It goes without saying that life is difficult, and even the smallest amount of support can be a major help to anyone going through a trying time. That’s why we should always empathize with people whose lives are seemingly marked by one tragedy after the next.
Empathy seemed to be exactly what was needed for one couple in Schenectady, New York, in the 1960s and ’70s. After all, Marybeth and Joe Tinning suffered from years of suspicious accidents in their family.
When police finally decided to investigate, however, they discovered that it wasn’t empathy that the Tinnings needed—it was a prison sentence.
It’s no secret that certain people have it harder than others. Marybeth Tinning, a woman born in Schenectady, New York, was definitely one such person. Growing up in the 1940s with an abusive father, her life was seemingly plagued from the start.
When Marybeth first became an adult, she worked a number of dead-end jobs that never paid much. Then, in the mid-’60s, she became a nurse’s aide at Ellis Hospital. As her life started to get on track, she met Joe Tinning while at work. The two would eventually marry in 1965.
A couple of years later, Marybeth gave birth to Barbara, the couple’s first child. Next was Joseph Jr., and then Jennifer, who tragically passed away just eight days after she was born from a condition known as spinal meningitis. While the family was recovering from the loss, just 17 days later, they lost Joseph Jr. to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)…
The family was obviously going through an incredibly trying period, but things were about to get much, much worse. Just six weeks later, Marybeth and Joe had to rush Barbara, then four, to the hospital after discovering she was suffering from convulsions. She died the following day.
At first, doctors believed Barbara had passed from a condition known as Reyes syndrome, but others aware of the situation began to feel something wasn’t quite right. They couldn’t believe that Marybeth and Joe’s children had passed within a three-month period, all from strange diseases, nonetheless.
On Thanksgiving in 1973, the couple welcomed a new baby boy, Timothy, into the world. By December 10—just about two weeks later—he had succumbed to SIDS. Even though they’d had horrible luck with children, the couple remained persistent, and on Easter 1975, they gave birth to yet another boy, Nathan.
Then, just four months later, while sitting in the car with Marybeth, he suddenly stopped breathing and died. He was their fifth child to pass away.
Devastated but persistent, the couple decided in 1978 that they wanted another child, although this time they would adopt a son named Michael. Simultaneously, Marybeth was, astoundingly, also pregnant with her sixth child, who they named Mary Frances.
Once again, just four months after she was born, she too passed away from SIDS. What on Earth could have been happening to this family?
The cycle continued when, in November 1979, Marybeth gave birth to a boy, Jonathan. Much like his previous siblings, by the time March rolled around, they’d lost him to SIDS, too. Their adopted son, Michael, however, was still living with the couple.
It would not last, however. Later that year, Michael, who was just two-and-a-half years old at the time, needed to be rushed to the hospital to see a pediatrician. By the time the doctor looked at hm, he was no longer breathing. Soon enough, he was also pronounced dead. SIDS was the cause yet again. This was the eighth child that Joe and Marybeth Tinning had lost.
By the time news of Michael’s death began to spread, the police had become increasingly suspicious. Michael wasn’t a blood relative of the Tinning’s, so his death from a similar disease seemed unlikely, but all evidence was circumstantial and nothing came of it.
Then, on December 20, 1985, the couple’s eighth biological child, daughter Tami Lynne, smothered in her crib and passed away. That very moment, Marybeth became the chief suspect in the deaths of all nine of her children.
Following Tami Lynne’s death, common sense suggested it was unlikely that nine of Marybeth’s children had all passed away in the span of just 14 years on pure chance. For that reason, authorities honed their investigation in on her. Somehow, this all had to end, right?
As it turned out, the police been had building their case against Marybeth for quite some time. Finally, after what seemed like ages, they arrested her and brought her in to be questioned about the deaths.
When she was arrested, police interrogated Marybeth intensely and for several hours. Finally, she gave in and confessed to murdering her children. While shocking in and of itself, the reason for her heinous crimes was most chilling of all…
In that moment, Marybeth suddenly said without an ounce of remorse in her voice: “I smothered them each with a pillow, because I’m not a good mother.” The police then exhumed the bodies of three of her children, but they were unable to extract any further information from their bodies.
Police had no idea their investigation was about to take a major hit, when just a few short weeks later, Marybeth suddenly recanted her confession. She claimed that she’d been coerced into making a false confession under harsh scrutiny from the detectives during her trying time.
As for Joe, he was eventually dismissed for having no role in his children’s deaths. Still, he stayed by Marybeth’s side, even after she admitted that she’d attempted to murder him by poisoning his grape juice in 1974. On trial, however, despite her recanted confessions, Marybeth was found guilty and, surprisingly, sentenced to just 20 years.
In the years after the conviction, Marybeth was up for parole on three occasions. Finally, in 2011, she admitted to the parole board that she was guilty, but only of killing Tami Lynne. “After the deaths of my other children… I just lost it.”
She continued: “I became a damaged, worthless piece of person, and when my daughter was young, in my state of mind at that time, I just believed that she was going to die also. So I just did it.”
Now 74 and still behind bars at Bedford Correctional Facility for Women, Marybeth is again eligible for parole in 2017. Most people close to the investigation believe it’s highly unlikely that she’ll ever be released.
Even after all her years behind bars, Marybeth has never admitted to killing her other eight children and maintains her innocence. There’s a good chance that we’ll never learn the whole truth…
What a tragic story all around. Do you think that it’s possible Marybeth wasn’t responsible for more than just Tami Lynne’s death?
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