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Saturday, December 30, 2023

Marybeth Tinning: America's Worst Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Case

     In January 1972 Marybeth Tinning's 8-day-old daughter Jennifer died of acute meningitis. The death brought Marybeth a wave of sympathy from her friends and neighbors. The nurse's aide, married to a cold and indifferent man who worked at the Local General Electric plant in Schenectady, New York, welcomed the attention she did not get from her husband. Three weeks after Jennifer's death Marybeth rushed her 2-year-old son Joseph to Schenectady's Ellis Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Without the benefit of an autopsy doctors diagnosed the boy's cause of death as a viral infection accompanied by a "seizure disorder."

     The tragic loss of two children within a span of three weeks brought Marybeth Tinning an intense amount of sympathy and attention. This once ignored and lonely woman fit the criminal profile of a person with the so-called  Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy personality disorder. Mothers with MSBP hurt or kill their children for the sympathy and attention they receive from friends, family and hospital personnel. However it wasn't until 1977 that members of law enforcement and the medical community became aware of this homicidal motive.

     Tragedy hit the Tinning family six weeks after Joseph's death when 4-year-old Barbara Tinning died. Following the third death of a Tinning child, hospital personnel, suspicious of foul play, notified the police. The pathologist, however, by identifying the cause of death as cardiac arrest precluded a criminal investigation.

     A year and a half after Barbara Tinning's sudden death, 2-week-old Timothy Tinning died at Ellis Hospital while being treated for a mysterious illness. The pathologist, unable to identify the cause of death, recorded it as a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) case. ( SIDS is not a cause a death but merely a description of the death. However, it sounds more scientific than "unknown death.")

     In September 1975, Nathan Tinning, five months old, died of "pulmonary edema." While hospital personnel were growing increasingly suspicious, the police didn't get involved because all of the deaths except one had been classified as natural and the one exception had gone into the books as SIDS.

     Three and a half years after Nathan Tinning died Marybeth lost another child to death. Mary Tinning, age two and a half, had been a healthy child who for reasons that baffled physicians suddenly died. Although she was not by definition an infant, the child's death was recorded as another SIDS fatality.

     In 1980, after the sixth Tinning child had died of undetermined causes, sympathy for Marybeth was hardening into suspicion of murder. At the Ellis Hospital, among a dwindling group of Marybeth sympathizers, there was speculation that perhaps the Tinning family had been cursed with a "death gene." On August 2, 1981 emergency personnel rushed 3-year-old Michael Tinning, suffering from breathing difficulties, to the hospital where he died shortly thereafter. The official cause of death--bronchial pneumonia--didn't stem the tide of suspicion. The fact that Michael had been adopted laid waste to the death gene theory.

     In less than ten years seven children from the same family had died mysteriously and no one in the health care or law enforcement communities had asked the person most closely associated with each fatality, Marybeth Tinning, if she had anything to do with these deaths. While a few of her friends and neighbors still considered Marybeth a tragic, cursed figure deserving of their sympathy, her husband Joe seemed unfazed by it all.

     On the night of December 19, 1985, four years and three months after Michael Tinning's death, Marybeth telephoned her neighbor, also a nurse's aide, and said, "Get over here now!" The neighbor arrived at the Tinning house and found 3-month-old Tami Lynne, born when Marybeth was forty-two, lying on a changing table. The infant had turned purple and was not breathing. According to Marybeth the baby had been fusing all evening and when she (Tinning) couldn't stand it anymore she got up from watching television to ascertain why the infant was crying. She said she found her child tangled in blankets and not breathing. Unable to revive the baby she rousted Joe out of bed, called her neighbor then telephoned for an ambulance. The emergency personnel reached the house shortly after the neighbor arrived. At St. Clare's Hospital doctors pronounced Tami Lynne Tinning dead.

     The forensic pathologist who performed the infant's autopsy knew the Tinning family history of sudden death. Notwithstanding this knowledge and purple coloration that suggested death by suffocation, the pathologist classified this fatality as a case of SIDS. Hospital personnel, however, suspected criminal homicide. They believed that Marybeth Tinning was a serial killer.

     The local police had been suspicious of Marybeth for years but because none of the autopsies had resulted in a finding of homicidal death, detectives could not justify a criminal investigation. All they had to go on was the statistical unlikelihood of so many mysterious deaths occurring under the same roof to the same mother. After Tami Lynne's death a detective from the Schenectady Police Department went to the Tinning residence to ask Marybeth about the circumstances of the infant's passing. When the officer entered the house Marybeth said, "I know what you're here for. You're going to arrest me and take me to jail." The detective did not take her into custody but the investigation had begun.

