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.


In retrospect, all had seemed well with the Yateses until four months after the birth of Luke, the fourth of their children. It was then that Andrea began suffering from what doctors diagnosed only as postpartum depression, a condition suffered by 15 to 20 percent of new mothers. While the problem lingered, eventually making hospitalization necessary on several occasions, Rusty says that none of her physicians ever suggested that any form of psychosis might be involved. Finally, after experimenting with several anti-depressant medications and dosages, Andrea began to improve.

"If I'd known she was psychotic, we'd never have even considered having more kids," her husband insists. "But all the doctors ever told us was that there was a 50 percent chance that she might become depressed again after having another baby, that she might even require some treatment. But by then we knew that the medicine--a drug called Haldol--had worked." A high-potency neuroleptic/tranquilizer, Haldol is often prescribed for those suffering a variety of mental problems, from acute depression to schizophrenia, mood swings and aggressive behavior to dementia and psychotic thinking.

"Postpartum depression," he says, "we understood, was the worst-case scenario, and we thought we'd learned how to treat it if it occurred again. Andrea and I discussed it at length and felt everything would be OK if she got pregnant again. We loved kids."

 
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.

It was four months after Mary's birth that her mother sank into a mental state from which she still has not recovered. Despite Rusty's insistence to doctors that she be given the same medication that had previously cured her, another anti-depressant was prescribed. "If she'd been given what I asked them to give her," he says, "I don't think the tragedy would have happened."

If she had been diagnosed as psychotic, he would have known she was a danger to their children and he'd have handled the problems of her illness differently, would have better understood the danger. "That day," he says, "I didn't sense that leaving her alone with the kids until my mother arrived was a problem. In retrospect, was it wrong for me to have left that morning? Probably so. But was it reasonable at the time to think it was OK to go on to work? She seemed functional, and I saw no reason that day to think she might harm the children.

"Should I blame myself for what happened to my children?" He pauses before answering his own question, then says, "No."

Is, then, Rusty Yates a still-grieving father-husband locked in a monumental defense of denial or a man unfairly demonized by an unsympathetic society determined to find sinister motives in every corner of his life? That people must even ask such questions, he says, is hurtful. "They don't know me. They don't know how we lived our life," he argues. "All I ever wanted from life was a beautiful family. And in one day it was all lost, and people began to point accusing fingers." Finally weary of what he refers to as the press' misrepresentations and half-truths, he says he has decided to be more defensive.

"I realize what a strong force the media can be," he says, "and for that reason I've talked to reporters. Early on, I did so in hopes that they could provide a positive force in Andrea's defense, that they could help explain that it was her illness that caused the tragedy. I hoped by talking with them I could help them see the difference between Andrea, the mother with a good heart, and the Andrea with a sick mind." Rarely, he says, did it work. One reporter, he recalls, pored through his wife's medical records and ignored written proof that he and Andrea had carefully followed doctor's orders. "We'd done everything right," Yates insists, "yet the reporter picked out a phrase here and there to make the case we were irresponsible parents. I know for a fact that friends and neighbors were interviewed and said positive things about our lifestyle, but none of that ever appeared in print."

When a recent Newsweek article quoted him as saying, "I've given all I want to give," Yates was certain that most readers would assume he was addressing his support of his imprisoned wife and angrily phoned the reporter. "I had made that comment," he says, "about payment for court documents to be used in her appeal, not about any personal feelings I have for Andrea."

Those feelings, he admits, remain tangled and unresolved.


A cursory glance at Rusty Yates' life today gives the impression that it is returning to some degree of normalcy. He works and attends church with people who are aware of his shattered past but are friendly and accepting. His in-laws, openly critical of him in several interviews immediately following Andrea's arrest, now hear from Rusty only if there are prison-visit schedules to be worked out or he learns news about his wife's physical and mental condition. "I've minimized my contact with them," he says. "When we do talk, it is only about how Andrea's doing." He admits that some of the things they've said publicly about him have been hurtful. "Not only to me," he says, "but Andrea as well." That said, he is quick to note that he did recently receive a birthday card from his mother-in-law.
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