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Martha WOODS






Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy
Number of victims: 7
Date of murders: 1946 - 1969
Date of birth: ???
Victim profile: Three of her own children, a nephew and niece, a neighbor’s child, and an adopted son
Method of murders: Suffocation
Location: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment

Martha Woods: a killer profiler

By Shannon Cummins -

October 11, 2011

Martha Woods, a dutiful Army wife that followed her husband to every military base he was stationed at, was a female killer that suffered from Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy. A rare disease typically affecting women, Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy drives its victims to seek attention or sympathy by fabricating illnesses or causing deliberate harm to their loved ones. From 1946 to 1969, Woods accrued victims that included three of her own children, a nephew and niece, a neighbor’s child, and an adopted son.

Her pattern commonly involved rushing to the hospital with an unconscious baby that had curiously stopped breathing while alone in Woods’ care, consequently suffering more attacks after being sent home. Although the children’s symptoms were consistent with deliberate strangulation, because of the frequency with which the family relocated, the authorities never once connected the twenty-seven severe respiratory attacks, and six of the seven deaths that Woods caused were listed as natural.

As another symptom of Munchausen’s by Proxy, Woods was also a skilled pathological liar, complaining of threats from the biological parents of an adopted daughter, who, as Woods claimed, threatened her life when she refused to release custody of the girl. The police officers who investigated Woods’ allegations dismissed the case as a hoax, however, and no charges were brought forth against the parents who were found to be living in a different state.

After the death of her seven month old adopted son in Baltimore, Maryland turned up suspicious evidence against Woods, the authorities finally discovered the pattern linking the deaths of all the other children, and they conducted intensive psychiatric testing that found her sane and fit for a trial. Following five months of testimony, which included the evidence surrounding the previous deaths, Martha Woods was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.


Martha Woods

An Army wife who followed her husband around the country from one military base to the next, Martha Woods also suffered from the bizarre mental illness dubbed Munchausens syndrome by proxy. 

Victims of this rare condition are driven to seek attention or sympathy by fabricating ailments for their loved ones, sometimes inflicting deliberate harm to support their claims of mysterious illness. In this case, the quirk cost seven children their lives. 

Marthas victims included three of her own children, a nephew, a niece, a neighbors child, and the son she adopted when targets grew scarce.

The cross-country killing spree lasted for most of a quarter-century, from 1946 to 1969. Geography was Marthas friend, preventing medical practitioners in various locations from comparing notes and thus connecting her sequential crimes, until her luck ran out at last in Baltimore. 

Marthas pattern was always the same, involving a rush to the nearest hospital with an unconscious baby in her arms. Each time, the infant was alone in Marthas care when it abruptly, inexplicably stopped breathing. 

The children were revived, sent home with Woods, but they inevitably suffered more attacks within a span of hours or days. Altogether, police calculated in hindsight, nine children had suffered a total of twenty-seven life-threatening respiratory attacks, with seven resulting in death. 

The first six deaths were listed as natural, though symptoms were consistent with deliberate suffocation. Aside from her penchant for smothering infants, Woods also displayed the typical Munchausens trait of pathological lying. Following the adoption of daughter Judy, she complained of threats from the girls biological parents. 

They had turned up on her doorstep, Martha claimed, demanding their daughter back, threatening her life when she refused. Faceless strangers were circling her home in a car at odd hours, and someone had tried to burn the house. 

In fact, Army CID agents found flammable liquid splashed on one wall of Marthas home, but they suspected her of staging the scene herself. Judys actual parents were miles away, in another state, and officers finally dismissed the whole story as an elaborate hoax. 

Time ran out for Woods in Baltimore, when authorities finally turned up evidence of murder in the death of her adopted son, seven-month-old Paul. Intensive psychiatric testing found her sane and fit for trial. 

The judge admitted evidence from other deaths to prove the case on Paul, and Martha was convicted after five months of testimony, sentenced to life imprisonment on one count of first-degree murder.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


The Mother From Hell

October 14, 2002

As chief medical examiner for Bexar County, Texas, Vincent DiMaio, 61, has helped nail scores of killers. But a case he tackled while training in Baltimore in '69 stands out. It involved a young mother named Martha Woods, whose 7-month-old son Paul had died inexplicably. The autopsy showed no signs of injury—and for DiMaio that added up to murder by suffocation. "When a child is smothered, there is virtually no evidence," he says, "which is evidence in itself."

Mining medical files, DiMaio discovered that since the 1940s six other children had died in Woods's care—three of her own, plus a niece, a nephew and a neighbor's son. Again, he found no hint in the records that any had died of natural causes. His conclusion: Woods, the wife of an army corporal, was a serial killer. Largely on his testimony, she was convicted in Paul's death and sentenced to life. The trial also set a precedent for infanticide cases by allowing the prior deaths as evidence. "It became a rule of thumb," says DiMaio, a married father of two. "One dead baby could be SIDS, two dead babies is suspicious—and three dead babies is homicide".



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