Susan Smith: A Tale of Murder, Abuse and Promiscuity – Part Two

The desperate pleas of a mother for the return of her babies were heard all over the country, but how genuine were they?

Tuesday, October 25, 1994

On the morning of Tuesday, October 25, 1994, Susan got her two sons, Alex and Michael ready for the day. She made them breakfast, got them dressed and drove them to day care. She then drove herself to work like always. That day a group of co-workers went out for lunch and Susan tagged along with. One of these coworkers being Tom.

Everyone else seemed to be having a great time, while Susan kept to herself quietly.

It was around this time Susan asked her supervisor if she could leave work early today. Her supervisor, concerned, asked her if anything was wrong. Susan confided in her supervisor saying:

“Yes, I am in love with someone who doesn’t love me.”

When her supervisor asked who, Susan replied:

“Tom Findlay, but it can never happen because of my children.”

Later than afternoon shortly after 2 o clock, Susan called Tom’s office to ask if he would meet her outside of the building to talk. Susan at this point is starting to become manic and frantic. She is desperately trying to mend things with Tom.

It seems she feels this is her last hope of any kind for a happy life in the world she wants.

In her desperation, she rants to Tom about her divorce proceedings. Lying to him saying that her estranged husband is going to accuse her of “cheating the IRS and having an affair with J. Findlay himself “, Tom’s father. She was hoping to garner sympathy and pity with this lie and manipulation toward Tom, but all it did was solidify Tom’s decision to break up.

After Tom heard this plea from Susan he said:

“Our intimate relationship will have to stop forever.”

This, to Susan, was condemning her to death. Susan simply had too much baggage and being a single mother of two kids, Tom simply wasn’t interested in her as a potential marriage prospect but more of a fun fling.

Tom didn’t respect her or take her seriously. To Tom, her behavior resembled that of an insecure 14 year old girl and I have to agree.

Frantic, Susan called Tom again at around 4:30 to meet her at the Conso photography studio. She wanted to return an Auburn University sweatshirt she had borrowed from Tom, however he refused and just told Susan to hold onto it.

At this point, Tom wanted to just have a clean split and be rid of Susan.

After Susan was off work, she would go to pick up both Alex and Michael at daycare, then she would head to her works local bar Hickory Nuts. While she was there she happened to spot fellow coworker Sue Brown, the marketing manager at Conso. Susan and Sue had a long conversation about Susan’s dilemma with Tom.

Instead of Susan just taking the loss and moving on, Sue convinced her to add to her baggage. Sue suggested Susan lie to Tom, by apologizing to him for lying to him about sleeping with his father, simply to get a reaction out of him 🤦🏻‍♀️

All very high school sophomoric behavior that Tom could sense and was repelled by and one of the bigger reasons he wanted to break it off with Susan.

It was around 5:30 when Tom arrived at Hickory Nuts for dinner. Sue would watch Michael and Alex while Susan talked to Tom. After Susan arrived back to her car after talking to Tom, she told Sue that Tom may just end it all. She would leave Sue, her coworker at Hickory Nuts to enjoy her dinner with other coworkers while Susan drove home with her two children.

Later that evening, Susan would call Hickory Nuts asking for Sue. She asked Sue if Tom had asked about her at all during that dinner. Sue would tell Susan that she was not a topic of conversation at that dinner, which upset her.

Clueless, heartbroken, depressed and full of sorrow and misery, Susan placed her sons in their car seats at around 8:00 pm to drive around Union. Susan would report, at this time, that she had “never felt so lonely and sad in my entire life.”

According to Susan, she had hit rock bottom and felt like she had no way out.

The Murders

Susan ended up driving around with her two sons in the back seat for about an hour in an attempt to calm herself down. Depressed, heartbroken, suicidal and manic, Susan drove along Highway 49 where she followed signs directing her to John. D. Long Lake. She had never been to this lake prior to this evening.

