Susan Smith

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Susan Smith
Susan Smith (SC convict).png
Smith in 2012
Susan Leigh Vaughan

(1971-09-26) September 26, 1971 (age 49)
Criminal statusIncarcerated at Leath Correctional Institution in Greenwood County, South Carolina
David Smith
(m. 1991; div. 1995)
ChildrenMichael Daniel (1991–1994)
Alexander Tyler (1993–1994)
Parent(s)Linda Sue Harrison and Harry Ray Vaughan
Conviction(s)Two counts of murder
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment with a possibility of parole after 30 years

Susan Leigh Smith (née Vaughan; born September 26, 1971) is an American woman who was convicted of murdering her two children, three-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alexander.[2]

The case gained international attention because of Smith's false claim that a black man had kidnapped her sons during a carjacking. Her defense attorneys, David Bruck and Judy Clarke, called expert witnesses to testify that she suffered from mental health issues that impaired her judgment when she committed the crimes.[3]

Smith was originally sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years' imprisonment.[4] According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections, she will be eligible for parole on November 4, 2024. She is incarcerated at the Leath Correctional Institution near Greenwood, South Carolina.[5]

Family background[edit]

Susan Smith rarely had a stable home life growing up. Her father died by suicide when she was six years old, and Smith herself attempted suicide at age 13. Her mother then married Beverly Russell, a member of the local chapter of the Christian Coalition, who later was revealed to have molested Smith when she was a teenager. One newspaper claimed that sexual relations between them had continued until six months before the murders.[6]

After graduating from high school in 1989, Smith made a second attempt to kill herself after a married man ended the affair they had.[7] She married David Smith, and they had two sons. The relationship was rocky due to mutual allegations of infidelity, and they separated several times.[8]


On October 25, 1994, Smith reported to police that her vehicle had been carjacked by a black man who drove away with her sons still inside. The composite sketch of the alleged carjacker, however was "too generic" in the sense that it described half of the African-American men who lived in the community. For nine days, she made dramatic pleas on national television for the boys' safe return. However, following an intensive investigation and a nationwide search for her children, she confessed on November 3, 1994 to letting her car roll into nearby John D. Long Lake,[9] drowning them inside.[10] Her motivation was reportedly to facilitate a relationship with a local wealthy man by the name of Tom Findlay. Prior to the murders he sent Susan a letter ending their relationship and expressing that he did not want children.[11] She said that there was no motive nor did she plan the murders, stating that she was not in a right state of mind.[8]

Later investigation revealed that detectives doubted Smith's story from the start and believed that she murdered her sons. By the second day of the investigation, the police suspected that she knew their location and hoped that they were still alive. Investigators started to search the nearby lakes and ponds, including John D. Long Lake, where their bodies eventually were found. Initial water searches did not locate the car because the police believed it would be within 30 feet of the shore, and did not search farther; it turned out to be 122 feet from the shore. After the boys had been missing for two days, Smith and her estranged husband David were subjected to a polygraph test. The biggest breakthrough of the case was her description of the carjacking location. She had claimed that a traffic light had turned red causing her to stop at an otherwise empty intersection. However, it was determined that the light would not have turned red for her unless a vehicle was present on the intersecting road. This conflicted with her statement that she did not see any other cars there when the carjacking took place.[12]

Smith's defense psychiatrist diagnosed her with dependent personality disorder and major depression.[13]


Smith was incarcerated in the Administrative Segregation Unit in the Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina.[14]

During Smith's incarceration at the Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution, two correctional officers, Lieutenant Houston Cagle and Captain Alfred R. Rowe Jr., were charged after having sex with her.[15] Consequently, she was moved to the Leath Correctional Institution in Greenwood.[citation needed]

She will be eligible for parole in November 2024[16].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rekers, George (1996). Susan Smith: Victim Or Murderer. Glenbridge Publishing Ltd. pp. 12, 16. ISBN 0-944435-38-6.
  2. ^ Spitz, Werner U. (2005). "Investigation of Bodies in Water". In Spitz, Daniel J. (ed.). Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Guideline for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigations (4th ed.). Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publishing Ltd. pp. 846–881. ISBN 978-0398075446.
  3. ^ "Susan Smith, Mother Who Killed Kids:". NBC News. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  4. ^ Spitz, Werner U. (2005). "Investigation of Bodies in Water". In Spitz, Daniel J. (ed.). Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Guideline for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigations (4th ed.). Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publishing Ltd. pp. 846–881. ISBN 978-0398075446.
  5. ^ "Inmate Details Susan Smith." (Page Archive, Image Archive) South Carolina Department of Corrections. Retrieved on 2007-11-22.
  6. ^ Gleick, Elizabeth (June 24, 2001). "Sex, betrayal, and murder". Time. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  7. ^ Pergament, Rachel. "Susan Smith Child Murderer or Victim?". Crime Library. TruTV. Archived from the original on December 29, 2011. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Chuck, Elizabeth (July 23, 2015). "Susan Smith, Mother Who Killed Kids: 'Something Went Very Wrong That Night'". NBC News.
  9. ^ "John D. Long Lake". Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  10. ^ Montaldo, Charles (April 1, 2018). "Susan Smith — Profile of a Child Killer". The New York Times Company. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  11. ^ Kemp, Kathy (April 17, 2005). "In The Arms of Angels" (PDF). Birmingham News. Birmingham, Alabama: Advance Publications. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 24, 2011.
  12. ^ Cahill, Harrison (October 18, 2014). "Susan Smith: 20 years later, case still a shocker". The State. Columbia, South Carolina: The McClatchy Company. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  13. ^ Pergament, Rachel. "Child murderer or victim?". Crime Library. TruTV. Archived from the original on October 18, 2012.
  14. ^ Hewitt, Bill (March 13, 1995). "Tears of Hate & Pity". People. Vol. 43 no. 10. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
  15. ^ "Sex with Child Killer Charged Again". ABC News. September 26, 2017. Retrieved September 13, 2018.
  16. ^ Fonrouge, Gabrielle (November 18, 2020). "Susan Smith, convicted of killing her young sons, could be freed in 2024". New York Post. Retrieved November 23, 2020.

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