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This post is the ultimate deep dive into the timeline of Susan Smith, the mother who, after a breakup with her lover, released the parking break in her car and allowed her two sons, Michael and Alex, to roll off a boating dock and into a lake.

susan smith

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Susan Smith is arguably one of the most infamous mothers in modern history.

Who at one point was the most hated woman in the country.

As a woman who led her whole small town of Union, South Carolina, on a wild goose chase to find her two missing sons, 3-year-old Michael, and 14-month-old Alex, in the mid-’90s, nobody suspected she was anything more than a victim of an egregious crime.

This is a much different scenario than the one of Andrea Yates.

The Susan Smith murder case is a complex one. 

One that involves sexual abuse, promiscuity, lies, manipulation, selfishness, and suicide.

The life of Sue Smith tells a very different story that ended in tragedy.

After confessing to allowing her car with her kids in their car seats to roll into a lake, Susan Smith was found guilty of first-degree murder of her two son’s Michael and Alex in July of 1995.

How did this happen?

This post is the deepest dive into the life of Susan Smith and what led her to murder her two kids.

The Susan Smith Murders 1

Susan Smith: The Mother Who Drover Her Kids Into a Lake

Susan’s Early Life

Susan Smith Murders
Photo Credit: @danasfashionfaze

For Susan Smith, South Carolina was her home. 

Susan was born in Union, South Carolina, on September 26, 1971.

She was the only daughter born to Linda, a homemaker, and Harry, a volunteer firefighter.

It was in 1960 that Susan’s mother, Linda, was only 17 and pregnant from another relationship when she married Susan’s father, Harry, when he was 20 years old.

After that, they had Susan and her brother Scotty raising Linda’s son Michael together.

 However, it wasn’t a happy union.

Like many unfortunate marriages at that time, it was an abusive relationship.

Harry was physically abusive and an alcoholic who frequently threatened to kill Linda and himself over cheating accusations.

The dysfunction and danger in Susan’s childhood did not only affect Susan.

Consumed from fear and grief over his parent’s constant abuse of each other, Michael, Susan’s half-brother, attempted suicide by hanging while she was in preschool.

Living in a turbulent home, Susan was described as an isolated and depressed child and “unusually sad.”

Susan’s Father Commits Suicide

Sue Smith reported being very close with her father.

Like many young girls, our fathers can be a source of safety and comfort. However, in 1977, Linda, Susan’s mother, filed for divorce from Harry.

This caused him to become severely depressed and continue to drink heavily.

A year later, the divorce was finalized.

The grief consumed Harry.

In 1978, 5 weeks after the finalization of the divorce, Harry, Susan’s father, committed suicide.

For Susan, her father’s passing left a massive void in her soul and life.

She treasured only two possessions, her father’s coin collection and a tape recording of his voice she could listen to.

Susan Smith’s Teen Years

Her Mother Swiftly Remarries

Only a mere two weeks after her divorce was finalized, Linda married Beverly Russel, a businessman who owned an appliance store in the downtown area of Union.

After this, Susan and her brothers moved into Beverly’s Mount Vernon Estate section of Union.

This proved to be a massive upgrade from their previous modest small home. It seemed to be somewhat of a turning point.

Susan’s Academic & Extracurricular Activities

Susan was an excellent student despite her home life.

Throughout elementary school and high school, she excelled academically.

She was a member of what was called the “Beta Club,” for students with grades B or higher, in addition to being members of the Math, Spanish, and Red Cross Clubs.

She was heavily involved in school life.

Susan was also a volunteer for the Union’s annual Special Olympics, and she helped the elderly.

So much so, that during her senior year in 1989, she was voted “Friendliest Female” at Union High School.

She was referred to by her classmates as “cheerful and down to earth.”

She would try her best to dress in a way that attracted positive male attention by wearing mini skirts and blouses that would show off her assets.

Sexual Abuse

A Predatory Stepfather

Although from the outside looking in, Susan seemed like a happy, well-rounded, intelligent, and highly involved teenager in her community.

However, like many of us, the smiles and faces we put out to the world convey we are happy and okay when we are the furthest from that.

For Susan’s sixteenth birthday in 1987, one of Beverly’s daughters from his first marriage stayed overnight at their house.

Susan slept on the couch since his daughter was given Susan’s room for the night.

While attempting to sleep, Beverly was sitting on the other end of the sofa, and Susan fell comfortably asleep on his lap, thinking nothing of it.

Beverly, however, saw this as an opportunity.

Susan woke to find Beverly fondling her breasts and shoulders.

Following this, he would take Susan’s hand and place it directly onto his genitals.

Susan would say she pretended to sleep through the molestation.

However, Susan later told her mother about his behavior and said she didn’t stop him because she:

 “Wanted to see how far he would go.”

Susan Files a Complaint

Susan filed a complaint against her stepfather.

Beverly was investigated by the South Carolina Department of Social Services.

When the investigation occurred, Beverly agreed to move out of the family home for a short while and would eventually return.

The abuse would continue to go on for at least an additional year.

In 1988, Susan would report one of her stepfather’s molestation episodes to her high school guidance counselor and again to her mother.

Linda Blames Susan For Abuse

Susan’s mother, Linda, admitted to the officials from the sheriff’s office that when she confronted her husband about the allegations, he didn’t deny it.

He admitted to the abuse, in which he would kiss her, fondle her, and make her perform masturbation on him.

There were never any charges brought to Beverly regarding the series of sexual abuse.

There were no court hearings that took place either.

Susan was under pressure from her mother not to press charges against her husband.

Susan’s mother would blame her as much as Beverly for the abuse she endured.

Her family was worried that the stories of sexual abuse would get around in their small community and blamed Susan for “worsening” the situation by bringing it public when reporting it to the Department of Social Services.

Susan Smith’s First Pregnancy

An Affair With a Married Man

Between Susan’s Junior and Senior years of high school in 1988, she started working at the Winn-Dixie supermarket in her town.

She started as a cashier but eventually worked her way up to the market’s bookkeeper.

Susan Smith was working hard and doing well for herself, maintaining a job, volunteering, and maintaining excellent grades despite her abuse.

Susan began an affair with an older, married co-worker at the Winn-Dixie. 

During this relationship, she fell pregnant.

She then had an abortion shortly after.

At the same time, this happened, Susan was also having an affair with another co-worker, unbeknownst to her married lover.

