The Human Equation

Serial killers, self-reliance, and everything in between

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Serial killing role models

I always wished I had a closer relationship with my mother.  I never really understood why I didn’t.  Was it because she was so young when I was born?  Was it left-over from her own complicated, intense, and unsatisfying relationship she had with her own mother?   Did I fail to meet expectations that I would be just like her, love her above all others, or undo some past hurt that she continued to carry around? 

I still don’t know.  But I do know that, as I grew up, I met women who had far more toxic relationships with their own mothers than the disappointing one I had with mine.  As a budding therapist, I quickly learned that there are some decent people out there who had the bad luck of a being raised by a truly toxic parent.  I discovered the psychological umbilical cord that binds us so tightly to our mothers, that keeps some children struggling to earn her love and gain her approval even when it’s been evident for years that she is incapable of giving either.  And, as a forensic psychologist, I’ve seen the truly bad things that can happen when a child isn’t able to get out from under a pathological parent’s influence.

Like murder. 

Let’s Kill Off the Rest of our Annoying Family

Fifty-one-year-old Diane Staudte and her 22-year-old daughter, Rachel, are currently in jail in Missouri after confessing to killing Mark Staudte (Diane’s husband and Rachel’s father), Shawn Staudte (Rachel’s 26-year-old brother) and permanently disabling Rachel’s 24-year-old sister.  All three of them were poisoned with antifreeze that had been repeatedly slipped into their drinks by the mother-daughter pair.

Diane initially came under suspicion after two anonymous phone calls were received by police that urged authorities to look at her role in the two family members’ deaths.  Suspicion reportedly mounted after nurses told police that Diane’s actions at the hospital while her surviving daughter lay fighting for her life were bizarre and inappropriate.  (She rarely visited and, when she did, laughed and joked with hospital personnel, talked about an upcoming vacation to Florida, and showed little concern for her daughter). 

Information given by Diane during her confession indicated that the motive for the murders (and attempted murder) was the basic dislike she had developed for these members of her family.  She told the detective that she killed her husband because she "hated him" and her son because he was "worse than a pest." She said she wanted to kill her daughter, Sarah, because the young woman "would not get a job and had student loans that had to be paid," the probable cause statement said.

 A Quick Way to Make a Buck

Financial problems can bring out the worst in all of us and 40-year-old Stephanie Lyn Hudnall and her 20-year-old daughter, Guenevere, were in a pinch.  Both unemployed, their mobile home was in the process of being foreclosed on.  However, unlike this mother-daughter duo, most of us don’t think of murder as a possible solution.

William Hudnall, Stephanie’s estranged husband and Guenevere’s dad, was axed to death on June 9, 2011.  Apparently, the lure of William Hudnall’s social security benefits was enough to overcome any moral scruples about violence or family affection for the fifty-one-year old victim.  After visiting her dad for several hours, she crept back in after he fell asleep and then killed him with a pickax. 

It is unclear who the primary instigator of the premeditated murder plot was.  According to Guenevere, who testified in court against her mother after the two pled guilty to second-degree murder, her mother planned the attack, which was motivated by money, and drove her daughter over to her father’s house on the night of the murder.  Family members of the victim concur, describing Stephanie Hudnall as a pathological liar who had twice attempted to murder her husband before and had refused to call for medical help after he suffered a stroke.  However, it has also been reported that Guenevere offered to kill her father if her mother gave her a ride to her dad’s and, without question, she was the one who carried out the actual murder.

A Mother-Daughter Crime Dynasty

Leena Deosthale,52, and her daughter Deepti, 26, began their life of crime at home and branched out from there.  Leena, a practicing attorney, had first duped her brother out of his property.  The two next attempted to kidnap and hold for ransom a distant relative; when this plot failed, they decided to become more organized and get some help.  So, they created a fake detective agency and hired local youth to help them in their “investigations.”

Fast forward to July 2006, when Dr. Smitha Mahajan reports that her physician-husband has been kidnapped after going to meet someone who had offered him a consultant’s position for a charitable trust.  After failing to return from his meeting, Dr. Smitha received phone calls demanding money for his release.  Police later learn that four employees from the bogus Blue Bird Detective Agency, having been told that the kidnap victim was a mastermind in a kidney transplantation racket, help the Doesthale’s kidnap and drug him; the drugs that were used killed him.  (These employees later became star witnesses at trial).

When the police raided the duo’s apartment, they found two notebooks containing the names and contact information of many prominent physicians, suggesting the victim was just the first in what was to be a kidnapping business.  As far as the motive is concerned, it appears that raising money for Deepti’s modeling career was a primary reason for the mother and daughter’s criminal activity.

The Bottom Line

We don’t get to choose our family, but we do have to deal with the family we have.  If we’re lucky, we grow up in a loving environment with parents who love us for who we are and encourage us to become the best we can be.  If we’re not, we hopefully grow up and surround ourselves with people who can help us put our past in perspective and deal with the reality of our parents’ psychopathology.  It’s the children who are born to toxic parents and, for whatever reason, are unable to get out from under their influence who end up suffering irreparable psychological injury and – sometimes – killing others.

Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, is the author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology.

more...

Subscribe to The Human Equation

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.