A Look Back At The Susan Smith Case, 23 Years After The South Carolina Mom Killed Her 2 Young Sons

Susan Smith Mugshot

It’s been almost 22 years since Susan Smith was convicted of killing her two little boys, a tragic event that sparked worldwide attention, rage and confusion. While living in a maximum security prison in South Carolina, Smith, a survivor of sexual assault, continues to assert that it was past trauma that led her to murder her own children.

The Murders of Michael Daniel Smith and Alexander Tyler Smith

In 1994, Smith, only 23 at the time, was a single mother, living alone with her two sons, Michael, 3, and Alexander (Alex), 13 months, in the small South Carolina town of Union. She’d been separated from her husband Michael for several months, but they were successfully co-parenting their children, or so it seemed.

Related: 4 ID Episodes Featuring Moms Who Are Scarier Than The Monster In Your Closet

Alex and Michael [Photo: YouTube]

Alex was 13 months and Michael was three years old at the time of the murders. [YouTube screenshot]

Watch the “Mothers Who Kill” Episode Of Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Women On ID GO now!

Smith had been dating the son of a prominent business owner, but at some point, he decided he wanted to end the relationship. He gave her a hand-written letter, in which he explained that not only did he want to stop seeing her, but he also couldn’t see himself in a long-term relationship with anyone with children, as he had no plans to have children or play step-father to anyone else’s kids.

On October 25, 1994, Smith frantically phoned police and said she had been carjacked by a black man while stopped at a red light in Union City on Highway 49. He had forced her out of the car and took off in the vehicle, taking her two children who were seated in the back along with him. A massive manhunt ensued, and Smith tearfully pleaded for their return in numerous TV news appearances, crying out for her children and begging the alleged abductor to bring them home.  All the while, authorities became increasingly skeptical of her story.

Related: Martha Rendell: The Serial Killer Stepmom & The Last Woman Hanged In Australia

Although she acted like a worried mother in front of cameras, Smith’s body language and mannerisms didn’t sit well with detectives. It didn’t help that she kept changing her story about the incident and what led up to the alleged carjacking and kidnapping.

The biggest red flag was Smith’s contention that the alleged carjacking occurred at a red light behind the Monarch Mill Textile Plant, and that there were no other cars at the intersection. According to detectives, there was no way Smith would have been stuck at a red light on the particular intersection she named, as the red light was only activated if there was another car coming down the cross street. 

Related: Former FBI Profiler Candice DeLong Explains Why It’s Never “Normal” When Women Kill

“We were able to show, at one point, that her story could not have happened at that intersection because she said nobody was there,” said Robert Stewart, former chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). “In order for the light to be red, a car would have had to activate the pressure pad on the intersecting street to make her light red.”

Union County Sheriff Howard Wells was also suspicious of Smith’s story, so much so that he admitted he fibbed a bit in order to get a confession. Nine days after her sons went missing, Wells informed Smith that Union County had surveillance cameras in the area where the alleged carjacking occurred, and that they knew the incident “couldn’t have happened as she said.”

Wells wasn’t sure if the tactic would work, but once he told her he’d take the information to the media, Smith broke down and confessed to leaving her children strapped inside the back seat of her red Mazda Protégé, which she then let roll down a boat ramp and into Union City’s John D. Long Lake. Shortly after confessing, Smith gave both a written and oral statement to the police, detailing how she killed her children. The only reasoning she gave for the murders was that her children “were not alright.”

Related: Mother Charged With Attempted Murder For Beach Exorcism Of Her Naked 11-Year-Old Daughter

David Smith and Susan Smith

David Smith and Susan Smith [YouTube screenshot]

Defense attorneys immediately painted a picture of a distraught, mentally ill, and suicidal mother who was unlawfully coerced into giving a confession. Court records indicate that Smith’s father killed himself when she was just six-years-old. Her lawyers tried to use his suicide as a defense tactic, explaining that it led Smith into long-term depression, mental instability, and her own suicidal thoughts.

