Mommy blogger Lacey Spears made headlines when she was charged with the murder of her five-year-old son, Garnett. Prosecutors alleged that she had poisoned him with high concentrations of salt through his stomach tube. How could a mother do such a thing to her own son? This is the shocking true story.
To the outside world Lacey had seemed like a loving, concerned mother, regularly posting updates on social media about her son’s harrowing medical problems. But in reality, Lacey was a textbook case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. From the time he was an infant, Lacey deliberately made Garnett sick to elicit sympathy from medical professionals as well as her hundreds of followers on Facebook, Twitter, and her own blog. When a Westchester County jury found her guilty of killing Garnett in April 2015, she was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison. My Sweet Angel is the definitive accountfeaturing interviews with Lacey’s family, the investigators who broke the case, even Lacey herselfof an extraordinary case that shocked the world.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
English-born JOHN GLATT is the author of more than twenty books, and has over thirty years of experience as an investigative journalist in England and America. He is the author of Lost and Found, Secrets in the Cellar, Playing with Fire, and many other bestselling books of true crime. He has appeared on television and radio programs all over the world, including Dateline NBC, Fox News, A Current Affair, BBC World News, and A&E Biography.
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My Sweet Angel
By John Glatt
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 John Glatt
All rights reserved.
PLAYING WITH DOLLS
Lacey Elizabeth Spears was born on October 16, 1987, at Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, California. She was the youngest of Terry and Tina Spears's three children. The eldest, Rebecca Ann, was born in 1984, and her brother, Daniel Joseph, arrived eighteen months later.
When Lacey was six weeks old the air force base closed, and Terry Spears quit his job as an aircraft mechanic to move his family to Decatur, Alabama.
"We were all born on the air force base," said Rebecca Spears. "It was closing, so we moved to Alabama, where my grandparents had a home."
Located on the banks of the Tennessee River in north-central Alabama, Decatur is one of the poorest towns in America, with a median family income of just over $37,000. With a population below fifty-five thousand, it lies in the heart of the Bible Belt, with literally a church on every street corner. The town's sole claim to fame was making Guinness World Records for the highest number of churches per capita in the world. Indeed, the phrase "Have a Blessed Day" is part of Decatur's vernacular.
The Spears family settled down in the ranch home of Tina's parents, Paul and Peggy Florence, on leafy Cedar Lake Road. Terry found a job as a welder, and Tina stayed at home, looking after their three children.
Lacey's paternal uncle, Richard Lawrence, would later remember Terry and Tina as not a close couple. Growing up, he said, his niece Lacey was always "at odds" with her father, and Tina was a "cold and unaffectionate mother."
Both Lacey's parents had severe health issues. Tina, who was twenty-two years old when Lacey was born, suffered from type 1 diabetes for most of her life. Terry had celiac disease and Crohn's disease and was slightly deaf. But he worked hard to support the family.
* * *
From infancy, Lacey loved playing with dolls. She found comfort in her growing collection of American Girl dolls, which she washed, dressed, and fussed over, pretending they were her children.
"Lacey always loved to play house," said Rebecca, "and we would take care of the dolls together."
At the age of five, Lacey joined the kindergarten class at Frances Nungester Elementary School on Tammy Street, less than half a mile from her house. She soon became best friends with Mallory McWhorter, and for the next several years they were inseparable.
"Lacey was my very best friend in kindergarten," said Mallory. "She was very outgoing and fun. I remember in school playing dress-up with dolls, and playing house.
Although Lacey regularly played over at Mallory's house one street away, Mallory was never allowed to go over to the Spears's house.
"My mom had a funny feeling about her family," Mallory recalled. "She was scared for me to go over there"
The one time Mallory persuaded her mother to allow her to go over to the Spears's house, it ended badly. They were in Lacey's bedroom, playing house, when Mallory picked up one of Lacey's dolls, and, Mallory recalls, Lacey tried to strangle her.
"I was scared," said Mallory. "It was a bad situation. Boom! She just put her hands around my neck."
When her mother collected her, Mallory says she was shocked to see bruising on her daughter's neck.
"There were handprints around my neck," said Mallory. "I told my mom we were just playing, but she took it as 'something's up with that family.'"
* * *
In third grade, Lacey become close friends with Jessica Kyle. The first time they met they got into a fight after Jessica accused Lacey of "hogging" the monkey bars.
"And I spit on her glasses," said Jessica. "Our teacher made us make up, and ever since, we've been best friends."
