Evil in my blood

You give birth to an innocent child. But what turns them into a killer?

Published by: Laura Hinton and Linda Masarella
Published on: 1 March 2012

With one arm wrapped around her son, and the other holding up his book for him, Juli listened to Camden reading. His voice was so confident, and he didn't stumble once.
That was my grandson, so talented. ‘Very good,' I laughed, walking into the room.
‘I'm reading third-grade books already, Grandma,' Camden, six, told me.
‘He's on the gifted children's programme, too,' my daughter Juli added proudly, ruffling her son's soft blond hair.
‘Well, you've got lots left to read,' I chuckled, pointing to the huge pile of books beside his bed.
They'd got back from the library a couple of hours before.
Juli, 42, took him there a couple of times a week.
‘You're doing a great job,' I smiled at her. ‘I knew you would...' Before Camden was born, she'd gone through a difficult time. She'd drunk heavily, and been terribly depressed.
Somehow, though, she'd brought up her eldest son Ian, 23. He now worked away as a chef in the Navy.
For years, I'd had to leave my family behind when I'd lived in South Woodford, Essex, with my British husband Mike.
I'd been heartbroken not being able to be with Juli every day, and neither of us had been able to afford regular airfares.
Instead, we'd written long letters - of course I'd tried to call, but there had been long stretches of time back then when we didn't answer the phone.
The distance between us had grown. And then, tragically, Mike died of motor neurone disease a year ago. That's when my sister Marilyn, 65, had suggested a move.
‘You've always wanted to be closer to Juli,' she'd said. ‘Why don't you spend half the year with me in Nebraska, then the rest with Juli in Texas.'
‘I'll get the best weather all year round,' I'd chuckled.
So for the past five months, I'd stayed with my pal Rod Miller, 50, right near Juli's place.
It'd been great to see so much of her and my grandson. Sometimes, I'd even look after Camden while she was working at a courier company.
I got used to us being together, a little family. Got used to walking in on those perfect moments when Juli was helping Camden with his reading, or they were having fun drawing together.
When my time in Texas came to an end, I was desperately sad. ‘It's been really good spending time with you, Mum,' Juli smiled, hugging me goodbye.
‘Love you, Grandma!' Camden grinned beside her.
As I drove away, hot tears pricked at my eyes. But they were happy tears, too. At least we'd spent some good times together - and in six months time, I'd be back.
Still, it felt strange being in Nebraska and not seeing Juli and Camden every day. I missed cuddling up with my grandson and his special green security blanket, watching him and Juli kicking the football about in the garden, hearing him read aloud his stories.
Juli must have felt the same. In the couple of weeks since we'd parted, she'd called and text nearly every day. Only the other day, she'd sighed: ‘It's not the same without you here.' It had made my heart soar to know she missed me like I missed her.
Ah well, no matter how much we wanted to be together, life went on - and I had to take my cat Shadow to the vets. But even in the waiting room, I couldn't stop thinking of my daughter and grandson. ‘You'd love Camden,' I smiled, giving Shadow a stroke.
Suddenly, my mobile rang. It was Rod. ‘Two police officers have been to see me,' he gasped. ‘They want to know if Juli is in Maine?'
‘No, why would she be in Maine?!' I frowned at the strange question. Like me, Juli could be prone to sudden road trips. ‘Life's an adventure,' she'd grin. But she wouldn't just up and leave when Camden needed to be at school - and Maine was 2,000 miles away from her home.
Rod was gone before I could ask any more, though. Just as I was thinking of leaving the waiting room and going outside to call him myself, he rang again.
‘I'm so sorry, LuRae,' he spluttered. ‘I've just seen a picture of Camden online.'
‘What are you on about?' I panicked.
‘They found his body four days ago under a green blanket on a back road in South Berwick, Maine,' he croaked. ‘They've been trying to identify him all this time.'
The green blanket - it was Camden's security blanket.
‘LuRae, he's dead,' Rod added gently. Everyone in the vets bustled about beside me. Everything seemed so normal compared to this crazy call. Head spinning, I fled to Marilyn's. How come Camden
was dead, miles away from his home? Where was Juli - and how was the poor love coping?
Suddenly, I remembered something that made me go cold. Two days earlier, I'd text her asking her how Camden was. She'd said he was still impressing teachers at school. If he'd been missing for four days, how was that possible?
Marilyn was as confused as me. We expected the police to come to tell us everything, but no one came. Instead, we went online, desperate for information. Reports said Juli had been found in a lorry at a rest stop on a highway.
‘She's confessed to killing Camden,' my sister read out. ‘They think she suffocated him.'
It couldn't be true - she was a good mum. There had been a terrible mix-up, it was the only explanation. Because if all this was true, how come I'd still not had a police visit?
All too soon I did get visitors, though. Reporters and news crews hammered on the door. ‘Tell them to go away,' I cried.
I couldn't stop thinking about the last text I'd had from Juli. I wish we could come round yours for dinner, Mum. I miss you. Guilt overwhelmed me. Had Juli felt I'd abandoned her again when I'd left for Nebraska? When I'd gone to England all those years earlier, had she been angry, was that why she'd gone off the rails? Had this brought back that torment?
