Baby sitter Christine Falling, shown here in a Sept. 17, 1982 photo talking with defense team member Nancy O'Connor, right, pleaded guilty to killing two children who died in her care. Falling ,19, who had been charged with first degree murder in the children's death received the life sentence.
Falling led to court by Calhoun Co. Sheriff's matron Pearl Lasseter on Dec. 3, 1982.
An “oddity of ccurrence” was how the medical examiner referred to the death of 10-week-old Travis DeWayne Coleman, who had simply stopped breathing while in the care of baby-sitter Christine Falling, 19.
In late June 1982, the baby had been admitted to a Tallahassee, Fla., hospital for treatment of pneumonia.
Upon the boy’s release, his teenage mom wanted to celebrate, so she hired Falling to watch him through the night of July 3.
Falling took Travis to the rundown blue-and-white trailer she shared with her boyfriend in Blountstown, population 2,500, on the Florida Panhandle.
By dawn, the child was dead.
Crib death, or a relapse of the baby’s respiratory ailment, could certainly have been the cause. But his baby-sitter’s history made the medical examiner ponder another possibility — murder.
Travis was the fifth baby to die under Falling’s care.
The first was on Feb. 22, 1980. Falling was hired to watch Cassidy Johnson, 2, pet-named Muffin, while her family went out to work, digging worms to sell as bait.
Four hours later, Muffin became sick. She died three days later, a victim, doctors at the Tallahassee hospital declared, of brain inflammation.
One of the physicians examining the body, Robert Boedy, said he suspected that Falling, not natural causes, had taken the baby’s life. But he was ignored.
A year later, two more of Falling’s charges — cousins Jeffrey Davis, 4, and Joseph (Joe Boy) Spring, 2 — died within days of each other. Doctors said the cause of death was myocarditis, or heart inflammation.
On July 14, 1981, 8-month-old Jennifer Daniels died while in Falling’s care, even though she had been cradled in the baby-sitter’s arms for just a few moments. Falling was a passenger in a car driven by her stepsister, Betty Jean Daniels, 19. The two women had taken the baby for routine vaccinations. On the way home, Daniels left them alone to pick up some groceries.
When she returned to the car, Falling announced, “The baby ain’t breathing.” Daniels at first said it was nothing to worry about, that babies “don’t breath hard.” When the young mother looked closer, she realized that this one wasn’t breathing at all, and had turned blue.
Family, neighbors, doctors, and the police chalked it all up to hard luck. Babies died all the time in the ramshackle towns where Falling eked out a living “taking care of yung uns.” There was no way, insisted people who knew her, that she would have harmed a child.
They might not have been so sure of that had they known more about the background of the 5-foot-6, 200-pound teen.
As a youngster, she said she loved cats, as much as she would later profess to love babies. That didn’t stop her from strangling kittens to see them die.
The girl who would make headlines across the country as the “killer baby-sitter,” was born Christine Slaughter in Perry, Fla., on March 12, 1963, the daughter of a teenage mom who vanished when she was a toddler. She and her older sister Carol never knew their father. The girls stayed briefly with Tom Slaughter, the 84-year-old junkman who had briefly married their mother. Life became a series of brief stays in trailers, shacks and motels, with relatives and friends.
In 1967, Dolly and Jessie Falling, of Perry, adopted the sisters, but it became a horror of misery and abuse.
By 1975, Christine, now a seventh-grade dropout who suffered from epilepsy, left home. Two years later, she had moved in with her birth mother, and entered into a brief marriage with her stepbrother.
Nothing lasted. She wandered around the seedy side of the Panhandle, making money by taking care of other people’s homes and children.
All kinds of theories swirled around the deaths of the first four babies and of Wilber Swindle, a 77-year-old cancer patient who had hired Falling as a housekeeper.
The old man was easy to explain — a heart attack. As for the babies, medical examiners considered a slew of deadly possibilities — tainted food or water, germs, malnutrition, or sudden infant death syndrome.
One theory held that Falling was a latter-day Typhoid Mary, an innocent carrier of a deadly disease.
Speculation gave way to horror a few months after Falling’s July 22, 1982, arrest for the murders of Travis and Cassidy. Rather than face a trial and a death sentence, she confessed to killing all five children and pleaded guilty.
"I just choked him, no apparent reason,” she said in a taped confession, describing Travis’ murder. The child had not been crying or acting up. “I just picked him off his pallet and choked him to death and laid him back down.”
With Cassidy, Falling recalled that they had come inside after a play session, and “she got kind of rowdy or something. Anyway, I choked her until she quit breathin’."
She choked Jennifer because the child had been crying, and she put her hands around Joseph because she “just got the urge.”
"I killed ’em,” she said. “That’s about all I got to say. I don’t know why.”
Three years into her life sentence she admitted that Swindle, whose death had been ruled a heart attack, had also been a victim of her urges. She said she strangled him.
The deadly baby-sitter came up for parole in 2006. Considering the nature of her crimes, plus a history of disciplinary problems, the parole board decided it would be better to keep her safely tucked behind bars, away from other people’s children.
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