Once Susan pulled herself up to the parking lot of the lake, she drove across the way to a portion of the boat docking ramp. It was a seventy-five-foot long boat ramp in which Susan decided to park right in the middle of it.

Susan would sit quietly in her 1990 Burgundy Mazda Protege while her sons slept in the back seat of the car. At this point, Susan was a fresh 23 years old, Michael had just recently celebrated his third birthday just two short weeks before, and her youngest son Alex was just a little bit older than one at

14-months-old.

At this point was when Susan decided to shift her Mazda into neutral, in which the car slowly began to roll down the remainder of the boat ramp.

However Susan only allowed the car to travel a few yards before putting the emergency brake back on, halting the car from inching any further.

This is when Susan removed her self from the car by stepping out and shutting the door behind her.

Susan stood outside of the car for a brief moment in which she contemplated suicide. Susan would say she looked around her in complete darkness.

The moon was minimal and there was virtually no light reflecting off the lake. Susan said the darkness and isolation in that moment reflected her internal world perfectly.

Let’s recall the events
  • Her parents where emotionally an physically abusive to one another, her father being an addict.
  • Her brother attempted suicide when she was in preschool due to the turmoil taking place at home.
  • Her father kills himself shortly after her parent’s divorce is finalized.
  • Susan engulfed in grief attempts her first suicide at thirteen.
  • 3 years later she would be sexually abused by her stepfather for years.
  • Linda, her mother wanted her to keep her mouth shut about it.
  • Her abuser, never convicted, living within the family freely as the abuse continues.
  • She lived a risky and promiscuous lifestyle, which led her to get pregnant once by a married man and have an abortion.
  • Shortly after which she would attempt suicide again and be hospitalized.
  • Then got pregnant again with David and decided to keep it.
  • Was in a rocky marriage involving more death, suicide, emotional abuse and adultery.
  • She feels she finally has a way out with Tom.
  • She is in the middle of a divorce, then, Tom breaks up with her.
  • She saw her chance of a luxury life with Tom dissipate.
  • She viewed her kids as the problem given Tom’s letter to her.
  • Susan felt she had nothing to live for and her kids would be destined to a life of misery, just like her.

Not that any of it makes sense, but that was where her head was at that evening. All of those factors bred a selfish, wounded, manipulative, cruel and insecure woman that never got detoured onto a healthier path of healing or growth. Thus, she created chaos and misery to anyone who met her.

She just spiraled.

She didn’t want to commit suicide and leave her children on their own like her father did to her as a child. She believed if she killed her sons first and then killed herself, her sons would not suffer like she did.

All that said, even though she was engulfed in depression and loneliness, she did not succumb to her inner state in the way she thought she would. She didn’t want to kill herself after further deliberation.

She wanted relief form the burdens in her life and the stresses that consumed her. Susan believed her life was encompassed with loss, rejection, and loneliness. The responsibilities of being a single mother of two at twenty-three with no formal education, no boyfriend/husband for a support system was simply overwhelming her.

What happens next is what shocked the nation to the core, leaving many to speculate, “why?”

Susan released the emergency brake in her car with her two sons still sleeping and strapped into their car seats. Slowly, the car drifted off the boat ramp and slowly into the lake as the headlights were on.

The car rode into the lake very slowly. Being that cars have a ton of negative and open space within it, the car didn’t immediately submerge but bobbled, remaining on the surface as it slowly filled with water, consuming that empty space while it gradually began to sink.

Susan watched the car slowly sink into the lake, which reenactments would show took anywhere around 10-15 minutes to submerge completely. Before it was completely submerged into the lake, Susan ran away toward the nearest house hysterical. This was the beginning of the end for Susan.

Lies And Manipulation

At this point, it was nearly 9:00pm at night when Susan ran up to the residence of Shirley McCloud, screaming, sobbing and hysterically wailing. Susan cried”

“Please help me! He’s got my kids and he’s got my car! A black man has taken my kids and my car!”

