Martha Woods: a killer
By Shannon Cummins - Examiner.com
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.
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
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.
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".