Black Widow Mommy: Woman Investigated in Death of Five-Year-Old Son

One of my favorite TV tropes from House is the diagnosis of Munchausen’s Syndrome, and its related partner Munchausen’s by proxy. It came up almost as commonly as the infamous Lupus suggestions, and its effects were discussed ad nauseum. Recently, I’ve caught wind of a developing story regarding Munchausen’s by proxy, a dead little boy, and an outraged “mommy blogosphere.”

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Garnett Spears was only five years old when seizures left him brain dead in a hospital in upstate New York. After an exhaustive investigation by the medical examiner’s office, his death has finally been ruled a homicide, and his mother Lacey Spears is at the center of the investigation. It is important to note that as of now, she has not been charged with any crimes.

Lacey, a popular mommy blogger, spent the entirety of Garnett’s short life documenting his many health problems and various hospitalizations on her social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and her personal blog,  Garnett’s Journey. While at one point she was a prolific blogger and user of Twitter, it seems that within the past month to month and a half, she has scrubbed all of her social media accounts. What remains is disturbing enough, however.


According to Spears’ Twitter account, Garnett was hospitalized 23 times in his first year alone, something she documented at length as they moved from Decatur, GA to Florida and finally to the Fellowship Community located in Chestnut Ridge, NY where they sought long-term care for his “illness.” The Fellowship Community states on its website that it’s a place dedicated to providing a “healthy normalizing setting” for those who are chronically ill.

Since news of the investigation leaked, various media outlets have dug into the story. Lohud Journal News has documented the story and discovered that Garnett lived with a feeding tube from the time he was around 10 months old. His tube was installed because, as Spears claimed, he had “failure to thrive,” a catch-all medical term for babies that don’t eat normally and doesn’t really indicate a disorder. These tubes are usually installed on children only as a last and temporary resort. The fact that Garnett had his tube in for nearly all of his life, when there is no evidence to support his having a condition indicative of needing a feeding tube, is unsettling.

 

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On January 19th, after being hospitalized for the seizures, doctors discovered that Garnett had extremely high levels of sodium in his system. While he was in the hospital, Spears phoned a neighbor at the Fellowship and asked them to throw away the empty bags used with Garnett’s feeding tubes. Detectives investigating the cause of death seized the feeding bag and found the contents contained high levels of sodium.

Lohud also researched Lacey’s strange past with a friend’s child, Jonathan. She began taking care of the infant, who she affectionately referred to as JonJon on her MySpace page, as a way to help out her friend. She was with him so often that many people assumed that JonJon was her son, a claim she reportedly didn’t dispute. Once confronted, Spears became contrite and confessed he wasn’t her son, but rather a child she watched over.

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Jon Jon. Via Myspace

Another outlet dug into Spears’ claims regarding her “soul mate,” a mysterious man named Blake, whom Lacey named as Garnett’s father. USA Today discovered that a man named Chris Hill is the father of Garnett, not Blake. There is evidence that, if Blake exists, he never was involved with Garnett’s life. Hill notes that he began a sexual relationship with Spears who became pregnant shortly afterward.

At first, Spears was interested in marriage and co-parenting with Hill, but then suddenly cut Hill out of her life, demanding he stay away from her and her son. After Garnett’s death, Spears allegedly reached out to Hill, texting him and urging him to remain friends with her. The article is illuminating, especially given that at one point she dedicated a blog to “365 days of living without Blake.” She claimed that her hero-cop husband Blake died in a tragic car accident, leaving her to raise their chronically ill son alone.

Following the same trend of deletion from her MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter account, Spear’s own blog currently only has two posts remaining, one with photos documenting a year with Garnett, and a disturbing theme surfaces in the photos–a dog named Odie, who was adopted and then died only a few months later.

This pattern of death that follows Spears is disturbing. Obviously, people have tragic lives. There are many out there who see more than their fair share of tragedy. Children get sick and pass away due to unexplained circumstances all the time. The loss of a child is a horrific experience. However, the pattern of lies that also follows Spears, combined with her strange behaviors before and after Garnett’s death, is cause enough for an investigation.

Lacey Spears isn’t alone in exploiting a “sick child” in exchange for attention from strangers on the Internet. Take the case of Liam’s Little Lambs, the story of a little boy who may or may not have had a rare skin disorder, Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), or the Butterfly Disease–the circumstances surrounding his death, and that of his mother, have left an online community of mothers scratching their heads over why law enforcement wouldn’t read the writing on the wall.

As social media increases, so do reports of frauds and people scamming others for money, goods and flat-out sympathy and attention. If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we can all cop to a time we’ve vaguebooked out of frustration or a need for empathy in our lives. Social media connects us to a circle of people who have the same sort of interests, making it a great outlet to share frustrations, get a level check on our feelings, or just make sure that we’re not the only people who think “The Wolf of Wall Street” wasn’t the most breathtaking movie made last year.

