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Christine Falling was a 17-year-old babysitter when she murdered five babies and an elderly man. She was one of the youngest female serial killers in U.S. history.
Christine Falling was born on March 12, 1963, in Perry, Florida to Ann, age 16 and Thomas Slaughter, age 65. Christine was Ann's second child. Her sister Carol was born a year and a half earlier.
From the beginning, life for Christine was challenging. Her mother Ann would often leave for months at a time.
When Ann would return home, it seemed to her young daughters that she always came back pregnant. Over the following two years, after Christine was born, Ann had two more children, boys Michael and Earl. Of all the children, Thomas claimed only Earl as his biological child.
The Slaughters were very poor, as were many living in Perry at the time. During Ann's absence, Thomas cared for the children by bringing them out to the woods where he worked. But when he was in a work-related accident, Ann was forced to rejoin the family. After that the children were often shuffled around to family members until, according to Carol, Ann completely abandoned them, leaving them on a bench at a Perry shopping center.
Jesse and Dolly Falling
Dolly Falling wanted to be a mother but was unable to have children. Her husband Jesse was related to the Slaughter children and they decided to adopt Carol and Christine.
Life for the two girls at the Falling's home was unstable. Christine was epileptic and suffered from seizures. She also had severe learning and developmental problems. Physically she was unattractive, obese, and had an odd vacant look in her eyes.
At an early age, Christine demonstrated personality traits that were worrisome. She would have severe fits of anger and displayed antisocial behavior. For example, she developed a fascination with torturing cats. She would strangle them and then drop them from up high to see if they really had nine lives. She learned immediately that they did not, yet that did not end her experiments.
Both Carol and Christine became rebellious and unruly as they got older. However, according to author Madeline Blais in her book "The Heart Is an Instrument," the girls were also subjected to physical and sexual abuse by Jesse Falling, something the Fallings both denied.
However, life at the Falling home was so dysfunctional that the church pastor interceded and the Fallings agreed to send the girls away.
The girls were sent to the Great Oaks Village in Orlando. This was a group foster home designed to help neglected and abused children. Christine later commented on how much she enjoyed her time there, although according to social workers, during her stay she was a thief, compulsive liar, and would often get in trouble just for the attention that it brought.
It was also noted in the social workers' records that Jesse Falling had been arrested twice for sexually abusing Carol. The first arrest ended in a hung jury and the second time Dolly Falling dropped the charges.
After a year at the refuge, the girls were returned to the Fallings. This time there was no sexual abuse, but the physical abuse continued. The final episode happened in October 1975 when Jesse allegedly subjected Christine to a severe beating for being 10 minutes late. He also insisted that she wear shorts to school the following day so everyone could see the "justice" marks. The following day the girls ran away.
After six weeks of living with Carol's friend, Christine decided to go to Blountstown and live with Ann, her birth mother. She managed to do that for a while, and in September 1977, at the age of 14, she married a man (reportedly her stepbrother) who was in his twenties. The marriage was riddled with arguments and violence and it ended after just six weeks.
After her marriage failed, Christine developed a compulsion for going to the hospital emergency room. Each time she would complain of different ailments that doctors could not diagnose. One time she went complaining of bleeding, which turned out to be her regular menstrual period. Another time she thought a snake bit her. Within two years, she went to the hospital over 50 times.
It seemed that Christine's need for attention, which the counselors at Great Oaks Village had noted, was transferred to getting attention at the hospital. At that point, she was possibly developing Munchausen syndrome, an infliction in which those affected seek the comfort from medical personnel for exaggerated or self-inflicted symptoms of illnesses.
Munchausen syndrome is closely related to Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP/MSP), when they abuse another person, usually a child, to get attention or sympathy for themselves.
Christine Finds Her Calling
Christine Falling had few options when it came to earning a living. She was uneducated and her maturity level was that of a young child. She managed to make some money by babysitting for neighbors and family. In fact, it seemed to be her calling. Parents trusted her and she enjoyed being with the children, or so it appeared.
Her Victims - The Children
On February 25, 1980, Christine was babysitting two-year-old Cassidy "Muffin" Johnson, when according to Falling, the child became ill and fell out of her crib. She was diagnosed with encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and died three days later.
According to the autopsy, her death was due to blunt trauma to the skull.
One of the doctors did not agree with the child's diagnosis and found Fallings tear-stained story questionable. He noted his suspicions that the baby was physically harmed and did not die of natural causes. He suggested that the police should talk to Falling, but investigators took no further action.
Soon after the incident, Falling moved to Lakeland, Florida.
The next two children to die were cousins, four-year-old Jeffrey Davis and two-year-old Joseph Spring.
While caring for Jeffrey, Falling told doctors that he had stopped breathing. The autopsy report listed myocarditis, which is usually a result of a viral infection and causes inflammation of the heart.
Three days later Falling was babysitting Joseph while his parents attended Jeffrey's funeral. Falling said Joseph failed to wake up from his nap. He was also found with a viral infection and the case was closed.
Falling decided to return to Perry and took a position in July 1981 as a housekeeper for 77-year-old William Swindle. Swindle died on the first day that Falling worked. He was found on his kitchen floor. It was assumed that he suffered a massive heart attack.
Not long after Swindle's death, Falling's stepsister took her eight-month-old daughter, Jennifer Daniels, for her vaccinations. Falling went along. On the way home, the stepsister ran into the store for diapers and when she returned to the car Falling told her that Jennifer had stopped breathing. The baby was dead.
On July 2, 1982, Falling was taking care of 10-week-old Travis Cook who was just home from the hospital after a week prior Christine had noticed he was having a hard time breathing. This time, however, Travis did not make it. Christine said he just suddenly died. The doctors and nurses ignored the usual tears that poured from Falling as she explained what happened. The autopsy showed that the child's death was caused by suffocation. Falling's reign of terror had finally ended.
Falling eventually confessed to five murders. She was afraid of getting the death penalty and agreed to a plea deal. She told detectives that she killed her victims by "smotheration" and had learned how to do it by watching television. She boasted about putting her own spin on the technique by placing a blanket over the children' faces. She also said that she heard voices telling her to "kill the baby."
In a taped confession, she described the events leading up to the "smotheration" of each child. According to Falling:
Cassidy Johnson was smothered because she had "gotten kind of rowdy or something."
Jeffrey Davis "made me mad or something. I was already mad that morning. I just took it out on him and just started choking him 'til he was dead."
Joe Boy was napping when "I don't know. I just got the urge and wanted to kill him."
Her niece, Jennifer Daniels died because "She was continually crying and crying and crying and it made me mad so I just put my hands around her neck and choked her 'til she shut up."
Travis Coleman was sleeping when "for no apparent reason" she killed him.
On September 17, 1982, Christine Falling plead guilty to murder two children and received two concurrent life sentences.
After a few years in prison, she admitted to strangling William Swindle.
In 2006, Falling came up for parole and was denied. Her next parole hearing was set for September 2017.