Before there was Andrea Yates, there was a much more sinister atrocity committed by one of the most infamous mothers in the 90’s, Susan Smith.
Susan Smith is arguably one of the most infamous mothers in modern history. Who at one point was the most hated woman in the country. As a woman who led her whole small town of Union, South Carolina on a wild goose chase to find her two missing sons, 3 year old Michael and 14-month-old Alex, nobody suspected she was anything more than a victim of an egregious crime.
In a time and place where race relations are rocky, she was busy trying to convince the whole nation that an African American man stopped her car at a stoplight, held her at gun point, told her to exit the vehicle, then car jacked her with her babies in the back seat.
It was then that she reported she ran to the nearest house, hysterically begging them to call the police, that her babies have been kidnapped.
Given the story was of 2 missing young children, the media and FBI caught wind of it fast. I believe much faster than Susan was expecting, with everyone rallying desperately to find out what happened to Alex and Michael.
With everyone in town helping with the search and tying yellow ribbons to their front doors to show support for the missing boys, the world was desperate to find these boys safe and sound.
After 9 agonizing days of looking for leads on what possibly could have happened to Michael and Alex, they finally had a breakthrough. No they didn’t find a kidnapper, they didn’t find the car, the didn’t even find the boys.
What they had was a confession.
Susan Smith finally cracked under the microscope she was under and fessed up that she, the mother, strapped her two children in their car seats, put the car in neutral on a boat ramp, and let the car roll into the lake, with the two boys in, it, killing them.
This, is a much different scenario than the one of Andrea Yates, one that involves, sexual abuse, promiscuity, lies, manipulation, selfishness and suicide. Andrea had a relatively normal catholic upbringing in her adolescent who never received the help she needed for her mental health.
Susan’s life tells a very different story that ended in tragedy.
How did this happen?
Susan’s Childhood And Early Life
Susan was born in Union, South Carolina on September 26, 1971. She was the only daughter born to Linda, a homemaker, and Harry, a volunteer firefighter. It was in 1960 that Susan’s mother, Linda, was only 17 and pregnant from another relationship when she married Susan’s father Harry when he was 20 years old.
After that, they had Susan, her brother Scotty, and they both raised Linda’s son Michael together.
However it wasn’t a very happy union. Like many unfortunate marriages at that time, it was an abusive relationship. Harry was physically abusive and an alcoholic who would frequently threaten to kill Linda then himself over cheating accusations.
All in all, Susan’s childhood homelife can only be described as dangerous and dysfunctional.
The dysfunction and danger in Susan’s childhood did not only affect Susan. Consumed from fear and grief over his parents constant abuse toward each other, Michael, Susan’s half brother, attempted suicide by hanging while she was in preschool.
Living in a turbulent home, Susan was described as an isolated and depressed child and “unusually sad.”
In spite of all this though, Susan reported to be very close with her father. Like many young girls, our father’s can be a source of safety and comfort. It wold be in 1977 however when Linda, Susan’s mother, filed for divorce from Harry.
This caused him to become severely depressed and continued to drink heavily. Unfortunately, a year later once the divorce would be finalized, the grief consumed Harry. In 1978, 5 weeks after the finalization of the divorce, Harry, Susan’s father, would commit suicide.
He was only 37 years old.
For Susan, her fathers passing left a massive void in her soul and her life. It was said that after her father passed, she treasured only 2 possessions, her father’s coin collection and a tape recording of his voice she can listen to.
Susan’s Mother Linda Remarries
After only a mere 2 weeks after her divorce became finalized, Linda married Beverly Russel, a businessman who owned an appliance store in the downtown area of Union. After this, Susan and her brothers moved into Beverly’s Mount Vernon Estate section of Union.
Proving to be a massive upgrade from their previous modest small home. It seemed to be somewhat of a turning point.
Susan was an excellent student despite her home life. Throughout elementary school and high school, she excelled academically. She was a member of what was called the “Beta Club” which was for students with grades B or higher, in addition to being members of the Math, Spanish and Red Cross Clubs. She was heavily involved her in school life.
