Deviant Mind

Women Who Kill: Lacey Spears

By now (thanks to the media), most of us are aware of the disturbing case of child abuse and murder that is the story of Gypsy Rose – a young woman subjected to decades of abuse by a mother fixated on receiving attention and affection from fulfilling the role of devoted caregiver. Eventually, Gypsy lashed out in a homicidal rage and had a boy she met online stab and kill her mother. While this may be the first case of Munchausen by proxy to result in a victim killing their perpetrator, it is not the only case that depicts the potentially life-ending results of Munchausen by proxy.

Most cases of this disorder result in child abuse convictions – like Blanca Montano, a 21-year-old mother who intentionally infected her children with fecal matter, causing her infant daughter to develop several types of rare infections. Other cases result in life-threatening situations and accidental death.

Just like the story of the Mummy Blogger, or as others call her, “Mother of the Year”.

Born and raised in Decatur, Alabama, Lacey Spears spent her early years dreaming of being a mother. She worked as a nanny and in a daycare center during her teenage years until that dream came true in 2008 when she gave birth to her son, Garnett-Paul at the age of 20. According to Spears, Garnett’s father, her purported high school sweetheart, fiancee, and police officer died shortly after in a car accident, leaving Spears to raise Garnett on her own. Garnett was born healthy, but almost immediately, he began to develop malnutrition and dehydration issues. At only 9 days old, Garnett became very ill and had to be hospitalized. At 2 ½ months, he was life-flighted to the Children’s Hospital of Alabama for being so dehydrated that his body was in shock. A blood draw showed extremely high levels of sodium. However, doctors and medical staff couldn’t figure out the cause as his MRI, EEG, CT, chest x-ray, and swallowing study all came back normal. As he grew, his health problems continued. His symptoms were almost unbelievable, causing the doctors to never get the diagnosis 100% right. He had high fevers, ear infections, convulsions, and gastrointestinal problems. The cause of the illnesses was always uncertain.

According to Spears’ social media posts, Garnett was hospitalized 23 times in the first year of his life. When he reached nine months, his doctors became concerned that he was not receiving the essential nutrients he needed to survive and surgically placed a feeding tube directly into his stomach. This decision would prove to be instrumental in young Garnett’s death.

A feeding tube is normally used in a hospital setting or at home and is a method of treatment to be used only when all other solutions have been exhausted. Once Garnett began demonstrating signs of improvement, multiple physicians began suggesting that his feeding tube be removed. Spears was resistant to the idea, and every time a doctor made the suggestion, she would take her son to a new hospital where the clinicians were unfamiliar with Garnett or his history. Time and time again, symptoms would lessen while Garnett was under the care of medical staff but would then flare up once he returned home.

With each hospital stay, Spears’ group of sympathizers grew. They enveloped her in their prayers and well wishes and celebrated with her when Garnett rallied against another mysterious ailment. Soon Spears becomes extremely active on Facebook and other social media platforms. She started a blog called “Garnett’s Journey” where she shared details of Garnett’s hospitalizations, including photos of him in the hospital and specifics about what they were going through.

On one of her social media accounts, she posted a status regarding Garnett’s nutrition. The feeding tube was supposed to be the solution everyone hoped for, but even after its insertion, Garnett’s problems continued – and so did his visits to the hospitals. Garnett was repeatedly admitted to the emergency room with elevated sodium levels; while Spears continued telling anyone who would listen about her son’s challenges with Crohn’s and Celiac disease, seizures, high fevers, and other conditions – continuing her act as the anguished mom of a child with an unknown illness.

The last hospitalization brought Garnett to Nyack Hospital in New York, where he was described as being very ill, clutching his head, screaming, and dry heaving. Garnett was then flown from Nyack Hospital to Westchester and was admitted to the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital’s intensive care unit and put under the Westchester physicians’ care. Shortly after Spears and Garnett arrived at the Children’s Hospital, a doctor intercepted Spears when she was trying to enter Garnett’s room and blocked her access. He told her it was “metabolically impossible” for the body of a 5-year-old to produce such high sodium levels and declared that “something is going on here.”

Sources say Spears continued to sleep in Garnett’s room and had unmonitored access to him in the room’s attached bathroom. The next day, when friends visited, Garnett was alert and talking. One friend recalled the 5-year-old pleading for her not to leave him. The following morning, Garnett’s condition worsened and he “coded”. Spears began posting numerous updates and online pictures of her son, including photos of him on life support, urging her supporters “not to give up!!!”