Shirley’s husband Rick, immediately told his son to call the police. While waiting for the police, Shirley asked Susan to explain what happened to her so they are ready for when the police come to collect a statement. Shirley calmed Susan down, and Susan concocted the following

“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 told Shirley that per the abductors instruction, she drove northeast of Union for 4 miles when they approached a sign where he directed her to stop right past the sign. Shirley, aware of the sign Susan was talking about, a sign directing people to the lake, confirmed which one it was noting it was just a few hundred yards from her home. Susan recalled:

“He made me stop right past the sign. He told me to get out. He made me stop in the middle of the road. Nobody was coming, not a single car. I asked him, ‘why can’t I take my kids?’ He said ‘I don’t have time.’ When he finally got me out he said ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt your kids.’”

It was then Susan described to Shirley that she was instructed to get down on the asphalt and stay there, laying on the ground as this abductor drove off with her crying children in the back seat. Explaining once she got over the shock, not knowing how long it has been, was when she began running to find help.

Susan asked Shirley if she could use their phone to call her family and let them know what was going on. Shortly after was when Union County Sheriff, Howard Wells, arrived at the McCloud’s home as the director for the search of Susan’s children.

Wells asked Susan questions as he took notes.

Wells described Susan as wearing an Auburn University sweatshirt (Tom’s sweatshirt😐) and her face was swollen and red. Susan described the clothes her sons were wearing to better aid them in their search. Given the nature of Susan’s story, Sheriff Wells knew that this carjacking case was not going to be resolved quickly due to such limited resources in their budget.

He was going to need serious help.

All he knows is there are 2 children under three that have been subject to kidnapping and a carjacking. Wells called Chief Robert Stewart who was the head of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for help. Initially, Wells had no reason to question Susan’s story.

Wells was concerned with getting as much information as possible while following any leads that could come up.

With the McCloud’s home bombarded with police and Susan’s family, Sheriff Wells suggested another meeting place would be more appropriate. Susan suggested her mother’s home would be better suited for the circumstances. Susan, Beverly, David, Linda and the rest of family friends left the home and headed toward Linda and Beverly’s home.

Susan said something strange to David in the car ride to her parents house. Susan explained to David that there was a chance that Tom may come by and see her? She told David because she didn’t want him to get angry in case Tom did show up. This was super off putting to David for a couple of reasons. One, his kids were missing so being upset about Susan’s ex boyfriend coming by was just not in any way on David’s radar. Two, it felt incredibly light and inappropriate considering their sons are missing.

It came off to David that Susan was more concerned about David becoming upset over her ex boyfriend coming by than what could potentially be happening to her missing children. To David, it communicated her priorities were completely fucked. Like, come on Susan read the room 🙄 We know everyone handles crisis differently, but this just seemed so bizarre it was worth noting by David.

The Investigation

As the investigation pursued, Sheriff Wells ordered the SLED to coordinate efforts with his team to send in divers to John D. Long Lake as well as the Sumter National Forest. After many search efforts, the dive team didn’t find anything at the bottom of the lake that they searched. Could you imagine if the divers found Susan’s car with the kids in it that quickly? This may have completely changed the trajectory of the crime in so many ways.

The fact they didn’t find them after searching just gave Susan more time to milk her story.

After turning up with nothing at the lake, Sheriff Wells needed a better description of the alleged kidnapper and carjacker. Sheriff Wells made arrangements for Susan to meet with a police sketch artist to draw a composite drawing.

The police sketch artist met with Susan and drew the details she described; an African American man, around 35-40 years old, wore a dark knit cap, a dark shirt, jeans and a plaid jacket. Basically, a super basic description that could be anyone.

Afterward, SLED agents and Union County Sheriff deputies searched high and low in the surrounding areas of John D. Long Lake. Nearby at the McCloud’s residence, police conducted interviews with the McClouds to try and garner some more useful information.

