterated to the jury that Smith was a deeply depressed and fragile person who made serious mistakes in her life to win love.

Solicitor Thomas Pope began the state's case by showing videotapes of Susan Smith lying about the disappearance of her sons. The first videotape was her tearful plea to the phantom carjacker outside the Union County Courthouse on November 2, 1994. The second videotape was composed of segments of three interviews Susan had given to network morning programs on November 3, 1994, the day she confessed to the crimes.

Three witnesses testified during the first day of the penalty phase for the prosecution. Margaret Frierson, the executive director of the South Carolina Adam Walsh Center, testified that Susan seemed unusually calm for a parent dealing with the disappearance of her children. Margaret Gregory, Susan's cousin, testified about the number of times that Susan had appeared on television and perpetuated her lie that a black man had carjacked her and kidnapped her children. The last witness was Eddie Harris, a SLED agent, who testified that when he transported Susan during her interrogations and he was surprised by her calmness and disinterest in finding her children. Harris testified that at one point Susan had asked him how she appeared on television.

On Tuesday, July 25, 1995, the prosecution presented the heart of its case. David Smith testified that "all his hopes, all my dreams, everything that I had planned for the rest of my life, ended," on October 25, 1994. Smith was dressed in a white shirt and plaid Mickey Mouse tie and at times cried uncontrollably when talking about the nine days he spent believing his sons had been abducted by a carjacker. Smith began to cry, along with at least three of the jurors, when he said, "I didn't know what to do." "Everything I had planned on, my life with my kids was gone." Judge Howard called a recess as Smith tried to collect himself. As Susan Smith was escorted away to a holding cell, she called out softly, "I'm sorry David." David Smith did not look at her.

When the hearing resumed, Thomas Pope raised several potentially damaging cross-examination topics, including the amount of money Smith was paid for co-writing a book about his life with Susan Smith. Smith testified that he was paid $110,000 and that he kept $20,000 of the $110,000 to help him through the trial, since he had taken a leave of absence from his job as the night manager of the Winn Dixie in Union.

After two hours of difficult testimony, Judge Howard called a lunch recess. David Smith appeared to be drained and collapsed into his father's arms after court was recessed.

In a surprising move, David Bruck did not question David Smith. Bruck had little to gain with a tough cross-examination of David Smith after Smith had won the jurors' hearts. Bruck later said that his client had asked him not to cross-examine David Smith.

The prosecution showed the jury two-videotape re-enactments of Susan Smith's burgundy Mazda rolling down the boat ramp and into the water. During the showing of the videotape of the car filling with water, Prosecutor Keith Giese commented that the rear of the car was rising while the front of the car was filling with water and that Michael and Alex would have faced the lake's water before the water engulfed them. The videotape re-enactment of Susan's Mazda submerging into the lake showed that it took a full six minutes for the car to fill with water before it became completely submerged, because the car's doors and windows were closed.

On Wednesday, July 27, 1995 the prosecution showed the jury pictures taken of Michael and Alex after they had been removed from the Mazda. Judge Howard only allowed photographs showing the brothers' discolored and decomposing legs and arms. The judge would not allow several photos showing the full effects of the nine-day submersion to be shown to the jury. After the presentation of the photos, the prosecution rested its case and the defense began its case by calling two witnesses.

Arlene Andrews, the University of South Carolina social work professor who had testified during Susan's trial, testified that David and Susan Smith's relationship was extremely strained and that Susan was thrown into a "downward spiral" that ended in the murders of her children. Andrews testified that Susan's mental health began to deteriorate in August 1994 after the Smith's final attempt at reconciling their marriage failed. Andrews told the jury that when Susan told David that she would seek a divorce in July 1994, the couple agreed to seek an amiable divorce with neither party blaming the other. However, Susan reneged on this agreement and decided to seek a divorce on the grounds of adultery. David retaliated against Susan and on October 20th, searched Susan's purse and found the letter Tom Findlay had written her dated October 17, 1994. When David confronted Susan, she confessed to having an affair with Findlay's father, J. Carey Findlay, the owner of Conso Products. David threatened Susan by telling her that he would reveal the relationship to Findlay's wife. Susan became distraught and thought she had done something unforgivable. Andrews testified that "Susan's suicidal despair set in and she began to think everything about her was bad." Five days after the argument with David, she murdered their sons.

Scotty Vaughn, Susan's brother made a tearful plea for mercy on behalf of his sister. "We've been devastated already with the loss of Michael and Alex, it seems sad and ironic that the tragedy of their loss is going to be used to sentence Susan to death." Vaughn further testified that "Susan's pain is in living, not in the fear of dying." He added, "I don't think the state could punish her anymore that she's been punished."

