Cradle of Death: The Chilling Story of a Mother, Multiple Murder, and SIDS

Cradle of Death: The Chilling Story of a Mother, Multiple Murder, and SIDS

by John Glatt

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Ten Babies. Eight Murders. One Woman to Blame: Their Mother
In March of 1949, a healthy baby boy named Richard Noe entered this world. Thirty-one days later, he left it -- found dead in his parents' bedroom in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood. Over the next nineteen years, all nine of Marie and Arthur Noe's other children would die -- one stillborn, one in the hospital, and the other seven of unexplained causes--none lived longer than fifteen months.

Gaining national sympathy for their unbelievabloe bad luck, the Noes were deemed victims of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). But as the years went on, may people found their SIDS defence a hard pill to swallow -- after all, SIDS is not a hereditary condition. As investigators proved, they found that in each case, the child had died while home alone with Marie Noe.

Finally, in 1999 -- fifty years after her first child died -- septuagenarian Maried Noe pled guilty to killing eight of her ten dead children. Today, she remains at home on probation helping psychiatric experts understand what is perhaps one of the most disturbing and baffling mysteries of all: how and why a mother could kill her own children. In this riveting true crime account, author John Glatt goes behind the headlines and into the heart of this fascinating case to reveal the shocking answers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429997058
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2011
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 220,253
File size: 768 KB

About the Author

English-born John Glatt is the author of more than ten books and has over twenty-five years of experience as an investigative journalist in England and America. He divides his time betweeen New York and London.

English-born JOHN GLATT is the author of more than twenty-five books including The Lost Girls and My Sweet Angel, and has over thirty years of experience as an investigative journalist in England and America. He has appeared on television and radio programs all over the world, including Dateline NBC, Fox News, ABC’s 20/20, BBC World News, and A&E Biography.

Read an Excerpt

Cradle of Death

By John Glatt

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2000 John Glatt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9705-8



At the end of the last century Philadelphia was a thriving metropolis, bursting at the seams with European immigrants, seeking a fresh start in a new land of unlimited opportunity. Once the capital of the United States and the presidential home of George Washington, the picturesque city, strategically perched on the banks of the Schuylkill River, had long since relinquished power to Washington, D.C.

New opportunities had sprung up in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and America's fourth largest city now pushed outwards to accommodate wave after wave of new immigrants. Many of them headed straight for the suburb of Kensington where they'd heard jobs were plentiful in the flourishing new textile mills.

Founded in 1730 by an English merchant seaman named Anthony Palmer, Kensington had started life as a riverfront fishing village and was named after one of London's most fashionable areas. According to local legend, Charles Dickens passed through in 1842 and dubbed it Fishtown, a nickname that is still in use today.

Right from the beginning the district had carved out its own identity, setting it apart from its big brother, Philadelphia. Kensington would always be more a state of mind than a geographical location. And with its narrow, twisting streets of plain, tightly packed row houses, it quickly evolved into a close-knit neighborhood with an intense distrust of outsiders.

In the early 1800s life in Kensington was all about survival. The new Irish Catholic immigrants either eked out a living from the Schuylkill, building boats or fishing for herring, or they stayed at home and weaved linen on hand looms. And there was much resentment between the weavers and their rich English Protestant employers, who lived in lavish houses in the smarter parts of Philadelphia.

Tavern brawls were common between the fiercely patriotic Irish immigrants and their English and German neighbors who looked down on them. Violence always lay just below the surface and once a slight about "bloody Irish transports" had led to a two-day riot that had to be quelled by the army.

But the tide turned in 1830 when a carpet factory set up in the district, bringing with it a new prosperity. It was soon followed by the construction of America's first textile mill, with many more following in its wake. The new mills created thousands of new jobs in Kensington, quickly establishing it as the textile capital of America.

By the 1880s Kensington had become the industrial heart of Philadelphia with more than one hundred textile mills, employing thousands of new immigrants, including young children. John B. Stetson opened a huge factory on Lehigh Avenue to make his fashionable felt cowboy hats and just a few blocks away was the world's largest lace factory.

