Thursday, October 31, 2013

Susan Smith

Case Study – Susan Smith


Susan Vaughan Smith was born on 26 September 1971 in Union, South Carolina to Harry Vaughan and Linda Vaughan. Susan was the last born child out of a family of three children and she was the only daughter that was raised by the couple. She was convicted on 22 July 1995 for the murder of her two sons, 14-month-old Alexander Tyler Smith and 3 year old Michael Daniel Smith. She was sentenced upon conviction to life in prison for the above murders (Pergament, 2011).

Early childhood years

Susan’s parents divorced when she was seven years old. Her father, Harry who was aged 37 at the time committed suicide 5 weeks after the divorce. Before the divorce, the parents had a very tumultuous marriage and this coupled with the death of Harry, Susan was left an empty, sad and peculiarly distant child. A few weeks after the divorce of Susan’s parents, Linda married Bev (Beverly) Russell, a local businessman who was very successful. After the marriage, Linda and the children moved into Bev’s house that was located in the Union’s exclusive subdivision from their small modest home. The disruptive early years of Susan’s life may have contributed to the tendency that she developed to offend. She was withdrawn and sad (Quigley, 2012).

The offending that was undertaken by Susan Smith can be explained through the use of the psychoanalytical theory. The theory that was developed by Sigmund Freud notes that all the humans have a natural tendency, urge or drive to be able to offend (Wakelyn, 2013). Such criminal tendencies are usually repressed in the unconscious. However, such criminal tendencies and drives that all humans have can usually be curbed through the socialization process. It is important to note that children who are not socialized properly will in the most cases end up offending due to the fact that they have developed personality disturbances that cause them to be able to direct the antisocial impulses that they may have either inward or outwards (BarCharts, Inc., 2000).

Smith was not socialized in the right way by the parents. The marriage between the Vaughan’s was tumultuous thus leading to the divorce that was followed by the suicide of the dad and the marriage of Linda to Bev, the business owner in the town. Smith was improperly socialized to be able to accept the fact that the parents had complete control over the lives of the children. The above might have led to the offending.

One night when one of Bev’s many daughters made a visit to Bev’s home, Smith was asked to sleep on the family couch while the girl slept in her bedroom. That was the genesis of the development of the offending behavior by Smith. Bev molested her sexually by touching and stroking her breast and also putting her hands onto his penis. Susan Smith reported the abuse to Linda and the Department of Social Service but no action was forthcoming. She was chastised by her family for making the sexual abuse public. Linda, Susan’s mother was more concerned about the public embarrassment than the protection of her daughter. Based on the psychoanalytical theory, Smith was socialized to accept the fact that the individuals should save their face rather than protect the welfare (Freud, 1961). This led to the first case of her offending. Susan attempted suicide when she could not be able to live with the embarrassment that resulted from the rejection of the two men she loved and was in relationships with. In the summer of 1988, Susan had a job at the Winn-Dixie grocery store rose very quickly through the ranks from the role of the cahier to the role of the bookkeeper in the store.

At the time she was in her senior year in high school, she was sexually active with three men; Bev, a married older man who worked at the store and a younger co-worker at the grocery store. During her time at the store, she became pregnant and procured an abortion (Rekers, 1995). The series of the events that took place led the married man to end the relationship. Susan reacted to the end of the relationship by attempting suicide through the use of an overdose of Tylenol and Aspirin (Cole & Cole, 1993). The attempted suicide was not the first for Susan as she had attempted suicide when she was only 13 years old. Linda, Bev as well as Harry socialized Susan that the only way to be able to save face was through attempting to either hide the offence or the embarrassment or even take you own life. Harry committed suicide as he could not be able to withstand the embarrassment that was caused by the divorce with his wife and then fact that he could not be able to face the reality. Bev and Linda were not fascinated by the fact that Susan has reported the matter to the Department of Social Services thus making the issue public knowledge. Linda and Bev and the other people who were involved also taught Susan that such embarrassments should not be tolerated and a person should hide from them through their actions to initiate an out of court settlement.

