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Andrea Yates: Postpartum Psychosis Killer

On June 20, 2001 Clear Lake City, Texas was home to one of the most devastating crimes one could imagine: a woman by the name of Andrea Yates drowned all five of her children in the family bath tub in a one hour span after her husband left for work. In her confessions to investigators, she stated that she deliberately waited to run the bath water until her husband left due to her understanding that he would prevent her from carrying out the murders. With the absolutely cruel act she committed still in mind, her mental health background was investigated and a history of extreme mental health problems were found. A month before the murders, Andrea’s new psychiatrist refused to prescribe her the antipsychotic she had effectively been on since 1999 and gave her twice the maximum dosage of another drug with the adverse side effect of “homicidal ideations.”

Andrea Yates was the youngest of five children born to immigrated parents. She was raised in Hallsville, Texas and struggled with bulimia in her teenage years. By the age of seventeen, she suffered from depression and reportedly had a conversation with her friend about suicide. Andrea graduated in 1982 as the valedictorian of her class, captain of the swim team, and an officer in her school’s National Honor’s Society.

After graduation Andrea became a registered nurse at the University of Texas Cancer Center and worked there from 1986-1994. Shortly before leaving her position as a registered nurse Andrea met her future husband, Rusty Yates in 1989. The two married in 1993 and had their first son, Noah in 1994 before moving to Seminole, Florida for Rusty’s new job. When their third child was conceived the family moved back to Houston, Texas.
After their fourth child, Luke was born Andrea became increasingly more depressed. On June 15, 1999 Rusty found her chewing on her fingers and rocking herself. The following day, she attempted to commit suicide by ingesting prescription pills. She was taken to the hospital and given antidepressants and released. Shortly after this incident, she held a knife to her throat and begged Rusty to let her die. When she was hospitalized after this attempt, she was prescribed an antipsychotic drug, Haldol and immediately improved on it.

Andrea suffered a psychotic breakdown in July of 1999 and attempted suicide twice; after these attempts, she was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. Despite her psychiatrist, Dr. Eileen Starbranch urging her not to having any more children, she stopped taking her antipsychotic and seven weeks after her suicide attempt in July, she was pregnant with her fifth and final child, Mary.

After Mary was born in November of 2001, Andrea seemed to be coping well with being a new mother again. However, after her father passed away the following March she began mutilating herself and desperately reading her bible in search of something.

A month prior to the murders, Andrea’s new doctor, Dr. Mohammed Saeed refused to prescribe her her normal antipsychotic, Haldol due to his worries of potential side effects. Andrea had been on this medicine effectively for nearly three years at this point. He did prescribe her a different drug altogether, Effexor and at twice the recommended maximum dosage. He quieted Rusty’s concerns that she was overmedicated by claiming he had done extensive research on the drug.
Despite the specific instructions Dr. Saeed not to leave Andrea unattended with the children, Rusty decided to start leaving her with the kids for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening in order to prevent her from becoming too dependent on himself and his mother.
On May 3, 2001 Andrea entered a near catatonic state and filled the bathtub with water with the intention of drowning her children; however, she decided against doing it this day. She was hospitalized the following day after her physician noted that was suicidal and hypothesized that she filled the tub in an effort to drown herself, not the children.

On June 20, 2001 Rusty left for work with the knowledge that Andrea would be alone with the children for an hour until his mother arrived to relieve her. In this one hour time frame, Andrea locked the family dog away to prevent any interference and began to drown all five children, starting with five year old John Samuel. She then drowned three year old Paul Abraham and two year old Luke David before drowning newborn Mary. She left Mary’s body floating in the tub and when Noah, the oldest son, saw his little sister he attempted to run and save himself. Andrea caught him, drowned him, then left him floating in the tub.

She methodically placed the bodies of John, Paul, and Luke inside of her bed and tucked the body of Mary into John’s arms before calling authorities requesting them to send someone out, but refused to answer why. She then called Rusty and told him to come home immediately.
After her arrest, Andrea confessed to waiting for Rusty to leave to prevent him from stopping her from carrying out her plan and killed the children in order to save their souls. She pled not guilty by reason of insanity and this plea was rejected in March of 2002. She was found guilty and sentenced to forty years in prison.

On January 6, 2005 the state of Texas appealed her conviction due to a witness for the prosecution providing false testimony. On February 1, 2006 she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to a mental health facility. Despite both state psychiatrists and her defense attorney’s agreeing that she was was severely mentally ill at the times of the murders, she was cognitively aware enough to have an understanding of right and wrong.

After Andrea’s second trial, Rusty came forward claiming that the high dose of Effexor Dr. Saeed prescribed Andrea a month before the murders was the reason she killed their children. However, an expert witness testimony from Dr. Lucy Puryear claimed that the dosage of Effexor she was prescribed was normal within medical practice and she believed the reason Andrea “snapped” is because she was taken off her normal antipsychotic drug, Haldol.

After her mental health began to decline after her father’s death, Andrea checked herself into the hospital to receive mental health treatment. However, Andrea’s insurance policy had a limit on ten day hospitalization stays for mental health. She was released in May of 2001, a month before the murders, and the hospital staff reportedly looked at the floor as she was led out.

During Andrea’s trial, it was revealed from her prison psychiatrist that Andrea informed Rusty she did not want any more children after their fourth child was born due to her fear of hurting her children. His response to this was reminding her of his religious beliefs (he wanted as many children as nature would allow) and reassured her that she was a good mother and could handle another. She became pregnant with Mary shortly after this. Even after admitting to the crimes, Rusty believed she would be found innocent, treated at a mental hospital, and released; he was looking at adoption and surrogate mothers.

Rusty filed for divorce from Andrea in August of 2004, remarried in March of 2006, had a son, and his second wife filed for divorce in 2015.

Do you believe a failure to prescribe the correct antipsychotics and failure from Andrea’s insurance to keep her hospitalized in in May resulted in the lost lives of all of her children?

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About Fehmeeda Farid Khan

A freelancer, blogger, content writer, translator, tour consultant, proofreader, environmentalist, social mobilizer, poetess and novelist. As a physically challenged person, she extends advocacy on disability related issues. She's masters in Economics and Linguistics along with B.Ed.

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