Susan was also a volunteer for the Union’s annual Special Olympics and she helped with the elderly. She was so involved she was appointed President of the Juno Civitan Club which was an organization that performed volunteer work in the community.
She seemed like an overtly caring and friendly member of her community and was viewed as such. In fact, so much so, during her senior year in 1989, she was voted “Friendliest Female” at her Union High School. She was referred to by her fellow classmates as “cheerful and down to earth.”
It was noted she was very body conscious in high school and was deemed
“chubby” whatever that means.
She would try her best to dress in a way that attracted positive male attention by wearing mini skirts and blouses that would show off her assets.
Although from the outside looking in, Susan seemed like a happy, well rounded, intelligent and highly involved teenager in her community. However like many of us, our smiles and face we put out to the world conveying we are happy and okay, when in reality, we are the furthest from that.
For Susan’s sixteenth birthday in 1987, one of Beverly’s daughters from his first marriage stayed overnight at their house. Since his daughter was given Susan’s room for the night, Susan would sleep on the couch.
When she was attempting to go to sleep, Beverly was sitting on the other end of the sofa, in which Susan fell comfortably asleep on his lap, thinking nothing of it.
Beverly however saw this as an opportunity. Susan would wake up to find Beverly fondling her breasts and shoulders. Following this he would take Susan’s hand and place it directly onto his genitals.
Susan would say she pretended to sleep through the molestation. However, Susan later told her mother about his behavior and said she didn’t stop him because she “wanted to see how far he would go.”
In a way, it comes off as she welcomed it, was almost flattered by it even? It comes off again, as any male attention is attention she wants and needs, even if deemed inappropriate or illegal.
Her self esteem was so low, she was contented being the victim of abuse, because, at least it was some kind of male attention.
However, after all of this panned out, she filed a complaint against her stepfather and he was investigated by the South Carolina Department of Social Services. When the investigation took place, Beverly agreed to move out of the family home, but just for a short while and would eventually return.
The abuse would continue to go on for at least an additional year. In 1988, Susan would report one of her stepfathers molestation episodes to her high school guidance counselor and again to her mother.
Susan’s mother Linda even admitted to the officials from the sheriffs office that when she confronted her husband about the allegations, he didn’t deny it and admitted to the abuse, in which he would kiss her, fondle her, and make her perform masturbation on him.
There were never any charges brought to Beverly regarding the series of molestation. There were no court hearings that took place either. It was said that Susan was under pressure by her mother to not press charges against her husband.
In this case, the matter was dropped for a variety of reasons, none having to do with what Susan actually wanted.
Susan’s mother would blame her as much as Beverly for the abuse she endured. Susan’s family was worried that the stories of sexual abuse would get around in their small community, and blamed Susan for “worsening” the situation by bringing it public when reporting it to the Department of Social Services.
Susan’s Suicide Attempts
In between Susan’s Junior and Senior year of high school in 1988, she started working at the Winn-Dixie supermarket in her town. She started off as a cashier but eventually worked her way up to the market’s bookkeeper.
She was working hard and doing well for herself, maintaining a job, volunteering, and maintaining great grades in spite of the abuse she endured. Unfortunately though, Susan’s decision making in her personal life was weak to say the least, coming out of an abusive situation, not getting the help she needed, she was impulsive, erratic, promiscuous and reckless.
Susan began having an affair with an older and married co-worker of hers at the Winn-Dixie. It would be during this relationship she fell pregnant. She then had an abortion shortly after.
At the same time all of this was going on, Susan was also having an affair with another co-worker, unbeknownst to her married lover. Once he found out, he broke off the relationship with Susan shortly after the abortion took place.
Susan became severely depressed over the breakup. So much so, in November 1988, she attempted suicide by taking an overdose of Aspirin and Tylenol.
She was hospitalized and treated after and made a full recovery. She would be hospitalized for a full month for further evaluation and returned to work shortly after her release.