Once he found out, he broke off the relationship with Susan shortly after the abortion.

Susan’s Second Suicide Attempt

Susan Smith became severely depressed over the breakup.

So much so that in November 1988, she attempted suicide by taking an overdose of Aspirin and Tylenol.

She would be hospitalized for an entire month for further evaluation and returned to work shortly after her release.

However, during her evaluation at the hospital, her doctors noticed this wasn’t her first suicide attempt.

When Susan was 13, she attempted suicide similarly, trying to overdose on aspirin.

She was having a ton of mental health battles that were only getting worse with the abuse and lack of support she was receiving from any adult that could have protected or helped her.

Susan Smith Meets David

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Susan and David Smith on their Wedding day 1991

Susan Smith & David’s Affair Begins

Before her suicide attempt after her affair, Susan Smith became friends with another co-worker at Winn-Dixie. 

His name was David.

David was one of the stock clerks at the store, and they were becoming especially friendly with one another.

They both knew each other previously from attending Union High School together.

Once Susan returned from the hospital, David wanted to pursue a relationship with her.

It was the year 1990 when David and Susan began to date.

David was still engaged to his girlfriend at this time.

 

Susan Smith Gets Pregnant

After about a year of this affair taking place, Susan Smith became pregnant.

This is when David would tell his fiance about Susan, in which case his fiance ended their relationship rightfully so.

At this time, they decided to get married since they both weren’t keen on having an abortion which would be Susan’s second if she went through with it.

Although Susan felt safe with the stability of their marriage with David.

Of course, her mother and stepfather were unhappy about the news of her pregnancy and fresh marriage.

They were upset that David was not a college graduate or from the same economic background being from the country as Susan was from the city.

It seems everyone was put into situations they weren’t exactly happy about but were ready to grin it and bear it.

Related Reading: Chris Watts⎢ From Family Man to Family Annihilator

Susan Smith And David Prepare A Wedding

Susan’s mother, Linda, was eager to complete the wedding ceremony quickly.

She was concerned if they waited too long, Susan’s pregnancy would start to show, and boy did Linda not want that.

David’s brother, who was 22, died unexpectedly from a bacterial infection from a surgery he had related to Chrone’s Disease a few months prior.

Linda, however, was adamant about maintaining the wedding date since she did not want Susan to be showing during the ceremony.

This took precedence over everything.

David’s Personal Family Turmoil

Regardless, the couple would wed in May 1991.

Only three months after their wedding ceremony, David’s father attempted suicide by overdosing on pills.

On the floor, Susan found him at his parent’s house when she called 911.

The strain of the death of David’s brother Danny and his father’s suicide attempt after caused David’s parent’s marriage to die.

They would divorce and go their separate ways after that. 

David and Susan’s family have a massive presence of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

  • Susan’s father killed himself
  • Her brother attempted suicide
  • She attempted suicide twice
  • David’s father attempted suicide

Susan had more experience with suicide than most people in their whole lifetime.

The mental health issues within both of their families were debilitating.

David & Susan’s Marriage

Susan Smith and Michael

Michael is Born

Susan Smith worked at Winn-Dixie until she went into labor.

She gave birth to her first son Michael on October 10th, 1991.

After she had Michael, Susan continued working part-time at Winn-Dixie and enrolled in several different college courses at a branch of the University of South Carolina.

She wanted to pursue her education and grow her career, as many of us wanted when we were 19.

However, she had a new baby, which proved complicated.

Very early in their marriage, Susan and David had tension.

 Like many young married couples that wed shortly after graduating high school, the adult married life that is very demanding and full of responsibilities generally mows down any dreamy expectations of what being married is.

Financial Tensions

Like most married couples, one of the biggest thorns in their marriage was that of money.

 David was frustrated Susan seemed overtly interested in material belongings and dreamed of a more opulent lifestyle, one that David wasn’t providing for her.

At the same time, Susan worried about paying the bills.

She would often ask her mother for loans which always made David angry.

This is a blow to his ego and pride feeling like he can’t take care of his family.

Intrusive In-Laws

Susan Smith and David’s marriage also suffered due to Linda and David’s relationship.

Unfortunately, as many men and women experience in their marriage, David has problems with his mother-in-law.

They just frankly did not get along with each other.

This certainly did not help their marriage with Linda’s influence on it.

According to David, Susan would almost always do whatever Linda asked.

Since Susan and David also worked together at Winn-Dixie, this also caused problems in their marriage.

They never had time away from each other, and David was Susan’s superior.

This created an awkward dynamic not only at work but at home as well.

This would often create a power imbalance leaving them with a lot of tension at home and at work.

Extramarital Affairs

Both David and Susan Smith struggled with having affairs.

They were both also extremely young.

Susan Smith was in numerous affairs with married men and dated multiple men at the same time.

She also dated David while he was still engaged, so he also was a cheater.

Two cheaters cheat on each other, the world is in a perfect place.

By their third wedding anniversary, they had already been separated several times.

Their first separation occurred in March 1992, a little after their first anniversary, when Susan rekindled a relationship with her previous boyfriend and co-worker at Winn-Dixie.

During one of their separations, Susan and her son Michael lived at her mother and stepfather’s home.

This is when David and Susan are attempting to mend their fragile relationship.

Susan Smith’s Third Pregnancy

Once Susan Smith fell pregnant again in November 1992, they both agreed it was time for them to live under the same roof again and move back home.

Susan and David felt if their relationship was ever going to have a chance, they would need to buy their own home.

In the winter of 1993, when David and Susan would buy a small house, Susan’s mom and stepfather provided the down payment for.

Indeed now is when things will being to start looking up, right?

Susan Smith Gives Birth

Susan Smiths Sons, Michael-3 and Alex - 14 Months
Susan smiths sons

As many women can experience, Susan’s second pregnancy was not as easy as her first one with Michael.

Susan’s self-image plummeted, and David often recalled her complaining about her looks and weight; because of this, Susan gradually withdrew herself from David.

They were no longer intimate in any way, physical or emotional.

This caused David to become lonely and seek comfort outside their marriage.

With the lack of any physical or emotional intimacy within his marriage, David would begin a relationship with a cashier named Tiffany at Winn-Dixie in the summer of 1993.

Tiffany, one of Susan’s old classmates, attended high school together.

It is becoming apparent how living in a small town can be; everyone knows everyone and works together too.

