true crime

All 9 of Marybeth's children died. She was convicted of just 1 murder.

There were just two things Marybeth Tinning said she wanted in life: "To be married to someone who cared for me and to have children."

The New York woman found a devoted husband in Joseph Tinning in 1963 and together, they went on to have nine children – Barbara, Joseph Jr, Jennifer, Timothy, Nathan, adopted son Michael, Mary, Jonathan and Tami Lynne.

But not one of the children lived past the age of five. And in 1985, after the death of her youngest daughter Tami Lynne, Tinning – an unsuspecting housewife, one-time waitress and school bus driver – was finally exposed as one of America's worst child killers.

Nine deaths in mysterious circumstances.

Over a 13-year-period from 1972 to 1985, each of Tinning’s children died under mysterious circumstances, some just days after being born. There were seizures, cardiac arrests – Nathan died as an infant while out with his mum in her car.

In the beginning, doctors attributed some of the deaths to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also weighing up the possibility that some of the children could have passed from a rare hereditary disorder. But when Tinning brought her adopted son Michael to the hospital, dead on arrival, in February 1981 – claiming he had fallen down the stairs – the belief that his siblings' deaths had been genetic no longer held up.

Yet, even then, authorities failed to open an investigation into the children's questionable passing.

Dr Robert L. Sullivan, Schenectady County's Chief Medical Examiner, admitted his failings in the case. "There were so many of us in on it, I guess," he said. "If anyone is negligent, I suppose I am. I probably should have said, 'There must be more to it than this.' But we all think, and don't do."


Unbelievably, it took the death of Tinning's ninth child – four-month-old Tami's, who was smothered – in December 1985 to alert social services and police to Tinning's evil.

While investigators suspected she killed eight of her nine children, Marybeth was only indicted for three deaths, confessing to killing Tami Lynne, and two of her other children; and in the end, she was convicted of just one murder, Tami Lynne's, after later recanting her confessions. 

For Tami Lynne's murder, she was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

Why did she do it?

During one of her hearings, Tinning admitted to the New York State Parole Board, "I just – I don’t think I had the capabilities of being a good mother at all."

One theory that investigators had was that Tinning killed her children because she enjoyed the attention she received when a child died, which is an extreme form of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy. 

In 2011, transcripts from her third parole hearing showed some rare insight into her twisted mind. Tinning calls herself a "messed-up person" who most likely killed little Tami Lynne because she was damaged from her previous children's deaths, which she claimed were caused by SIDS.


MaryBeth Tinning is escorted by police during her trial.

"After the deaths of my other children… I just lost it," Tinning is believed to have told the board. "[I] became a damaged, worthless piece of person and when my daughter was young, in my state of mind at that time, I just believed that she was going to die also. So I just did it."

Forensic pathologist Dr Michael Baden worked with prosecutors on the Tinning case, which he calls "a serial killing of babies".


"I think it was a combination," he said. "Not just sympathy, but it was a combination of being overwhelmed by the babies, as well as the fact that she didn’t get punished for it."

Husband Joe 'stood by her' through it all.

She horrified a nation with her crime, but amazingly, one person stood by her for decades: Joseph, her husband since 1965. He supported his wife through her trial, her decades-long incarceration and visited her regularly for more than 30 years.

His unwavering loyalty to Tinning is all the more unbelievable after her alleged confession that she had tried to kill him too, in 1974, by poisoning his grape juice with phenobarbital – a drug used to treat epilepsy.

After 31 years locked up in the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York, Tinning went before the parole board for the seventh time in July 2018. 

The following month, she walked free as a 75-year-old woman, and is thought to have returned to the Delanson home she shared with her husband before she was imprisoned.

"It's very emotional," Joseph said of the decision. "She was very emotional telling me."

A former neighbour, Dorothy Posluszny, said of the notorious criminal, "It seems that she's been laying low."

Joseph stood by his convicted killer wife. Image: UPI Photograph.


Did Marybeth ever show remorse?

Opinions were divided over whether Tinning should have been released.

The investigator who obtained her initial confession, William A Barnes, was supportive of her going free back in 2007 when she tried for parole for the first time, but others believe she still belongs behind bars. 

Robert Carney, who is the current Schenectady County District Attorney, has always opposed Tinning's release as she never seemed to acknowledge the gravity of her crimes. 


At the 2007 hearing, Tinning still denied any involvement in Tami Lynne's tragic death, though she did admit her guilt at the parole appearances that followed. She denied harming any of her other children, even though she had confessed to killing her newborn son, Timothy, in 1973, and her five-month-old son, Nathan, back in 1975.

"The problem I have is that she showed absolutely no insight into her behaviour or acknowledged in any way what she did," Carney said.

However, notes from her fifth parole hearing in 2013 told a different story: one of an elderly woman who was apparently "not the same person" as she was back then.

"I ask you to see me as I am today, not as I was then, and to show you that I am a changed and loving person, that I am confronted with the result of my actions every day," she wrote, offering to volunteer at homeless shelters and work in the church to prove herself. "I will carry the pain and regret for the rest of my life. I would be an asset, not a problem, to society."

Carney wasn't convinced. 

"I don’t know if there can ever be true rehabilitation in the absence of acknowledgment of responsibility," he said. "But I hope that she lives out her days peacefully and poses no threat to anyone."

Feature image: Getty.