Susan Leigh Vaughan Smith (born September 26, 1971) is an American woman sentenced to life in prison for murdering her children. Born in Union, South Carolina, and a former student of the University of South Carolina Union, she was convicted on July 22, 1995 for murdering her two sons, 3-year-old Michael Daniel Smith, born October 10, 1991, and 14-month-old Alexander Tyler Smith, born August 5, 1993.
The case gained worldwide attention shortly after it developed, due to her claiming that a black man stole her car and kidnapped her sons. She later claimed that she suffered from mental health issues that impaired her judgement.
According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections, Smith will be eligible for parole on November 4, 2024, after serving a minimum of thirty years. She is currently incarcerated at South Carolina’s Leath Correctional Institution, near Greenwood.
On October 25, 1994, Smith reported to police that she had been car-jacked by an African-American man who drove away with her sons still in the car. She made dramatic pleas on television for the rescue and return of her children. A Usenet chain letter circulated in the following days, asking Internet users to be on the lookout for the vehicle.
However, nine days later on November 3, following an intensive, heavily publicized investigation and a nationwide search, Smith confessed to letting her 1990 Mazda Protegé roll into nearby John D. Long Lake, drowning her children inside. She allegedly wanted to discard her children so that she might resume an affair with a wealthy local man who had no interest in a “ready-made” family.
It later emerged that investigators had been suspicious of Smith’s story from the beginning. From the second day of the investigation, the authorities suspected that she knew where the children were. While they suspected she’d killed them, they held out some hope that the boys were still alive. Lakes and ponds were searched, including the lake in which they were eventually found. The authorities originally thought the car could have travelled out only about thirty feet. Later, they found it about sixty feet out because of its speed when it entered the lake; and it drifted on top of the water for about thirty feet. She had taken a polygraph along with her husband, David, two days after the boys disappeared. The results were inconclusive but investigators did feel that it indicated that she was lying when she said she did not know where they were. She was polygraphed during every subsequent interview with investigators and failed that question each time. There were also no other cars near the intersection where she said the car-jacking had occurred. A big break in the case had to do with her story on where she was car-jacked. The particular red light at which she said she stopped is only triggered when a car is coming from the cross street. According to her, there were no other cars around so there would be no reason for her to stop at this intersection.
Smith’s defence psychiatrist diagnosed her with dependent personality disorder. Her biological father committed suicide when she was 6 years old, and she rarely had a stable home life. It was disclosed in her trial that Smith was molested in her teens by her stepfather, who admitted that he had molested her when she was a teenager and had consensual sex with her as an adult. At 13, she attempted suicide. After graduating from high school in 1989, she made a second attempt.
At one time, she was incarcerated in the Administrative Segregation Unit in the Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. While she has been in prison, two guards have been punished for having sex with Smith: Lt. Houston Cagle and Capt. Alfred R. Rowe, Jr. Consequently, she was moved to a prison in Greenwood where she is currently held. In 2003, she placed a personal ad at WriteAPrisoner.com, which has since been retracted.