Both girls liked dolls, although Jessica remembers Lacey being far more attached to hers then Jessica ever was.
"We'd act like we were the babies' mothers," said Jessica. "We would take care of them as if they were our own kids. But [Lacey] took it to a more extreme level than I did. She'd take [the doll] everywhere. It was something that gave her comfort."
* * *
When Lacey was in fifth grade her grandfather died, and her grandmother, Peggy Florence, moved to Clearwater, Florida, to live with her son Toby, affectionately known as Uncle Bo. Lacey was devastated, as she had been very close to her grandfather.
During the next few years, the three Spears children often visited Clearwater, staying at Uncle Bo's house. Lacey loved the beach weather and dreamed of one day living there.
"We were all very close to Bo," said Rebecca. "He was a fun-loving guy who liked to live on the edge a little bit."
Uncle Bo taught Lacey how to fish and scuba dive and would take her for thrilling rides in his sports car.
"He was a daredevil," said Rebecca, "and always exciting to be around."
They also spent time on the Spears's family farm in Scottsville, Kentucky, which had been in Terry's family for hundreds of years. At one time, his family had been so prominent in Scottsville that a road had been named in their honor.
"Spears Road was named after us," said Rebecca, "because pretty much everyone that lived on that road had the last name of Spears."
Over the years, much of the large sprawling cattle farm had been sold off, with just a small part of it remaining in the family.
Two of Lacey's aunts lived a few miles from the farm, and during school vacations the family would stay with them. Occasionally, another uncle would join them, bringing his kids in a large RV, and they'd all go camping on the farm.
"We always loved going there," recalled Rebecca. "We liked playing with our cousins on the dairy farm. We'd have marshmallow roasts and go jumping on their trampoline."
Every afternoon, Lacey would volunteer to milk the cows.
"She liked to go and help do the milking," said Rebecca. "It was a fun experience."
* * *
In 1998, Lacey Spears started at Brookhaven Middle School, often sleeping over at Jessica Kyle's house. On her twelfth birthday, Lacey told Jessica that it was time to stop playing with dolls and to grow up.
Lacey was a good student and seemed eager to please her teachers, always handing her work in early. She was a popular girl and was given the nickname "Lacey Bug."
Late one night, Lacey arrived at the Kyle house in a terrible state. She told Jessica's mother, Lisa Kyle, that she had been molested by a relative and was too afraid to go home. Lisa was so concerned for Lacey's welfare that she immediately reported it to the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR). But there is no record of any subsequent investigation.
For the next several weeks, Lacey moved into the Kyle house and even started calling Lisa Kyle "Mom." Jessica would later tell police that Lacey had claimed that she had been sexually assaulted by relatives and was scared as a child.
Lacey also complained of abuse to her parents' neighbors, who frequently provided sanctuary for her over the next few years.
"Lacey would sneak out of her house sometimes and come over to them, because she was scared," said Rania Cottingham, who knew the neighbors' daughter and would later become close friends with Lacey in high school. "She would complain of sexual abuse, and they would just try and take her to church and be there for her without directly intervening."
But Rebecca Spears maintains that she has no knowledge of her younger sister ever being molested.
"We had a happy childhood," she said. "As far as I know, that's not true. I don't know why people would say that or think that, in all honesty."
* * *
In early 2002, fourteen-year-old Lacey Spears became a regular at Parkview Baptist Church, joining the softball team. At the weekly practices, she befriended Paula Sandlin, who was then forty-seven. Over the next few months, Sandlin would drive Lacey to and from practices and games, becoming "uncomfortable" when Lacey started calling her "Mom."
She also was disturbed by the fanciful stories Lacey told her, which became increasingly far-fetched as the weeks went on.
"If she didn't get a certain reaction," Sandlin said, "she would move to a bigger lie."
One time, Lacey limped into church wearing an ankle brace, saying she had fallen down and injured herself while cheerleading. Soon afterwards, her story changed. Now she was suffering from anorexia and had collapsed in the street from lack of food.
When she claimed not to have eaten for three days, somebody challenged her, saying she had seen her eating a hot dog the day before. Lacey conceded that was true, but that was all she had eaten.
Whitney Riley Pena, who was in Lacey's class at Brookhaven, remembered Lacey having many issues and seeing a therapist for an eating disorder.
That summer, Lacey told friends she was pregnant. Paula Sandlin was suspicious and asked what she planned to do, since she was about to start high school.