On August 5th, 1993, Susan had an emergency C-section to deliver her second son Alexander.

Susan Smith & David Attempt Reconciliation

At this time, both David and Susan Smith would make amends to settle in with their new baby boy and give time for Susan to heal from surgery.

However, within only a few weeks after Alex’s birth, they decided that there was nothing worth saving in their relationship and that it was over.

David moved out shortly after.

Which honestly makes perfect sense.

Newborn babies blast a massive hole in any relationship, no matter how strong they are.

Couples will fight more than ever, be stressed, tired, hungry, and depressed, all the negative feelings erupt during postpartum so strongly that this puts a strain on even the happiest and healthiest of marriages.

So hearing that after just a few short weeks postpartum, they couldn’t fix their marriage makes perfect sense. Settling in with a new baby isn’t a honeymoon; it’s a mission, but I digress.

Susan Smith Gets a New Job

Once Susan Smith recovered from her C-Section, she started a new job at Conso Products.

She didn’t want to keep working at Winn-Dixie for a couple of reasons.

One is because David was her supervisor and her separated husband, and her husband’s girlfriend, Tiffany, also works there.

Not conducive to a healthy, balanced, and productive workplace.

Susan was hired to be a bookkeeper and would eventually become the assistant to the executive secretary for the president and CEO of Conso, J. Carey Findlay.

The work-life Susan had at Conso was what she always wanted.

She thoroughly enjoyed her job.

It provided her with a new group of friends, and she spent a lot of time outside work socializing at a Union’s only bar called Hickory Nuts.

Susan Smith Has a New Love Interest

Susan Smith enjoyed one of the CEOs, J. Findlay’s sons, Tom Findlay.

He was a fresh 27 years old, graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from Auburn University, and moved to work for his father’s company in Union, South Carolina at Conso as a Graphic Designer in the Marketing Department.

Being that Tom was young, the son of a CEO, a college graduate, grew up in an upscale suburb of Alabama, was rich and came from a wealthy family, and was single, he was pretty popular with the ladies of Union, South Carolina.

One of those ladies was Susan.

When Susan and David were separated for the last time, she began dating Tom.

Susan would meet Tom at his house on his dad’s estate, where she attended many parties that Tom threw.

She was living the rich socialite life she always wanted.

At least, for now.

The Beginning of the End

David Wants to Mend the Marriage

In the summer of 1994, Susan and David wanted to try one more time to mend their marriage.

David moved back in During the spring and early summer of 1994, Susan Smith and David tried one final time to make their marriage work.

David and Susan would briefly move back in together, and David stopped seeing his girlfriend.

Around this time, Susan and Tom had broken off their relationship also.

By the summer’s end, Susan told David she wanted a divorce.

She wanted her life with Tom back and would do whatever it took to get it.

In September, Susan and Tom began dating again and she finally felt like everything was falling into place how she wanted.

She had a decent relationship with her children’s father and a healthy co-parenting system, and she was falling increasingly passionately in love with Tom.

Susan hoped Tom would take her and her boys in to become a family.

Tom, however, was starting to feel a little put off by Susan.

He felt she was starting to come off too strong and fast and becoming possessive and needy.

He wanted to end the relationship.

Dear John Letter

Susan Smith filed for divorce on  October 21st, 1994.

Only a few days earlier, she just so happened to have received a “Dear John” letter from Tom:

 ” You will, without a doubt, make some lucky man a great wife. But unfortunately, it won’t be me.

Susan, I could have really fall for you.

You have some endearing qualities about you, and I think that you are a terrific person.

But like I have told you before, there are some things about you that aren’t suited for me.

And yes, I am speaking about your children.”

He tried his best to bring the sugar to help the medicine go down by keeping the letter gentle in nature with the tone and flattered Susan.

He showcased how he admired her work ethic and ability to work and be enrolled at night college and that she was a great person.

Tom wanted her to keep pursuing her studies and that he was very proud of her and that she was doing her best to improve her life.

Tom Didn’t Take Susan Smith Seriously

All in all, Tom wanted to convey that he simply wasn’t the man for Susan Smith because he didn’t want to raise another man’s children.

He also noted he wasn’t sure if their backgrounds and upbringings paralleled enough for their relationship to make sense.

Tom mentioned he wasn’t happy with her recent behavior at a hot tub party he had thrown.

Saying that he noticed her kissing and fondling one of her friend’s husbands while in the hot tub while naked.

Tom Delivers the Final Blow

” If you want to catch a nice guy like me one day, you have to act like a nice girl.

And you know, nice girls don’t sleep with married men.”

Damn, Tom shots fired!

Furious, Susan Smith went to Tom’s cottage hoping to restore the relationship.

Susan reduced to using emotional manipulations by telling Tom about her sexual abuse by her stepfather to try and garner sympathy to get back with her out of pity.

Unfortunately for her, this only put him off more.

Susan was starting to lose the control she thought she had, and her vision for herself was quickly slipping out of her hands.

Tuesday, October 25, 1994

Susan Smith Sulks

On the morning of Tuesday, October 25, 1994, Susan Smith got her two sons, Alex and Michael ready for the day.

She made them breakfast, got them dressed, and drove them to daycare

She then drove herself to work like always.

That day a group of co-workers went out for lunch and Susan tagged along with them.

One of these coworkers is Tom.

Everyone else seemed to be having a great time, while Susan kept to herself quietly.

Susan asked her supervisor if she could leave work early that day.

Her supervisor, concerned, asked her if anything was wrong.

Susan confided in her supervisor saying:

“Yes, I am in love with someone who doesn’t love me.”

 When her supervisor asked who, Susan replied:

 “Tom Findlay, but it can never happen because of my children.”

Susan Smith Desperately Attempts to Make Amends With Tom

Later that afternoon, Susan Smith called Tom’s office, asking him to meet her outside the building to talk.

Susan at this point is starting to become manic and frantic.

She is desperately trying to mend things with Tom.

It seems she feels this is her last hope of any kind for a happy life in the world she wants.

In her desperation, she rants to Tom about her divorce proceedings.

Lies to him, saying that her estranged husband will accuse her of

“cheating the IRS and having an affair with J. Findlay himself “...

…Tom’s father.

She hoped to garner sympathy and pity with this lie and manipulation toward Tom, but all it did was solidify Tom’s decision to break up.

After Tom heard this plea from Susan, he said:

“Our intimate relationship will have to stop forever.”

