Originally posted August 17, 1998; transferred to this site.
In 1963, Life magazine ran a story about Marie Noe, a Philadelphia housewife and part-time factory worker, who had lost six of her children during infancy. None of them lived beyond the age of seven months. To secure her position as the most bereaved mother in America, two more babies were to die–one in 1966, and the last one in 1968.
Now, more than thirty years after the final death, Mrs. Noe, 69, was arrested at her home August 5th, and charged with first-degree murder –accused of smothering eight of her children to death with a pillow or another soft object. In her statement, Noe admitted that she smothered four of the eight, but didn’t remember the specifics concerning the other four.
Mrs. Noe was not charged in the deaths of two of her children. Letitia was stillborn in 1959. Theresa suffered complications from birth in 1963 and lived only six hours. Police said there was no reason to suspect foul play.
Autopsies were performed on all of the children except one, but at the time, doctors could not offer any conclusive medical explanation about why the babies died.
After medical experts defined SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in 1969, doctors believed that was how Mrs. Noe’s babies died, according to court documents.
The case had never been closed, but the investigation into the deaths intensified recently because of heightened interest in the unexplained deaths of children and developments in medical and forensic science.
The mystery of multiple baby deaths in one family might have remained hidden forever, were it not for the case of a Syracuse, N.Y., woman named Waneta Hoyt, who appeared to have lost five babies to SIDS during the 1960s. In 1994, Hoyt confessed to having smothered the babies and was charged with murder.
That led to the book “The Death of Innocents,” in which authors Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan called attention to the Hoyts and several other infanticide cases that had first been attributed to SIDS. In so doing, they rekindled 30-year-old suspicions over the multiple Noe baby deaths.
Neither police nor the district attorney would speculate on a motive, though they said the Noes had taken out insurance policies on six of the children.
Some excerpts from the police affidavit for the arrest of Marie Noe are enlightening:
All of the babies were normal at birth and all of them were healthy and developing normally. All of the 8 infants were in the exclusive custody of the mother, Marie Noe, at the family home at the time of their deaths. All 8 infants were described by the mother . . . as gasping for breath and turning blue. . . . “All 8 infants were pronounced dead on arrival at the various hospitals where they were taken. Upon pronouncement of death, there was no physical evidence of trauma and no reasonable medical explanation nor any finding of natural disease. . . .
“. . . As to Infant #5, Constance Noe, Dr. Abraham Perlman was interviewed on April 14, 1998. Dr. Perlman indicated that he was working in the Pediatrics Department at St. Luke’s Hospital in February 1958 and he remembers attending and treating a newborn baby by the name of Constance Noe. . . .
Due to the history of the previous four deaths in the family, Dr. Perlman ordered extensive studies for Constance Noe and all of them came back normal. Upon discharge from the hospital, Dr. Perlman told Mrs. Noe that Constance Noe was a beautiful baby. Marie Noe responded: ‘She’s not going to live . . . just like the others.’
Dr. Stephen Ludwig [ a professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia ] . . . was consulted concerning the history of crib deaths. . . . Dr. Ludwig indicated that in the 1950s and 1960s, the medical community had always been apprehensive of making accusations of parents in cases involving the unexplained deaths of infants. . . . He indicated that the medical community has now acknowledged that one of the provable explanations for SIDS is really infanticide. . . .
“Dr. Ludwig reviewed all of the investigation reports, the death certificates and the available autopsy reports as to all 8 of the Noe infants that died in the exclusive custody of Marie Noe and has concluded that the actual cause of death . . . was suffocation and the manner of death is homicide.”
What are we to make of this?
Sadly, the doctrine of “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” took a very long time to manifest itself. But then, contemplating that a mother would murder her own offspring had little precedent. (Remember, this was before Roe v. Wade).
It seems clear that once SIDS was defined, it became a syndrome in search of victims, all too often. Only recently, certain unusual viral infections have been identified, which provide a much more reasonable cause of death scenario in certain cases.
Medical orthodoxy can lead otherwise intelligent physicians to really put on the blinders. Shingles (herpes zoster) was traditionally characterized as a disease that only appeared in severely immune compromised individuals–elderly types waiting to die in nursing homes, for example.
The problem is that about 10 years ago, otherwise healthy children and adults started presenting with Shingles. Is our immune response deteriorating for some reason?
At this moment, a cutting edge treatment for autism involves modulating the immune system of affected individuals. Meanwhile, the establishment autism gurus argue the finer points of various “accepted” therapies, which basically don’t work.
It’s high time that we open our minds–medically, forensically, socially, culturally, and historically.