From an early age Susan Smith lived in a troubled environment, in a wealthy family that was overly concerned with appearances. This resulted in one of the most barbaric crimes that a human being can commit: killing her own children.
However, the case of Susan Smith highlights two distinct points of view. Was she just a victim of the abuse she suffered, or a cold-hearted murderer of her two young children?
Childhood and Adolescence of Susan Smith
Susan Smith’s childhood was disturbing. Due to a tumultuous marriage between her parents, full of aggression, they divorced when she was seven years old, and soon after, her father Harry, at the age of 37, committed suicide.
Her mother Linda, weeks after her divorce, took up a new relationship. Beverly “Bev” Russell, a successful local businessman. Linda and her children moved from their small modest home to Bev’s house, located in a great location in Union.
Susan had been a sad and introspective child. Her mother was never good at solving her emotional problems, and her father’s suicide seemed to create a wound that never healed.
During her adolescence Susan became popular at school, she was a very attractive young woman and seemed to take leading positions in school activities. On the outside everything looked good, but Susan carried with her a big family secret. At the age of 16 her stepfather started to molest her.
One of the most intriguing parts of this story was Linda’s conduct in the face of abuse. Susan told her mother and Social Services what had happened. Bev stayed away from the family for a few weeks, but after a few sessions of “family counseling” he returned to normal family life.
But after that, Susan was severely punished for exposing what was described by her mother as “family conflicts.” Appearances seemed to matter more than her daughter’s well-being.
As you can imagine, the sexual abuse continued and this time with more frequency. It was as if Bev had acquired the right to do whatever he wanted.
There was even an episode at the end of high school where Susan sought help from a school counselor. She seemed exhausted by the situation and desperate for help. She was told to press charges, which she refused to do. Bev was influential in the community, had good lawyers who would know how to successfully suppress situations like this.
Out of Control
In the summer of 1988, Susan got a temporary job as a cashier at a local grocery store. What was only supposed to last a few months, resulted in a promotion to accountant at the store.
At this time Susan was having sex with at least three men. A married man older than her who was an employee at the same store; another younger co-worker; and Bev, her stepfather.
Susan became pregnant and had an abortion. The married man broke off their extramarital relationship and her reaction to the breakup was to attempt suicide by taking painkillers. While being treated in the hospital, she admitted that she had already attempted suicide when she was thirteen.
David Smith, Susan’s first husband
In this same period, Susan began to have a relationship with David, also a co-worker. At the time David was engaged to another woman and broke it off to be with Susan. She soon became pregnant and they decided to get married.
Susan and David Smith were married on March 15, 1991 and moved into David’s great-grandmother’s home; the two could not afford to buy a house. David’s parents were grieving the recent loss of another son who died of Crohn’s disease just 11 days before Susan and David’s wedding.
In May 1991, the stress of losing a child was too much for David’s parents. His father attempted suicide and his mother left for another city. Susan was already familiar with such a situation and she was able to comfort David in the following months.
The first baby of the couple, Michael Daniel Smith, is born
October 10, 1991 was a happy day. Despite the family turmoil, the child was long-awaited and loved. The two had always proved to be good parents.
But something was not right in their relationship, Susan was extremely materialistic and always borrowed money from her mother. This irritated David. Linda, Susan’s mother, always consented to the borrowing, but on the other hand, she felt entitled to guide the couple’s life, mainly in the aspects related to Michael’s upbringing.
The relationship deteriorated more and more. Susan felt indebted to her mother and allowed her to dictate the rules. In March 1992, the couple separates, and they try to save their marriage between comings and goings during the next seven months. During this period, Susan had a relationship with a former co-worker, which only made the situation worse.
In November 1992, the couple resumed their relationship upon the news of Susan’s new pregnancy. David never questioned the paternity of the child despite their separation.
The solution for the moment seemed to be to buy a house, where everything would be different. The couple asked Linda for another loan to buy a property, but what was supposed to bring happiness only left Susan more and more distant.
She seemed to be unhappy with her pregnancy, complaining almost all the time about her condition.
David begins an extramarital relationship
David felt left out. In June 1993 he started dating a co-worker.
After the birth of their second son, Alexander Tyler, on August 5, 1993, David and Susan resumed their relationship, but within three weeks David once again moved out and they decided that the relationship was over.
Despite the comings and goings of their marriage, they were always present in the upbringing and education of their children. The children received love, attention, and were very happy.
“Nice girls don’t sleep with married men”
Susan could not continue working at the same place as David, so she looked for a new job. Her experience as an accountant earned her a position at Conso Products. Shortly after joining the company she was promoted to the position of executive secretary to Conso’s president and CEO, Carey Findlay.
Susan seemed to be integrating high society, just like her mother Linda. Such a position also gave her the chance to get close to her boss’ son, one of Union’s most desired bachelors, Tom Findlay.
At this point she seemed to get everything she wanted, especially about relationships with men. Tom and Susan quickly began a casual relationship in January 1994, but in the spring David became part of her life again, and the two resumed their marriage.
After a few months Susan seemed to regret her decision, she filed for divorce once again. By September she was dating Tom Findlay again and planning their future together. Tom, meanwhile, was trying to figure out how he would end his relationship with Susan.
By October 1994, Susan had already signed divorce papers with David. She was in a bit of a hurry, as her goal at the time was a new marriage to Tom. However, a letter sent by Tom Findlay took Susan by surprise.
The letter gave reasons justifying the end of the relationship. He cited the differences in their backgrounds, and was also emphatic about not wanting children or wanting to raise children. He encouraged Susan to act with more self-respect and referred to an episode where Susan and a friend’s husband were kissing in a hot tub during a party at Tom’s father’s house.
