Sleep My Darlings: The true story of a mother who killed her children in cold blood

Sleep My Darlings: The true story of a mother who killed her children in cold blood

by Diane Fanning

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Diane Fanning

On January 28, 2011, the Tampa Police Department received a phone call from a woman who was worried about her daughter, Julie Schenecker. A devoted Army wife and mother of two, Julie had sent her mother an email that could be described as "suicidal." When authorities arrived at the Schenecker home, they encountered a horrific scene…

Sixteen-year-old Calyx and thirteen-year-old Beau Schenecker were found dead—both of them shot, then covered with blankets. Upon questioning, Julie admitted that she was "tired of the kids talking back" and just "wanted it to be over." Had her manic depression driven her to the point of insanity? Or was hers a case of cold, calculated violence and manipulation? This is the shocking true story of motherhood, mental illness, and two charges of murder in the first degree.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466834545
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/30/2013
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 476,121
File size: 751 KB

About the Author

DIANE FANNING is the author of the Edgar Award finalist Written in Blood: A True Story of Murder and a Deadly 16-Year-Old Secret That Tore a Family Apart, as well as ten other true-crime books (available from St. Martin's) and the Lieutenant Lucinda Pierce mystery series. She lives in New Braunfels, Texas.
DIANE FANNING is the author of the Edgar Award finalist Written in Blood: A True Story of Murder and a Deadly 16-Year-Old Secret That Tore a Family Apart, as well as several other true-crime books (available from St. Martin’s) and the Secret City mystery series. She lives in Bedford, Virginia.

Read an Excerpt


On Friday, January 28, 2011, midwesterner Patty Powers, vacationing in Texas, contacted the Tampa Police Department in Florida, concerned about her daughter's well-being. That simple, routine call generated the following message to Officers William Copulos and Gregory Noble: Go to 16305 Royal Park Court in North Tampa: "Check on the welfare of daughter, white female, Julie Schenecker, date of birth one-thirteen-sixty-one. Husband is out of country. She has been depressed, etc. Complaint received. Possible suicidal email from her tonight, now she isn't answering her phone. Also 16 & 13 years of age children are supposed to be home but they are not answering their cell phones either."

The worst the officers thought they'd find was a suicide. They hoped they'd arrive in time to save a life or to uncover a simple, logical explanation. They pulled up to a two-story beige house with white trim at 7:49 on a chilly morning under blue skies. The quiet street in the upscale gated community provided no indication of the horrors they'd discover inside the home.

They walked up a driveway of cement pavers to the garage; Copulos put a hand on either side of his face to block out the sunlight as he peered in the window. He spotted two vehicles parked inside.

Approaching the front of the two-story house, the officers saw two notes attached to the glass entry door. One read: "No car pool today, went to N Y City." Copulos rang the bell and knocked but received no response. He looked inside and got a view straight through the width of the house all the way back to the rear sliding door. He spotted a one- to two-inch gap between that door and its frame.

The officers circled around to the rear of the home. They entered the backyard through a gate in the six-foot-high wall that enclosed the area. There, in the screened-in area, they saw a white female wearing pajamas and a robe lying next to a cement in-ground swimming pool. Noble shouted, "Tampa Police Department." He got no response.

When they stepped through the screen door, they saw blood on the woman's robe and hands. They called out her name and Julie sat up. She stood and identified herself as Julie Schenecker.

Noble asked, "Are you injured?"

She shook her head and said, "No."

The two officers checked her arms and wrists for injuries but could see no obvious wounds or abrasions. Their concern then shifted to the safety of Calyx and Beau, the two teenagers who lived in the home.

Copulos asked, "Where are your children?"

"They're inside," she said, pointing to the rear door.

"May Officer Copulos and I go into your home and check on the welfare of your kids?"

She agreed and followed the officers into the family room with a beige-tiled floor and yellow-green walls. Once inside, however, she turned belligerent. "What are you doing in my house?" she demanded to know.

