Mysterious America

An Unspeakable Crime: The Cambridge Death Curve, Part 1

Life is slow in Henry County, Illinois. With 86.7 percent of its land devoted to agriculture, the most commotion a visitor is likely to hear comes from tractors rumbling across the land as farmers plow their fields. Cambridge, the county seat, is a village of little more than 2,000 residents. Less than a mile outside of Cambridge sits Timber Ridge Road. As motorists travel west along Timber Ridge, they meet a sharp curve marked by a Mulberry tree and an old, rustic fence that divides two cornfields. Here the wind gently caresses the grass along the roadside.

This bucolic scene hides a dark history, a history that few would remember if it weren’t for the ghost stories whispered from one generation to another. The stories concern a crime eerily similar to one we are familiar with today, only the murders committed near this curve were much more brutal, if equally horrifying.

In June 2001, the story of Andrea Yates, a deeply religious mother who drowned her five children in Houston, Texas, shocked many Americans. Years before the murders, Yates and her husband had fallen under the spell of a preacher named Michael Woroniecki. Woroniecki, besides encouraging them to have as many children as possible, often scolded Andrea and her husband for their ungodly behavior. Andrea already had four children when she suffered a mental breakdown and tried to commit suicide in 1999. Her psychiatrist counseled her not to have any more children, but in 2000 Andrea and her husband conceived a fifth child even after she had been hospitalized for her illness.

During the spring of 2001, her mental health rapidly deteriorated until, one tragic day in June, she drowned all five children in their bathtub. She placed the bodies of the four youngest on the bed next to each other and covered them with a sheet. Later, while in jail, Andrea told a psychiatrist, “My children weren’t righteous… The way I was raising them, they could never be saved. They were doomed to parish in the fires of hell.”

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