In addition to SLED and the Union County Sheriff department investigation the disappearances of Alex and Michael, an organization named the Adam Walsh Center in the state capital of Columbia became involved in the search to help find the missing boys.

The Adam Walsh Center was coined after a 6-year-old boy named Adam Walsh who disappeared after taking a shopping trip with his mother in a Sears back in 1981. Poor Adam was missing for 10 days until they found his body 150 miles away from where he disappeared and his killer was never found.

At the time, law enforcement didn’t have the resources or procedures to locate missing children.

They had no computer databases of child molesters or information on missing children with no way for law enforcement agencies to communicate with each other and work together. Adam’s parents dedicated themselves to changing the system.

“As a result of their efforts, in 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.”

Susan’s story hit close to home and they wanted to try everything in their power to help find Michael and Alex.

After a full day of the boys missing, on the 26th of October, Margaret Frierson, the Executive Director of the South Carolina Chapter of the Adam Walsh Center contacted Susan’s family to offer their support. Margaret was told to speak to Susan and they would hear back from them. Susan never called.

Margaret later worked with SLED instead to obtain pictures of Michael and Alex to prepare fliers and post them all over the county. It is extremely unfortunate that the good will and kindness of strangers who genuinely wanted to help were manipulated and exploited, wasting their time to help a mother who murdered her children and concocted this phony story that parents unfortunately actually experience to garner sympathy.

Picture of Michael & Alex Used On Missing Flyers

Susan and David stayed and her parent’s house. Other family members on both sides filled the Russel residence. Susan had a ton of support around her and was never alone at any point. It is kind of crazy how she was able to put on a face never having time alone. She was getting the love and attention she has been craving her whole life.

She was lying to everyone including her family and was able to stay with them knowing damn well what happened and that her children are dead.

It truly is bizarre and the actions of a very selfish, self serving person with no ability to empathize for anyone because, well, she didn’t empathize with herself and hated herself so much she nearly killed herself twice. Nobody empathized with her as a child and she was never unconditionally loved and cared for, nor did she love and care for herself, so how could she love, trust, empathize or care for others?

Her mother treated her like she was a burden and disposable, which Susan must internally have believed to hate herself so much, so, she must have also viewed her children as disposable and a burden as well. The cycle continued.

As Susan was hoping, Tom called her to express his sympathies and condolences for her missing children. However, Susan was more concerned about the status of their relationship. Susan maneuvered the conversation toward their relationship in which Tom quickly told her that their relationship is not a priority right now and to focus on finding her kids.

Wise, common sense words. Tom wouldn’t end up visiting like Susan had hoped and the phone call was all she ever received from Tom.

Even when a group of Conso coworkers came by to show their support for Susan, Tom never accompanied them. When Susan’s friend Sue visited, Susan asked if Tom was ever planning on visiting her, she would only get disappointed to hear that he wasn’t. The desperate cry for attention from her boyfriend came to a dead end.

The Media Circus Begins

Margaret and Charlotte, the representatives from the Adam Walsh Foundation, came to the Russel home in the evening of October 26th, only 24 hours after the alleged abduction. The women wanted to talk logistics to David and Susan privately. What they got however was David, Susan, Beverly, Linda and Scotty. Margaret would explain the origins of the foundation and the services they provide families to parents of missing children.

Margaret would continue that they could act as the families liaison, dealing with the media, interviews and help broadcast photos and videos of the boys all over the country. Susan and David would excuse themselves from the conversion and headed to the sheriffs office where Susan would be questioned by Sheriff Wells.

Margaret used this opportunity to convince David about utilizing the media to plea for the safe return of their children, believing that nationally televised media would help aid in their search for the boys. David was hesitant, but was willing to do anything to get his boys back.