On the last day of the penalty phase, July 27, 1995, Beverly Russell testified and accepted part of the blame for the deaths of Michael and Alex Smith. Russell admitted that he molested Susan when she was a teenager and had consensual sex with her as an adult. During his testimony, Russell also told the jury that his sexual relationship with Susan occurred mostly at his home, only once at Susan and David's home and once at a motel in Spartenburg. Russell read from his Father's day letter to Susan. Russell pleaded for Susan's life, telling the jury that "Susan was sick and even though she loved her children, what happened was from a sickness...It's horrible."

Thomas Pope gave the prosecution's closing argument. Pope urged the jury to vote for a death sentence. He told the jury that there was one theme in the case and it was the choice that Susan made. Pope reminded the jury that "Susan Smith chose to drive to the lake." Pope continued, "she chose to send Michael and Alex down that ramp." Pope added, "then as heinous as that act was, she carried it even further by choosing to lie." Pope tried to show the jury that Susan was fooling them with her claims of remorse, the way she fooled everyone during the nine-day investigation. Pope reiterated the prosecution's theory that Susan was selfish and manipulative and killed her children so that she could reclaim her boyfriend, Tom Findlay.

In his closing statement, David Bruck took the jury through Susan's family history and life experiences. He explained how the choices Susan made were tragic and how the jury was left with a choice, but that the jury's judgment was more sound than Susan's and that the choice the jury should make was to sentence Susan to life in prison. Toward the end of his closing argument, David Bruck held a bible and read from the Gospel of John about the woman who committed adultery and was to be stoned. "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone," Bruck read. Bruck told the jury that Susan's choice to go to the lake will "haunt her for the rest of her life."

After the closing arguments were completed, Judge Howard gave Susan one last chance to address the jury, but she declined.

At 4:38 p.m. the jury returned with a unanimous decision after deliberating for two and one half-hours. The jury rejected the prosecution's request for a sentence of death for Susan and decided instead that Susan should spend the rest of her natural life in prison. The jury had taken the same amount of time to convict Susan as it did to reject the death penalty

At 4:45 p.m., Judge Howard sentenced Susan Smith to thirty years to life in prison. Susan will be eligible for parole in 2025, after she has served 30 years in prison. At that time, Susan will be 53 years old.

Later when jurors were asked about their decision, they acknowledged that they knew of Sheriff Wells' comments after Susan's arrest. Wells had said that if Susan Smith had not confessed, investigators would probably not have been able to amass enough evidence to charge her with the crimes she committed. Jurors saw that Susan had an opportunity to escape punishment, yet she chose not to do so. The jury recognized this fact and considered it a reason to spare her life. Jurors also said that they felt that Susan needed help and did not deserve to be sentenced to death. Jurors believed Susan's attorneys' claims that Susan murdered her children while trying to end her own life. Jurors also felt sorry for Susan because of her mental state during the commission of the crimes. Jurors admitted that the closeness of the Union community weighed into their decision to spare Susan's life.

David Smith felt that justice was not served because Susan was not sentenced to death. He said that he respected the jury's decision and the verdict, but did not agree with it. David also said that he would appear at Susan's parole hearings each time she might be considered for release to make sure that her life sentence means life.

The sad facts of the Susan Smith case are these: a young woman, with an extensive social support network and prior contact with the mental health profession, was failed in a moment that she most needed help. On October 25, 1994, Susan Smith did not know how to deal with the emotional pain of her past or her immediate present. Why Susan Smith committed her crimes was only partially answered at her trial. Susan Smith had many more resources available to her than most young, single mothers, yet she choose to make a decision that remains incomprehensible. Susan Smith had no prior history of violence or abuse toward her children or any signs of psychosis or biological disorder. Susan's act was a culmination of a disturbed and emotionally disordered life that resulted in the tragic murder of two innocent children.


There are several books about Susan Smith and the crimes she committed:

Eftimiades, Maria. Sins of the Mother. New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1995.

Rekers, George. Susan Smith: Victim of Murderer. Lakewood, CO: Glenbridge Publishing, Ltd., 1996.

Smith, David with Carol Calef. Beyond All Reason: My Life with Susan Smith. New York: Kensington Books, 1995. David Smith was married to Susan and describes his life with her and their sons.

Information about the investigation into the disappearance of the Smith children, Susan Smith's confession and her trial can be found in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and the New York Times.



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