While social media isn’t the cause of a mental illness as serious as Munchausen’s by proxy, it certainly can make the things a patient craves–attention, sympathy, validation and emotional gains–much more accessible. The Spears case is interesting to watch as it unfolds. While I hope that the investigation will find no wrongdoing on her part and that she will be exonerated, my gut tells me that investigators are only beginning to discover the abuse that Garnett was put through at the hands of a parent who was supposed to protect him.


 

Updated information on Lacey Spears case, and her murder charge, is available here

Al Miller
Resident nerd, glitter goth, and reluctant adult, Al has been writing about the things that make her heart sing for over a decade. She also handles the social media management for The Flounce. Need to have some questions answered or maybe discuss some PR for your upcoming indie game or geek culture project? Want to see if you're soulmates and discuss pizza toppings? Questions about pitching or contributing? email at allison@theflounce.com No dick pics, please.
http://theflounce.com
  • http://www.theflounce.com AlexisO

    This is extremely disturbing. I’m really interested to hear about The Fellowship Community and if they are being investigated as well.

    • botenana

      As I started digging into The Fellowship, I am realizing that there’s a couple of very diverse viewpoints. I’m working on a profile piece and am hoping some of my requests for interviews will be returned.

      Because mainstream population considers places like this in a manner that might not be completely normal, I want to give them a voice. I would hate forever to see them intertwined with this mess if truly they are a community based healing center, instead of some of the other views that I am finding people have on them.

      • http://www.theflounce.com AlexisO

        I hope they respond as well, looking forward to hearing more about it!

      • Blahblee

        Oh, wow, I really hope that we get interviews. That’s awesome, Allison. I agree, it’s altogether possible that no one really liked her at all at the Fellowship.

        For instance, when she called another person who lived there and asked if they could dispense of his recent feeding bag, the resident instead turned it over to the police, saying she didn’t feel it was right. And that piece of evidence is what’s going to probably put this woman behind bars eventually.

  • http://postable.com/katyb AnathemaD

    this is upsetting and, to me, beyond comprehension. there are some people who seem to treat children as possessions or status symbols, but this…I don’t understand this. it is a very small consolation that at the very least, by most accounts, he was a happy, active child the majority of his too short life. I, too, hope that they find that the mother has not done anything wrong, but I don’t believe that that will happen. all of her lies and the fact that he had a feeding tube for his whole life, without just cause, point to something being very off. I am also utterly sucked into the story; I read all of the articles on the site you linked.

    on a theoretical level, I’m also fascinated by this sort of thing (like you said, as a House trope [it’s never lupus! except that one time when it actually was lupus!], as an example of the ways our brains go crazy, etc.).
    my new interesting medical/brain show is The Black Box; I haven’t decided if the show itself is good, but the procedural element of it is really interesting, just because I love learning about rare and odd brain things. and in the last episode (I think) I totally guessed the diagnosis immediately; narcolepsy with corresponding cataplexy and exploding head syndrome. (I have narcolepsy with cataplexy, thankfully I’ve not experienced exploding head syndrome [knock on wood])

    • botenana

      thank you for commenting! I will have to check out The Black Box; I am always on the lookout for a way to fill the House-sized hole in my heart.

      I, too, hope that this is just one of those tragedies, and started out wanting to write about the dangers of convicting a woman before the court has finished investigations (Casey Anthony, anyone?) but the more I researched, the more I found that I simply could not write that. I wanted Garnett’s story to be told.

    • lizliew

      I watched it. I do really like Kelly Reilly as Catherine Black and similarly enjoy the procedural/esoteric medical mysteries element of it , but I don’t know how excited I am about yet another rehash of the mental illness as superpower trope :/ Also her fits of mania seem to consist primarily of dancing around (or hallucinating dancing around) to jazz. In the moonlight, no less! I can tell you that mania is a hell of a lot more fun (and subsequently horrible) than that.

      • http://postable.com/katyb AnathemaD

        I agree with you on the trope-y bit, and the mania fits. though the depiction of her in the first (and to a lesser extent, the second) episode, when she was off her meds, seemed like a rawer and, for television, more realistic portrayal of mental illness, especially for a main protagonist. as well as the flashbacks to her mother’s illness. this is coming from an outsider’s perspective, though. and while I dislike her boyfriend/fiancee, the relationship there does seem to have a ring of truth to it.
        but yeah, I’m mostly there for the procedural element and the unusual cases. reminds me a bit of Perception, with Eric McCormack as the protagonist with paranoid schizophrenia. I really enjoy that show, and ALL the elements of it. especially playing “Guess the Hallucination”.