Next to the sofa, a small end table was covered with paperwork, including an application to The Hockaday School in Dallas, Texas, mortgage interest statements, and other financial papers. On another table, the officers saw a partially completed Candidate Statement for Groton School in Massachusetts.

The family room led into a formal living room with a love seat, two chairs, a double-doored cabinet, and a stacking end-table grouping. Although it was late January, a decorated Christmas tree stood in the corner, with unopened presents scattered beneath its boughs and on the nearby coffee table, where stockings still hung. Rolls of unused wrapping paper lay on the floor next to one wall.

As Officer Noble approached the doorway of each room, he said, "Tampa Police. Come out with your hands up."

Walking into the unlocked master bedroom on the first floor, he assessed the scene: The bed was unmade. On top of it were pill bottles, a cell phone, a blue spiral notebook, and a flower-topped pen. On the dresser, he saw a Smith & Wesson five-shot revolver. He removed five live rounds and placed them inside the blue cardboard box that held the gun at the time of purchase. He stuck the revolver in his back pocket.

In the master bathroom, he spotted a spa tub, a walk-in shower, and a pile of discarded clothing on the floor. On the six-foot-long vanity, he found an open box of Hornady Critical Defense .38-caliber bullets. Of the twenty-five originally in the box, ten were missing. Next to it were five spent .38-caliber casings.

Along the staircase leading to the second floor, Noble saw eight red-and-white Christmas hats marching up on every other step leading to the top. He passed a Post-it note on the first step. On the third one, he glanced down at a pair of pants, shirts, and socks. On the fourth rise, he saw a Spanish textbook. Up one more step, his eyes scanned paperwork for the PSAT bearing Calyx's name. Nearing the top, he shouted, "Calyx, Beau, are you here? Are you home?"

He approached a desk in an open loft room outside of the bedrooms where a computer chair sat in front of a Gateway laptop. A congealed, blackened pool of blood radiated across the plastic floor protector and onto the white carpet, intermingling with the specks of splatter. Darkened blood covered the seat of the chair, smeared on the armrest and back support, and ran down one of the legs. A single tooth lay on the floor next to the desk. Bloody drag marks led to the closed front bedroom door. The air was thick with the stench of fresh-spilled blood and ominous apprehension. Before opening the door, he warned, "Tampa Police. Come out with your hands up."

Getting no response, he turned the knob and pushed, entering the bedroom of sixteen-year-old Calyx Schenecker. A body, nearly concealed beneath a blanket, stretched out on the bed. He could see a small portion of one hand jutting out from under the covering. Blood stained the sheets and the pillow. He pointed his gun and ordered, "Tampa Police. Show your hands."

The body did not move. Noble pulled back the blanket to reveal a young white female lying on her back, her face covered in blood, a large amount of it around her mouth. Her skin was exceptionally pale. He observed no signs of breathing. He searched for a pulse on her right arm and found nothing. Her body was cold to the touch and as stiff as a plank of wood.

Echoing down the stairway from the second floor, Copulos heard a shout from Noble, "Signal Seven," the Tampa Police code for a dead body. "Possible Signal Five," he added, indicating that it might be a homicide. "Bring Ms. Schenecker to the staircase."

As Copulos escorted Julie to the bottom of the stairs, he heard a knock on the front glass door. He looked over and saw Sergeant John Preyer, who had responded to their call for backup. Holding on to Julie, Copulos walked to the front door and unlocked it. He told the sergeant about the signals. Copulos left Julie with Preyer and went upstairs.

Preyer detected the strong, distinctive odor of alcohol. He wasn't certain if the smell was wafting out of the woman's breath or her clothing. She mumbled incoherently and struggled to remain standing. In his judgment, she appeared impaired by drugs or alcohol or both. He pulled out his handcuffs and attempted to secure Julie, but she stumbled away from him to the sliding glass door. He grabbed her right wrist, bent it back, and pressed her against the door to secure the restraints.