"I didn't believe her," Sandlin would later tell Journal News reporter Shawn Cohen. "She didn't look pregnant. But I didn't want to call her a liar, in case there was some bit of truth to it."
A few days later Lacey announced that she had had an abortion at the Carraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama. But when someone pointed out that the medical center did not perform abortions, Lacey changed her story. She now said she had had it done in Florida.
* * *
In August, 2002, Lacey Spears started her freshman year at Decatur High School, a year below her siblings Rebecca and Daniel. Two months shy of her fifteenth birthday, Lacey was petite and strikingly thin, with her long sandy-colored hair tied back and a wide toothy smile.
Decatur High School's stated mission is to educate students in "academic and social skills for them to succeed as ... compassionate members of a global society."
Lacey soon threw herself into school activities, joining the school choir and the drama club. She also joined the Decatur High School branch of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, where Rebecca was treasurer. For the next several years Lacey would be active in the nationally recognized group dedicated to developing personal growth and leadership through family. She also belonged to the school's Future Business Leaders of America.
Mallory McWhorter, who had not seen Lacey since first grade, when they had been sent to different primary schools, was now reunited with her. The two girls resumed their old friendship, but Mallory saw a distinctive change in Lacey. She now craved the attention and approval of her teachers, and seemed to feed off it.
"She was a goody-goody," explained Mallory. "She was teacher's pet and a people pleaser. She turned her papers in on time and pleased all the teachers with big grades."
Lacey's constant need to be admired by her teachers did not endear her to her classmates.
"She wasn't very popular in high school," explained Mallory. "She wasn't like a beauty queen or anything like that, so the teachers praised her because she's perfect. And that was her way of getting attention."
Soon after starting at Decatur High, Lacey drifted apart from Jessica Kyle, who had become a self-confessed "nerd" and "band geek."
Lacey now met a whole new group of friends. When April Chambers (not her real name) first met Lacey in ninth grade, she found her very standoffish.
"Lacey wasn't outgoing," said April. "She had her own group of friends, but they were really close-knit. There were a lot of strange things that I heard about her in high school."
Kara Couch got to know Lacey in math class and began an enduring friendship. She would later tell police that, in high school, Lacey secretly "fooled around with diet pills, water pills, and Adderall."
Lacey confided in Kara, telling her how unhappy she was at home and that she could not communicate with her mother and sister. She claimed her father had undergone a liver transplant and talked about a family member who had molested her.
During her sophomore year, Lacey joined Decatur High School's forensics and public debating team. The team, which was part of the National Forensic League honor society, was highly rated, and Lacey was one of its stars.
Through the forensics team, Lacey became close friends with Rania Cottingham. They often spent weekends traveling together to out-of-town debate competitions.
"I loved her," said Rania. "She was as sweet as could be. I mean, she was really cool."
Rania remembers how Lacey could hold forth on any subject, from abortion to prayer in schools, spending hours preparing for every competition.
"Lacey liked to strive for perfection," recalled Rania. "She'd memorize speeches and go over and over them until she got it perfect. And she was great at it."
Lacey also worked hard to be a good student, and several teachers took a special interest in her.
"She made good grades," said Rania. "She was very close to a couple of our teachers."
But, all through high school, Rania never saw Lacey date anyone.
"It never got brought up," said Rania, "and nobody ever saw her with [a boy]. So if she did, it was secret."
Lacey constantly complained to Rania about her family, saying they fought all the time. She, too, heard Lacey's claims of sexual abuse, as had most of their classmates.
All through high school, Lacey spoke about her dreams of having children.
"We all knew that she wanted to be a mom," said Mallory. "She made that very clear. She would verbalize it to you. We had a girl pregnant in our class, and Lacey brought in kids' clothes. And she was like, 'This is what my kid's going to wear.'"
* * *
In the Decatur High School's 2005 Golden Memories yearbook, Terry Spears took out a special one-page ad for Lacey, who was then a junior, including several pictures of a grinning Lacey and her sister, Rebecca.
"Wherever life may take you," read the message to her, "we hope you continue to bless us as you always have ... Never lose the wonderful smile we have grown to love. Love Mom, Dad, Beck, & Dan."
* * *
To make extra money, Lacey Spears found a part-time job at Jack's burger place, where her mother, sister, and brother had all worked at one time or another. There she became friendly with a fellow cashier named Autumn Hunt, who was very impressed with her.
