After Scientists Back Mom Convicted of Killing 4 Babies, an Inquiry

Kathleen Folbigg's case re-opened, after scientists say infants likely died of genetic mutations
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2021 7:00 AM CDT
Updated Nov 14, 2022 2:06 AM CST
Australia's 'Worst Female Serial Killer' May Be Innocent
UPDATE Nov 14, 2022 2:06 AM CST

A second Australian inquiry into the case of Kathleen Folbigg, the mother convicted of killing her four children decades ago, has been opened after dozens of scientists called for her to be pardoned. The first inquiry into the case, which ended in 2019, found no reasonable doubt. The second inquiry began investigating the case Monday, the AP reports. Folbigg maintains that her children—Caleb, who died 19 days after his birth in 1989; Patrick, who died at 8 months of age in 1991; Sarah who died at 10 months in 1993; and Laura, who died at 19 months in 1999—died of natural causes, and the scientists who support her say that, indeed, genetic mutations could be to blame for the deaths.

Mar 14, 2021 7:00 AM CDT

The name Kathleen Folbigg may not be familiar to Americans, but it surely is to Australians. The 53-year-old is known as the nation's "worst female serial killer" after being convicted of murdering her four babies in the 1990s, reports the Guardian. Folbigg, though, has always maintained her innocence, and now 90 scientists have signed a petition backing her up and calling for her to be pardoned. Folbigg blamed the deaths on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and the scientists agree that the infants almost certainly died of natural causes. Specifically, they blame genetic mutations, explains the New York Times. The researchers found that Folbigg has an extremely rare mutation of a gene known as CALM2, as did two of her babies, Laura and Sarah. The defect has been known to trigger cardiac arrest and deaths among infants and older children.

Folbigg's other two children, Caleb and Patrick, had different genetic mutations related to fatal epileptic seizures. “We would feel exhilarated for Kathleen if she is pardoned,” immunologist Carola Vinuesa of Australian National University tells the Times. “It would send a very strong message that science needs to be taken seriously by the legal system.” Vinuesa lays out the research in the Conversation, adding that more such cases are likely to surface as science improves. Folbigg was convicted largely based on diary entries presented at her trial, including one in which she wrote that Sarah died "with a bit of help." Folbigg said it referred to her hope that God had taken her. Authorities are now considering the newly submitted petition from the scientists, two of whom are Nobel laureates. If the petition fails, Folbigg will be eligible to seek parole in 2028. (More SIDS stories.)

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