During her trial, Smith’s stepfather, Beverly Russell, took the stand and testified that he molested Smith when she was a teen and had “consensual” sex with her as an adult. He admitted that he shared some of the guilt of what happened to Michael and Alex. He later testified that he would have never touched Smith had he known what she was capable of.

“Had I known what the result of my sin would be, I would have mustered the strength to behave according to my responsibility,” Russell said.

Regardless, the heinous and inhumane manner in which Smith murdered her young boys, coupled with evidence that indicated she was aware that her actions were wrong, convinced a South Carolina jury to convict her of two counts of murder. Smith was sentenced to serve 30 years to life in prison.

Related: California Grandmother Is On The Run After Allegedly Killing Baby Granddaughter In Frenzied Knife Attack

Although prosecutors contended Smith killed her children because of the the “Dear John”–type breakup letter than her ex-boyfriend gave her, she has long maintained that the crime had nothing to do with a man.

“The thing that hurts me the most is that people think that I hurt my children in order to be with a man,” Smith wrote in a letter to The State newspaper in 2015. “That is so far from the truth. … I was a good mother and I loved my boys. … Something went very wrong that night. I was not myself. There was no motive as it was not even a planned event. I was not in my right mind.”

Prison Violations

Since being in the prison, Smith has racked up numerous infractions, including violations for having sex with at least two officers at the Women’s Correctional Center in Columbia. One of the men, former prison guard captain Alford J. Rowe, Jr., pleaded guilty in 2001 to having sexual relations with Smith during the year prior, while he worked as a night shift supervisor at the prison. Months earlier, former prison guard Houston Cagle also pleaded guilty to having sex with Smith. Both men were fired and banned from ever working within the South Carolina prison system.

Related: Wicked Stepmothers: 5 Stepmoms Busted For Heinous Crimes Against Kids

Smith was transferred to the Leath Correctional Facility after authorities discovered the infractions, but she still couldn’t seem stay out of trouble. According to former South Carolina Prisons Director Jon Ozmint, who saw Smith multiple times from 2001–2011, the infamous child killer was given a myriad of disciplinary actions for violating prison rules. The majority of violations happened after Smith mutilated her own skin on several occasions. Self-inflicted harm is considered a violation in South Carolina prisons.

Susan Smith in 2012

Susan Smith in 2012 [Photo: Leath Correctional Facility]

On two occasions in 2010 and another occasion in 2015, Smith racked up more infractions after she was found with illegal drugs. Each offense resulted in no phone, canteen, and visitation privileges for up to a year. She was also sentenced to 60 days of detention for each violation.

In 2012, Smith was busted for “unauthorized use of an “I/M’s pin credit,” resulting in loss of phone, canteen, and visitation privileges for 240 days.

Related: Brittany Pilkington Describes Smothering 3 Young Sons; Didn’t Want Them To Grown Up To Abuse Women

Ozmint has also claimed that Smith hasn’t reformed in any way since being in prison. He indicated that most people who enter the prison system in South Carolina on murder charges usually accept guilt and move on to become better people. Not so with Smith, at least according to Ozmint.

“Most murderers are one-time, crime-of-passion people, and they end up becoming good people. Susan Smith just hasn’t been able to fit that mold,” said Ozmint, calling her “a strain on the system.” He rejects her alleged efforts to portray herself as a caring woman, even a victim, who was not in her right frame of mind when she killed her children.

“She is truly a narcissist, and she thrives on the media’s attention,” Ozmint said. “Someone like that, I didn’t want to feed that narcissism. Other than passing her on the yard, I wouldn’t give her any extra, undue attention.”

Related: Indiana Children In Amber Alert Found Dead In Mother’s Car When She Surrenders

John D. Long Lake Boat Ramp Removal

In 1996, South Carolina Natural Resources Department made the decision to remove the boat ramp at John D. Long Lake, though even today, people continue to visit the area where little Alex and Michael met their fate. The ramp was demolished in 1997, months after numerous victims lost their lives in the lake in a similar fashion as the young boys.