     Detectives from the Schenectady Police Department and investigators with the New York State Police met in Albany to review the eight Tinning autopsy reports, pertinent hospital records and statements made by ambulance and emergency room personnel. After the meeting the officers agreed that without physical evidence of child abuse, an eyewitness, or a cooperating spouse, they needed a confession. If Marybeth did not confess to killing her children they had no case. A little help from the forensic medicine community would have gone a long way in aiding the police, but it wasn't there. Marybeth Tinning would have to confess.

     Seven weeks after Tami Lynne's death a Schenectady detective and a state police investigator went to the Tinning house and asked Marybeth to accompany them to the state police station in Louderville for questioning. Although she knew she was not under arrest Marybeth agreed to be questioned. In the interrogation room the suspect said she understood her Miranda rights and agreed to waive them. Initially, according to the police account of the interrogation (which was not recorded) Marybeth denied doing anything to her children that would have caused their deaths. The detectives made it clear that they did not believe this and not long into the interrogation they were joined by another officer, a state trooper who had known Marybeth from childhood. "I didn't do it!" she kept saying. The interrogators, convinced she was lying, pressed on.

     Eventually breaking down under the pressure of the station house interrogation, Marybeth admitted that she had killed three of her children. She said she had used a pillow to smother 3-month-old Tami Lynne, 5-month-old Nathan and 2-week-old Timothy. She denied foul play in the other five deaths. Detectives brought her husband Joe into the interrogation room and she repeated her admission to him. Joe Tinning seemed unmoved by the news that his wife had murdered three of their children.

     A stenographer typed up the confession in a question-and-answer format, a transcript that ran to 36 pages. When describing Tami Lynne's death, Marybeth said, "I got up and went to her crib and tried to do something with her to get her to stop crying. I finally used the pillow from my bed and put it over her head. I held it until she stopped crying."

     A team of forensic pathologists examined the exhumed bodies of the three infants. Two were too badly decomposed to render any clues and the third turned out to a body taken from the wrong grave. On December 16, 1986, at the preliminary hearing, Marybeth rescinded her confession claiming that her interrogators had forced her into confessing falsely. "They were telling me what to say," she said. "The police made a statement and I just repeated it." Marybeth's attorney asked the judge to exclude the 36-page confession on the grounds it had been acquired in violation of his client's Miranda rights. The judge denied the motion.

     A local prosecutor charged Marybeth Tinning with the murder of Tami Lynne, the last child to die. The case went to trial in 1987. The forensic pathologist who had initially ruled the death a SIDS fatality took the stand and testified that the child had been smothered to death. Five other pathologists for the prosecution agreed with this postmortem diagnosis.

     The defense countered with six forensic pathologists of their own who attributed Tami Lynne's death to a variety of natural causes. One of the defense experts testified that the child had died from Wernig-Hoffman disease, a genetic disorder that attacks the spinal column.

     The jury, confused by the conflicting medical testimony, relied on the defendant's confession to find her guilty. The jurors may also have found it difficult to believe that eight children from one family, including an adopted child, could have died of natural causes. (Actually nine if you count the first child's death.)

     At the Tinning trial, forensic science, instead of guiding this jury to a verdict, had cancelled itself out. Apparently unsure if Marybeth had intentionally killed her child for the attention she would get, the jurors found her guilty of murder in the second degree, an offense that carried a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

     At her sentencing hearing, Marybeth, reading from a prepared statement said, "I just want you to know that I played no part in the death of my daughter, Tami Lynne. I did not commit this crime but will serve the time in prison to the best of my ability. However, I will never stop fighting to prove my innocence." The judge imposed the maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

     Although the Tinning case is an extreme manifestation of the Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy personality disorder, it is not the only case in the history of sudden infant death where an alarming number of babies have died before law enforcement authorities launched criminal investigations. (The Marie Noe case in Philadelphia is another example.) Before England's Dr. Roy Meadow introduced this syndrome into the vocabulary of murder, mothers in multiple death cases were less likely to come under suspicion of murder.

     In March 2007, after living twenty years in prison, Marybeth Tinning had her first parole board hearing. To the board members she said, "I have to be honest and the only thing I can tell you is that I know that my daughter is dead. I live with it every day. I have no recollection and I can't believe that I harmed her." The board denied her request for parole.

   In late January 2009, at her second parole hearing, Tinning said, "I was going through bad times when I killed my daughter." The board, believing that her remorse was "superficial at best," denied her parole. She was denied early release in 2011 and 2012.

     In June 2016, the parole board, for the fourth time, denied Marybeth Tinning's bid for freedom. After being denied two more times Marybeth Tinning was granted parole on August 12, 2018. She had been in prison 30 years.


