When Mothers Kill

Interviews from Prison

208 pages

June, 2008

ISBN: 9780814757024



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Michelle Oberman is Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law.

All books by Michelle Oberman

Cheryl L. Meyer is Professor of Psychology at Wright State University School of Professional Psychology in Dayton, Ohio. She is also the author of The Wandering Uterus (NYU Press).

All books by Cheryl L. Meyer

Winner of the 2008 Outstanding Book Award by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

Michelle Oberman and Cheryl L. Meyer don’t write for news magazines or prime-time investigative television shows, but the stories they tell hold the same fascination. When Mothers Kill is compelling. In a clear, direct fashion the authors recount what they have learned from interviewing women imprisoned for killing their children. Readers will be shocked and outraged—as much by the violence the women have endured in their own lives as by the violence they engaged in—but they will also be informed and even enlightened.

Oberman and Meyer are leading authorities on their subject. Their 2001 book, Mothers Who Kill Their Children, drew from hundreds of newspaper articles as well as from medical and social science journals to propose a comprehensive typology of maternal filicide. In that same year, driven by a desire to test their typology—and to better understand child-killing women not just as types but as individuals—Oberman and Meyer began interviewing women who had been incarcerated for the crime. After conducting lengthy, face-to-face interviews with forty prison inmates, they returned and selected eight women to speak with at even greater length. This new book begins with these stories, recounted in the matter-of-fact words of the inmates themselves.

There are collective themes that emerge from these individual accounts, including histories of relentless interpersonal violence, troubled relationships with parents (particularly with mothers), twisted notions of romantic love, and deep conflicts about motherhood. These themes structure the books overall narrative, which also includes an insightful examination of the social and institutional systems that have failed these women. Neither the mothers nor the authors offer these stories as excuses for these crimes.


  • “Those working in social services could benefit from reading this book. Perhaps teaching women about abuse early in their lives or providing them with more domestic abuse resources can help prevent future such cases.”

    Library Journal

  • “Oberman and Meyer’s investigation of the convicted women’s traumatic personal histories offers readers an opportunity to separate the women who command our pity from their crimes.”

    The Chronicle of Higher Education

  • “The authors do not present this abuse as an excuse for their behavior. Rather, they show how the abuse fits into a larger picture of isolation and limited prospects for a better life. Readers come away with a clear sense of how little these women had in the way of social support that might have helped them cope with the demands of motherhood, and are left to ponder the culpability of those who were in a position to provide this social support, but did not.”


  • “This is the first book that analyzes the subjective perceptions of incarcerated mothers convicted of killing their children. It provides an extraordinarily insightful humanizing view of how these pariahs adapt to prison and make sense of their crimes.”

    —Phillip J. Resnick, M.D., Case Western Reserve University

  • “From abortion laws to health care access, she (Oberman) said the social conditions that drive a mother to kill are too complicated to quantify.”