In September of 1996, a family went to the boat ramp in a GMC Suburban in order to visit the makeshift memorials to Michael and Alex. Five people, including one adult and four children, were in the vehicle as it sat on an incline on the ramp, while the children’s mother stood outside to get a better view of the area.

At some point, the vehicle began rolling down the incline. Unable to stop the GMC, driver Tim Phillips held on tightly as it landed in the water. The children’s mother, Angie Phillips, jumped in the lake to help save them, but she drowned in the process. Another adult visiting the memorials jumped in to help, but drowned as well. A total of seven people died. The incident was later ruled an accident.

Related: Bizarre Allegations Of Alleged Attempted Murder Of Young Son By Mysterious Mother Named DKNY Swarovski

Will Susan Smith Be Released?

Smith, acting as her own legal representative, unsuccessfully tried to get her conviction overturned on appeal in 2010, claiming her “Amanda Rights” [i.e. her Miranda rights] were violated and she was illegally coerced into a confession without the presence of an attorney. 

The appeal also claimed that she suffered from “battered woman’s syndrome,” claiming her ex-husband (and the boys’ father) had abused her; however, the prosecutor who tried her maintained that investigators found David Smith hadn’t committed any wrongdoing. The judge threw out Smith’s appeal after giving her additional time to make more substantive arguments.

While she has not exhausted her available appeal options, she is unlikely to have much success without proper representation and stronger legal grounds for post-conviction relief.

Related: 3-Year-Old Found Dead Inside Running Washing Machine; Mother Charged

For now, although Smith violated prison rules a number of times, she still remains eligible for parole on November 4, 2024.

Watch the “Mothers Who Kill” Episode Of Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Women On ID GO now!

Recommended For You:

Watch Now: A Baby Girl Left Alone In A Sweltering SUV Leads To A Frantic Search For The Missing Young Mother

Watch Now: Was This Man The Victim Of Gang Violence Or Something More Personal?

Watch Now: After Dating Her Landscaper, Single Mom Doesn’t See The Threat Of His Obsession Until It’s Too Late

Main photos: Susan Smith [South Carolina Department of Corrections]

  • Brenda Anderson

    Susan Smith should NEVER get out of prison!

  • ForTheLulz

    “battered woman’s syndrome”? Sounds like something a leftist progressive came up with… Tumblr feminists prolly still think this poor lady is innocent, y’know, because women don’t do evil crap like men. lmfao

  • James H

    Anybody who murders their own flesh and blood should be executed, especially for the motivation of being with another man

  • Aileen Perna

    I was a long distance telephone operator at this time. There were calls from all around the world calling the SC police dept, and just about every caller was in tears for those children.

  • The DeplorableNostalgiaJim

    Did the reporter say “STATUE” of limitations right after she remarked that the child killer used “Amanda” rights?

    • DME

      it was Amanda [sic]. That was the word Susan Smith used. Look, I have reasonable attention on things like grammar and spelling too but if that’s your only reaction to this story, don’t expect to impress anyone.

      • The DeplorableNostalgiaJim

        Dear Mr. DME,

        I had to take a minute to contemplate my reply to your response to my casual remark/question about the use of the word “Amanda” in place of “Miranda”. I had to decide if my reply should take a sarcastic tone or one that might help explain why I made the comment that you, ultimately, viewed as flippant or insensitive. I decided on the latter, partly because I think the topic at hand deserves to be observed and discussed with a certain degree of respect.

        The tragedy of the this story is not just in the fact that it involved two little boys killed in cold blood, but that it also happened at the hand of their mother. This aspect is as horrific to me today as it was on that day in 1994. In some cases, it is even more horrifying since I have my own children now (and have 22 more years of life experience to draw upon).

