Susan Smith: The Woman Who Murdered Her Children For a Man

Susan Smith: The Woman Who Murdered Her Children For a Man

It was the summer of 1988 and 17-year-old Susan had just scored a job at the local Winn-Dixie grocery store in Union, South Carolina. In high school, Susan was known for her happy-go-lucky enthusiastic disposition. She was outgoing and did well academically speaking.

It was at work Susan became close with a younger co-worker and high school acquaintance, David Smith. The two quickly began spending more and more time together. However, unbeknownst to David, Susan was already involved in an affair with a married man, who also worked at the Winn-Dixie. The married man's wife was not na├»ve to the affair, at one point she visited her husband at work and stated, “I see your baby’s working tonight.”

As a result of the affair, Susan became pregnant. She ended the pregnancy and the married man ended their relationship. Susan was so devastated, she attempted to take her own life by swallowing a mixture of Aspirin and Tylenol.

Almost immediately following the end of the affair, Susan and David began dating. At the time, David was already engaged to another woman, however, he felt he had found his true soul mate in Susan, and thus, he abruptly ended his engagement to be with her.

A sordid background and a rushed wedding

Not long into the relationship. Susan fell pregnant. They decided to marry and raise their child together in David’s family home. Unfortunately, there was no wedded bliss to be had. The marriage came at a bad time as David’s brother had passed away only eleven days prior. His father could not handle the loss of a son. He attempted suicide, and soon after, his wife left him.

Susan was used to the theatrics as she had come from a tumultuous family background herself. Her parents divorced when she was six and her father committed suicide only five weeks later. Only weeks following her ex-husband's death, Susan’s mother married wealthy businessman Beverly Russell and moved into his home with her three children.

Beverly quickly showed his true colors when he began molesting Susan at the age of sixteen. Susan tried everything she could to escape the abuse. She confided in her mother who only chastised her. She reached out to Social Services but other than a few family counseling sessions, nothing was ever done and the molestation by her step-father continued.

Unfortunately, Susan and David’s marriage did not last long and in March of 1992, they separated, however, they continued to engage in an intimate relationship for the next seven months. By November, Susan was pregnant with their second child and the two reunited.

During Susan’s pregnancy, David began feeling more and more lonely and isolated, resulting in him beginning an affair with a co-worker. He returned home to Susan after the birth of their second child, but their reunion only lasted three weeks, after which their relationship was over for good.

The ‘Dear John’ letter

Susan decided she did not want to work side-by-side with her ex-husband and thus she quit her job at the Winn-Dixie and began work as a book-keeper at Conso Products, a textile company. After a relatively short period of time, she was promoted to the position of executive assistant to the CEO of Conso Products, J. Carey Findlay.

This had been Susan’s plan all along in order to get closer to Mr. Findlay’s son, Tom Findlay. A man who was known to be one of the most eligible bachelors in Union. Soon, Susan and Tom began dating. David had tried to reconcile with his ex-wife, but she rejected him, opting for a divorce instead in order to be with Tom. Unbeknownst to Susan, Tom was in the midst of ending their relationship.

In October of 1994, Susan and David’s divorce was final. Only a few days prior, she received a Dear John letter from Tom. In the letter, he described his utter distaste for Susan. He ended their relationship, clearly stating he had no intention to father any children produced by Susan:
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. With all of the crazy, mixed-up things that take place in this world today, I just don’t have the desire to bring another life into it. And I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else's children, either.

Tom accused Susan of lacking self-respect, referring to a time where he caught her kissing a friend's husband at a party held by Tom’s father. It was clear Tom was not tolerant of Susan’s promiscuous behavior:

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.

Susan felt her heart had been callously ripped out of her chest. With the letter sitting on the passenger seat and tears running down her face, Susan frantically drove to Tom’s office at Conso Products. Once there, she tried to gain Tom’s compassion by confiding in him about the molestation she had endured at the hands of her step-father. Susan attempted to manipulate Tom and pleaded with him to stay, stating she was deeply depressed.

When Susan’s revealing admission failed to garner Tom’s empathy, she grew angry and told him she was having an affair with his father. Susan warned Tom that if he were to end their relationship, she would go public with the details of the alleged affair. Tom, full of disbelief and revulsion, threw Susan out of his office. Any chance the two had of reconciling was now completely severed and out of the question.

Over the next week or so, Susan grew more and more obsessed with Tom Findlay, repeatedly inquiring with friends whether he had been mentioning her, what he had been doing and with whom. When she learned Tom had not once asked of her, she snapped.

A scorned woman and two innocent children

On October 25, 1994, Susan realized she had made a drastic mistake. She went uninvited to Tom’s office and admitted she had lied about having an affair with his father for attention. Tom was livid. He did not know whether the affair was true or a sham, but it was a moot point; he told Susan their relationship was over for good. Once again, he threw a crying and delirious Susan out of his office.

Susan wanted Tom back and believed that the only thing standing in her way, were her children. She falsely believed that if not for her children, the two would have continued their relationship. It was then she came up with a cruel, and callous plan.