Tom was smart, he was actually thinking with the right head.

This, to Susan, was condemning her to death.

Susan Smith Becomes Manic

Frantic, Susan Smith called Tom again at around 4:30 to meet her at the Conso photography studio.

She wanted to return an Auburn University sweatshirt she had borrowed from Tom.

However, he refused and told Susan to hold onto it.

Tom wanted to just have a clean split and be rid of Susan.

After Susan was off work, she would go to pick up both Alex and Michael at daycare, then she would head to her work’s local bar Hickory Nuts.

While there, she spotted her coworker Sue Brown, the marketing manager at Conso.

Susan and Sue had a long conversation about Susan’s dilemma with Tom.

Instead of Susan taking the loss and moving on, Sue convinced her to add to her baggage.

Sue suggested Susan lie to Tom, by apologizing to him for lying to him about sleeping with his father, simply to get a reaction out of him.

Around 5:30, Tom arrived at Hickory Nuts for dinner.

Sue would watch Michael and Alex while Susan talked to Tom.

After Susan arrived back to her car after talking to Tom, she told Sue that Tom may just end it all.

Susan drove home with her two children.

Susan Smith Hits Rock Bottom

Later that evening, Susan called Hickory Nuts asking for Sue.

She asked Sue if Tom had asked about her during that dinner.

Sue told Susan that she was not a topic of conversation at that dinner, which upset her.

Clueless, heartbroken, depressed, and full of sorrow and misery, Susan placed her sons in their car seats at around 8:00 pm to drive around Union.

Susan would report, at this time, that she had:

“Never felt so lonely and sad in my entire life.”

According to Susan, she had hit rock bottom and felt like she had no way out.

The Murders of Alex and Michael Smith

A Manic, Depressed, and a Suicidal Mother

Susan Smith drove around with her two sons in the back seat for about an hour to calm herself down.

Depressed, heartbroken, suicidal and manic, Susan drove along Highway 49 where she followed signs directing her to John. D. Long Lake.

Susan drove up to the boat ramp.

It was seventy-five feet long and Susan decided to park in the middle.

Susan sat quietly in her 1990 Burgundy Mazda Protege while her children slept in car seats.

Michael just recently celebrated his third birthday two weeks before, and her youngest son Alex was at 14-months-old.

Susan decided to shift her Mazda into neutral, in which the car slowly began to roll down the remainder of the boat ramp.

However, Susan only allowed the car to travel a few yards before putting the emergency brake back on, halting the car from inching any further.

Susan Smith Contemplates Suicide

Susan removed herself from the car closing the door behind her and stood outside of the car for a brief moment, in which she contemplated suicide.

She would say she looked around her in complete darkness and how the darkness and isolation at that moment reflected her internal world perfectly.

At that moment, however, she decided she didn’t want to commit suicide and leave her children on their own as her father did to her as a child.

Susan believed if she killed her sons first and then killed herself, her sons would not suffer as she did.

Even though she was engulfed in depression and loneliness, she did not succumb to her inner state as she thought.

She didn’t want to kill herself after further deliberation.

She wanted relief from the burdens in her life and the stresses that consumed her. 

The responsibilities of being a single mother of two at twenty-three with no formal education and no boyfriend/husband for a support system overwhelmed her.

Susan Smith Releases The Car Brakes

What happened next shocked the nation, leaving many to speculate, “Why?”

Susan released the emergency brake in her car with her two sons still sleeping and strapped into their car seats.

The car slowly drifted off the boat ramp and into the lake as the headlights were on.

The car rode into the lake very slowly.

Since cars have negative and open space within them, the car didn’t immediately submerge but bobble, remaining on the surface as it slowly filled with water, consuming that space while it gradually began to sink.

Susan watched the car slowly sink into the lake, which reenactments would show took around 10-15 minutes to submerge completely.

Susan ran away toward the nearest house hysterically.

This was the beginning of the end for Susan.

The Cover Up

Lies, Manipulation, and a Side of Racism

At this point, it was nearly 9:00 pm night when Susan Smith ran up to the residence of Shirley McCloud, screaming, sobbing, and hysterically wailing. Susan cried:

“Please help me! He’s got my kids, and he’s got my car!

A black man has taken my kids and my car!”

Shirley’s husband, Rick, immediately told his son to call the police.

While waiting for the police, Shirley asked Susan Smith to explain what happened to her so they could be ready for when the police came to collect a statement.

Shirley calmed Susan down, and Susan concocted the following:

“I was stopped at the red light at Monarch Mills and a black man jumped in and told me to drive.

I asked him why was he doing this and he said shut up and drive or I’ll kill you.”

 Susan told Shirley that per the abductor’s instruction, she drove northeast of Union for 4 miles when they approached a sign where he directed her to stop right past the sign.

Aware of the sign Susan was talking about, Shirley, a sign directing people to the lake, confirmed which one it was, noting it was just a few hundred yards from her home. Susan recalled:

“He made me stop right past the sign and told me to get out. He made me stop in the middle of the road.

Nobody was coming, not a single car.

 I asked him, ‘Why can’t I take my kids?’ He said ‘I don’t have time.’

When he finally got me out he said ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt your kids.’”

Susan told Shirley she was instructed to get down on the asphalt and stay there.

Apparently, this was the most polite and mindful carjacker on the planet.

When she was on the ground as this abductor drove off with her crying children in the back seat.

Explaining once she got over the shock, not knowing how long it had been, was when she began running to find help.

Police Take Susan’s Report

Shortly after, Union County Sheriff Howard Wells arrived at the McCloud’s home.

Wells asked Susan Smith questions as he took notes.

To better aid them in their search, Susan described her sons’ clothes.

Sheriff Wells knew that this carjacking case would not be resolved quickly due to limited resources in their budget.

Wells called Chief Robert Stewart, the head of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), for help.

Initially, Wells had no reason to question Susan’s story.

Wells was concerned with getting as much information as possible while following any leads that could come up.

With McCloud’s home bombarded with police and Susan’s family, Sheriff Wells suggested another meeting place would be more appropriate.

Susan suggested her mother’s home would be better suited for the circumstances.

Susan, Beverly, David, Linda, and the rest of the family friends left and headed toward Linda and Beverly’s home.

Susan’s Odd Behavior is Noted

On the car ride to her parent’s house, Susan said something strange to David.