        • lizliew

          I do like that she is portrayed as (well, relatively) functional and I can’t complain about visibility for mental illness on TV even if I don’t always agree with how it’s used or portrayed. I like the (fancifully and almost definitely incorrectly) self-styled high-functioning sociopath myself- BBC’s Mr. Holmes.

  • http://katcanblog.wordpress.com/ Kat Pao

    Oh. this poor baby. Why did I read this on Mother’s Day. I want to give the benefit of the doubt but my gut feeling is that she had something to do with this. All the weird “death” patterns, the lies about the husband who left her to raise her child alone? Munchausen by proxy is one of those things that has fascinated yet horrified me since I first learned what it was. And now that I have a child, the thought alone of harming her just …. I just can’t deal with it.
    This was a great read and I’ll keep following this case, as much as it turns my stomach.

    • botenana

      Thank you so much. I am going through the same process with my bonus kids – They are the sweetest and kindest children I have ever had the chance to meet and the thought of someone harming them physically revolts me.

      Wiggles was punched and tripped at school Friday from a kid who’s bullying him, and he told me about this. My first instinct was to find this kid and deck him.

      But we cannot do that. So instead, Wiggles and I had a conversation about how sometimes kids are just like that, and we don’t give it a second thought. We are always kind to them because someday the other kid will realize how wrong they were and remember who was kind when they needed it most.

      Still doesn’t change the fact that this kid has been messing with Wiggles throughout the whole school year and I just am livid at the thought.

      • Millie Hayes

        Unpopular Opinion: the most effective way I dealt with physical bullies was to learn how to throw a really good punch. I only had to do it once, and I was never physically bullied again.

  • Aubrey Turner

    I wonder, are there more cases of Munchausen’s by proxy as social media makes getting one’s fix easier? The ability to reach out online is the equivalent to an addict living in a bar.

    Poor little boy. Tragic story.

    • botenana

      I actually was looking into that very question, especially given the reports regarding people becoming addicted to social media, selfies, and the attention that is shone on them (the butt model of instagram, tumblr queens, etc). There’s not a link of Mbp increases as social media increases. However, there are behaviors that are exacerbated by social media. Consider the term “catfishing” and how that’s grown, or cyber bullying, or keyboard warriors. There’s no question, people change when they get behind a computer screen. Their true natures come out.

    • Blahblee

      The Internet may not account for an increase in MSBP, but yeah, it definitely gave this particular woman the audience she needed.

  • http://postable.com/katyb AnathemaD

    I’ve been thinking about this case this weekend, and it ended up being my shower thought topic yesterday and now I’ve just got all these wonderings floating around.
    if we assume the hypothesis that she IS guilty and does suffer from MBP (which is a theory I believe, but will not conclude 100%) I wonder:
    how much of her actions can be attributed to willful, conscious, malicious behavior? i.e. if I say or do this, I will get attention, and screw who it harms.
    how much of it can be attributed to conscious, but compulsive behavior? i.e. I know this is a falsity/I know this is harming my child but I NEED to do this.
    how much of it was willful, but perceived benevolent? i.e. I’m doing this to the true benefit of myself and my child.
    and how much of it was pure delusion? i.e. I really was married to a cop, who fathered this child before he died, and now this child, whom I love, is really, severely, ill.

    I have to believe most of it was one of the last two, and I have a feeling that is what she and her lawyers will claim, if they admit to any wrong-doing at all. I have to believe it, because if I don’t, I think my heart will just shatter. but there is nagging doubt in my head that this sort of behavior is only found among the sociopathic. I don’t know much about MBP, and maybe this started as an attempt for attention, and then she started believing her own con. maybe it was always truth to her. maybe it was compulsive and she was, on some level, hoping to be called out. I don’t know.

    I like my showers better when I spend them thinking about plotlines for a Pushing Daisies movie, or casting actors in books I’m reading, or thinking about Orphan Black conspiracy theories. because I take long showers, and I did not want to think about this awful thing for upwards of a half hour straight yesterday.

    • http://theflounce.com Jen Pink

      I don’t know, I’m ill-equipped to weigh in on the effects of an illness like Mbp, but from what I’ve read, it’s unlike a psychosis where the delusions are so great the sick person believes it… even a hypochondriac BELIEVES themselves to be sick. It’s like, to me anyway, how an abuser will apologize to his victim, knowing it was wrong to beat her, but then crying and claiming he “only did it because…” Abusers are sick, too, you know? And they always play the victim, to the point of convincing themselves of the fact… but they’re still accountable for their behavior. And not that she’s not accountable, because she is, but at least Andrea Yates was full blown hallucinating and thinking the devil was with her when she killed her kids. I think this woman just got off on the attention. Which makes me feel like she’s undeserving of any empathy. I wish I didn’t feel that way though.

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