true crime

At five years old, Garnett was murdered by his mother. With salt.

Five-year-old Garnett Spears was screaming in pain. His head was hurting, his breathing laboured, he was trying to throw up. The little boy, from New York state, had been admitted to Nyack Hospital two days earlier with stomach issues and seizure-like symptoms, but his condition was deteriorating quickly.

A nurse phoned a specialist children’s hospital nearby to arrange a transfer.

“[His level of] Sodium is 182,” he told the doctor at Westchester Medical Center.
“No, then you need to repeat it, OK? That’s impossible.”

Within 24 hours, Garnett was declared brain dead.

By then, detectives had already swarmed the Spears’ home to gather evidence, prompted by suspicious doctors rattled by the shockingly high sodium in his blood (a normal reading would be closer to 140). Speaking to 48 Hours, Det. Kirk Budnick recalled what he saw when he walked in. An IV drip stand in the middle of the room, and feeding bags filled with cloudy liquid. On the kitchenette table, a single tin of salt.

Lacey Spears, Garnett’s mother is currently serving 20 years behind bars for murdering her son, who ultimately passed away on January 23, 2014, two days after he was placed on life support. A court determined in March the following year that the Alabama-born woman had poisoned him with lethal amounts of table salt, causing his brain to swell.

The maximum penalty in such cases in New York is 25 years, but the judge held back. He believed she had suffered an affliction of her own: Munchhausen Syndrome By Proxy.

What is Munchhausen By Proxy?

Munchhausen Syndrome By Proxy, also known as Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another, is a rare condition in which a person makes someone in their care appear ill, either by exaggerating, fabricating or inducing symptoms, in order to gain attention. According to data published by in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect, mothers were perpetrators in 76.5 per cent of cases, with the average age of victim being just four years.

Lacey was jailed for 20 years. Image: CBS

The most highly publicised case of FDIA is that of Missouri woman, Dee Dee Blanchard, and her daughter Gypsy Rose. Over the course of several years, Dee Dee successfully duped friends, family and doctors into thinking her perfectly healthy girl suffered chronic illness and was physically and intellectually disabled. Gypsy Rose was confined to a wheelchair in public, had her head shaved, and was forced to take unnecessary medication and undergo unnecessary surgery to maintain the charade. For years, the young woman even believed the lie herself. But once Gypsy Rose ultimately recognised the abuse, in 2015, she stabbed her mother to death. A crime for which she is currently serving a decade behind bars.

In Spears' case, the red flags were there.

According to 48 Hours, she bounced Garnett between multiple doctors, none of whom ever quite managed to get the bottom of his stomach issues. In his first year alone he was in and out of hospitals for digestive issues, dehydration, high sodium levels, and underwent two surgeries - one at nine weeks to stem vomiting, and another at nine months to insert a into his stomach, via which he could be administered additional nutrients.

The court later heard that it was via that tube that Lacey Spears administered the ordinary substance that killed her little boy. Those IV bags found in her home had been laced with large quantities table salt.

As her son suffered, she documented it all. She posted pictures to her blog and to social media, cataloguing his sickness, his various hospital visits. Even as he lay dying she continued posting.

Spears has always denied any wrongdoing, pointing instead to hospital staff.

According to RadarOnline, she's been targeted in prison over the nature of her crime. Some have even been dumping salt over her food.

“It’s been very hard, adjusting to being here,” Spears said. “You always have to look behind your back, and I don’t trust anyone."