The quaint cobblestoned streets and beautiful rural landscapes rich in Old World history and intrigue. The fantastic buildings and monuments you may have seen in films and photographs, but never in person. The chance to taste fresh, authentic cuisine and delicious wines in their natural habitat. No matter what it is you dream of, one thing is for sure – almost everyone has imagined a vacation to Europe.
And, while some people let those daydreams remain as reveries, others are eager to make them reality. No matter what obstacles or hurdles present themselves, some determined travelers will not be deterred. One such Iowa woman decided to do something about her dreams of Europe in September 2017. She got to expand her horizons, which sounds like a happy enough ending, but it most certainly was not how it turned out to be.
That is because 30-year-old Erin Lee Macke from near Des Moines, IA, allegedly forgot something before she left on her short vacation. In fact, a most important detail clean appears to have escaped her mind – she was responsible for four children. Macke is said to have left them at the family home on their own, and – unsurprisingly – their time alone fending for themselves did not go as their mother had perhaps planned.
Before Macke left on that fateful vacation, the former veterinary assistant was a full-time mom to a family of four kids aged from six to 12. Living in the small city of Johnston in Polk County, her eldest children were a boy-and-girl set of 12-year-old twins. She also had two younger daughters who were six and seven-years-old, respectively.
Like other moms, Macke enjoyed a personal life outside caring for her four-strong brood. In May 2017, the sometime bodybuilder participated in a bikini competition. She was pictured beaming proudly as she posed with other contestants on stage. But it is one thing taking time out for a fun event, and quite another to do what Macke is said to have done on September 20, 2017.
This is when Macke planned to give herself a break from the kids on a solo vacation. She organized a 12-day getaway to Germany, where some of her relatives lived. Lynn Aswegan, a lieutenant at the Johnston police department, later investigated the young mother’s absence. In November, 2017, Aswegan told People magazine that Macke’s trip appeared to be a “social venture.”
And, to be fair, it appeared as though Macke had at least tried to find some childcare for her kids before she left for Europe. “Apparently she had talked to a couple of family members that, earlier on, had some conflicts watching the children during that time-frame,” Officer Aswegan revealed.
And yet, as Macke’s German jaunt drew closer, she did not tell anyone that she had been unable to find someone to watch her four little ones. “She gave [family members] the indication [that] she had it taken care of,” Aswegan said. But once Macke had departed, it would not take long for appalled people to realize that this was far from the case.
On September 21 – just one day after Macke had flown overseas to Europe – police showed up on her front doorstep. Someone had called in to local authorities with a tip-off that the mother-of-four had left her children alone in the apartment. So police officers were dispatched to the address to perform a welfare check.
The Johnston police could not believe the circumstances they were presented with. Lieutenant Tyler Tompkins of the department later spoke to the CBS-affiliated TV channel KCCI which serves the Des Moines area. “I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” he said. “We have situations where parents go next door or parents may go out for the night, and while that’s not advisable either, depending on the age of the children, obviously leaving the country is a totally different situation.”
When they entered Macke’s property, the law officers found her 12-year-olds busy in the kitchen. The twins were making a meal for their younger siblings. But at some point in the police visit, one of the older children showed the officers something even more shocking. It was something with the potential to turn the situation from one of neglect into something far, far worse.
One of the twins is said to have pointed the police officers to a Glock 9-mm handgun that had been left on top of a dressing cabinet in Macke’s bedroom. Although the gun seemed to be unloaded, the mother-of-four had reportedly left one fully loaded magazine and one partially full clip right next to the deadly weapon.
With that grim discovery, police wasted no more time in calling in the child protection specialists from the Iowa Department of Human Services. The cops also managed to get in contact with Macke in Bavaria, Germany. The runaway mom gave them a simple explanation for her children being left alone – the babysitters she had tried to line up for the 12 days she was away had fallen through. “She didn’t understand or agree with [our] concern,” Lieutenant Aswegan later recalled to People.
“She felt comfortable that the kids were responsible enough to take care of themselves during that duration,” Aswegan explained. And Macke made her apparent lack of concern over her abandoned children even more clear by what she did next. Even though Johnston police ordered the absent mom to come home immediately, Macke waited a week to do so.
This still meant that Macke was cutting her vacation short by four days, so she may have been feeling sorry for herself when her jet landed back on U.S. soil. However, it was not as sorry as she was going to feel. As soon as she touched down, Macke was arrested and incarcerated. Johnston police charged her with four counts of child endangerment, one for each of the kids she left behind. They also charged her with one count of making a handgun available to a person under the age of 21.
When she appeared in the Polk County courtroom in early October, Mackie looked anything but refreshed after her European break. The mother of four looked upset and disheveled on the stand in her green-striped prison uniform. Mackie provided the court with a partial explanation for her actions, saying, “They were with my aunt and uncle as of the 20th.”
But those who knew Macke were not sure she was even as innocent as this claim made her out to be. Matthew Macke, her former husband and the father of her two youngest daughters, spoke to the TV news magazine show Inside Edition. The ex-cop said, “In my eyes, it was a clear, deliberate, intentional act.”
The wider world could not believe what Macke had done, as the global media picked up on the story. Some headlines even called her the worst mother in America. Nevertheless, the neglectful mom’s behavior did not come as a shock to her former partner, having divorced in 2013. He informed Inside Edition, “I’m really angry, but I wish I could say I was surprised – but I’m not.”
Matthew Macke also spoke disapprovingly of his ex-wife’s failure to be able to balance her family duties with what she wanted to do as an individual. He told the news cameras, “If she wants to go on vacation, more power to her, but you’ve got a responsibility as a mother first.”
In early November 2017, Macke entered a written plea of “not guilty” regarding the five charges filed against her. The child endangerment counts have a possible maximum jail time of ten years each. Although the justice system has yet to decide the errant mother’s fate, there is some good news. Matthew Macke told Inside Edition, “[The children] are doing well.”