Susan explained to David that there was a chance that Tom may come by and see her.

She told David because she didn’t want him to get angry in case Tom did show up.

This was super off-putting to David for a couple of reasons.

One, his kids were missing, so being upset about Susan’s ex-boyfriend coming by was just not on David’s radar.

Two, it felt incredibly light and inappropriate, considering their missing sons.

It came off to David that Susan Smith was more concerned about David becoming upset over her ex-boyfriend coming by than what could potentially be happening to her missing children.

To David, it communicated her priorities were utterly fucked.

Like, come on, Susan read the room.

We know everyone handles crises differently, but this just seemed so bizarre it was worth noting by David.

The Investigation

The Search Begins

Susan Smith Media
Susan Smith and David during their press conference.

Sheriff Wells ordered the SLED to coordinate efforts with his team to send divers to John D. Long Lake and the Sumter National Forest.

The dive team didn’t find anything at the bottom of the lake.

After turning up with nothing at the lake, Sheriff Wells needed a better description of the alleged kidnapper and carjacker.

Sheriff Wells arranged for Susan Smith to meet with a police sketch artist to draw a composite drawing.

The police sketch artist met with Susan Smith and drew the details she described; an African American man, around 35-40 years old, wore a dark knit cap, a dark shirt, jeans, and a plaid jacket.

A super basic description that could be anyone.

Afterward, SLED agents and Union County Sheriff’s deputies searched high and low in the surrounding areas of John D. Long Lake.

Nearby at the McCloud’s residence, police conducted interviews with the McClouds to try and garner some more helpful information.

Organizations Rally Around Susan Smith

After a full day of the boys missing, on the 26th of October, Margaret Frierson, the Executive Director of the South Carolina Chapter of the Adam Walsh Center, contacted Susan’s family to offer their support.

Margaret was told to speak to Susan Smith, and they would hear back.

Susan never called.

Margaret later worked with SLED instead to obtain pictures of Michael and Alex to prepare fliers and post them all over the county.

Susan and David stayed and her parent’s house. Other family members on both sides filled the Russel residence.

Susan had a ton of support around her and was never alone.

She was getting the love and attention she had been craving her whole life.

She lied to everyone, including her family, and could stay with them, knowing damn well what happened and that her children were dead.

Susan’s Attempts to Lure in Tom

As Susan Smith was hoping, Tom called her to express his sympathies and condolences for her missing children.

However, Susan Smith was more concerned about the status of their relationship.

Susan maneuvered the conversation toward their relationship in which Tom quickly told her that their relationship is not a priority right now and to focus on finding her kids.

Wise, common-sense words.

Tom never visited as Susan had hoped and the phone call was all she ever received from Tom.

Even when a group of Conso coworkers came by to show their support for Susan, Tom never accompanied them.

When Susan’s friend Sue visited, Susan asked if Tom was ever planning on visiting her, she would only get disappointed to hear that he wasn’t.

The desperate cry for attention from her boyfriend came to a dead end.

The Media Circus 

Margaret and Charlotte, the representatives from the Adam Walsh Foundation, came to the Russel home on the evening of October 26th, only 24 hours after the alleged abduction.

The women wanted to talk logistics to David and Susan Smith privately.

However, they got David, Susan, Beverly, Linda, and Scotty.

Margaret would explain the foundation’s origins and the services they provide families to parents of missing children.

Margaret would continue that they could act as the family’s liaison, dealing with the media and interviews, and help broadcast photos and videos of the boys all over the country.

Susan and David excused themselves from the conversion and headed to the sheriff’s office, where Susan was questioned by Sheriff Wells.

Margaret used this opportunity to convince David about utilizing the media to plea for the safe return of their children, believing that nationally televised media would help aid in their search for the boys.

David was hesitant but willing to do anything to get his boys back.

I understand David’s hesitancy.

The media is more toxic than helpful and can quickly use their misfortune to milk their ratings and exploit them for their benefit instead of actually honoring, helping, and respecting them as a parent desperately trying to get their son back.

Media can spin the story however they like, so putting yourself and your personal life out there, I can understand, would be terrifying.

David knew, though, that if he had any chance of his sons returning home safely, he needed to get the story out.

The Susan Smith Story Spreads Across the Nation

Susan Smith’s Press Conference Interview

As predicted, the media flocked to Union, South Carolina, like flies to sh*t, ready to indulge in this story and find out what happened to Susan Smith’s sons.

The carjacking/kidnapping was reported through the local newspaper and on several local news and radio stations.

The story grew like wildfire, and every major national news corporation was eager to get its hands on this story.

Susan and David stood on the front steps of the Union County Sheriff’s Department, where David made this statement:

“To whoever has our boys, we ask that you please don’t hurt them and bring them back.”

“We love them very much…I plead to the guy please return our children to us safe and unharmed.”

“Everywhere I look, I see their play toys and pictures. They are both wonderful children. “

“I don’t know how else to put it. And I can’t imagine life without them.”

After this first public media appearance and statement, Susan was taken back into the Sheriff’s office where she was questioned by SLED agents for nearly six hours.

She was asked to recall and repeat the events to find more story details.

Later that evening, Sheriff Wells called in the Director of the Forensic Sciences Laboratory for the State Law Enforcement Division in Columbia, David A. Caldwell, to drive to Union and interview Susan.

Suspicion Toward Susan Smith Grows

David & Susan Take a Polygraph Test

On October 27th, David and Susan were asked to complete a polygraph test administered by the FBI two days after the supposed kidnapping.

David and Susan signed a form informing them of their rights in taking a polygraph test…their right to remain silent, an attorney, the right to cease conversing with the investigators, etc.

They then proceeded with the test.

David passed his test, showing he knew nothing about what could have happened to his sons.

Susan’s test, however, came back inconclusive, lucky for her considering that is the best outcome she could have had been the murderer.

This left open ends long enough for detectives to not be able to pinpoint her just yet.

However, Susan’s test displayed the most significant levels of deception when she was asked the following question:

“ Do you know where your children are? ”

Shakey Results

The investigators shared with Susan Smith her lackluster results and shared them with David.

She told him the investigators might begin to start doubting her original story.

Susan received multiple polygraph tests.

Every time Susan was interviewed, they would give her one, unlike David, who was only tested once.

At this point, investigators were beginning to pock holes in Susan’s story.