It was into this alluring industrial gold rush, with its promise of steady employment, that a teenage servant girl named Mary McBride arrived in the late 1800s, fleeing the poverty and starvation of her native Ireland. Far away from home and her family, the pretty blonde immigrant soon found lodgings in West Kensington and employment in a nearby textile mill.

Before long Mary had caught the attention of a strapping young man named John Lyddy, who had recently arrived from France where he had trained as a brew-master. The two young immigrants began dating at a local taproom and had soon fallen in love.

In the fall of 1890 they were married in a Catholic ceremony in Philadelphia. The following June, Mary delivered a healthy baby boy whom she named James. The family settled down on Westmoreland Street where John supported his family as a factory warehouseman. Over the next few years Mary lost several babies in childbirth but did manage to produce two healthy ones, Harry and Alice.

The Lyddys were typical of their immigrant neighborhood, taking great pride in their new-found respectability. Indeed, it seemed that anything was possible in this new land of opportunity, if you just rolled up your sleeves and worked hard.

By the turn of the century, Kensington had become a staunchly working-class district where housewives took great pride in scrubbing down their front steps each morning. But although most Kensingtonians had never had it so good, there were dark clouds on the horizon for the Lyddys and their eldest son James, who did not share his parents' devotion to hard work.

James Lyddy always seemed to attract trouble from his earliest days. As a youngster he seldom attended school and was always in trouble with the law. During his early teens his father died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving the family penniless. And when his mother was forced to return to work in her early forties, James ran wild with no supervision.

Mary Lyddy was a hard-working, devoted mother, who looked forward to the day when her eldest son would get a job and ease her financial burden. But James had a mean, lazy streak and after leaving school he always found an excuse for living off his mother and not working. He preferred to sleep late, spending most afternoons in one of the new movie palaces on nearby Kensington Avenue, with their live stage shows, or watching a Phillies baseball game.

Although James was a mercurial young man with an uncontrollable, violent temper, he knew how to turn on the charm and could talk his way out of anything. His tall, brooding good looks made him popular with the local girls and he never lacked female companionship.

The textile mills were flourishing making the Kensington of the early 1900s a place of easy money which provided many distractions for a young man like James. There were taprooms on almost every corner and hard drinking was commonplace. But the dirty streets and packed houses were dwarfed by smelly factories which bred disease. Tuberculosis was rife, along with venereal diseases and high numbers of ragged illegitimate children. The young James ran wild with people who drowned their despair in alcohol. Habits formed then that would later impact on his daughter Marie.

Just before the outbreak of the First World War, twenty-three-year-old James had a passionate affair with a tall, young Irish-born girl named Ella Ackler, who was two months younger. Within a few weeks she had become pregnant and on May 25, 1914, Ella's angry parents insisted the couple marry in a traditional Roman Catholic church service.

The newlyweds settled down at 3520 N. 5th Street in Kensington but the honeymoon was short-lived. The indolent James resented being forced into marriage, refusing to accept any marital responsibilities or support his pregnant wife. Each morning he made great show of leaving for work but rarely arrived. Instead he headed to a taproom and got drunk with his cronies.

When the headstrong Ella caught him out and challenged him, he flew into a fury and walked out after a mere six weeks of marriage to move back in with his mother. But he had underestimated Ella's fiery Irish resolve and her determination to hold him to their marriage vows at any cost.

Calling his bluff, Ella went to the Domestic Relations Court, accusing her new husband of being a deadbeat and failing to support her. She impressed the judge by telling him that she had given James an ultimatum: either he provide a home for her within a week or the marriage was over.

Outmaneuvered, James backed down and agreed to face up to his responsibilities. He went home to Ella with his tail between his legs, promising to be a good husband from now on.

This would be the first of many times that Ella would resort to the courts in a long, torturous and often violent marriage that would leave a dreadful stamp on all their children.