Copulos came back downstairs after viewing the body. Preyer handed over control of the suspect to Copulos and went upstairs to assist Officer Noble.

Noble backed out of the room with the body and approached the second closed door. "Tampa Police. Come out with your hands up."

After no sound issued from inside the closed room, he eased open the door with Preyer providing cover. After a pause, Noble entered the bedroom of thirteen-year-old Beau Schenecker. The officers saw the normal evidence of the presence of a young boy: a pile of dirty clothing on the floor, a half-empty bottle of Powerade, a small aquarium, soccer trophies, an MP3 Player Station, chewing-gum packs, school supplies, video games, books, and magazines. Nothing was on the bed itself except for a pillow and a blue comforter emblazoned with the Boston Red Sox insignia. The policemen looked in the closet and under the bed.

The room was empty. They had expected to find another body in that room. Could Beau still be alive? Would they discover him hiding somewhere too frightened and confused to respond? Or was another body waiting for them elsewhere in the house — the body of a boy who should have lived a much longer life? Noble and Preyer went downstairs to continue the search for Julie's son.

They entered the garage through the connecting interior door. Next to the door was a chalkboard bearing the message: "2011, Best Year ever." The upbeat normalcy of those words made them cringe.

Inside were two vehicles: a black Volkswagen Passat and a white Honda Odyssey mini-van, with an empty bay between them. The windshield of the Honda had a bullet hole on the passenger's side, leaving behind external beveling and spiderwebbing in the glass. The seat on that side of the mini-van was covered with a white blanket. The side window was covered with blood spatter. Preyer shone a flashlight through the window and saw a human leg sticking out of the covering.

Noble opened the driver's door, reached through, and uncovered the head beneath the blanket. A horrific wound and a massive amount of blood marred the left side of the young boy's face. White fluid foamed around his nose. His seat belt secured him in his upright position. Noble saw no rise and fall in the boy's chest. He searched for a pulse in the boy's left arm and discovered that this body, too, was cold and stiff.

Back inside the home, Preyer led Julie to a sofa. Noble handed her a glass of orange juice. They obtained the dates of birth of her children and the name and birth date of her husband.

Police officers always hope for a happy ending or at least a partial positive outcome when they make a call to check on someone's welfare, but their hopes were dashed in this upscale neighborhood where no one thought it could happen. After taking Julie's statement, they arrested her and led her from her home. Her body twitched; her face contorted; her eyes appeared lost in confusion and despair. She looked more like a terrified, traumatized dog than a human being.


The wreck of a woman who walked out of that upscale Tampa home bore little resemblance to the Julie Schenecker whom many knew, admired, and loved. The image was incongruous with the small-town midwestern girl who excelled academically, physically, and professionally.

Her parents, Jim and Patty Peterson Powers, native Iowans, were married on August 16, 1958, in Chariton, Iowa. Their second child, Julie Kay Powers, was born on January 13, 1961. Exactly one week after her birth, John F. Kennedy took the oath of office as the thirty-fifth president of the United States.

Julie's big brother, David, was two years old when she was born. Two years later, Julie had a sister, Carol. Their father, Jim, worked as an electrical engineer for Shive-Hattery just across the river in Moline, Illinois, and farmed west of Muscatine at their home. Their mother stayed home when her children were young but went on to be a Realtor for more than twenty years and president of the Muscatine Kiwanis Club. The Powerses had three children and eight grandchildren — six of the latter remained living in 2012.

Julie had a comfortable childhood, raised in Muscatine, a town of twenty thousand, filled with lumberjacks and farmers, nestled on bluffs and hills at a major west-south bend in the Mississippi River in Southeast Iowa. The town had been known as Casey's Woodpile, Newburg, and Bloomington before the residents settled on the unique name of Muscatine in 1850.

