Mother faces `8 cot deaths’ murder trial

Author: Andrew Marshall in Washington

Marie Noe, 69, of Philadelphia was arrested on Wednesday and charged with eight counts of murder. The police allege that between 1949 and 1968 she smothered the children with a pillow, and then claimed that they had turned blue and stopped breathing. She had two other children; one was stillborn, the other died in hospital.

Richard Noe, born in March 1949, died a month later, with the cause of death “congestive heart failure”. Elizabeth (September 1950) lived until February the next year; Jacqueline (1952) survived less than a month, as did Arthur Jr (1955) and Constance (1958). Mary Lee (1962) lived nearly six months, Catherine (1964) was 14 months when she died, and Arthur was five months.

There had long been suspicion about the mysterious deaths, but Mrs Noe had been given the benefit of the doubt by police. Little was known about cot death at the time, and her ordeal evoked only sympathy and admiration.

But last year, a book, The Death of Innocents, raised questions about cot death or sudden infant death syndrome (Sids). It suggested that in some cases, doctors were overlooking a more obvious cause as they sought to investigate the mysteries of Sids. The book prompted Philadelphia Magazine to investigate the Noe case, and earlier this year it presented its findings. The day after it was published, police took Mrs Noe in for questioning. The deaths were re-examined and a paediatric specialist found that the cause of death was suffocation.

Mrs Noe was said by the Philadelphia district attorney to have signed a statement saying that she smothered four of the children, but could not remember the others. Asked why she killed, she said: “The baby was crying.” The article in Philadelphia Magazine said Mrs Noe suffered “hysterical blindness” after the death of her first baby, and had experienced similar symptoms since her first period aged 14.

David Rudenstein, her lawyer, said she was coerced into giving a statement and there was no new scientific evidence.

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