However it was during this time of her evaluation at the hospital, that her doctors noticed this wasn’t her first suicide attempt. When Susan was 13, she attempted suicide in the same manner, trying to overdose on aspirin.
She was clearly having a ton of mental health battles that were only getting worse with the abuse and lack of support she was receiving from any adult that could have protected or helped her.
Susan Meets David
Before her suicide attempt after the end of her affair, Susan was becoming friends with another co-worker at Winn-Dixie named David. David was one of the stock clerks at the store and they were becoming especially friendly with one another. They both knew each other previously from attending Union High School together.
While Susan was juggling her two secret affairs, David at the time was dating his girlfriend. After Susan came back from the hospital was when David wanted to also pursue a relationship with her.
It was the year of 1990 when David and Susan began to date, however, David was still engaged to his girlfriend at this time. Susan’s insecure need for male attention frequently made her engage with unavailable men.
As long as they were interested, so was she, regardless of her relationship status or theirs.
After about a year of this affair taking place, Susan was pregnant. This is when David would tell his fiance about Susan, in which case his fiance ended their relationship rightfully so.
At this time, they decided to get married since they both weren’t keen on the idea of having an abortion which would be Susan’s second if she went through with it.
Although Susan felt safe with the stability of marriage with David, like many women at 19, she wanted a care free life, go to college, and discover what she wanted. Getting pregnant by accident and getting married as an afterthought wasn’t what she envisioned for herself.
Of course, her mother and stepfather were not happy about the news of her pregnancy and fresh marriage. They were upset that David was not a college graduate or from the same economic background being from the country as Susan was being from the city.
It seems everyone was put into situations they weren’t exactly happy about, but were ready to grin it and bear it.
Susan And David Prepare A Wedding
Susan’s mother Linda was eager to get a wedding ceremony completed as quickly as possible. She was concerned if they waited to long Susan’s pregnancy would start to show, and boy did Linda not want that!
So much so, that when David’s brother who was 22 died unexpectedly from a bacterial infection from a surgery he had related to Chrone’s Disease a few months prior.
The infection quickly weakened his already sensitive condition and he died.
Linda however was adamant about maintaining the wedding date since she did not want Susan to be showing during the ceremony. This took precedent over everything. Linda was always primarily worried about herself and her image.
She cared very little for Susan’s feelings regarding the molestation her husband committed onto her daughter, being more concerned about what others would think instead of the abuse her daughter underwent.
She was more worried about Susan’s pregnancy showing during the ceremony than letting her future son in law grieve and get married when he was ready. It seems, from he outside looking in, Linda did very little to be a loving, protective and supportive mother.
Regardless, the couple would wed in May 1991, Only 3 short months after their wedding ceremony, David’s father, attempted to commit suicide through overdosing on pills. It was Susan who found him at his parents house on the floor when she called 911.
The strain of the death of David’s brother Danny, and his father’s suicide attempt after caused David’s parents marriage to die. They would divorce and go their separate ways after that. His father was treated there where he met his future wife.
Between Susan and David’s family, there is a massive presence of depression, anxiety and suicide within them. With Susan’s father killing himself when she was a kid, Susan’s half brother attempting suicide while she was in preschool, Susan herself attempting suicide twice, and David’s father attempting suicide, Susan had more experience with suicide than most people do in their whole lifetime.
The mental health issues within both of their families were debilitating.
Susan And Davids Marriage
Susan would work at Winn-Dixie until she went into labor. She gave birth to her first son Michael on October 10th, 1991. After she had Michael, Susan continued to work part time at the Winn-Dixie and enrolled herself in several different college courses at a branch at the University of South Carolina.
She wanted to pursue her own education and grow her personal career as many of us want when we are 19. However, she had a new baby and this proved to be difficult.
Very early in their marriage, both Susan and David had tension in their relationship. Like many extremely young married couples that wed shortly after graduating high school, the adult married life that is very demanding and full of responsibilities generally mow down any dreamy expectations of what being married actually is.