Lumber was king in the early days as log after log floated down the river to be hauled in when they reached the town, milled to board lumber, doors, and window sashes. Up until the Civil War, Muscatine, a haven for fugitive slaves from the South and freed men from the East, had the largest black population in the state of Iowa. One of these residents, Alexander Clark, was responsible for the desegregation of Iowa public schools in 1868.

Samuel Clemens, better known under his pen name, Mark Twain, lived in the town in the summer of 1855 while working for his brother Orion Clemens at the Muscatine Journal. In his book Life on the Mississippi, Twain wrote: "And I remember Muscatine — still more pleasantly — for its summer sunsets. I have never seen any, on either side of the ocean, that equaled them. They used the broad smooth river as a canvas and painted on it every imaginable color, from the mottled daintiness and delicacies of the opal, all the way up, through cumulative intensities, to blinding purple and crimson conflagrations which were enchanting to the eye, but sharply tried it at the same time."

In 1887, Muscatine earned its name as the Pearl of the Mississippi when German emigrant John F. Beopple came to town looking for raw materials to create durable buttons. He found machine-punched mussel shells from the river produced buttons that looked like pearls. When production hit its peak in 1905, Muscatine manufactured 1.5 billion buttons, nearly 40 percent of the world's output, and the company employed half of the available workforce in the community.

At the time of Julie's birth, the largest employer in this small farming region was Heinz, followed by Bandag, manufacturers of retread tires, and Hahn Industries, manufacturers of concrete garden statuary. The downtown area was small. The tallest building, a fifteen-story hotel, stood out in the landscape.

Life for teenagers revolved around the high school. To hang out, the kids went to the one "dinky" mall, Happy Joe's Pizza and Ice Cream Parlor, or Pizza Hut — all fairly typical fare for a rural Midwest community.

Sweet, respectful, and blue-eyed, Julie grew up to be athletic, competitive, and striking. She was always well dressed, her long hair well-kept, and her skin a perpetual tan from her outdoor sports activities.

She and Sylvia Carroll first met in their sophomore algebra class in the brand-new Muscatine High School, situated across the road from an enormous cornfield. They had several classes together over their three years, and both were on the track team: Sylvia as a shot-putter and Julie as a runner.

Julie was one of the stars of that team. She was also a standout on the basketball squad. When she competed, she gave it all she had, wearing purple-and-gold hair ribbons to match her Muskies uniform. As Sylvia Carroll said: "She was the epitome of what wholesome is. You wanted to be like her."

She graduated with about 350 other students in 1978 and went on to the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls to conquer a new challenge.


The University of Northern Iowa (UNI), located on the west side of the Cedar Falls–Waterloo metropolitan area in northeastern Iowa, began in the late 1800s as Iowa State Normal School. After the turn of the century, it became Iowa State Teachers College, then State College of Iowa before being granted university accreditation in 1967.

When Julie arrived on campus in the fall of 1978, the student body had grown to 10,455, far more than half of them were female, and 97 percent of them were from Iowa. The minority population was low enough to be insignificant: just 210 African Americans and only 32 Hispanic students. More than half of the population majored in liberal and vocational arts, and nearly a third planned on becoming teachers after graduation.

It was an institution whose size and prestige had expanded in the previous decade with building projects of particular importance to Julie and all other physical education majors. The new physical education complex was ready for use in the fall of 1971. It housed a unique floor surface installed especially for volleyball. When Julie arrived on campus, she spent many hours there perfecting her skills, mastering the sport, and competing successfully against rivals.

A far more ambitious project, the UNI-Dome, endured cost overruns, project delays, and storm damage before finally hosting its first official event, a wrestling contest between UNI and Iowa, on February 7, 1976. The dome had serious problems with its fabric roof, causing it to deflate twice in the first two years. But by the time Julie matriculated there it had been stabilized. In addition to sporting events, international music stars — such as Foreigner in November 1978 and Mick Jagger in November 1982 — performed during her years at the university.


Excerpted from "Sleep My Darlings"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Diane Fanning.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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