THE DEATH OF INNOCENTS: A Real-Life Medical Detective Story by Richard & Jamie Talan Firstman
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THE DEATH OF INNOCENTS: A Real-Life Medical Detective Story

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A can't-put-it-down account of a case of multiple infanticides by an upstate New York mother, intertwined with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), bad science, and good detective work, leading to high drama in the courtroom. In the mid 1980s, while prosecuting a suspicious case in which three babies in one family appeared to have died of SIDS, Onondaga County's chief homicide prosecutor, William Fitzpatrick, came across a landmark 1972 paper by a local researcher in Syracuse on the relation of sleep apnea, or suppression of breathing, to the unexplained phenomenon of SIDS. The article, by Dr. Alfred Steinschneider, shaped medical thinking for years, leading doctors to believe that SIDS-causing apnea could run in families, and launched a multi-million-dollar electronic baby-monitoring industry. But it also alerted Fitzpatrick to another suspicious case in which five children in one family had reportedly died of SIDS. Finding that the mother, Waneta Hoyt, lived in a nearby county, the prosecutor turned his information over to his counterpart there. His investigation resulted in Hoyt's trial and conviction, a quarter of a century after the fact, on five counts of murder. The proceedings also in effect put Steinschneider's work on trial, casting them into doubt. Yet today his theories are still influential, while SIDS remains a mystery. Firstman and Talan have made sense out of a mountain of legal and medical documents, and bring to the page a huge cast of living, breathing, unforgettable characters, from the young Waneta, shy and unexpressive but desperate for attention, to the charismatic, arrogant Steinschneider, who allowed theory to blind him to reality and whose only doctoring was of his statistics. The authors also raise serious questions about the interplay of medical, social, political, and financial factors in the propagation of scientific theories. Rich, riveting, and rewarding.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1997
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Bantam