I remember watching a very disturbing account of a woman named Caroline Beale some years ago now – in 1995. She was a 30 year old Englishwoman visiting New York. She tried to bring her dead 1 day old baby through customs on her flight home. I came across my notes about the incident recently in my diary from that year.
Caroline was remanded in custody on Rikers Island, along with 1499 other detainees. Her defence uncovered the fact that she was mentally disturbed and surmised that she had denied her pregnancy all along.
This turned out to be untrue – she thought the foetus had died at 6 months, to coincide with the death of her closest friend Alison of breast cancer. She also thought that the birth process – alone in a bath in a hotel – was an indication that she was dying.
Footage of her at her niece’s christening taken before she left the UK with her fiancé and his brothers for that fateful trip shows her in a tent like dress. But nobody thought otherwise. She had been depressed since her friend’s death. Fiancé Paul said that she became withdrawn.
“She would lie under a blanket all night and then go to bed early. I would stay up late and watch the TV and then get up early the next morning. She always left the house later than me.” This may explain why Paul did not spot Caroline’s pregnancy. They were never around each other for long in bed or in the bathroom and they had stopped having sex.
Paul admits he should have noticed signs of Caroline’s deepening depression. “If there’s one thing I wish for it’s that we’d talked more. If only I’d known she’d been pregnant, I would never have left her alone in that hotel room.”
Daniel Jeffreys, The Independent UK.
She took the dead body with her because she didn’t want it to be alone. This doesn’t sound like a murderer to me.
A Birmingham psychiatrist who volunteered his services out of interest in the case disagreed with her psychiatrist in NY who claimed it was ‘Post-Partum Psychosis’. He maintained that she had been mentally ill since her best friend’s cancer became terminal. And she didn’t want to compromise the grief surrounding this impending death with the news of her pregnancy.
Caroline wanted to call the baby Olivia Anne. To help her cope in prison she wrote a diary and poems and stayed in the shower for ½ hour periods.
If this incident had taken place the UK instead of the US, Caroline would have been hospitalised for mental treatment. In the US there is no distinction between taking an adult’s life and a child’s.
Caroline Beale returned home to the UK on 7th March 1996 after she spent eight months on remand in Rikers Island Penitentiary, and a further eight on bail living with a church family in the New York borough of Queens.
To secure her release she had to plead guilty to manslaughter despite the expert diagnoses of the world-renowned psychiatrists above who said she was very sick when her new-born baby died in the hotel room in NY.
Her estranged fiancé didn’t visit her during her incarceration.
The tragic incident is the subject of a book by Duncan Campbell – A Stranger and Afraid: The story of Caroline Beale (Macmillan, 1997)
Caroline and Paul had been together for 12 years. I am saddened by the deterioration of their relationship and their inability to talk to each other. The retelling of this incident reminds me to take time to stop and listen and ask questions of those close to us. Before it is too late. And to never take the people you love for granted.