It’s late October in South Carolina, and Susan Smith is about to do the unthinkable. With her two young sons strapped to their seats, she rolls her car into the waters of John D. Long Lake – and leaves her boys to drown. Fast-forward to 23 years after this terrible crime, however, and Susan is behind bars. She still continues to lead an eventful existence while locked up, though – and a very dangerous one at that.
Still, Susan’s life was a troubled one even before the murders of her sons. While she was growing up in Union, South Carolina, for instance, her parents, Linda and Harry Vaughan, often fought. Then, when Susan was just six years old, Harry tragically died by suicide.
Yet while Linda soon remarried, things arguably didn’t become easier for Susan. Instead, she was abused by her new stepfather; at just 13 years old, moreover, she attempted to take her own life. And although she was able to graduate high school in 1989, her personal life had seemingly spiraled out of control by that time.
For instance, as a high school senior, Susan had been in sexual relationships with multiple men. She fell pregnant to one of them, then went on to have a termination. And when one of her liaisons ended, she took things badly – trying again to kill herself through a drug overdose.
After surviving her suicide attempt, however, Susan then returned to her job as a bookkeeper at a nearby grocery store. And it was there that she would begin dating one of her co-workers: a man named David Smith. The pair had been friends in high school, and David had even called off his engagement in order to be with Susan.
David would eventually tie the knot, however – with Susan. They wed in March 1991; seven months after their big day, moreover, their first child, Michael, was born. But although the couple both doted on their son, it wasn’t long before the cracks in their relationship began to show. In particular, David became frustrated at the influence Linda continued to wield over Susan. He also thought that his mother-in-law was too involved in Michael’s upbringing.
So, after a year of marriage, David and Susan separated, although they continued an on-and-off relationship. Then, in November 1992, Susan fell pregnant again. But having a new baby didn’t lead to a successful fresh start for the pair. Indeed, they ended up breaking up again soon after the birth of their second son, Alexander.
And to avoid having to see her ex-husband at work every day, Susan found a new job for prestigious local company Conso Products. There, she met Tom Findlay, the wealthy son of the firm’s CEO. What’s more, despite the fact that the pair had come from very different backgrounds, they soon became an item.
And Susan seemed committed to a future with Tom; he, however, seemed to have entirely another opinion on the matter. Specifically, on October 17, 1994, he sent Susan a letter calling time on their relationship. In it, he cited Susan’s flirtatious behavior, as well as his unwillingness to raise children, as reasons for the split.
Naturally, Susan was distraught at the news. But, arguably, she made the situation between the pair even worse by admitting something shocking to her former boyfriend. Namely, Susan alleged to Tom that she had been having a secret affair with his own father. And this revelation understandably horrified Tom. In fact, rather than convincing him to get back together with Susan, it underlined just how he needed to cut off all contact with her.
The relationship was apparently irreparable, in fact, but that didn’t stop Susan from trying to change Tom’s mind. A friend of Susan’s would later reveal that she even went to his office to speak to him; she was soon removed from the building, however. That final attempt to persuade her ex took place on October 25, 1994; at approximately 8:00 p.m. that evening, she then took three-year-old Michael and Alex, just 14 months, for what would be a fateful drive.
Indeed, what happened next would shock and enrage the entire country. Susan and her boys traveled to John D. Long Lake, some 12 miles north-east of Union, and parked her car on a ramp. Then, she got out of the vehicle and set the car rolling into the water – sending Michael and Alex to their deaths as a result.
After having murdered her sons, Susan subsequently fled to a local house. There, she informed the inhabitants that a black man had hijacked her car with her sons inside. And for the next nine days after that, she maintained the pretense that Michael and Alex had been abducted at gunpoint, sobbing in front of the television cameras as she begged for her boys to be returned.
However, investigators soon began to spot holes in Susan’s story. For example, although she had claimed to have been driving the only car on a particular road in the vicinity, she also admitted to having stopped at a red light there. That wouldn’t have been an unusual thing to do on many streets, of course, but Susan’s alleged stop placed her at a location where the traffic signals are only set off when more than one vehicle is near. In addition, her polygraph tests had returned inconclusive results.
Then, on November 3, Susan finally told the truth. Apparently, she explained to investigators that she had planned on killing herself, changing her mind at the last minute yet leaving the boys strapped in the sinking car. Acting on information from Susan, police were later able to locate the car – along with Michael and Alex’s bodies – at the bottom of John D. Long Lake.
And, intrigued, the nation watched as the case was brought to trial, perhaps wondering what could justify such a horrible crime. In court, however, Susan’s lawyers attempted to mitigate the murders by suggesting that her troubled youth had left her mentally ill. The prosecution countered by alleging, on the other hand, that Susan had wanted her children out of the way so that she could pursue her relationship with Tom.
Then, eventually, Susan was found guilty on two counts of murder. And although some – including her ex-husband David – wanted her to receive the death penalty, she was subsequently sentenced to 30 years to life behind bars. Today, she is imprisoned at the Leath Correctional Institution in Greenwood County, South Carolina.
Yet while David has moved on and remarried, Susan continues to live a bizarre and dramatic life. Indeed, she has been in trouble on numerous occasions within the last ten years, despite having been incarcerated all throughout that time. For example, her drug use led to disciplinary action on two separate occasions in 2010 alone.
And, interestingly, it seems as if Susan’s hectic love life has been just as complicated behind bars. In 2000, for instance, she was caught having relations with a guard almost twice her age. Then, one year later, a captain was given five years probation for entering into a sexual relationship with the young woman.
In 2015, however, Susan reached out to Harrison Cahill, a journalist with South Carolina newspaper The State. “I am not the monster society thinks I am,” she pleaded in her letter to Cahill, adding, “I am far from it.” In her correspondence, she also went on to claim that she was not of sound mind when the murders took place. But whatever the truth of Susan’s mental state at the time of her crimes, she may yet be freed, as in 2025 she will be eligible for parole. David plans to make sure, however, that she never sets foot outside again.