I'd only been gone two weeks, didn't understand how things could have changed so quickly.
If she'd told me she was having trouble, I'd have dropped everything to be there for her and Camden. I couldn't understand how the devoted mother I'd seen reading with her son, baking cakes and playing football, could dump his dead body beside a road.
A few days later, I learned the police couldn't provide
any answers.
At Camden's funeral a month later, I still couldn't understand what had happened, or why... I flew to Texas with the heaviest of hearts, and we buried him in a little white casket full of his favourite toys and photographs.
The graveyard overlooked a beautiful lake. Camden would have loved it.
‘I miss my little brother so much,' Ian sobbed beside me. ‘How could Mum have done this?'
I just shook my head. More questions without answers. ‘Remember how happy Camden was when I bought him that butterfly farm?' I said instead.
‘He loved it! Spent hours feeding the larvae and fattening
up the caterpillars.'
Remembering, it was almost like I could still hear little Camden's giggles. ‘Look, that one has spots, Grandma!' he'd grinned as they'd flown about in the enclosure.
Juli had smiled too. ‘That's the best present anyone's ever bought him,' she'd said.
She'd looked so proud. Then that same proud mum had murdered her own son.
In the weeks that followed Camden's funeral, we learnt from the police that when Juli had been found, she'd told the officers she wanted to die. Apparently, she'd travelled north because she'd been searching for the castor bean - a plant that grows wild there and is deadly when chewed or swallowed.
But before killing herself, she'd taken her son's life ‘because there was nobody else to raise him'.
‘I'd have been there,' I hissed.
‘She called Camden's school too, pretending he was sick with appendicitis,' the officer explained. She'd lied to them, just like she'd lied to me about him being in school, even as he lay by a roadside, lifeless.
I hated her for what she'd done, for the torment she was putting us all through. I wanted to confront her and demand the truth about why she'd done this terrible thing.
But she was thousands of miles away, and was undergoing some psychiatric tests. So the first time I saw her was when I walked into Rockingham Superior Court six months after Camden's death.
Watching my daughter being charged with second-degree murder was like having an out-of- body experience.
Although she wore shackles, and the familiar orange jumpsuit of a prisoner, all I saw was my Juli. Not a killer, just my little girl.
Guilt surged again. When Juli had given birth to Camden, aged 35, I'd been the one to try to convince her to give him up for adoption. It'd been in the middle of all her drink problems - she hadn't even known who his father was. ‘I'm just not sure if you're in the right state of mind,' I remembered telling her when we'd spoken on the phone. ‘This could be too much for you.'
At that point, Ian, then 17, had been living with his dad Paul, 48, on and off.
‘I'll think about adoption,' she'd promised. ‘But I feel good, Mum, for the first time in ages.'
I'd prayed she was right. And when Ian had rung to say his mum had given birth to another boy, I'd felt so happy.
‘He's gorgeous,' Ian had laughed. ‘I'm cuddling him now.'
Juli had called out: ‘I can't give him up, I love him.'
Me and Camden had shared the same birthday too, March 15. I'd taken it as sign that Juli should keep him, wrap him up in her love. Yet now, six years later, I wished I'd tried harder to make her give him up. I'd never have known my grandson - but he'd be alive.
Instead, Juli had given Camden an overdose of NyQuil sleep medication, before covering his face with a pillow and sitting on it.
‘He squirmed for three agonising minutes,' the prosecutor said. ‘The pressure applied was so great she bruised one lung and the base of his skull.'
He must've been so frightened.
To her credit, though, Juli decided to reject an insanity defence and has admitted murder. ‘He did nothing whatsoever to deserve that by my hand,' Juli told the court, voice shaking. ‘He was not an inconvenience to me. My sorrow is intense and unbearable.'
As she spoke I looked into her eyes, and there it was - genuine sadness. She had loved him. She had been a good mother. So why had she killed her child?
I finally got to visit Juli a few days before sentencing. Even then I couldn't ask her why, though. ‘You can't talk about the case, for legal reasons,' an officer warned, leading me to the visiting room. There she was, behind the glass screen. My daughter, the killer. I clenched my hands hard.
‘I miss Camden,' she whispered into the phone.
‘Me, too,' I replied. She was clearly telling the truth, looked so tired, and her hair hung limp. When she was little, I'd sung her to sleep, stroking her silky hair.
She wasn't a little girl any more though, she had to take responsibility for her actions.
In January this year, Juli was sentenced to 45 years in prison. It's a very harsh sentence, but she needs to serve her time. When it's done, though, I'll be there for her.
I love her because she's my daughter, but I can't forgive her. Now that I can finally visit her to get the answers to all my questions, I find I can't face it. Not yet. But I will one day.
What could she possibly tell me, though, that could justify killing her own child?
LuRae McCrery, 65, Curtis, Nebraska, USA