As the First World War raged over in Europe, the textile mills in Kensington kept rolling. Business was booming and the district now led the United States in textile output, making everything from rugs and carpets to haute couture fashions. Things looked even brighter in 1922 with the opening of the new $15 million Frankford Elevated Line, connecting Kensington to downtown Philadelphia and promising even further business expansion in the area.

But although jobs were plentiful for anyone willing to do an honest day's work, James Lyddy lived in his own frivolous world, which did not include gainful employment or responsibility.

Ella's first pregnancy had ended tragically when she miscarried twins, but she delivered a healthy baby girl, Helen, in March 1917 and a second daughter, Anne, the following year. Being a father pushed James into brief employment with the Philadelphia Rapid Transit System but he soon went on extended sick leave, claiming the train fumes made him ill. And whenever Ella pleaded with him to look after the family, he would physically lash out at her, throwing screaming tantrums and walking out.

There were endless quarrels over James' drinking and laziness. He in turn would accuse Ella of having affairs with other men from the district. Time after time James would leave Ella and move back in with his mother, but somehow she always managed to persuade him to come home again. Inevitably, the reunions would always be short-lived.

This erratic pattern of behavior carried on unabated for the next decade as the dysfunctional relationship limped on. And although the marriage became increasingly violent, with Ella often wearing a scarf to hide her bruises from neighbors, there were passionate moments between fights, producing a stream of babies over the next few years.

A third daughter, Frances, was born in October 1921, followed by a son, Jimmy, in February 1923.

"After Jimmy was born my mother wasn't supposed to have any more children, according to the doctors," said their second-eldest daughter Anne. "Then Marie came along."

Marie Lyddy should never have been born. Ella had her tubes tied after Jimmy and did not expect or welcome any more children. Unwanted from the start, Marie was, nevertheless, born at home on August 23, 1928, during one of James Lyddy's many absences. It was a long and painful birth with a midwife in attendance.

A week before Marie's arrival her thirty-seven-year-old father had stormed out yet again after a violent argument, taking refuge with his mother just around the corner on N. Dillman Street. It would be weeks before he saw his new chubby, blonde-haired baby daughter.

"Marie was a happy little thing," remembers Anne, who was ten years older and helped raise her as a second mother. "She was a beautiful baby."

With five children to bring up alone, Ella had reached the end of her tether. Falling behind in the rent and struggling to feed the family, she was forced to move out of the apartment on North Dillman Street to nearby Orthodox Street in an infested slum in the West Kensington district then known as Cooperstown.

After Marie's birth James completely turned his back on Ella and the children, refusing to give them any money. So when Marie was just eight months old, Ella returned to court, seeking legal action to force James Lyddy to support his family. This time the judge ordered James, now thirty-eight, to have a physical examination to see why he couldn't work.

On May 11, 1929, Lyddy was seen by a court-ordered physician. He claimed he was a sick man with a series of medical ailments, including a chronic cough and sporadic pains across his back and chest. He also said he was still feeling the effects of being "gassed" some years earlier, during a brief job with the Philadelphia Rapid Transit System.

Five weeks later Lyddy was summoned to court and ordered once again to support his family. Now, with the threat of imprisonment looming, he grudgingly agreed. But when James moved back with his wife and children the situation deteriorated even further. Most nights he would come home late, liquored-up and riled, to accuse Ella of having affairs. He would scream and curse at her in a savage fury, often beating her up in front of the children while they looked on in horror.

It was a terrible time for baby Marie and her brother and sisters, who were all traumatized by the violence. Their only chances for escape were summer vacations to their grandmother's country house in rural Pennsylvania. Here Marie would amuse herself with her dolls and go push-biking around the country with her elder sisters.

"These were the happiest times of our lives," said Anne. "All the little kids were growing up and Marie loved being out in the country in the fresh air."