I understand David’s hesitancy. The media is more toxic than helpful and can quickly use their misfortune to milk their ratings and exploit them for their own benefit instead of actually honoring, helping and respecting him as a parent desperately trying to get their son back. Media can spin the story however they like so putting yourself and personal life out there, I can understand, would be terrifying.

David knew though, if he had any chance of his sons returning home safely, he needed to get the story out.

Like predicted, the media flocked to Union, South Carolina like flies to 💩, ready to indulge themselves in this story. The carjacking/kidnapping was reported through the local newspaper and on a few local news and radio stations. The story grew like wild fire and every major national news corporation was eager to get their hands on this story. Susan and David stood on the front steps of the Union County Sheriff’s department where David made this 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 this first public media appearance and statement, Susan was taken back into the Sheriffs office where she was question by SLED agents for nearly six hours. She was asked to recall and repeat the events numerous times to find more details of the story. Later that evening, Sheriff Wells called in the Director of the Forensic Sciences Laboratory for the State Law Enforcement Division in Columbia, David A. Caldwell, to drive to Union and interview Susan himself.

Suspicion Toward Susan Grows

After two short days since the kidnapping, on October 27th, David and Susan were asked to complete a polygraph tests administered by the FBI. You know now at this point Susan has got to be losing her shit internally. Leading everyone to believe her babies were kidnapped and putting everyone through the wringer to convince them of this story, and now she has to take a polygraph test just 2 days after the murders.

This all happened so very quickly, much quicker than she anticipated I’m sure. Her worst nightmare was people caring so much that they wanted to help her find her kids ASAP when she probably was hoping they would just never be found and everyone would forget and she wold go on to live her life childless and free like she wanted.

David and Susan signed a form informing them of their rights in regards to taking a polygraph test…their right to remain silent, right to an attorney, the right to cease conversing with the investigators etc. They then proceeded with the test. David passed his test, showing he absolutely knew nothing about what possibly could have happened to his sons.

Susan’s test however, came back inconclusive, lucky for her considering that is the best outcome she could have had being the murderer. This left open ends long enough for detectives to not able to pin point her just yet.

However, Susan’s test would display the greatest levels of deception when she was asked the following question:

“ Do you know where your children are? ”

The investigators shared with Susan her lackluster results and shared them with David. She told him the investigators may begin to start doubting her original story. Susan was given many polygraph tests. Every time Susan was interviewed they would give her one, opposed to David, who was only tested this once.

At this point, investigators where beginning to pock holes in Susan’s story. In just one day, Agent Caldwell interviewed Susan three different times at the Union County Sheriffs office. All in all, Susan was being put to the test as much as possible. She was being grilled, they were starting to become, in the words of Bailey Sarien, suspish.

Agent Caldwell asked Susan to discuss the details of her day on Tuesday, October 25th for him beginning from the time she woke up for the day to the end when she wound up at the McCloud’s residence.

Susan described to Caldwell that after work, she made dinner for her sons but as they were fussy, they didn’t want to eat. This story remained consistent as David would confirm that when he called Susan during this time, he could hear his sons on the other line in the background fussing as kids do. Susan trying to find another activity said she decided to go to Wal-Mart that evening. This is when her story gets confusing.

She said that she drove to Foster Park where they stayed until around 8:40 but didn’t get out of the car as they just relaxed inside where Alex’s bottle fell on the ground and she couldn’t find it? So she dove back to the Wal-Mart parking lot with bright parking lot lights so she could search for his bottle easier so she says.

After this Susan tells Agent Caldwell that she wanted to visit Mitchell Sinclair, the fiance of her best friend Donna. Caldwell, pressed this further. Susan extrapolated that he lived less than a mile north of the Monarch intersection where she had stopped at a red light where no other cars where present.

After Caldwell expressed to Susan that when the investigators questioned Mitchell about this visit that he told them he wasn’t expecting Susan in anyway since we wouldn’t even be home till after 9:00pm. Caldwell continued saying that they had visited the Wal-Mart Susan supposedly went to that evening where they spoke to many employees that worked that evening who all said they did not recollect a woman looking like Susan with two children in the store shopping that evening.

