DALLAS – When a mother admitted killing her baby daughter by severing the child's arms this week, she joined a high-profile list of Texas women with histories of mental illness who have killed their children in gruesome fashion.
The state has had at least four similar cases in recent years. Andrea Yates (search) drowned her five children in the family's Houston bathtub in 2001. Deanna Laney (search) bashed her three sons' skulls with rocks last year, killing two and maiming a toddler. She said God told her to do it.
A mother from suburban Dallas drowned her daughters last fall, and a woman in Brownsville is accused of helping her common-law husband behead her three children.
In all the cases, the women had some sort of mental illness in their past.
Though the killings have been brutal, legal and psychiatric experts say such cases are no more common here than in other states.
They note that several factors have caused Texas to get more attention on the issue, including intense media coverage following the Yates case that may have created an illusion that Texas has more mothers killing children.
"Texas seems to be a lightning rod," said George Parnham, the Houston attorney who defended Yates. "I don't necessarily go with the idea that we're wackos down here."
Dena Schlosser (search), 35, was charged with capital murder Monday after calmly telling a 911 operator that she had cut off the arms of 11-month-old Margaret. Police found Schlosser sitting in her living room, covered in blood, a church hymn playing in the background.
Schlosser's husband, John, told an official with Texas' Family and Protective Services that his wife had referenced a Bible scripture the night before the killing and said she wanted to "give her children to God," according to an affidavit that led a judge to award the agency temporary custody of the couple's two older children.
Schlosser had a history of postpartum depression, a disorder that can occur in women after they give birth.
Her mental history and her 911 confession are similar to Yates. And the method Schlosser used shared the bizarre, brutal nature of Laney's rocks and Yates' systematic drowning.
"To actually sever the arms suggests something special was going on," said psychiatrist Phillip Resnick, who testified in the trials of Laney and Yates. "It suggests on its face that there was some specialized psychotic thinking, but you just don't know."
Yates, who had a history of schizophrenia and postpartum depression and said the devil prompted her to kill her children, was convicted of capital murder and is serving a life sentence. Laney was acquitted of capital murder by reason of insanity after psychiatrists agreed psychotic delusions kept her from knowing right from wrong.
Authorities discovered a grisly scene at the Schlossers' apartment.
An officer had to remove a knife from Schlosser's hand, according to a search warrant affidavit released Tuesday. The baby was found in her crib, both arms severed at the shoulder, and died at a hospital a short time later.
Authorities said the two older daughters in the family, ages 6 and 9, were at school when police arrived, and that their father was at work.
Schlosser had been investigated on child-neglect allegations this year, but Texas Child Protective Services had recently closed a seven-month investigation, concluding that Schlosser did not pose a risk to her children.
The severed arms case will certainly add to the media attention on the issue. But DePaul University law professor Michelle Oberman, who has written extensively on mothers who kill their children, said Texas may be bringing some of the attention on itself with the way it prosecutes such cases.
"It gears up the criminal justice system for a death penalty prosecution, rather than approaching the cases as instances of profound mental illness," Oberman said.