Work relationship

Susan’s relationship with her younger co-worker has just started gathering pace. The co-worker was also a high school friend of hers. His name was David Smith. The two married when Susan discovered that she was pregnant and the marriage was solemnized on March 15, 1991. The psychoanalytical theory was again at play soon after the marriage as Susan and David Smith were faced with an inability of the people whom they looked up to, to provide better ways of managing the situations and the happenings. This further cemented the view in Susan that rather than faced calamities, the best way to go about it was to either react or direct their pulses inwardly and outwardly. David Smith’s parents reacted in both the two ways to the loss of their son through Crohn’s disease (Russell & Stephens, 2000). David’s father reacted inwardly by attempting suicide while the mother reacted outwardly be deserting him and his father; she moved to another city.

Moving work and relationship with Findlay

The events that took place after Susan and David realized that their marriage could not work can be explained through the use of the learning theory. The suicide attempts and the need to be able to escape from the reality are some of the elements that shaped her childhood, teenage and early adult life. The learning theory is based in the principles of the behavioral psychology that hold that the behavior of a person is learned and subsequently maintained by the consequences and the rewards (Bandura, 1973). Based on the theory, an individual learns criminal and deviant behavior through the observation and witnessing of the consequences and rewards that such behavior will elicit or receive. The theory holds that taking away the value of the reward would make the behavior that is deviant or criminal to cease. All through her growing up, the people whom Susan looked up to have been rewarded or have not faced the consequences of the criminal and deviant behavior that they are involved in (Smith, 1995).

Susan thus grew up knowing that the criminal behavior and the deviant behavior that the people would engage in were significantly rewarding (Heng Choon (Oliver), Heide, & Beauregard, 2011). Bev got away with the sexual molestation when Susan was just 16 years old and continued to molest her through most of her early adult life. Other instances in her life have also witnessed people getting away with deviant behavior. She got away with the attempted suicide as she was not reprimanded. Based on the grounding of the learning theory, the activities that took place after Susan moved job to start working for the Conso Products. Susan did not want to work in the same place as David thus took a book keeping position at Conso. Susan rose through the ranks until she was the executive secretary to the CEO, Carey Findlay. Susan started dating Tom Findlay, the son to the CEO in January 1994 and their relationship was on and off for a long period of time. Susan told David that she wanted a divorce as she had already started to plan her future with Findlay in her mind. Days before the divorce paper between Susan and David were filed; Findlay wrote a letter to Susan detailing the reasons why he wanted to end his relationship with her (Higgins, Jennings, Marcum, Ricketts, & Mahoney, 2011). He stated a number of reasons for instance that they were from different backgrounds, that she was sleeping around with married men and that she was kissing a husband to one of her friends in a hot tub while they were naked. Susan lived a life of lies just as her mother had lived.

This showed a leaned behavior. Her mother was involved with Bev while she was still not divorced to harry (Eftimiades, 1995). This is the same issue with Susan as she was involved with Russell Bev and David while she was depressed that Tom had ended the relationship that they had. Susan was obsessed with Tom just as David’s father was obsessed with his son who died to the extent that he attempted suicide. The above is indication of the learning theory in play.

At around 8 p.m. on October 25, 1994, put her bare-foot sons into the car seats and started driving around. The Susan confessed that she wanted to die thus decided against going to her mother’s house and instead went to John D. Long Lake and drove to the ramp. Susan then got out of the car, put the car in drive and then released the breaks. She watched as her children who were sleeping in the backseat were plunged into the water while in the car. She watched as the car started sinking and the boys drown (Pergament, 2011). Over the few days that followed, Susan maintained a lie that she was abducted and that she did not know the whereabouts of the sons. She later confessed on November 3, 1994 that she pushed the car and her sons into the lake thus killing the boys (Spitz & Spitz, 2006).

The learning theory of offending hold it that if an individual is of the view that there would be rewards for the action that they undertook, they would be involved in the undertaking of the crime as such a crime would be lucrative to undertake. Susan had grown up seeing people get away with the crimes that they committed thus was of the view that criminal and deviant behavior were rewarding. Susan was of the view that her made up story would convince the authorities that she was innocent and thus she would have the reward of dating Findlay and subsequently getting to marry Findlay (Tittle, Antonaccio & Botchkovar, 2012). Findlay had previously made it clear that he was not ready to have any children and was not willing to raise the children that Susan already had.


The issue of offending is always driven by a number of factors for instance the benefits or the rewards that would be received from the crime which is found in the learning theory and the socialization of the given individuals which is premised on the psychoanalytic theory. Susan was thus pushed to be able to commit the offense through the influence of the two theories.