Christine Falling committed her first murder when she was 17, making her a rarity. Teens are far more likely to commit mass murder (think school shootings) than start a string of serial murders. Falling grew up poor, with an unstable home life. She was convicted of killing three children and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for at least twenty-five years. Those are the murders she confessed to and it could be proven, she is suspected of killing at least two other children and an elderly man.
Christine and her older sister Carol were adopted by family members when they were young. Taken in by Dolly and Jeffery Falling, cousins to the girls on their father’s side. Their father ran out on their mother Anne almost immediately after Christine was born. Christine had epilepsy and their mother Anne could not afford to care for the two girls on their own, hence the adoption by relatives. Jeffery Falling was twice arrested for molesting Carol Falling. The first time the jury acquitted him and the second time, Dolly Falling dropped the charges, expecting the outcome to be the same and not wanting to put Carol through yet another trial. In 1973, the girls were sent to a group home after Dolly found Christine torturing a neighborhood cat to see if it really had nine lives. Counsellors at the group home said Christine was manipulative, a thief, and a compulsive liar. And she continued to find stray cats to torture.
When Christine was 14 she moved home with her birth mother, Anne. She lived there a year before getting married to a man who was nearly thirty years old (and some reports say he was her stepbrother). The marriage lasted only six weeks and was fraught with abuse from both sides. The marriage ended after Christine picked up a 25-pound stereo and dropped it on her husband while he slept. However, twice during the marriage, Christine went to the hospital for injuries she sustained during their fights.
After the marriage ended, Christine spent the next two years running to the ER for mysterious symptoms that couldn’t be diagnosed as a disease or illness. Some suspected Christine was developing Munchausen’s Syndrome (people with Munchausen’s seek attention through medical illnesses and will even hurt themselves to get that attention – a variation on Munchausen’s is Munchausens by Proxy in which a person hurts someone else to get the sympathy and attention associated with nursing a sick person back to health, this often manifests as a mother who poisons her children an elderly parent and there’s a documentary about the woman in the south that forced her daughter to pretend she had cancer – the mother in that story suffers from Munchausen’s and was eventually killed by her daughter). Christine didn’t finish grade school, uneducated and single, she had few prospects for earning a living.
However, she found her niche when she began babysitting. she herself was developmentally challenged and had a childlike demeanor, parents in the neighborhoods she lived in trusted her with their children as did her family and Christine became a babysitter to begin earning money.
On February 25, 1980 Christine was asked by neighbors to babysit 2-year-old Cassidy Johnson, who she had babysat several times previously. On that night though, things wouldn’t end with her getting paid and sent home at the end of the night. When Cassidy’s parents came home, Christine told them Cassidy had gotten sick suddenly and then fallen out of her crib. Her parents rushed the toddler to the ER. She died on February 28, 1980, cause of death was listed as encephalitis. One doctor listed Christine’s death as natural causes after the autopsy, but the second doctor disagreed and passed suspicions on to police that Christine had hurt the child resulting in the death. Police interviewed Christine about the child’s sudden illness and fall. Her story didn’t change much (all stories change a little, even when they are the truth, because people remember or forget details they gave in the first interview) and there was no evidence of foul play, just one doctor’s suspicions. Christine was released.
A few weeks later, Christine moved to Lakeland, Florida. Again, Christine took up babysitting as her profession. In May 1980, Christine placed a 911 call and told the operator that a 4-year-old in her care had stopped breathing suddenly. Paramedics were rushed to the house. Jeffrey Davis was pronounced dead at the hospital. His cause of death was listed as myocarditis (myocarditis is inflammation of the heart usually caused by a virus and not that uncommon in children).
Three days later, Christine was babysitting Joseph Spring, Jeffrey Davis’ 2-year-old cousin. His parents were actually at Jeffrey’s funeral. Christine called 911 again and told the operator that Joseph wasn’t breathing and she couldn’t wake him from his nap. An autopsy determined that Joseph had the same viral infection that Jeffrey had and he too had died of myocarditis.
In 1981, Christine decided to move back to Perry, Florida. She took a job keeping house for 77-year-old William Swindle. The day Falling began working for him, he was found collapsed and unresponsive on his kitchen floor. He was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy wasn’t done and his cause of death was listed as a heart attack.
Just a few weeks, after Swindle died, Christine accompanied her stepsister to the doctor. The stepsister’s infant daughter was getting her vaccinations. They stopped afterwards at a store to get diapers. Christine stayed in the car with the 8-month-old baby. When her stepsister came out, Christine told her the little girl had suddenly stopped breathing. She was pronounced dead at the emergency room. Her death was initially thought to be a reaction to her vaccinations.
Then came the death of Travis Cook. On June 20, 1982 Christine was babysitting the 9-week-old boy when he suddenly experienced respiratory distress. He spent a week in the hospital, returning home 1 July 1982. On July 2, 1982 Christine was babysitting the now 10-week-old boy when according to her, he just suddenly died. ER doctors weren’t taken in by Christine’s tearful explanation of Travis death and ordered an autopsy. The autopsy found clear signs of suffocation and Christine Falling was arrested for child abuse and neglect.
Once in custody, Christine began confessing to her crimes. In an effort to avoid the death penalty, christine confessed to five murders and told police that she heard voices that told her to kill. She also told them she’d seen a TV program that involved smothering and she’d used “smotheration” to kill all her victims. She’d place a blanket over their mouths and press down until they stopped moving. Sometimes she claimed the children made her mad and sometimes she said the urge overcame her and the voices told her to do it, so she did to stop the voices. She plead guilty to three murders. She became eligible for parole for the first time in 2007. The Florida parole board rejected her application for parole and she remains incarcerated.
Interestingly, during her time in prison, Christine’s doctors rejected her claims that she heard voices, but she returned to her old habit of going to the medical bay for mystery illnesses and non-specific symptoms. She does not have an official diagnosis of Munchausen Syndrome, but at the time of her application for parole a doctor did mention they thought she had it and therefore posed a risk to the public.
*PSA: Munchausen’s Syndrome is not like hypochondria. Hypochondriacs think they are sick because they are worried about getting sick and dying, when they could have survived if a doctor had diagnosed them correctly. Munchausen’s Syndrome is much more severe and a serious mental illness and works based on the adage that all attention is good attention, even negative attention. It is almost exclusively found in women (I’ve never read of a case of a man having Munchausen’s Syndrome) and sufferers will go to extreme lengths to get the attention they crave. I’ve read cases of women drinking drain cleaner and bleach to make themselves sick and I’ve read of another case in which a woman “accidentally” cut off three fingers, to get an ambulance ride to the ER. They do this because people are very sympathetic to people who are ill or who have been injured in an accident and they crave/need this sympathy. The most extreme form of Munchausen’s is Munchausen’s by Proxy. If Christine Falling has Munchausen’s Syndrome it is possible she killed the children in her care because she liked getting the sympathy of being the babysitter who had a child die in her care and oh woe, what a tragedy, it’s not the poor girl’s fault. I’ve already mentioned the documentary of the mother in the south who made her daughter fake cancer because the mom had Munchausen’s Syndrome, but another cultural reference comes from the movie The Sixth Sense. The little girl that appears to Haley Joel Osment and takes her to her house to see her funeral, has died because her mother has Munchausen by Proxy and has been poisoning her to get the sympathy and attention associated with having a very sick child.