Tracks of His Tears

His wife murdered their five children, but Rusty Yates was the one labeled a villain. He says don't believe everything you read.

"Even before we married, we talked a great deal about how many children we wanted to have. We agreed that we'd like to have a large family, as many kids as possible. On the other hand, if we had no children, we'd made up our minds to just enjoy life with each other." It was, they had agreed, up to God.

Religion played a major role in his family's life, but Yates insists they were not the "fanatics" the media would ultimately make them out to be. "We wanted to raise our children in a spiritual environment, so we had a simple little Bible study every third night of the week. We'd read stories to the children, say a prayer, and that was about it. Was it a positive influence on the kids? I'd say yes."

In time, however, Andrea's focus on her family's spiritual well-being consumed her. And, for that, Rusty now blames himself.

 
Mark Graham
 
Rusty Yates now spends much of his time running a Web site, www.yateskids.org, devoted to the memory of his children. Up to one-fifth of the e-mails he receives there blame him in some way for his children's deaths.
Mark Graham
Rusty Yates now spends much of his time running a Web site, www.yateskids.org, devoted to the memory of his children. Up to one-fifth of the e-mails he receives there blame him in some way for his children's deaths.


He was still in college, he recalls, when he first encountered a fire-and-brimstone preacher named Michael Peter Woroniecki. With his family in tow, the Florida-based, street-preaching fundamentalist traveled the country, visiting college campuses and distributing pamphlets that twisted Old Testament values into a jumble of doomsday prophecy. On several occasions he was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, following shouting matches with disbelievers. In Woroniecki's view, the world was racked with evil, the curse of Satan in all to whom he spoke. The fate of women, he preached, was derived from the sin of Eve, and he believed they should serve a subservient role to man. Any mother who worked outside the home was, according to the Woroniecki doctrine, wicked. And one bad seed, he preached, led to generations of contamination; sinful parents could only spawn sinful and evil children.

Rusty says when he first met the evangelist on the Auburn campus in 1980, he viewed him as a "simple preacher who was doing nothing more than challenging the 'fat cat preachers' about their watered-down beliefs." Even as he and Andrea planned marriage, he told her of Woroniecki and his wife, Rachael, and urged her to join him on a trip to Florida to meet them.

It was one of several visits the Yateses would eventually make to counsel with the controversial couple. In time, they began making modest donations to the traveling ministry. It was, in fact, from Woroniecki that Rusty purchased the used Greyhound bus he and his family would, for a time, call home. Andrea regularly corresponded with Rachael Woroniecki.

"If I had it all to do over again," Yates says, "I would never have introduced Andrea to the Woronieckis."

Even before his wife killed their children, he says, he had become concerned over her growing obsession with the Woroniecki style of religion. At one point she had even written the evangelist, asking that he help convert her Catholic parents to his thinking. Rusty says he had begun to distance himself from the zealous preacher whom he'd decided was far too judgmental and hoped to convince Andrea to do the same. "But it's hard," he says, "to criticize your wife for reading the Bible too much."

Yet when Andrea Yates insisted to jail doctors that she was "possessed by the devil and had the sign of Satan marked on her scalp," that her children had been "damaged," it was clear that her faith and psychosis had morphed into a dark and disastrous mixture.

Austin author Suzy Spencer, who wrote a book (Breaking Point) on the case, suggests that because of Andrea's deteriorating mental condition she began taking the Woroniecki message too literally, that she viewed her increasing depression as a sign that she had been taken over by the devil. "From what I understand," she says, "the Woronieckis had a great ability to brainwash people. I also learned that when a person is psychotic, the last thing you talk with them about is religion."

"For a mother to concern herself over whether she is doing the right things for her children, to worry about the influence of the devil or if your kids are somehow damaged are, I think, the concerns of a lot of well-meaning people," Rusty says. "But when Andrea became delusional, living in her nightmare, hearing voices she never told me about, in her mind all these fears had already taken place."

Today, Rusty says, he is no longer in contact with the Woronieckis. Last March, Woroniecki suggested to NBC Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison that the Yateses had simply missed the substance of his teachings and that they should share accountability for the deaths of their children. "What was Rusty thinking in having another child when she'd already tried to commit suicide?" he asked Morrison. Then, reflecting on Andrea's crime, the evangelist said, "She's not the only person in history who has used the Bible to do outrageous things...the Bible says [in Isaiah 5:20], 'Woe to those who call good evil and evil good.'" In a letter to The Dallas Morning News, Woroniecki was even more blunt: "We enjoyed our relationship with Rusty and Andrea for many years as they tried to learn from our ways of following Jesus," he wrote, "but they obviously fell short of salvation."

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