In just one day, Agent Caldwell interviewed Susan thrice at the Union County Sheriff’s office.

Susan Smith Takes the Kids to Walmart

Agent Caldwell asked Susan Smith to discuss the details of her day on Tuesday, October 25th, for him, from when she woke up for the day to the end when she wound up at McCloud’s residence.

Susan described to Caldwell that after work, she made dinner for her sons, but as they were fussy, they didn’t want to eat.

This story remained consistent as David would confirm that when he called Susan during this time, he could hear his sons on the other line in the background fussing as kids do.

Susan trying to find another activity, said she decided to go to Walmart that evening.

This is when her story gets confusing.

She said she drove to Foster Park, where they stayed until around 8:40 but didn’t get out of the car as they just relaxed inside, where Alex’s bottle fell on the ground, and she couldn’t find it.

So she dove back to the Walmart parking lot with bright parking lot lights so she could search for his bottle easier.

Susan Smith Says She Was On Her Way to a Friends House

After this, Susan Smith tells Agent Caldwell that she wants to visit Mitchell Sinclair, her best friend’s fiance, Donna.

Caldwell pressed this further.

Susan extrapolated that he lived less than a mile north of the Monarch intersection where she had stopped at a red light, and no other cars were present.

After Caldwell told Susan that when the investigators questioned Mitchell about this visit, he told them he wasn’t expecting Susan since we wouldn’t even be home till after 9:00 pm.

Caldwell continued saying that they had visited the Walmart Susan supposedly went to that evening.

They spoke to many employees that worked that evening, who all said they did not recollect a woman looking like Susan with two children in the store shopping that evening.

With this new information, Susan re-winded and said they didn’t go to Walmart but that she just drove around for hours with her kids in the back seat.

Although it isn’t out of the ordinary for women to just drive with their kids, I do this a lot, especially if my daughter just isn’t having anything and is fussy; sometimes, all that calms them down is a pleasant drive with calming music on.

 

The Stoplight Slip

Since she never initially told investigators this portion of her story from the get-go, she was starting to come off suspish.

Susan could feel her stories beginning to suffocate her.

After reviewing Susan’s interview from the 26th, one huge hole was poked in her story.

The Monarch intersection she supposedly stopped at due to the red light on the way to visit a friend, it turns out, that isn’t how this four-way stoplight functions.

The stoplight is permanently green unless another car on the cross street triggers the signal to switch to red.

Therefore, if there had been no other cars on the road that night, as Susan said, the light would not have been red but green.

Investigators Hone in On Susan Smith

While this happened, David was interviewed by other SLED agents and told them that Susan Smith was dating other men.

The agents asked for names and dates when David told them about Susan’s recent ex-boyfriend Tom.

Rather than searching for the boys, David was annoyed that the agents were fixating so much on Susan.

Later he would understand that they had good reason to be focusing so hard on her.

Susan Smith is Questioned Further

While interviewing Susan, they mentioned they had information about Tom breaking up with her due to her sons.

They were aware of the breakup letter and confronted Susan Smith about it.

Agent Caldwell asked Susan Smith:

“ Did this fact play any role or have any bearing on the disappearance of your children?”

 Susan Smith replied:

“ No man would make me hurt my children. They were my life.”

 She mentioned how important her children were to her instead of being, indicating they weren’t around anymore.

Susan Smith was later confronted about the inconsistencies in her story.

Caldwell wanted to know why she lied about the Walmart trip.

He set out an emotional trap by insinuating Susan killed her sons due to the fussiness they were expressing that evening.

Susan, furious, slammed her fist on the table and said:

“You son of a bitch! How can you think that! I can’t believe that you think I did it!”

They noticed Susan would sob but not have any tears from her crying.

The FBI agent administered her polygraph and said Susan was making fake crying sounds but no tears.

It seemed the pressure was slowly weighing on her, and it was only a matter of time before she would crack.

The Homicidal Mother Profile

The FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit was contacted by Sheriff Wells to provide a profile of the characteristics of a homicidal mother.

After review, they found that his profile fits Susan Smith in almost every way.

Here is what the profile read:

Susan’s Profile

  • 23 during the time of her murder
  • Grew up in poverty and dysfunction.
  • She was sexually abused by her stepfather for years.
  • She was isolated from adult help during her mental and physical struggles 
  • Had depressive and suicidal tendencies
  • Susan had an enmeshment relationship with her children, viewing them as extensions of herself, not sovereign beings.
  • Tom broke up with her right before the murders.

All the similarities were beginning to look uncanny.

As the suspicion from cops steadily grew toward Susan, she knew her time was running out.

The Story Spreads Like Wildfire

Media Involvement Sparks

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Susan Smith and David holding a picture of Michael and Alex, only hours before Susan’s confession.

As the investigation continued into day 3, Sheriff Wells went on the Today Show and Larry King Live.

Wells told Larry they had been overwhelmed with thousands of calls and tips from the public, with none leading to any leads, and how the divers found nothing at the bottom of the lake.

Because the car rolled slowly into the lake, it drifted with the current nearly 100 feet into the lake, remaining submerged and undisturbed while the divers fruitlessly searched the perimeters.

On the morning of October 28th, volunteer firemen, SLED agents, and deputies from the Union Sheriff’s Department took the time to search the north and south sides of Highway 49 by John D. Long Lake. Again, they found nothing. There had been no solid leads or clues, but they have not ruled out the parents as potential suspects.

They also put Susan on blast by reporting they had found some inconsistencies in Susan’s story but didn’t go into detail given it was so fresh.

A couple of days later, on October 29th, the Union Daily Times decided to put a story on Susan’s murky story.

 Some of these discrepancies were:

  • Susan’s friend Mitchell said they were in no way expecting Susan to visit the night of the carjacking
  • None of the employees at Walmart noticed the boys or Susan shopping that evening
  • Lastly, Susan told the police she had been driving around for hours before the carjacking.

People were starting to feel off about this whole thing.

The Public’s Suspicion Toward Susan Heightens

Something was starting to feel wrong especially given that Susan was reluctant to speak publicly to raise awareness that her children were missing.

Another discrepancy around the kidnapping was how Susan claimed it was an African American man who took her kids.

Many from this community found this difficult to believe.

They felt it wasn’t likely an African American man would go unnoticed with two white children in the back seat, especially given the intensity of the investigation.

Many felt this story just wasn’t plausible, considering they still found no car and no suspect.

