FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE by Joyce Eggington


The Short Lives and Strange
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From the author of The Poisoning of Michigan (1980), a tepid accounting of the heinous case of a mother who killed several of her own children. Between 1972 and 1985, each of Marybeth Tinning's nine children--the youngest eight days old, the oldest less than five years--died suddenly. Only the death of the youngest child, Jennifer, was clearly due to physical dysfunction--meningitis and brain abscesses. Jennifer was also the first to die. The causes of the subsequent deaths were variously attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, viral pneumonia, or a mysterious "genetic weakness." Finally, with the death of Tami Lynne in 1985, the Schenectady police began to investigate. Egginton traces the background and development of the case through Tinning's conviction in 1987 for the second-degree murder of Tami Lynne. (Although Tinning confessed to the smothering deaths of two other children and was almost certainly responsible for the five others, the prosecution opted to try her only for that most recent killing.) Despite the sensational nature of her story, however, the author instills little suspense into her narrative, inspecting the why's of the case far too superficially. The paucity of information (or even speculation) is most apparent in the depiction of Marybeth's husband, Joe, shown as an ineffectual man incapable of confronting his spouse, even after the deaths of his nine children. Moreover, it seems that Marybeth attempted with little subterfuge to poison him with phenobarbital. What psychological quirks were festering beneath Joe Tinning's Caspar Milquetoast exterior? What kind of a marriage was this? Egginton misses a splendid opportunity here. In dealing with Marybeth, who during the trial repudiated her confession and still maintains her innocence, Egginton suggests that the natural death of the first child sparked the subsequent killings. There is also talk of possible parental abuse in Marybeth's own childhood, a need for attention, and an underdeveloped sense of self-worth. It's all a bit too glib and unsubstantiated. Had Egginton focused on the societal forces that allowed the deaths to go undiscovered for so long, she would have produced a far more meaningful and satisfactory work.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1989
ISBN: 688-07566-5
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
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