In this article:
- Marybeth Tinning was a serial killer convicted in New York State for murdering her own kids, most of whom were infants and toddlers.
- It took authorities 14 years and the death of 9 children to catch on to the suspicious pattern of deaths in the Tinning family.
- Dr. Michael Baden diagnosed Tinning with Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental illness that causes sufferers to make people, typically children, in their care appear as if they’re sick in order to gain other people’s attention and sympathy.
- After serving 31 years of her life sentence, Tinning was released in 2018 and is now laying low in Schenectady County, New York with her husband Joseph Tinning.
For avid fans of true crime cases, hearing about serial killers committing gruesome murders isn’t really all that surprising anymore. Ted Bundy? Jack the Ripper? Pedro Lopez? They’re all just violent guys with a taste for preying on strangers, women, and minorities at this point. Nothing special. You hear enough and they just blur together.
But people like Marybeth Tinning embody a different kind of terror. She may not be as popular, but unlike those serial killers, Tinning was able to do what we normally feel is unthinkable.
She was a mother who murdered eight of her children.
Who Was Marybeth Tinning?
Marybeth Tinning nee Roe was born on September 11, 1942. She was a native of New York State and attended Duanesburg High School with her younger brother. For all intents and purposes, she was a normal, if unremarkable, young girl. However, Tinning had a history of unstable mental health.
Tinning’s family had a talent for making her worthless. Her mother worked and her father was fighting in World War 2 for a significant part of her childhood. This meant she was often being passed from relative to relative, few of whom seemed to be friendly to her.
In fact, one of Tinning’s older relatives told her that no one wanted her and that she was an accident.
Tinning soon began to understand that as a woman, especially one born in the 40s, her family saw her as unworthy compared to her brother. She would often tell him, “You were the one they wanted, not me.”
Things weren’t much better when her parents were around. Tinning’s father would beat her with a flyswatter and lock her in her room during her “crying spells”.
Being starved of one-on-one positive attention from her parents appear to have taught Tinning that she could only gain attention, and be worthy of it, if she was somebody exceptional or, barring that, unpleasant.
Her peers noted that she had a sharp, sensitive temper. Beneath all that anger, Tinning was deeply unhappy as evidenced by her numerous suicide attempts throughout her childhood.
Tinning wanted to go to college, but her grades were deemed to be so average that she wasn’t accepted. Average and unwanted are the main themes of her early life — until she met Joe Tinning on a blind date.
Joe was a shy young man, but he was kind to her which may have been all that Marybeth wanted. The two were married two years after they met and had two children, Barbara and Joseph Jr, shortly after.
Tinning’s father died a year after Joseph Jr. was born and this took a toll on her mental health. Tinning would later often claim that she didn’t see her father as abusive and that he only meant well, almost as if she had never fully processed what happened to her and maybe even had hopes of growing close to him.
Now that he was dead, there was no relationship to be had. Worse still, her father didn’t even tell her she loved her on his death bed.
This marked the start of Marybeth’s sharp decline in mental health.
Marybeth Tinning Killed Her Children and Almost Murdered Her Husband
There’s a death curse or a death gene in the family. Or so the people in their town thought.
As far as most people were aware, Marybeth was strange but was a good mother who genuinely cared about her children. So it was unfortunate that her babies seemed to have a bad habit of dying one after the other.
Jennifer Tinning, who was born a few months after Marybeth’s father died, suffered from hemorrhagic meningitis and brain abscesses in the womb that led to her death just a week after her birth.
A couple of weeks after her passing, her then 2-year-old Joseph Jr. was rushed to the Ellis Hospital emergency room because of a seizure.
The doctors couldn’t find a cause for his seizure so they sent him home with Marybeth only for the two to return when Joseph Jr. had what appeared to be a cardiopulmonary arrest.
Death struck again and again.
On March 1, Barbara would be brought to the same hospital because of convulsions that doctors believed were due to Reye syndrome.
Reye syndrome is an extremely rare brain disease that only occurs in less than one in a million children each year. And even if the doctors had their suspicions, it’s not like anyone wanted to look like an asshole by asking a grieving mother if she had anything to do with her children’s suspicious deaths.
Marybeth had another child, Timothy, on November 22, 1973, but Timothy also died barely a month later after being “found dead” in his crib. This time, the doctors figured it was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Everyone else in Schenectady, feeling sorry for the poor mother, asked her why she kept having kids when they all seemed to be destined to die. But to this, Marybeth replied that she was a woman and it was “what women are supposed to do”.
Marybeth had another child, Nathan, who died in the car while out driving with her, before she decided to take a break by adopting Michael, a baby. The Tinnings settled back into a normal pace of life and had another biological child, Mary Frances.