Many were beginning to feel that it was likely this man didn’t exist.

If that were the case, what happened then

Susan is a Suspect

Where is the Damn Car?

By day 6 of the disappearance, Sheriff Wells, the Chief of SLED, Agent David Caldwell, and the numerous FBI agents working on this case believed Susan was lying about her involvement with her children.

They weren’t sure exactly what happened, but at this point, they knew she KNEW something.

The investigators had nothing on her at this point.

All they had were inconsistencies in her story, and simply since the car had vanished completely, it led investigators to doubt her.

This was very confusing to the investigators.

How could the children and Susan’s car just disappear without a trace?

Where was this damn car?

At this point, they needed a confession, they needed Susan to crack.

 

Police Plan Out Interrogations

They further pursued Susan by planning out meticulous interrogations of Susan that were designed to bring forth a confession.

Their behavior and words were carefully laid out, scripted, and choreographed.

They were putting on theater for Susan and setting the stage for a confession, nothing was improvised; everything was planned out.

Like many investigators, they will use tactics to make you believe they are your friend and get you and understand you.

You get to a point where they want you to trust them, so you can let your guard down and spill master manipulators to coax her into a confession.

They didn’t want to press too hard, though, knowing Susan’s mental state was hanging in the balance and she had two previous suicide attempts under her belt.

They did not want to push her to do something that would prevent them from ever solving this case, they needed Susan alive.

Agent Caldwell interviewed Susan and studied her behavior.

During this we wrote a profile on her.

Caldwell describes Susan as a cunning woman with a strong will to succeed.

He also received the breakup letter that Tom wrote to Susan by Tom.

There was a good chance Tom also felt something was off about this case and was probably suspicious of her too.

He provided his piece to the police to aid in the effort.

With this information, along with the interviews and behavioral studies of Susan, they concocted a motive: Greed and ambition had pushed Susan to rid herself of the burdens of her children and murder them.

The Glorious Confession

Susan Smith CBS Morning Interview

On the Ninth Day

David and Susan Smith had an interview set up on a few different morning news programs.

They would conduct the interviews at her mom’s house, where they have been staying.

On CBS This Morning, they were asked if they had any involvement with the disappearance of their children. Susan answered:

I did not have anything to do with the abduction of my children. Whoever did this is a sick and emotionally unstable person.”

 David was asked if he believed Susan which he replied:

“Yes, I believe my wife totally.”

That afternoon, Susan Smith was taken in for an interrogation.

After nine days of defending her lie to the country, Susan was starting to get burnt out from these intensive interrogations, and the public began to become more skeptical of her story.

Sheriff Wells was hungry and ready to get a confession.

Susan Smith Cracks

Wells confronted her about her whole story and how he knew the carjacker/kidnapping was a lie.

He informed her that there was no way there was a red light at the Monarch intersection if there were no other cars around, as she said.

They noticed inconsistencies in her stories, snowballing into more lies as she tried to cover up those discrepancies.

Lastly, Wells told Susan he would have to tell the media that her story about the African American carjacker was fabricated and that her accusation had caused tension within their community.

Realizing the web of lies she was weaving was falling apart, Susan’s resolve broke when she asked Wells to pray for her:

Lord, we know that all things will be revealed to us in time. Susan, it is time.”

Susan started bursting and asked Sheriff Wells for his gun so she could kill herself.

When Wells asked why she wanted to do that, Susan replied:

“I am so ashamed, I am so ashamed. You don’t understand, my children are not all right.”

The Written Confession

It is after this that Susan Smith would spill everything to Sheriff Wells.

She would describe to him the darkness and immense isolation she felt that night and was having another suicidal episode.

Her life was a pit of loneliness and failure.

She would retell the story of her abortion and the affair she had leading to that abortion.

She explained to him the complicated and toxic nature of her marriage and her relationship with Tom Findlay.

That is when investigators came into the room to receive her written confession:

Smith murders
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Immediate Regret

Once Susan Smith completed her confession, she told the investigators how much she loved her kids and that she didn’t want it to turn out this way.

Susan said after the car was in the lake, she wanted to take it all back but couldn’t.

At this point, she improvised and planned her alibi as she ran toward the nearest home.

 As anyone can imagine, Susan said that keeping this secret for nearly ten days and putting on this show while knowing her kids were dead was eating away at her.

The guilt was consuming her, and she felt there was no turning back.

She said she was scared and knew she could never live it down if her story came out.

Susan was right.

Sheriff Wells would be tasked with breaking the tragic news to David and their families.

However, he didn’t want to do this until he confirmed Susan’s story and found Michael and Alex.

The Aftermath

Michael & Alex are Recovered

SLED agents went for the third time to John D. Long Lake to search for Susan’s car, now with the exact location of the vehicle.

Six minutes into their dive, the diver could identify and locate the bottom side of an upside-down Mazda.

With the water so murky, he couldn’t see into the car.

The Mazda was submerged 18 feet into the water. Two divers would go back down with brighter diving lights to perform a slow search around the vehicle.

The diver said:

“I saw a small hand pressed against the window glass. We had to be down on the bottom of the lake to see inside the car…they were in car seats hanging upside down. I was able to determine one occupant on either side of the vehicle.”

After the boys were found, Wells headed straight toward the Russell home to inform everyone that Michael and Alex were found.

Sheriff Wells would describe to them elements of Susan’s confession.

Susan Smith the ‘Baby Killer

susan smith 12 1
Susan Smith being taken into custody.

As predicted, once the news of her confession and arrest became public, she quickly was the center of the country’s hatred.

Shouts of “baby killer” and “Murderer” were screamed at Susan while she was escorted to a waiting car to be driven to the York County Jail.

Everyone categorized her as “Susan Smith; Child Murderer” as the only way to view someone who just let their children roll into a lake in their car. 

It was unconscionable. 

Not only did she murder her children, she lied, gaslighted, manipulated, and took the whole town of Union on her wild ride.

The Susan Smith case is a tough one.

A part of me feels that, since she immediately regretted her decision, if she had just confessed and turned herself in right off the bat, she would have been subjected to less scrutiny….maybe.

Of course, she would receive the basic level of scrutiny any parent would face in killing their child, but her actions after the murders, in a way, only made it bleed out longer, leaving more damage in her trail.

Once they had the car in shallow enough water, they flipped it right side up.

There, they could see the bodies of Michael and Alex in their car seats.

