Sisterhood Blog

The Fascination With Murderous Moms

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Florida Department of Corrections
Casey Anthony’s mugshot.

For the past several weeks, sitting atop Google News and on newspapers’ “most emailed stories” lists, alongside the multiple Arab uprisings, tornadoes, volcanoes and the woes of Rep. Anthony Weiner, is the trial of Casey Anthony, now in its third week.

The Florida trial itself is standing-room-only event, with long lines to get into the courtroom. The addiction to the unfolding courtroom proceedings is reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson trial, despite the fact that Casey Anthony was not a celebrity before she was accused of murdering her young daughter. The Chicago Tribune reports that in Florida:

More and more people … are finding themselves riveted by the testimony and wanting to watch every moment of it. So they line up to try and score one of the dozens of public passes for a seat inside the courtroom, they watch on television screens at restaurants or salons, catch live digital streams in the office or follow Twitter feeds on their mobile devices.

Casey Anthony is the alleged murderous mom of the moment, charged with murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. In 1993, it was Susan Smith, convicted of driving her car into a lake and drowning her two young sons; in 2001, it was Andrea Yates, who was charged with drowning her five children in the bathtub while in the grips of post-partum depression, and found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Now, in 2011, the face of alleged maternal murder is the petite brunette 25-year-old Floridian. Just as kidnapping and murders of young attractive white women are ratings-grabbers, so too are middle-class, white moms-next-door who turn out to be killers.

Back in the days of the Susan Smith case, part of the fascination was the shock: How could a mother be capable of killing her children because she believed they stood in the way of happiness with her new lover? These days, after countless episodes of “Law and Order” “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” we are all more jaded and it is less shocking, to be sure.

And yet, we are still fascinated and have trouble believing it. We try to picture this tiny young woman placing duct tape on her daughter’s mouth, suffocating her, and burying her in the woods, as is alleged. It all seems the stuff of fiction — the layers of lies regarding Caylee’s whereabouts, the creation of the fictional nanny “Zanny,” who was blamed for abducting Caylee, the photographs and videos of Casey partying when she claimed to be desperately searching for her missing child.

In the age of overprotective parenting, where we agonize over every potential choking hazard or unhealthy snack, the idea of child murder is even harder to fathom.

British psychologist Anna Motz, who specializes in female violence, suggests that violent crimes by women are viewed and judged far beyond the act itself as “a crime against society’s idealized perception of motherhood.” Indeed, the case of Casey Anthony reinforces the idea that women who are able to enjoy themselves away from their children must be on some level, evil. Many mothers feel guilty when they leave their living, healthy children with a babysitter and go out to have fun. Here is a woman that prosecutors say are capable of burying her dead baby in the ground and shortly afterwards, participating in a “Hot Body” contest.

We can’t look away from this car wreck of a mother.

Another reason we are riveted by the Casey Anthony case is the potential consequence of her actions. There are 397 inmates on death row in Florida. If she is convicted, Casey Anthony will be the fourth woman among them. That’s one barrier we don’t like to see women breaking.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Susan Smith, Casey Anthony, Crime, Murder, Andrea Yates

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.