Mary Frances was born on October 29, 1978. In January of the following year, Marybeth brought her to Ellis Hospital for a seizure which the doctors were able to save her from. This wasn’t the end, though, as Marybeth would return a month later with Mary Frances in cardiac arrest.
She survived again but suffered brain damage that killed her shortly after.
Jonathan was conceived after Mary Frances’ burial and was born on November 19, 1979. The next year, he too was brought to Ellis Hospital but was revived and sent to Boston Hospital for further examination.
The doctors were beginning to notice that the family what seemed to be a mysterious genetic condition, but they were unable to find a cause for Jonathan’s illness so they sent him home.
Jonathan was later brought back by Marybeth to the hospital where he was declared brain-dead.
By now, the Tinnings’ only surviving child was their adopted son, Michael. Up until this time, it was assumed that whatever was killing the Tinning children was a genetic condition, likely something that made them prone to SIDS.
But when Michael dropped dead from another suspected case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, it became clear that it wasn’t.
Still, no one was filing charges against Marybeth Tinning which is bizarre when you consider that she poisoned her own husband in 1974 with barbiturate pills that she got from a friend whose daughter was suffering from epilepsy.
Marybeth had spiked Joseph’s grape juice with the pills. Joseph refused to press charges and stayed with his wife so even if he noticed anything amiss, it was highly unlikely that he would ever report Marybeth himself.
Not that he’d have to since the children always died when they only had Marybeth for company.
After Michael’s death in 1981, Marybeth took a long break from baby killing and only made her comeback on August 22, 1985, when she gave birth to Tami Lynne.
In December of that year, her neighbor Cynthia Walter would receive a frantic call from Marybeth who claimed her daughter was not breathing. She arrived and saw Tami Lynne lying on a changing table.
Cynthia was a trained nurse so she quickly got to work, checking Tami Lynne’s vitals.
She was dead.
Pretty Much Everyone Let Marybeth Tinning off the Hook
There are a lot of questions about this case and the deeper you go into them, the clearer it becomes that most of the Tinning children’s deaths could have been prevented if the medical staff and the authorities involved in the investigation did not allow themselves to be accomplices to Marybeth Tinning’s string of murders.
Not in the literal sense, of course, but in the sense that there is so much gross mishandling in every step of this 14-year killing spree.
After the death of Barbara Tinning, hospital personnel who suspected foul play notified the police.
However, the pathologist declared the cause of death as cardiac arrest. One nurse later said that she had wanted to report the incidents as suspicious but, because these reports had to be approved by a physician, was unable to do so because the doctor told her to “mind her own business”.
The pathologist who looked into Timothy Tinning’s death was unable to find a cause of death and so, put it down to another case of SIDS. When it was Nathan’s turn, the police didn’t lift a finger because it looked like they were all just dying of SIDS.
Time and time again, the deaths of these children were being waved off as SIDS.
Even when Tami Lynne died, literally the 9th of the children to die in Marybeth’s care, the pathologist initially ignored the purple color of her body that suggested she had been suffocated and again, said that Tami Lynne died of SIDS.
The Schenectady Police Department was eventually able to put together autopsy reports, hospital records, and other important documents relating to the medical history and death of the Tinning children.
But it was all still taken as circumstantial evidence that could not constitute a solid case against Marybeth unless she confessed.
And man, she did not confess. Marybeth kept telling interrogators that she had nothing to do with her children’s death until finally, they managed to wear her down. It was only then that Marybeth confessed to smothering Tami Lynne, Nathan, and Timothy.
She refused to admit involvement in the death of her other children.
The lack of clarity led the jury to convict her guilty of murder only in the second degree which meant that she wasn’t sentenced for intentionally killing her children.
Marybeth Tinning May Have Had Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
Even today, women are less likely to be sentenced to prison, and those that do tend to receive a lighter sentence compared to their male counterparts. Of course, this is typically because women commit violent crimes at lower rates than men and when they do, it’s typically simple assault.
In Marybeth Tinning’s case, the jury was befuddled by the lack of clear evidence against Tinning. They found it suspicious that all of her children, even one who wasn’t biologically related to her and as such, wouldn’t be on the receiving end of a hereditary mystery illness, died in her care.
But at the same time, the authorities failed to make an unrefutable case against Tinning whose “confession” could be seen as having been made under duress. They also couldn’t see why a mother would kill her child. Munchausen by proxy wasn’t well known at the time.
Marybeth Tinning was suspected of killing eight of her nine children.
She was convicted of only killing one.
As of 2018, she has been granted parole and is living in Schenectady County, New York with her husband Joseph Tinning, who fully believes in his wife’s innocence.