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For this list, we’re looking at real life mothers who did terrible and unthinkable things to their children.

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1. Sanae Shimomura


This single mother of two was tired of taking care of her 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, so she repeatedly left them alone in her apartment while she spent time with her boyfriend. She would typically leave the children for a few days, but in June 2010 she simply didn’t go home. Concerned neighbors could hear the children crying and social services reportedly passed by, but finding no one home, the children were never rescued. After a month locked in the apartment their bodies were discovered, the children most likely having starved to death. Shimomura was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her crime.

2. Ka Yang


This mother of four took her 2-month-old daughter, Mirabelle, and put her in a microwave for up to five minutes. Mirabelle suffered severe burns, her internal organs were damaged, and she died as a result. Yang, who had been suffering from epilepsy, claimed she was having a seizure and was unaware of her actions. Despite her defense, she’d been inconsistent with her account of the events, telling police that she’d dropped Mirabelle on a space heater. When police found a pacifier in the microwave and radiation was discovered in Mirabelle’s stomach, Yang admitted to killing her baby and was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder.

3. Gertrude Baniszewski


Lester and Betty Likens left their teenage daughters Sylvia and Jenny in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski while they worked with a travelling Carnival. When payments for the girls’ care came late, Baniszewski’s true character was revealed and she began physically and emotionally abusing the girls, particularly Sylvia. She encouraged her own children and those from the neighborhood to torment the girl. Sylvia lived through various tortures, suffering burning and blunt trauma, until she eventually died. Baniszewski served just under 20 years in prison before being released to public outrage, while her children were also prosecuted for their roles in the murder. The case inspired multiple novels including “The Girl Next Door.”

4. Belle Gunness


This 19th century criminal might remind you of Mary Ann Cotton. Gunness mainly killed men – starting with her husbands – to claim insurance money. Her children and stepchildren were used as pawns and she killed them when it suited her. She went so far as to put advertisements in the newspaper calling for male partners to help at her farm - only to kill and rob them. When henchman Ray Lamphere threatened to expose her, she staged a fire that killed her three children and seemingly planted a female body to fake her death. She’d withdrawn most of her money shortly before the fire, and though there were countless sightings, she was never verifiably seen again.

5. Casey Marie Anthony


When a child suddenly goes missing, most parents would be on the phone with police within an hour, but Casey Anthony apparently waited a month. In fact, it was her mother who alerted authorities. Anthony also lied to police multiple times while they were looking for the 2-year-old. When young Caylee’s remains were found, her death was ruled a homicide and Anthony was the prime suspect. After a long and public trial, however, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Anthony of the murder and she went free in 2011. Public outcry following the verdict was significant, as many felt Anthony was directly responsible for the murder.

6. Stacie Parsons


Parsons’ husband Gary Wyatt threatened her with divorce and she retaliated by killing their 4-year-old daughter Victoria. She drove Victoria to a bridge where she stabbed her in the chest, delivered blunt force trauma to her head, and drowned her. Parsons then placed her in the trunk of her car where she was found by Wyatt. The distraught father attempted CPR but Victoria was already dead. Family members say that Parsons was always jealous of Victoria and was disappointed that she wasn’t a boy. Parsons turned herself into police just hours after the murder.

7. Claire Biggs


Claire Biggs was known to authorities and social workers. Her prior convictions, including drug abuse, led to the removal of her first child, but her second child, Rhys, fell through the cracks. And so he remained in the custody of Biggs and her boyfriend Paul Husband, who had prior convictions for sexually assaulting a child. The infant would need to have been savagely beaten, as the autopsy showed 13 broken ribs, a broken shoulder and wrist. Biggs and Husband were jailed for their crimes, but since the exact cause of death could not be determined, Biggs received just eight years for assault and Husband got a little over two years for neglect.

8. Mary Ann Cotton


A real-life 19th century black widow, Cotton buried three husbands due to “intestinal problems” which, are now believed to have been arsenic poisoning. Eleven of her children died of similarly suspect causes. The motive behind these murders? It would appear to be financial: she was big on collecting life insurance. Cotton got away with murder for 20 years until she made the mistake of complaining about her step-son to a parish official. When the healthy boy died less than a week later, an investigation was launched. Mary Ann Cotton was found guilty of murder and hanged for her crimes.

9. Theresa Knorr


Knorr was a single mother of 6 who tortured her children. The abuse they experienced was so severe that it inspired the horror movie “The Afflicted.” Although all six children were made to suffer, the eldest daughters Suesan and Sheila received the worst of it. Suesan was stabbed, shot, subjected to home surgery and finally burnt alive by her brothers at her mother’s instruction. Knorr forced Sheila into prostitution and later hog-tied and starved her to death in a closet. Terry, Knorr’s youngest daughter, eventually brought justice for her sisters when she escaped and alerted authorities. Knorr received two consecutive life sentences.

10. Susan Smith


In 1994, Susan Smith reported that her car had been hijacked with her 14-month-old and 3-year-old son inside. Adding racial tension to the mix, she claimed they were taken by a “black man.” For the next week she pleaded for their safe return and drew sympathy from the entire nation. Nine days later, she confessed to strapping her boys inside her car and driving it into a lake, where they drowned. Smith’s confession caused nationwide outrage, and despite claims of postpartum depression, she was sentenced to life in prison.


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