Michael and Alex SmithCriminalia

At eight pm, Susan strapped her two sleeping boys, 3-year-old Michael, and 1-year-old Alex, into her car and drove to John D. Long Lake. Once on the ramp, she put the car in drive, exited the vehicle, released the brake, and watched as her car plunged into the lake with her children inside. Susan stood idly by and watched them drown.

Susan then ran to a home nearby and began frantically screaming and banging on the front door. In a seemingly hysterical state, she told the homeowners her car had been stolen by a Black man with her two children inside.

Susan told the police she was stopped at a red light when a Black man wielding a gun jumped into her vehicle and ordered her to drive. At one point, he told her to get out of the car and drove away, leaving only the faint sound of her crying children.

The search for the Smith children began immediately. The alleged abduction was all over the news; locals were frightened something so horrific could have happened in their city.

For the next nine days, Susan stuck to her lie, playing the part of a desperate woman heartbroken over her missing children. An unsuspecting David returned to her side and together, they appeared on the news where they made a tearful plea for the safe return of their children:

Whoever has my children, that they please, please, bring them home where they belong. They are missed and loved more than any children in the world. I feel in my heart you’re O.K. And your momma and daddy will be waiting for you when you get home. I put my faith in the Lord that He will bring them home to us. — Susan Smith

Inconsistencies, erratic behaviour, and a failed polygraph lead to a confession

The police became suspicious of Susan when was barely able to provide a description of the alleged abductor. Soon, more inconsistencies in her story began to unravel.

Susan’s behavior was not consistent with a mother whose children were missing. Rather than be concerned for their well-being, she was more interested in how she looked on television. She was erratic and her behaviour would jump between bouts of sobbing and moments of complete calmness without a care in the world.

In addition, a friend claimed that Susan only ever talked about Tom and shopping. She never mentioned her so-called missing children.

The largest inconsistency in Susan’s story was the fact she said she was stopped at a red light when the kidnapper jumped into her vehicle. Susan claimed there were no other vehicles on the road. The traffic light on the road she claimed to have been on would have only turned red if there was a vehicle on the cross street. If there were no other vehicles opposing Susan, the traffic light would not have turned red.

Susan and David were asked to participate in a polygraph test. While David passed the test, Susan did not, nor did she pass the several subsequent polygraph tests administered to her.

On November 3, 1994, Susan appeared on CBS This Morning with David. When asked if she was involved in the disappearance of her two children, she stated, “I did not have anything to do with the abduction of my children.”

Moments after the show, Susan confessed to drowning her children.
She killed her children for a man

Susan told the police her initial plan was to kill herself also, but she changed her mind at the last moment. With her statement, the authorities were able to find her vehicle at the bottom of the lake. Michael and Alex were hanging upside down, and one of their palms was pressed up against the window.

David was overcome with grief. The only solace he could find was that perhaps his ex-wife had shown mercy and killed the two boys prior to having them submerged in the lake. However, this was not the case, as the autopsy showed that the children were alive when they plummeted into the water.

The Dear John letter was also found in the sunken car, and Susan’s motive was quickly realized. She had annihilated her children to be with Tom Findlay.

Susan SmithThe San Diego Union-Tribune

Walking into the courthouse, locals stood outside and shouted, “baby killer!” at Susan. She was placed on suicide watch with guards checking in on her every fifteen minutes for the 8 months leading up to her trial.

On November 27, 1995, the judge presiding over the double-murder case held a tight leash throughout the course of the trial. Television cameras were banned in the courtroom to avoid the ‘circus-like atmosphere’ displayed in the OJ Simpson trial in Los Angeles, that had begun only three days prior.

The defense focused heavily on Susan’s tumultuous childhood, the sexual molestation she endured at the hands of her step-father, and her years of untreated mental illness including depression and suicidal tendencies. They argued Susan had feared abandonment which resulted in her participation in multiple relationships and sexual affairs with various men.

The prosecution, of course, disagreed. They painted a picture of Susan being an evil conniving narcissist. A self-important woman whose only concern was that of herself. Her children were holding her back from being with who in her mind, was her true love. In getting rid of her children, a delusional Susan believed Tom would grow empathetic towards her and continue their relationship.

Susan’s stepfather Beverly, a once-respected businessman, had been outed as a sexual predator during the trial. In a surprising turn of events, Beverly supported Susan during the trial, even paying her legal fees. Perhaps, ridden with guilt, Beverly felt he could redeem himself by doing so.

Susan’s crime was multi-faceted in the sense that she not only coldly murdered her two innocent children, but she also broke the heart of their father, caused tension in Union’s Black community, and defrauded multiple news outlets.

The jury sided with the prosecution and ultimately found Susan guilty of two counts of murder. She was sentenced to thirty years to life in prison and will be eligible for parole in 2024.

A new beginning

A relieved David stood outside the courthouse on the day of Susan’s sentencing, held up a photo of his two beloved sons, and smiled for the victory. Michael and Alex were buried together in a single casket. The funeral was televised and 5,000 mourners traveled to Union to pay their respects.

David Smith

In 2003, David married his long-time partner, Tiffany. For a decade, he was terrified of bringing more children into the world for the fear of having them taken away from him, but when their daughter Savannah was born, David was elated to become a father once again, “I enjoy being a father very much. There’s no greater love in the world than loving a child.”