"If you needed help, you'd call on Lacey," said Autumn. "If you needed a ride, somebody to cover your shift, she'd do it for you."
During their time together at Jack's, Autumn remembers Lacey briefly dating another employee, named Rich Wright, before they split up.
Writer Mike Pollick, a Jack's regular, was often served by Lacey.
"She was striking," Pollick remembered. "She waited on me, and she would always be around the restaurant. She just had this wide-eyed look. A scared-rabbit type."
Lacey also started doing volunteer work at the Parkview Baptist Church nursery. She looked after the infants and began paying special attention to a one-year-old boy named Charlie. The boy's mother eventually complained to the nursery, saying Lacey made her nervous and she no longer wanted Lacey to look after her son.CHAPTER 2
THE CHILD CARER
On May 26, 2006, eighteen-year-old Lacey Spears graduated from Decatur High School. Her parting message in the 2006 Golden Memories yearbook quoted iconic feminist writer Anaïs Nin: "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."
Soon after graduating, Lacey moved into a two-bedroom apartment with her sister, Rebecca. It was on the second floor of Cedar Key Apartments on Cedar Lake Road, just a few hundred yards away from their parents' house.
"I'd been away to college," said Rebecca, "and then I came home and got used to my independence ... So it worked out real well to share an apartment."
Lacey quit her job at Jack's and started working at Kid's Club day care in Decatur, to help pay her share of the $525-per-month rent. Rebecca worked at another local day care center, across town.
"She loved her job," said Rebecca, "and she liked hanging out with her friends to go out to eat or to a movie."
Lacey impressed everybody at Kid's Club with her boundless enthusiasm, happily caring for up to five babies at a time. She was soon opening the center at 5:30 A.M. and closing up at 6:00 P.M.
Lacey also tried to recruit some of her Decatur High School friends to join Kid's Club.
"She tried to get me a job there," said Rania Cottingham. "She told me to go down there, but I didn't ever go and apply."
* * *
That summer, Lacey went on several dates with Blake Robinson, a handsome young policeman from the Morgan County Sheriff's Office. He only saw Lacey three times, later telling detectives that they never had sex because he was a strict Southern Baptist.
The last time he ever saw her was waiting on line in a store. For no apparent reason, Lacey started berating him and stormed out.
"They went out very briefly," said Rebecca, who met Blake once. "He was a policeman and really nice and quiet. She never gave me a reason [why] they broke up."
That October, Lacey enrolled in a nursing course at Calhoun College, telling friends she wanted to become a nurse. In one class, she met a young single mother named Christy Burnham, whom she had known in elementary school. Soon Lacey was driving Christy to and from classes at Calhoun, meeting Christy's ten-month-old son, Camryn.
Excerpted from My Sweet Angel by John Glatt. Copyright © 2016 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Playing with Dolls,
2. The Child Carer,
3. Chris Hill,
4. "He's All Mine",
5. "Poor Baby was Sick",
6. Red Flags,
7. "My Sweet Angel is in the Hospital for the 23rd time",
9. Sun and Beaches,
10. Garnett's Journey,
11. "You Are an Incredibly Strong Woman and Momma",
12. "Blake, I Will Love You Always",
13. "I Hate Myself",
14. The Fellowship Community,
15. "We Love and Miss you Daddy Blake",
16. Tulip House,
17. Starting School,
18. "The Smallest Change in his Sodium Level Causes Him to Have Seizures",
19. "He's Admitted!",
20. "He Seemed Like a Normal Five-Year-Old",
21. Code White,
22. Maria Fareri Children's Hospital,
23. "The Realm of Brain Death",
24. Under Suspicion,
25. "I Need a Favor",
26. The Smoking Gun,
27. "They Think I Hurt Him!",
28. It's Homicide,
29. The War Room,
30. "Get Those Tapes",
32. "Do You Want to Come to a Celebration?",
33. Losing Garnett the Great,
34. There Are No G-Tubes in Heaven,
35. "Justice for Garnett",
36. "A Pinch of Salt",
37. "Lacey Spears is a Calculating Child Killer",
38. "She was Frantic",
39. The EEG Video,
40. "It's Not Compatible with Life",
41. Nurse Nora,
42. "She Just had a Smile on her Face",
43. "I Was on a Mission",
44. "182 Is Just Telling the Whole Story",
45. "It's All About Lacey — Mother of the Year",
46. The Verdict,
47. "You Suffer from Munchausen by Proxy",
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