  1. Keep her in--I went through 25+ years of psychiatric abuse from my mother, only finding out what MBP was when my own psychiatrist told me this was the situation all along.
    He went on to clarify, informing me of the profound difference between MBP (based on Munchausens) and 'hypochondria', which people confuse more often than you'd think.
    My mother, and many others guilty of abusing those who trusted and loved them, is guilty of way more than mere abuse--it's a carefully-planned, then executed, determination of the destruction of another's life based on a moment's whim...and in the carrying-out, the lies that can lead so many others in and outside the family to do the bidding of the abuser, against the innocent.
    I will never be the same person I could've been, had I had an event 'decent' mother--mistrusting, bitter, angry, with entrenched, forcibly-learned, yet entirely, admittedly, inappropriate, irrational, even unintentional mistrust of women in general--that's the irony of my own life, and so, this 'phenomenon' must quickly get into our collective vernacular as a thing that must be dealt with effectively--so, quickly, and with as harsh a punishment as allowable.
    One of the most striking things about the Tinning case was the apathy of the husband, Joe--I found it personally disgusting; I wondered how many of his buddies allowed themselves to hear him talk, without letting their minds wander into thinking 'how many has she killed now, and he's letting her watch the latest one even as he sits?'
    Pure, unbridled apathy--in the TV show I watched on this, he was in his smoking robe during one of the last police visits to the house that became the open mausoleum to so many infants.

    1. what a terrible legacy you were given. so sad.xx

    2. not entirely convinced of the genuineness of your comment.

    3. I see what you mean about having long term effects. I see nothing disingenuous in silasozzies comment.

    4. It is naturally a attention seeking illness and the coldness or lack of affection to arrive husband should be considered in this!my mother was always attention greedy!despite strangely my father induced this she encouraged it with hysteria !ies got attention!my oldest sister is also attention next and morbid fixated ilness focus and despite iescsped them after 12 years she insist totry coincide it again after 19 years of health life they wanted me to be diagnosed with Amelie's!and found a way to induce it!ilost mykife 38:years aftermwhatttokplcenotone doctor came between itnsomeone escapemsame!myfshter using his md! Amentslly doctormade it easy to induce this !the admired dowhat he was doing and why!!

  2. Thank you Michael for your insightful comment.

    1. I too am a survivor of a MBP childhood at the hands of my mother. She was a nurse and knew exactly what she was doing when she manipulated doctors, nurses, relative and friends. All at my expense. It has left me really screwed up, even at the age of 47. I am still single and have no children. I am too scared to have children for fear of turning out like my mother. I too have spent hours wondering what I would be like if I hadnt had such a childhood. Everyday there seems to be something from my childhood. It was wonderful to read Michaels's comments as I have never met anyone who has any real understanding of what a MBP childhood is like.

    2. I too was the victim of a MBP abuser, and rather than allow her to continue, once I figured out that she had been criminally assaulting her brother (my husband with thallium), her mother (with bismuth), and had attempted to poison and suffocate our children and countless other innocent victims, I decided that I would do something about this...I am in law school, just graduated with my doctorate in forensics and clinical psychology and will put her away for her malevolent criminal acts. She is a psychopathic deviant mother who has murdered! She will be held accountable!

    3. It's nice haring from all of you. Thank you for sharing your stories of suffering and abuse. I hope your lives have improved. Good luck.

  3. What can we do if we suspect that someone has this? And are there different levels of severity? I know a child whose mother put her on adhd medication when she was just 7 or 8 years old. Now at 11 she is on 6 different medications. One medication for the side effects of the adhd meds. And the next for the side effects for the medication for the side effects from the adhd and so on and so forth.......She also takes a prescription sleeping pill along with melatonin. The mother also has a medical background. Is there someone to contact or is it just too hard to prove? Thank you

    1. I wish I had an answer for your question. You are faced with a serious dilemma involving concern for the child and making a false accusation. I also don't know if there is such a thing as a mild form of this personality disorder. I'm sorry I can't give you the practical advice you need.