Once it became clear to the physicians that Garnett would not recover, the medical staff alerted the child abuse hotline, prompting the police and the district attorney’s office to get involved. When police arrived that afternoon, they interviewed the hospital staff and Spears. The hospital found that the sodium content in Garnett’s body corresponded to 69 small packets of salt – a lethal quantity. When the police asked Spears how there could be that much salt in Garnett’s body, Spears answered by saying this questioning should be asked of the doctors and not her, a mother who was already suffering so much. When they asked her when was the last time she used the feeding tube to feed Garnett, they suspected that Spears lied and gave a false response. This began to make them suspect Spears had poisoned her son with salt, possibly through his feeding tube. They told Spears she could not leave the pediatric ward until they completed their investigation.

The police then interviewed Spears’ family members and scrutinized video surveillance from both hospitals to determine the timeline of events. They found that while at Nyack, Garnett was mostly restricted to a room with a video monitor secured to his small body. At Maria Fareri, video footage showed multiple times when Spears took Garnett to the private bathroom. The police believed it was during one of these trips (which was not filmed) that Spears poisoned Garnett for the last time. As a result, they confiscated Spears’ phone, computer, and the feeding bag she had on her.

It was during this time that the most damning piece of evidence (uncovered during the investigation months) occurred. According to a neighbor who lived near Spears, Spears called her from her child’s deathbed and asked her to go to her home and get rid of a bag. The neighbor did as she was asked and took the bag from Spears’ Chestnut Ridge apartment. However, instead of discarding it, she held onto it and later turned it over to the authorities. The bag contained 5.5 teaspoons or 22 servings of sodium in it. That’s the same amount of sodium as in 69 McDonald’s salt packets, eight salt bagels, or 20 hot dogs, said toxicologist Christopher Cording, who tested the bag’s contents.

Two days later (four days after his admission to the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital), Garnett was pronounced dead, and Spears made her final Facebook post – “Garnett the great journeyed onward today at 10:20 a.m.”

Initially, Spears was flooded with condolences. However, the support soon diminished as friends learned about the investigation and stories from her past: how her frequent emergency room visits raised eyebrows among medical staff, that she misrepresented herself as the mother of a child she babysat, and that she’d lied about Garnett’s father. He was not a police officer who died in a crash but instead was a garage-door installer still living in Alabama, under the impression that Garnett was not his son – as Spears apparently lied to him and threatened him to keep his distance from her and Garnett.

One of her friends recalled seeing Spears for a few minutes after Garnett died to exchange some belongings and said Spears was “very concerned about what the papers were saying and what people in the school community were saying,” but didn’t mention her son. Police continued their investigation, believing Spears had poisoned her son on at least three occasions (once before his admission to Nyack, another time during his stay at Nyack, and again after she was confronted by a doctor at Maria Fareri).

In June 2014, Spears was arrested on murder and manslaughter charges, in what the police described as the final act of a deranged mother who medically tortured her child for years and documented the results of the torture on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and her personal blog.

At the trial, which took place in February 2015, Spears showed little emotion while prosecutors described how the “calculated child killer” made up young Garnett’s sickness, causing him to be unable to eat food or gain weight, have seizures, and develop a swollen brain – ultimately leading to his death. During closing arguments, Westchester Assistant District Attorney Patricia Murphy encouraged jurors to watch footage from the video EEG that was set up at Nyack Hospital to monitor Garnett for seizure activity to see whether Spears showed Garnett any affection. “See if ever once, in whatever segment of that video you want to look at, see if she has ever hugged her son,” Murphy said. “See if she has ever kissed her son.”

“It has always been about Lacey. This case has never been about Garnett. It’s all about Lacey, mother of the year.”

On March 2, 2015, the jury found Lacey guilty of 2nd-degree murder, and she was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. The judge acknowledged that Lacey suffered from Munchausen by proxy and therefore, did not sentence her to the maximum of 25 years in prison before parole eligibility.

Since completing my undergraduate studies, I've dedicated my time to supporting and empowering individuals with behavioral health issues. This blog is to be a platform for the behavioral health community; examining the history of behavioral health and the progressions made within the field while providing information and resources to those who need it.

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