        So as to your critique, I wasn’t attempting to “impress” anyone. I’m not even sure how that applies here but I’ll digress. It was simply a comment that was put forth for no other reason than to make an observation in a matter that has been closed for long these 22 years. As to your response, I get it. I don’t know how you are connected to the case, or if you even are. But I would only suggest that you turn down your sensitivity meter a tad and allow me a little leeway here. Regards.

        • cmh acct

          You should have just ignored. DME is obviously a troll.

          • Jiminy Kricketts

            the term troll carries a broad spectrum….in fact maybe i could classify as one. word of advice. you should just ignore my comment.

          • dontbemad

            Word of advice. Go back under the bridge TROLL. Go have dinners with your kids and do something else with your time besides pretending huh? You are a nothing and a nobody. DONT YOU EVER FORGET IT….

        • dontbemad

          My GOD!!! STFU..On all that’s holy STFU. A bit narccissit ?hint. (spelled wrong on purpose f*ckhead). Critique yourself because you impress no one. Regards. POS.

  • Vic

    She is still hot looking however a dangerous person and needs to stay locked up until her last breath.

    • ricklorieba

      Spoken like a true MORON.

    • cmh acct

      You do have to admit that she is much more attractive now. She used to look homely.

    • cmh acct

      You do have to admit that she is much more attractive now. She used to look homely. It’s almost like it isn’t the same person.

  • Adriane Zahradnick

    Nobody made her murder the little boys but herself. And years later I do not believe she is remorseful at all. I have a son the same age as her youngest one. The story was just so sad at the time. Still is.

  • Sharona Momsbabyforever Payne

    I don’t think she should ever get out of prison, she needs to suffer killing those two innocent babies over a man that wasn’t trying to be with her in the first place. That was a red flag right there, if he couldn’t except my kids then he couldn’t except me. FACT

    • cmh acct

      ….and the guy she was distraught over. Did you read the letter he wrote. He was a douchebag and just as narcissistic as she was. Ugly too especially now. All bald and stuff. I found his Facebook profile. He moved to Birmingham and worked as an artist under an assumed name.

    • Lindsey Michelle

      Exactly

  • ricklorieba

    Well, There are far more dangerous people running around the streets of America that have been released early. Susan is more a victim of the media than her crimes. However, if she is ever paroled, she should agree to have her tubes tied before hand. The only people in danger from her would be her future children.

    • Patricia Karroumi

      More a victim of the media than her crimes? Did you seriously just say that?

  • Pingback: Josie: An Interdisciplinary Case Study of Madness - Quality Driven Essays()

  • Pingback: The Murder Trials of Andrea Yates | Sword and Scale™()

  • breanna miller

    she is a baby killer and can rot in that jail cell

  • Pamela

    If you “HURT” a child, senior citizens , a dog…..
    You should get the ‘ELECTRIC CHAIR: no trial……

    • Jiminy Kricketts

      dogs are not human. people are.

      • Pamela

        You must be an animal hater…..
        When I include dogs, they can’t fight back like babies, children, most senior……..
        I have a dog and it’s part of my family…….
        You would think dogs was human do you remember Michael Vic, you would have thought they was human…..People wanted him to get the electric chair

      • rie

        AND YOUR POINT? so you do as little animal abusing in your day

      • Deborah Whitehead Kulak

        There still living and breathing. So yes it does apply to dogs too

  • Pingback: EP 12 Scholar Gershun Avilez - Contemporary Black Canvas()

  • Angie Wilkerson

    She should’ve gotten the death penalty….She’s completely self-absorbed….I don’t care what happened to her as a child…She made a decision to kill those babies because she wanted to be with the rich man she was dating…She’d do whatever whenever to get what she wants….R.I.P. little angels Michael and Alex.

  • P. N.

    This monster needs the torture of “waterboarding” done on her a few days a week for the rest of her life.

  • Bchenago

    Just wish she would die in prison save tax payer money ..she is a waste & unable to rehabilitate..THOSE POOR BABY BOYS SO SAD

  • Jamie Smith

    This woman is mentally ill and should never be released, ever.

  • Martha Bartha

    What a Whack Job!