Was This Upstate New York “Serial Killer Mother” Actually Innocent?
Waneta Ethel (Nixon) Hoyt was a resident of New York's Southern Tier who was convicted of the murder of her children however, at the time of her death, Hoyt's conviction was expunged and she was posthumously exonerated.
Hoyt was born on May 13, 1946, in Richford, Tioga County. During her early years, Hoyt attended Newark Valley High School but dropped out in 10th grade to marry Tim Hoyt on January 11, 1964.
After their marriage, Waneta and Tim had a total of seven children, with five of the children being biological, one permanently adopted, and one temporarily adopted. Tragically, all of Waneta's biological children died before they reached 29 months of age.
The Hoyt Children
The names of Hoyt's seven children include Eric Hoyt (October 17, 1964 – January 26, 1965), James Hoyt (May 31, 1966 – September 28, 1968), Julia Hoyt (July 19 – September 5, 1968), Molly Hoyt (March 18 – June 5, 1970), Noah Hoyt (May 9 – July 28, 1971), Scott (temporarily adopted in August 1971 but removed from Waneta's care), and a surviving adopted son (permanently adopted in 1977 and under Waneta's care until her arrest in 1994).
The Investigation Into Waneta Hoyt
The investigation into Waneta's crimes began in 1985 when a prosecutor in a neighboring county, who was dealing with a murder case initially thought to involve SIDS, was informed by a forensic pathologist that a potential serial killer might be operating in the area. The case was transferred to the district attorney of the county where the Hoyts resided.
A Mother's Confession - Coerced?
In March 1994, Waneta was approached by a New York State trooper with whom she was acquainted and was questioned about the deaths of her children. According to law enforcement, at the end of the interrogation, Hoyt confessed the the killing of all five of her children however, questions were raised about the legitimacy of Hoyt's conviction and whether or not she was deceptively coerced into it.
Confession Recanted, Conviction Handed Down
During her trial, Waneta recanted her confession and its validity became a crucial point of contention. Expert opinions differed, with the defense claiming that her statement was not made knowingly or voluntarily, while the prosecution acknowledged that she may have been manipulated during the interrogation. Despite these debates, Waneta was convicted in April 1995.
Was Hoyt Was Set Up?
Charles Patrick Ewing, J.D., Ph.D., psychologist, attorney, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor, and Professor of Law Emeritus at the University at Buffalo believes that Waneta Hoyt's confession was in fact obtained under deceptive and coercive circumstances.
According to Ewing, the interrogation process had been meticulously planned, with the assistance of a state-employed psychologist who had already formed the opinion that she had murdered her children. Ewing believes that Hoyt was led to believe that she was participating in a SIDS research study, unaware that she was a suspect in the deaths of her children.
Ewing also notes that interrogators and prosecutors were convinced of Hoyt's guilt based on the testimony of a forensic pathologist who claimed that it was statistically impossible for all five children in the same family to die from SIDS. They presented this as evidence, arguing that SIDS was not heritable and did not run in families, however, there is now new research that points to the contrary.
Did Genetics Kill the Hoyt Children?
In recent years, questions have been raised about whether or not Hoyt and her children carried the CALM2 gene. This mutation has been proven to be a cause of the sudden death of children. If the Hoyt children carried this gene, their deaths would be better explained.
In Australia, another mother of two daughters who had been jailed for 20 years for their deaths was set free after it was discovered that she and her children carried the CALM2 gene, which researchers say proves SIDS is genetic and does run in families. The discovery in the case of the Australian mother may explain what happened to the Hoyt children.
Unfortunately, the world may never know if genes played a role in the demise of the Hoyt children as experts believe that too much time has passed for them to be able to obtain viable tissue samples from Hoyt and the children as well as permission from the state.
Hoyt Exonerated Posthumously
Waneta Hoyt passed away from pancreatic cancer while in prison in August 1998 before her appeal could be heard. It is important to note that although Hoyt was initially convicted of the deaths of her children, her appeal was still pending at the time of her death, and under New York State law because her appeal was not able to be heard, Hoyt's conviction was tossed and she was no longer considered guilty by the state when she died.
10 Notorious Murders That Sent Shockwaves Through New York State
Gallery Credit: Traci Taylor
11 Baby Names Banned in New York
Gallery Credit: Traci Taylor