After autopsies were performed, it was confirmed that the boys were alive when they were sent into the lake and subsequently drowned after the car was submerged.

Genuinely horrific and atrocious last minutes on Earth for anyone, let alone children who can’t get out or understand what was happening.

Utterly soul-crushing to think about.

Memorial Services

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susan smith 33 1

Alex and Michael’s funeral was held on Sunday, November 6th, at Buffalo Methodist church.

The casket was closed due to the water damage and accelerated decomposition from being submerged for so long.

The boys were buried together in a white casket with gold trim during a private ceremony, next to the grave of Danny Smith, David’s older brother and the boy’s uncle, who they never got a chance to meet in this life, but hopefully, the next.

The Susan Smith crime left everyone heartbroken, angry, confused, perplexed, and even a little played. 

The nation mourned the loss of these two beautiful boys and was plagued with questions on how this could have happened.

Why?

Why would a mother do this to her children?

Why did she do it that way?

How could she let them drown in a car, stuck and alive?

How could she choose a man over her kids?

Why didn’t she just turn herself in right away if she regretted it immediately?

Why did she lead everyone on a nonsensical goose chase and lie?

How This Could Have Been Avoided

Susan Smith Had a Chance

Susan Smith was at the mercy of her toxic mother and abusive stepfather.

The only thing Susan had control over was herself.

Aside from her home life, Susan did well on paper.

She was intelligent, highly involved in her community, volunteered, was a member of numerous clubs, and did excellent in school.

What is tragic is she would have been an attractive candidate for college at this point.

If she had stayed focused on her studies, clubs, and extracurricular activities and kept her head down at Winn-Dixie and just worked instead of sleeping with male co-workers that worked there, earning money and saving it for herself, she could have built a wonderful life.

Susan Smith was young, only 19, when she was pregnant with Michael.

She had her whole life ahead of her.

Focus Less on Male Attention

Due to her internal turmoil from her abusive home life, where she was never protected as a child should be, she never received the help she desperately needed.

As a result, she indulged in a life of risky behavior and promiscuity.

Rather than working on building her life, she was wounded, insecure and desperate for male attention to feel good about herself.

Which potentially led her to sleep with multiple men, sometimes married, at the same time.

Got pregnant by accident multiple times.

There is good reason for women to protect themselves and their bodies by honoring them and sharing their sacred bodies with only those who honor them as much as you do.

Susan Smith was willing to sleep with many men at once, many you could argue didn’t care that much about her, put her body at risk of unplanned pregnancy and STDs, and then put her body and spirit through an abortion due to an unwanted pregnancy.

She didn’t honor herself enough to protect herself.

Better Decision Making

Much of Susan’s woes were due to her poor and impulsive decision-making, which unfortunately has been commonly observed in victims of sexual abuse.

She made the wrong choice so many times and didn’t parent herself or love herself in the way she desperately needed.

Her parents didn’t show her how to, so she didn’t know how.

Susan Smith had to learn that herself, but she never did.

Her soul began to rot with the trauma and pain she carried from her past that she never addressed.

She projected her hurt onto the world and committed the most atrocious crime one can commit, the murder of a child.

Only someone extremely broken, poisoned, and rotten can be capable of such a crime.

Happy, healthy, and balanced parents don’t murder their kids.

Therapy

Susan Smith was unfortunately exposed to a lot of abuse, physically, mentally, and sexually.

She also had depressive disorders and suicidal tendencies, none of which seemed to get treated.

Her inner child was scorched with past hurt and injustice.

When researching this topic, there was no mention of Susan ever receiving therapy as a child or adult.

Susan Smith had a history of suicide, as well as her whole family.

Considering the nature of Susan’s experiences, she desperately needed therapy to dig through her emotions and heal.

Adult Support & Safety

Susan, unfortunately, had nobody advocates for her.

Linda blamed Susan for the abuse she underwent and always tried to sweep under the rug any issues she was having.

Like a potted plant, Susan Smith grew up in a generation where kids were better seen, not heard.

She didn’t have the luxury of a sane, emotionally supportive home where two healthy and present adults were there for her.

Then her stepfather abuses her, and the charges get dropped.

The adults supposed to guide, raise and protect her did the exact opposite.

When parents fail to parent and look out for us, we must learn to parent and look out for ourselves. 

Otherwise, we will always be at the mercy of how we allow others to treat us. 

A Postpartum Disorder Screening

Considering Susan Smith had a history of mental illness and suicide, it would have been best to get screened for postpartum disorders.

She was depressed and suicidal as it was without going through postpartum.

This could have been avoided if she had the help and support she needed as a mother.

Having two children that close in age as a single mother is undoubtedly extremely difficult and exhausting without a history of mental illness and suicide.

Sometimes, to get through the postpartum season, we need to find a medication that works for us.

That is until the kids are older and a more balanced lifestyle is more attainable.

Susan Smith today would have had more access to postpartum awareness, treatments, and help which could have prevented so many of her depressive, suicidal, and ultimately homicidal tendencies. 

Where is Susan Smith Now?

Susan Smith 2012 Mug Shot
Susan Smith 2012 Mugshot

That is the story of Susan Smith, the infamous mother who took the lives of her two sons, Michael and Alex, and shook this country to the core.

The Susan Smith trial was a messy one. 

On July 27, 1995, Susan was sentenced with a minimum of 30 years to life in prison. 

So if you wondered what happened to Susan Smith, she is in prison till 2024, when she is up for parole, 30 years being served.

Time sure does fly.

She will be 53 once she is up for parole.

We just have to wait and see what happens.

As far as what happened that tragic day, only Susan knows, and only she can tell us what exactly happened and why she did it.

The rest of us will never know.

Some have wondered if there would be a “ Susan Smith Story Movie” showcasing these egregious crimes, similar to Monster about Eileen Wournos. 

So far nothing is in the works. 

You can check out more on the Susan Smith Wiki Page

The Smith murders is one we all hope we never see playout ever again.

In Loving Memory of Michael & Alex

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“Michael and Alex, you are no longer on this earth but will forever remain etched in our hearts and memories.

 You were selfishly taken from the one you loved and trusted most.

No child should ever have to face that untimely fate you both did.

 May you rest and play together in peace, engulfed in love and the Heavenly Father’s embrace.”

This post is the deepest dive into the life of Susan Smith and what led her to murder her two kids.

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