Some people commit crimes in the heart of passion and then sloppily dispose of the body and evidence while others plan the murder for months — sometimes even years, and then work out the best ways to cover their tracks. Staging a crime scene requires a lot of attention. The way the elements are moved, positioned and damaged tell forensics a certain story. Even blood stains are analyzed; their shape, their color, their texture. Studying them has become a science as they are a useful tool for investigators. Despite the presence of evidence, crime scene investigators must never leap to conclusions based on initial appearances. Sometimes, to reach the truth of the matter, one must look at all the elements surrounding the crime rather than stick to the obvious signs that could potentially contradict what the eyes might be seeing.
When the police arrived at Tamara Sandoval’s home, she was lying conscious on the floor with her throat cut. Her six year-old son and her four year-old daughter were found brutally murdered in their bedroom. The house had been turned upside down and there were various signs of struggle. In her bedroom, money and jewelry were missing. When the detectives asked her if she could identify the murderer who did it, she said he was wearing a ski mask.
The case didn’t take long to be cracked. The forensic team had found a couple of bloody thumb prints in very odd places like on her children’s bedroom’s door knobs and around the kitchen drawer that contained the knives. Furthermore, the broken window the perpetrator had used to get inside had all of its broken pieces of glass on the outside instead of the inside. If someone forced their way in, it should be the other way around. In her bedroom, the fully pulled out drawers were dumped in what investigators found to be an out of ordinary appearance. Other valuable items were carefully scattered on the floor when they’d normally be smashed to pieces. On the other hand, no fingerprints belonging to the attacker were found anywhere. When the investigation was wrapped up at the house, David and another fellow investigator did their rounds of questioning neighbors, family members as well as Tamara’s boyfriend, Ronnie. David got an immediate weird vibe from him and decided to check and see if his alibi checked out. He went to the bar where he said he was the night of the attack and although the regulars confirmed Ronnie was at the bar, one of them overheard him say he would marry Tamara “except for those two brats.” Things started to make sense then. Ronnie was checked out from the list of killers as well as the other suspects. Since Tamara was desperate to get married, the answer regarding who was responsible for the murder of the children narrowed down to one: Their own mother.
When confronted with the evidence, Sandoval broke down and confessed to the murders. She was subsequently convicted. After being interrogated by a police officer, she was sent through a psychological evaluation. Both sessions were videotaped. When I watched them, it was the first time I’ve seen her speak. She had dark eyes that had no pupils; like a shark’s eyes. Her voice was static and she was fully cooperative, giving clear and precise answers. She didn’t seem deceitful, rageful or even defensive.
The psychiatrist concluded she suffered from Post-portem psychosis, a severe and rare form of depression that affects women after giving birth. Her brother was questioned and revealed that after multiple attempts to commit suicide, she was admitted to a mental hospital after her deceased husband arrived home one day and saw her in the bathroom holding a knife to her throat. Apparently, ever since she gave birth to her second child, she’s been having troubling thoughts and constant visions involving a knife. The mental hospital had to check her out early, though, due to her insurance being caught off. However, her family managed to make sure she got the medication she needed to keep herself out of harm’s way, but her involvement with Ronnie who we later found out was a mysterious and angry preacher who looked down on women and despised children, was extremely harmful to her. He played a major role in her descent from mental illness into homicidal psychosis by convincing her to dispose of all the medications provided by her doctor.
Although her case has gotten a lot of attention from the media, people simply didn’t nor wanted to sympathize with her. To them, she was a vile and cruel woman who killed her children and simulated the attack by injuring herself and blaming the murders on a made up killer. That was enough for everyone to severely demand a death sentence.
Mothers go through a lot, there are no exception to that fact. But it’s not always in extreme ways. Some experience motherhood easier than others and that’s because they decide to put themselves first. When I think about my mom, I can’t deny the fact she dedicated a lot of her life to raise me and my sister. However, I can also remember very vividly moments of neglect and selfishness. Although she had us, it almost seemed as if she was desperately trying to hold on to what her life once was before we were born. If she wanted to get herself a pedicure or spend a weekend at a spa resort with her girlfriends, she didn’t hesitate to do it. She’d leave us with either our nanny or grandparents and go do whatever she felt like doing. The moments of true selflessness most mothers go through didn’t really exist for her and that’s okay because I’ve grown to realize how selfish people are, so I can’t really blame her. I’ve always put myself first no matter what, and one of the reasons for that is the shocking realization that the majority of people are untrustworthy and sometimes even ruthless. You open up to them, be there for them, sometimes even offer a helping hand and they still wouldn’t hesitate to drop you in a heartbeat and move on to somebody else. Once you learn to expect the worst from humans, you put a stop to this pattern of constant disappointment.
Becoming part of a forensic team requires a lot of understanding of criminals and their motives. There’s no room for judgment. At every crime scene, our morals are left at the door. It’s a predicament a lot of officers and detectives struggle with, but there’s really no other way around it. It’s not about accepting the crime and the person responsible for it, it’s about understanding the motive by keeping an open mind to solve it. When the evidence is weak, the only way to catch a killer is by thinking like one. We have to let our minds go to the darkest, most insidious places which I’m perfectly capable of doing while others sometimes end up hating themselves for having to go down that path.
Another part is understanding the motive. Tamara committed a gruesome crime which guaranteed her the death penalty or life in prison. There’s simply no way a judge or jury can sympathize with a mother killing her two innocent children, at least not for a motive like hers. But thinking of my mother, I can understand the limitations of motherhood; the mundane tasks and chores, the exhausting responsibilities, the feeling of becoming worthless outside of caring for your children.
Tamara was initially trapped in a loveless marriage by her parents. She was twenty-five when it happened. Her husband’s death brought her one step closer to freedom, but her children became an obstacle when the man she actually loved gave her an ultimatum. A mother is supposed to love her children unconditionally. But what if those children were a burden, a walking memory of the miserable life that was imposed upon her? When you can see past the murder, things become clearer, reasonable even. Then there’s the possibility Tamara wouldn’t have murdered her children if they were the result of a loving marriage and of course, if she hadn’t been suffering from her mental illness. Instead, she would’ve held strongly to them. But in her reality, they were disposable because she felt nothing for them. In fact, she saw them as evil. If you take love and affection out of the equation, there’s nothing sacred about children. Their conceivement is purely biological. Tamara knew that her own version of motherhood was one that inextricably weaved loss from the moment her children were old enough not to need her. Once they were out of the picture, she’d realize she’s sacrificed her whole life to raising them and got nothing out of it but misery and regret.