Arizona · Female Killers

Woman strangles baby she was babysitting

January 1, 1963
Phoenix, Arizona
Betty Smithey (20) strangles the 15-month-old baby she was babysitting

Four years before the murder, Smithey (then 16) kidnapped a child she was babysitting. She took 18-month-old Mitchell Johnson from his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hitchhiking or taking buses along the way. She and the toddler were found in Texas after she abandoned him in a drug store in Dallas. When questioned about the kidnapping, Smithey stated she didn’t know why she kidnapped the boy.

While on federal parole for the kidnapping, a single mother named Erma Gerberick hired Smithey to watch her four children as a live-in babysitter. According to Smithey, she had put the children to bed but 15-month-old Sandra had difficulty sleeping in her crib. Smithey said she put the baby in her own bed and fell asleep next to her. She woke in the morning with a silk stocking in her hand next to Sandra’s cold body. Sandra’s autopsy later revealed she had been strangled to death. Panicking, Smithey put Sandy’s body in her crib, covered her with a blanket, packed a suitcase, and fled. She was apprehended in Tucson.

Smithey attempted a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, though she was unsuccessful; she was sentenced to life in prison in July 1963. In 2012, Smithey, who was the longest-serving female inmate in the United States, was granted clemency and released from prison.

Sources:
Ortega, Bob. “Woman walks free after 49 years in Ariz. prison.” Arizona Republic [Phoenix, Arizona]. August 14, 2012
Hudson, Ken. “Baby Sitter Gets Life Imprisonment.” Arizona Republic. July 30, 1963
“Baby Sitter Tells About Awakening With Slain Child ‘Cold’ Beside Her.” Arizona Republic. January 4, 1963
“Baby-Sitter Jailed in Texas, Infant Home.” Albuquerque Journal. May 7, 1959
“Kidnapped Baby Found; Girl, 16, Arrested.” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. May 7, 1959

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