What Justice? - How the killer of eight children got probation
By Bobby Cuza, Time, July 12, 1999
Is this any way to treat a serial killer? Marie Noe has confessed to suffocating eight of her infant children between 1949 and 1968, but last week a Philadelphia judge sentenced her to 20 years' probation, under a plea bargain. Noe will also undergo psychiatric treatment to help researchers understand why mothers kill their babies. Isn't this just a slap on the wrist?

Not exactly, says the district attorney's office. Given her age--70--and the age of the case, prosecution would have been difficult. Now, with no lengthy trial in their way, psychiatrists can immediately begin to explore the psychodynamics of a child murderer. "Instead of spending money to house this woman in prison, the money will be spent to find out why she did this," says deputy D.A. Charles Gallagher.

A family physician once described Noe as "an unstable schizophrenic personality." Her behavior reflects some characteristics of "Munchausen syndrome by proxy," a disorder in which a person induces or fakes medical problems in another in order to gain attention and sympathy. Friends say Noe used to "love attention"; in fact, she told detectives that she secretly hoped to be caught. Psychiatrists may find that she acted in a dissociative state, unaware of her actions and unable to recall what she'd done.

The Noe case had been the most famous set of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) fatalities. Now it is foremost in the growing conviction that sids doesn't run in families. Federal health officials warn that when more than one child in a family dies of apparent SIDS, doctors must consider the possibility of infanticide. "The first death of a child is a tragedy. The second is a medical mystery," says Halbert Fillinger, the coroner on one of the Noe babies. "The third is murder." END


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