Lacey Spears, an American woman who wrote a blog about motherhood, was convicted last month of murder for killing her five-year-old boy by injecting salt into his hospital drip.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be saying What? What exactly is that?
And yet, this is not an unusual occurrence, due to a bizarre psychiatric condition that drives people to inflict sickness on the people they care for.
Lacey Spears was addicted to the sympathy she received for the suffering of her child and had been harming him since birth to make sure that he remained unwell. She even invented the death of the child’s fictional policeman father in a road crash when in reality the father remains alive and well.
Münchhausen Syndrome is a well-established set of behaviours by which people pretend to be unwell in order to attract sympathy. Some would say we all do it from time to time, and maybe they’re correct, but true Münchhausen Syndrome is a severely debilitating psychological illness in which the sufferer is driven to invent bizarre and improbable stories in order to gain sympathy from health professionals. It’s named in honour of the fictional Baron Münchhausen, purveyor of ludicrously-exaggerated tales.
A branch of Münchhausen Syndrome is the proxy variant, in which the sufferer inflicts injury on a child or other vulnerable person in their care. Typically, the perpetrator is a parent, and the sicker the child remains, the more sympathy the parent receives. Thus it becomes necessary to keep the child permanently sick in order to receive permanent sympathy.
That, it seems, is what was happening with Lacey Spears, though this is far from the only example of the syndrome.
The original aspect of this case is that Münchhausen Syndrome by Proxy found the internet, and in particular Facebook, where every half-witted fool is willing to respond to to every half-witted message. Münchhausen Syndrome finally found the place it had yearned for.
Lacey Spears found Facebook and Twitter. Lacey Spears found Blogspot. Lacey Spears found Münchhausen heaven, but poor little Garnett Spears found Hell.
Baby Garnett was born in December 2008 and spent his first year in hospital twenty-three times, while his mother sought comfort from social-media friends.
At ten weeks old he stopped breathing, due to high sodium levels, the condition that would eventually kill him.
In 2011, his mother took him from Decatur, Alabama, to Clearwater, Florida, to live with his grandmother, when she spent a good portion of her time posting on Facebook about raising a sick child whose police officer father had died in a car crash. A lie.
The child was constantly in and out of emergency rooms in Clearwater, and a fellow parent complained that Lacey was slapping the baby as hard as possible to make him cry.
During that time, Lacey posted Facebook photos of herself with a child. My World My Everything. He Completes Me. A Mother’s Love Is Unexplainable.
The child in the photos is not Garnett, but Jonathon Strain,a child she minded before her own son was born. This woman is clearly unwell.
In 2012, Lacey Spears left Clearwater and moved to Chestnut Ridge, New York State where she joined a Steiner group, the Fellowship Community.
In January 2014, Garnett was admitted to the Westchester Medical Center with spiking sodium levels. As he lay dying, his mother called a friend in the Steiner Fellowship Community, requesting that she dispose of a bag that she had injected salt into.
Eventually, doctors at the hospital called the police and on the 23rd January, the little boy was declared dead. His mother posted on Facebook Garnett the great journeyed onward today at 10:20 a.m.
Lacey Spears received a sentence of 20 years to life for killing the child and yet, frankly, I can derive no satisfaction from it. This is clearly a woman with a severe psychological disorder, probably learned from behaviour exhibited by adults in her early childhood.
I’m not trying to justify the murder, but I am trying to mitigate the punishment.
We recently had a murder case where the sadistic perpetrator was obviously deranged and deserved to be incarcerated for life, because he is clearly a danger to society. Graham Dwyer is clearly a nasty piece of work who will continue to seek out victims as long as he has the physical capacity to do so.
Lacey Spears, on the other hand, is a person suffering from an extremely distorted understanding of the world, who has now lost everything. Is there any point in punishing such people?
How does it benefit society?
I don’t know.