With this new information, Susan re-winded and said they didn’t go to Wal-Mart but that she just drove around for hours with her kids in the back seat. Although it isn’t out of the ordinary for women to just drive with their kids, I do this a lot especially if my daughter just isn’t having anything and is fussy, sometimes all that calms them down is a nice drive with calming music on.

However because she never initially told investigators this portion of her story from the get-go, she was definitely starting to come off suspish. Susan could feel her stories beginning to suffocate her.

In addition, after reviewing Susan’s interview from the 26th, one huge hole was poked in her story. The Monarch intersection she supposedly stopped at due to the light being red on the way to visit a friend, turns out, that isn’t how this four way stoplight functions. The stoplight is permanently on green unless another car on the cross street triggers the signal to switch to red.

Therefore, if there truly had been no other cars on the road that night as Susan said, the light would not have been red, but green.

While this was taking place, David was being interviewed by other SLED agents and told them that Susan was dating other men. The agents asked for names and dates was when David told them about Susan’s recent ex boyfriend Tom. However David was getting annoyed that the agents were focusing so much on Susan rather than searching for the boys. Later he would understand that they had good reason to be focusing so hard on Susan.

While interviewing Susan, they mentioned they had information about Tom breaking up with her due to her sons. They were aware of the break up letter and confronted Susan about it. Agent Caldwell asked Susan:

“ Did this fact play any role or have any bearing on the disappearance of your children? ”

Susan replied:

“ No man would make me hurt my children. They were my life.”

What Susan didn’t realize was she had a Freudian slip. She mentioned how important her children were to her instead of are, indicating they aren’t around anymore. Susan was later confronted about the inconsistencies in her story. Caldwell wanted to know why she lied about the Wal-Mart trip. He set out an emotional trap by insinuating Susan killed her sons due to the fussiness they were expressing that evening.

Susan, furious, slammed her fist on the table and said:

“You son of a bitch! How can you think that! I can’t believe that you think I did it!”

The gaslighting this woman does in unreal. She is gaslighting the whole country right now into believing her sons were kidnapped. The agents however, were slowly starting to smell her bullshit. They noticed Susan would sob but not have any tears from her crying. Even the FBI agent who administered her polygraph said Susan was making fake sounds of crying but no tears.

The forensic sketch artist, Roy Pashcal who drew Susan’s depiction of the car jacker felt she wasn’t being honest. He though that Susan was incredibly vague in her description when that generally isn’t the case for eye witnesses. Based off of her reaction, Susan knew her portrayal of innocence was running out and fast.

It seems the pressure was slowly weighing on her, and it was only a matter of time before she would crack.

The FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit was contacted by Sheriff Wells to provide a profile of the characteristics of a homicidal mother. After review, they found that his profile fit Susan Smith in almost every way. Here is what the profile read:

  • Woman in their 20’s
  • Grew up/lived in Poverty
  • Under Educated
  • History of Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse or Both
  • Isolated From Social support
  • Contained Depressive and Suicidal tendencies
  • Underwent Rejection of a male lover at the time she murdered
  • Unhealthy Enmeshment Relationship With her Children

Aside from being under educated, this describes Susan perfectly. She was 23 during the time of her murder, she grew up in poverty and dysfunction. She was abused sexually by her stepfather for years, she was isolated from any help during those struggles since her mother never had her side leaving her to feel alone and isolated while abused.

She always had depressive and suicidal tendencies that could not only have been situational but even hereditary considering how prominent it ran in her family. Susan had an enmeshment relationship with her children viewing them as extensions of herself, not sovereign beings although, many parents are guilty of this and lastly, Tom broke up with her right before the murders.

All the similarities were beginning to look uncanny. As the suspicion from cops steadily grew toward Susan, she knew her time was running out.

part three will be here tomorrow

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