    2. Jim's right. Even psychiatrists like the one who resolved my case, risk heavy criticism among their peers (especially any who've diagnosed the child, and differently, with the more traditional gamut of the illnesses you may be aware of) for stepping up on behalf of anyone they see as the real victims.
      If you went to school with anyone in your area who became a psychiatrist or psychologist, you 'might' seek out their opinion INFORMALLY, so as to share your concern without registering any red flags among anyone that you're 'overly concerned' (as far as social norms go).
      If you have a college or university in your area, you might even hit up a psych professor there (again online at first, or if you do happen to see them out, and know them already) for their 'personal opinion' (and not 'advice', as you don't wanna give the impression you're planning on interfering, interloping, insinuating, etc.).
      You may also want to just talk about your concerns with a number of people you trust, and here's why:
      First...the more people who suspect the child is actually 'normal', the better anyway, and may even stave off some of the eventual prejudices and other unfair impressions people have of him/her, which--even these days--may actually end up affecting their careers (especially if they stay local).
      Secondly, it shows your concern without confrontation, and shows a healthy respect for the opinions of others--even the mom who may be doing this--while giving you endless opportunities for learning more about others' experiences, opinions, and views. You may also be educating people who don't know about MbP, or familiarizing others with factitious disorders in general...I've often wondered how different my 'case' would've turned out if my city had had support groups for those affected by factitious disorders, but, if you think about it, they're actually so rarely diagnosed ('discovered') that a city the size of New York would probably just have 100 members (and half of them, possibly those who's cases weren't officially diagnosed as such).
      Lastly, immerse yourself in some more education on it--I have, even though, after having had it virtually ruin 25+ years of my own life, the topic burns me so much I don't really enjoy using up too much time reading about it online (the best revenge is ALWAYS 'living well' for those who've been subjected in a MbP situation, rest assured).
      Here are some sites I've kept in my own browser (in a folder named 'MbP', BTW):

      and perhaps most helpfully,

      This last one features MANY views, opinions, in a forum that is moderated by some psychologists, some laymen, and some people negatively affected by cases of mistreatment. I found the insights shared on this forum to be helpful, and think they'd be incredibly useful in the scope of helping anyone else you think might be being abused or subjected in a case of Munchausens by Proxy, as you are.
      BTW, it's good of you to care...I've always wished that those around me would've all been brave enough to go to bat for me, but lived with the regret that, sadly, they were not, and my 'psychiatric salvation' came instead from a very good, but very temperamental and philandering, psychiatrist I was assigned to over a decade ago.

      Here is my own blog on that last forum:

    3. Thank you Michael for your outstanding comments.

  4. I recently found out that I am a victim of MSR by proxy. Who I thought was my aunt started giving me valiem at age 15. Now everything is starting to make sense and she was always there for me with sedatives.

  5. almost sure that Jennifer Tinning was 8 DAYS old when she died, not 8 yrs.

  6. Mrs Tinning worked as a nurse's aide. She was not a nurse. Perhaps a small detail but a professional nurse (either Licensed Practical or Registered) is not interchangeable with "nurse's aide".

  7. wasnt there a movie made based on this story?

  8. I only read the first line and had to stop...Marybeth never had a child live to age eight. Jennifer Tinning was born Dec 26, 1971, and died Jan 3, 1972.

  9. I have read about this case before, such a tragedy, however, I still cannot figure out how people and in this case a woman, will get involved with someone cold cold and unfeeling let alone marry them. Do they not see it before they get together? I feel his behavior contributed to her problem. But if she was so desperate for love and attention, why marry an iceberg?

  10. This is a crazy woman. Seven kids and no one tried to investigate? Craziness!

  11. How could this woman kill 7 kids and no one started investigating after the 2nd? 7 kids?? She is a crazy woman!

  12. Typo:
    Jennifer was 8 DAYS old, not 8 years.

    None of Marybeth Tinning's children lived past the age of 4.

    "Tuesday, July 5, 2016
    Marybeth Tinning: America's Worst Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Case
    In January 1972, Marybeth Tinning's 8-year-old daughter Jennifer died of acute meningitis. The death brought Marybeth a wave of sympathy from her friends and neighbors. The nurse's aide, married to a cold and indifferent man who worked at the Local General Ele..."

  13. i often wonder how i didn't turn into a psycho/sociopath... i had an extremely violent father (toward me only) and a mother who hated females... by the time i was 2yo i was terrified beyond belief of everything in the world because of the complete lack of kindness, warmth, love, or attention... How is it some turn and some of us fight with all our might to turn it around? My darkest side lives just beneath the surface and she scares the hell out of me. Perhaps that's why i keep her locked away deep down inside. My husband has seen glimpses of Her but i tuck her away again real fast because i never want to be like Them. EVER. And i've slipped through every pair of so called professional hands for 57 years... go figure...

  14. Let her out and let her die, she no longer serves a purpose. I kept a dark one locked inside, and it took a lot away from my happiness. We survived, go forward and live the happy life you were intended to have. Our parents were bums, we won, we are living happy lives. :)

    1. Hello DeniseMarie! Beautiful words and intention... thank you...