Like most married couples, one of the biggest thorns in their marriage was that of money. David was frustrated Susan seemed overtly interested in material belongings and dreamed of a more opulent lifestyle, one that David wasn’t providing for her.
At the same time, Susan worried about paying the bills. She would often ask her mother for loans which always made David angry. I can imagine this would be blows to his ego and pride feeling like you can’t take care of your family.
Susan and David’s marriage also suffered due to Linda and David’s relationship. Unfortunately like many men and women experience within their marriage, David has problems with his mother in law.
They just frankly did not get along with each other. Linda was described as very controlling (shocker 🙄) and would often just stop by at Susan and David’s house without asking if it was a good time first, so she also lacked boundaries.
This certainly did not help their marriage with Linda’s influence in it.
According to David, Susan would almost always do whatever Linda asked.
With what seems like a heavily codependent relationship Susan has with her mother, Linda would also get would also get way too involved in their marriage and would frequently offer unsolicited advice on how they should be doing things or what they should be doing in their marriage, how to raise Michael, the whole 9 yards.
I’m sure with knowing how devastating Susan’s home life was and toxic Linda’s marriage was, and that she allowed her husband to molest Susan for years while attempting to keep that dirty secret from getting out into the public, David probably view her as the last person to give advice on how to have a healthy and happy marriage and raise happy, healthy and well adjusted kids.
Given that Susan and David also worked together at Winn-Dixie, this also caused problems in their marriage. Not only did they never have time away from each other, David was Susan’s superior, which created an awkward dynamic not only at work but at home as well.
This would often create a power imbalance leaving them with a lot of tension at home and at work.
Both David and Susan struggled with having affairs. Given that Susan was in numerous affairs with married men, dated multiple men at the same time, dated David while he was still engaged, so he also was a cheater, it isn’t that hard to believe that two cheaters cheat on each other in their marriage.
By their third wedding anniversary, they had already been separated several times.
Their first separation took place in March 1992, a little after their one year anniversary, where Susan rekindled a relationship with her previous boyfriend and co-worker at Winn-Dixie.
During one of their separations, Susan and her son Michael were living at her mother and stepfather’s home. This is when David and Susan were attempting to mend their fragile relationship.
Once Susan fell pregnant again in November 1992, they both agreed it was time for them all to live under the same roof again and move back home. They felt all they needed was a home to work on being a family and that would help solve their problems, a notion a lot of couples have.
Susan and David felt if their relationship was ever going to have a chance, they were going to need to buy their own home. It would be in the winter of 1993, when David and Susan would buy a small house where Susan’s mom and stepfather provided the down payment for.
Surely now is when things will being to start looking up right?
Susan’s Second Pregnancy
Like many women can experience, Susan’s second pregnancy was not as easy as her first one with Michael. Susan’s self image plummeted and David would recollect her complaining often about her looks and weight, because of this, Susan gradually withdrew herself from David.
They were no longer intimate in any way physical or emotional. This caused David to become lonely and started seeking comfort outside of their marriage.
With the lack of any physical or emotional intimacy within his marriage, David would begin a relationship with a cashier named Tiffany at Winn-Dixie, in summer of 1993.
Apparently Winn-Dixie houses all the eligible singles in Union South Carolina, who knew?
Tiffany was one of Susan’s old classmates and they attended high school together. It is really becoming apparent how living in a small town can be, everyone knows everyone and they all work together too.
On August 5th, 1993, Susan had an emergency C-section to deliver her second son Alexander. At this time both David and Susan would make amends to settle in with their new baby boy and give time for Susan to heal from surgery.
However, within only a few weeks after Alex’s birth, they decided that there was nothing worth saving in their relationship and that it was over.
David moved out shortly after.
Which honestly makes perfect sense. Newborn babies blast a massive hole in any relationship no matter how strong they are. Couples will fight more than ever, be stressed, tired, hungry, depressed, all the negative feelings erupt during postpartum so strongly that this puts a strain on even the happiest and healthiest of marriages.