Back in Kensington the Lyddys' family life had become so unbearable that James and Ella agreed to separate and split up the children. After one particularly violent row in the spring of 1930, Ella moved Helen and Marie in with her parents on Bennington Street, while James took Anne, Frances, and Jimmy to a new apartment a few blocks away on W. Oriana Street.

Soon afterwards, when Ella was six months pregnant, the family briefly reunited. But within a week tempers were flaring and James took Anne with him back to his mother.

On July 1, 1930, Ella had her husband back in court for non-support. She claimed that even though he had found a well-paid job at the Nu Process Damp Wash Company, the family wasn't getting a cent. During an emotional hearing she told Judge Brown that she was in dire straits and begged him to place her children in foster homes.

Two weeks later the court ordered all the Lyddy children, with the exception of the eldest, Helen, to undergo medical and psychological examinations by Dr. William Drayton, Jr., of the Neuropsychiatric Division of the Municipal Court.

Marie, now two, was declared healthy but Dr. Drayton advised that her tonsils be removed. All the other children were found to be normal with the exception of Frances, who was diagnosed as "subnormal" and educationally "limited."

A week later, on July 23, the court committed Anne, Frances and James into the care of the Catholic Children's Bureau. But the court decided that two-year-old Marie was too young to be put into care and allowed her to stay with her mother.

Just six weeks after losing the children, Ella gave birth to her sixth and final baby, Jack, at Philadelphia General Hospital. Once again James briefly returned home to see his new son. But on October 18th, 1930, he decided to leave his family and Kensington once and for all and took a train to New York to start a new life.

Furious at her husband's behavior Ella got a warrant for his arrest, and before long police caught up with him in New York. They brought him back to Philadelphia in shackles and threw him in jail.

On November 7th Judge Bluett placed James Lyddy on probation with the proviso that he stay at home and take care of his children, who had recently been released from the Catholic Children's Bureau. But within two weeks Ella was in court again, claiming that James had left and was refusing to live with her.

She told the judge that after renting out two rooms for $12 for her and the children, he had moved back with his mother. When she had complained, James had told her that even if he was sent to prison, he would be out in five days and she would get nothing.

Now, turning her back on her husband, Ella took financial matters into her own hands. She found a job in a mill, working nights from 2:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. for $15 a week (which would be worth $140 today), and hired a nanny named Mrs. Bears for $6 a week to look after little Marie while she was at work.

But by January 1931, Ella found the demands of working the night shift and coping with her children during the day too demanding and gave up the job. She went on relief and received $5 a week from the Philadelphia Department of Assistance. Once again James was hauled into court to explain why he still wasn't supporting his family. And yet again he persuaded the judge that he would do so and pay off his arrears. The judge agreed to his offer and discharged him. But true to form he never paid Ella a cent.

Over the next six months James' silver tongue and empty promises kept him out of prison. But on June 10th his luck ran out and he was given a ninety-day prison sentence for non-support.

With Ella having no means of supporting her six children, the welfare services now intervened to investigate the family and see what was going wrong. A week after their father entered the House of Correction, Marie and her nine-month-old brother Jack were examined by Dr. Alice E. John, a psychiatrist appointed by the Court Juvenile Division of Philadelphia. In her official report Dr. John described Marie as "a normal child but not well-trained" and Jack as "looking dull but not feebleminded."

Six weeks later, the very same day that their elder sister Anne was discharged back to her mother, Marie and Jack were committed to an orphanage run by the Catholic Children's Bureau. Marie passed her third birthday there — alone.

Two months later on October 14, 1931, the two youngest Lyddy children were discharged from the care of the juvenile court, as their father was released from jail. Once again James swore to mend his ways and Ella agreed to write off the $571 arrears he owed her.

For the first time in years the Lyddys were a complete family and James found them a new apartment at 3541 Germantown Avenue, Kensington, and began looking for a job.

It would be a brief lull before a series of catastrophes that would rock the family for generations.


Excerpted from Cradle of Death by John Glatt. Copyright © 2000 John Glatt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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