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.Excerpt from Tom Findlay’s letter to Susan.
Susan was devastated by the end of her relationship with Tom. It seemed to be the first time she had ever been rejected by a man. At the time, Tom didn’t know, but she had sex with David; her stepfather, Bev Russell; and also her boss, who was Tom’s father.
Susan decides to use emotional appeals. She goes to Tom and reveals that she has been having sex with her stepfather since she was 16. This didn’t seem to work, so she told him about the supposed affair with her boss, also Tom’s father, and warned him that the details of the relationship might come to light during the next few days…
Tom’s reaction was shock and he reiterated that the two would never have a sexual relationship again.
Susan can’t get over Tom Findlay
It was October 25, 1994, Susan was at work. She seemed very nervous and asked to leave work early.
After picking up her children from nursery, she stopped to chat with a friend in a parking lot and expressed her fears about Tom’s reaction now that he knew she had slept with his father.
In a last effort to control Tom’s feelings, she asked her friend to watch the children while she went to Tom’s office to tell him that everything she had said was nothing but a big lie. Tom didn’t even let Susan start talking. He quickly pulled her out of his office.
Later that evening, she called her friend who she knew was having dinner with Tom and friends. Susan had asked if Tom had said anything about her, but he didn’t say anything. She was really obsessed.
The murder of her two sons, Michael and Alex
Around 8 pm, Susan, in desperation, puts her two children in the car. The children were hastily put in their car seats, nor were their shoes on.
She went to Lake John D. Long and drove up a ramp, got out of the car, put the car in movement, released the parking brake and watched the car, with her children sleeping in the back seat, sank into the lake.
In her confession, she stated that she wanted to die and was going to her mother’s house, but she gave up. Susan stood by and watched until the car was completely submerged.
Acting as innocent
Susan Smith called the police saying that she had her car stolen by a black man who kidnapped her two young children. After she made emotional pleas on television for the safe return of her children, the incident gained worldwide media attention.
However, nine days later, she admitted that she had pushed the car into Lake John D. Long, drowning her sons, Michael, 3, and Alexander, 14 months, who were strapped into the car seats.
The contempt for Susan was overwhelming, not only because of the racial tension triggered by the false accusation of a black man, but because her motive was extremely futile and selfish: to get rid of her children in order to maintain a relationship with a rich man.
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. I’m sure that your kids are good kids, but it really wouldn’t matter how good they may be … the fact is, I just don’t want children. These feelings may change one day, but I doubt it.Excerpt from Tom Findlay’s letter to Susan.
Investigation of the crime
Even before Susan’s confession, investigators already suspected her. Sheriff Howard Wells took polygraph tests on David and Susan. David passed, but Susan’s results were inconclusive. Throughout the nine-day investigation, Susan received several polygraphs and was questioned about the inconsistencies in her carjacking story.
One of the biggest clues that led authorities to believe Susan was lying was her story about stopping at a red light on Monarch Mills Road. She claimed that she did not see any other cars on the road, but the light turned red.
The Monarch Mills headlight light was always green and only turned red if it was triggered by a car on the cross street. Since she said there were no other cars on the road, there was no reason for her to see the red light.
Her attitude toward the kidnapping of her children was extremely exaggerated. She worried about her hair and makeup in front of the television cameras and sometimes asked about Tom Findlay’s whereabouts. She also had dramatic moments of deep sobbing, but remained dry-eyed and tearless.
On November 3, 1994, David and Susan appeared on the CBS This Morning program and David expressed his full support for Susan and her story about the kidnapping. After the interview, Susan met with Sheriff Wells for another questioning.
Susan asked Sheriff Wells to pray with her, and then she began to cry and say how ashamed she felt for what she had done. Her confession of pushing the car into the lake began to come out. She said she wanted to kill herself and her children, but in the end she got out of the car and sent the boys to their deaths.
Search for the boys’ bodies
Susan gave the police the exact distance the car floated before sinking. The sheriff wanted to find the bodies first, and then call David to tell him the truth.
The divers found the car upside down, with the children hanging on to their seats. One diver described seeing the little hand of one of the children pressed against a window. The letter about the reasons for the breakup, written by Tom, was also inside the car.
An autopsy of the children proved that the two boys were still alive when they were submerged in the water.
Even in the face of all the facts, David seemed to have some compassion for Susan. However, when he began to learn more details of the story, he came to his senses. He finally understood that it all resulted from Susan’s desire to rebuild her relationship with Tom Findlay.
The jury took less than 3 hours to return a guilty verdict on two charges of murder. Despite David’s protests, Susan Smith was spared the death sentence and received a 30-year prison sentence.
During her trial, Susan’s stepfather, testified that he had sexually molested his stepdaughter when she was a teenager and again in the months leading up to her drowning the boys. The judge took into consideration the abuse suffered by the defendant.
She will be eligible for parole in 2025 when she is 53 years old. David has stated that he will attend all parole hearings to try to keep Susan Smith in prison for the rest of her life. She is currently serving his sentence at Leath Correctional Institution in South Carolina.
Considerations of the Susan Smith case
Michael and Alex Smith were buried together in the same casket in the Bogansville United Methodist Church cemetery on November 6, 1994, next to the grave of David’s brother and the children’s uncle, Danny Smith.
Since her arrest at South Carolina’s Leath Correctional Institution, two guards have been punished for having sex with Smith. Her sexual activity in prison was discovered after she contracted a sexually transmitted disease.