So hearing that after just a few short weeks postpartum they couldn’t fix their marriage, it makes perfect sense. Settling in with a new baby isn’t a honeymoon, it’s a mission, but I digress.
Susan Gets a New Job
Once Susan recovered from her C-Section, she started a new job at Conso Products. She didn’t want to keep working at Winn-Dixie or a couple of reasons. One because David was her supervisor and her separated husband, and, her separated husband’s girlfriend, Tiffany, also works there.
Not really conducive to a healthy, balanced and productive work place.
At Conso, Susan was hired to be a bookkeeper and would eventually become the assistant to the executive secretary for the president and CEO of Conso, J. Carey Findlay. He was from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he worked as an accountant.
In 1986, Findlay bought Conso in 1986 with a group of investors.
The work life Susan had at Conso was what she always wanted. She thoroughly enjoyed her job. It provided her with a new group of friends and she spent a lot of time outside of work socializing at a Union’s only bar called Hickory Nuts.
What she enjoyed most of all however, was one of the CEO’s, J. Findlay’s, sons; Tom Findlay.
He was a fresh 27 years old, graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from Auburn University and moved to work for his father’s company in Union, South Carolina at Conso as a Graphic Designer in the Marketing Department.
Being that Tom was young, the son of a CEO, a college graduate, grew up in an upscale suburb of Alabama, was rich and came from a rich family, and single, he was quite popular with the ladies of Union, South Carolina.
One of those ladies, was Susan.
When Susan and David were separated for the last time, she began dating Tom. Yeah, she pretty much got whatever man she wanted. If she wanted them, she had them, at least for a bit. Anyway, Susan would meet Tom at his house on his dad’s estate and she also went to many parties that Tom threw there as well.
She was living the rich socialite life she always wanted, at least, for now.
In summer of 1994, Susan and David wanted to try one more time to mend their marriage. David moved back in During the spring and early summer of 1994, Susan and David tried one final time to make their marriage work.
David and Susan would briefly move back in together and David stopped seeing his girlfriend. It was around this time Susan and Tom had broken off their relationship also.
However by the end of the summer, Susan expressed to David that she wanted a divorce and she was done trying. David wanted to keep working on the marriage, Susan did not, she wanted out. She wanted her life with Tom back and she was going to do it whatever it took to get it.
In September, Susan and Tom began dating again and she finally felt like everything was falling into place how she wanted. She was having a decent relationship with the father of her children and had a healthy co-parenting system and she was falling more and more passionately in love with Tom.
Susan was hoping Tom would take her and her boys in to become a family. Tom however, was starting to feel a little put off by Susan. He felt she was starting to come off too strong too fast, and was becoming possessive and needy.
He wanted to end the relationship.
Susan’s divorce would be filed on October 21st, 1994 , where only a few days earlier, she had received a “Dear John” letter from Tom.
“You will, without a doubt, make some lucky man a great wife. But unfortunately, it won’t be me. 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.”
He tried his best to bring the sugar to help the medicine go down by keeping the letter gentle in nature with the tone and flattered Susan. He would write how he admired her work ethic and ability to work and be enrolled at night college and that she was a great person. Tom wanted her to keep pursuing her studies and that he was very proud of her that she was doing her best to improve her life.
All in all, Tom wanted to convey that he simply wasn’t the man for Susan because he didn’t want to raise another man’s children. He also noted he wasn’t sure if their backgrounds and upbringings paralleled enough for their relationship to make sense.
He also mentioned he wasn’t happy with her recent behavior at a hot tub party he had thrown. Saying that he noticed her kissing and fondling with one of her friends husbands while in the hot tub while naked. Tom would finish the letter.
“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.”
Damn Tom shots fired 😬
Furious, Susan went out to Tom’s cottage in the hopes of restoring the relationship, even using emotional manipulations by telling Tom about her sexual abuse with her stepfather to try and garner sympathy to get back with her out of pity, but this only shocked him more.
Susan was starting to lose the control she thought she had and the vision she had for herself was quickly slipping out of her hands.
part two will be here tomorrow