In the 90s, we were like, children are murderers, and now 20 years later, the alarmist logic is like too many of these children are non binary. Welcome to You're Wrong about the podcast that debunks misunderstood history or tells you something you never knew in the first place, beautiful.
This is a reference to the fact that once again, you are just going in with no idea of what's going to happen.
Yes, the last couple of weeks have been a journey through the gaps in my public school education that I had no idea who Anastasiya or Rasputin were.
I did not learn that in school. I learned that from cable TV. Yeah. And I just think for the next couple episodes we should rename the show you're unaware of.
That's more accurate by Michael Hobbs. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.
I'm Sarah Marshall and working on a book about the Satanic Panic. And we're on Patreon and we take donations on people. And you can buy T-shirts and you can also decide not to support us for any reason you want because it's quarantine and it's tough and weird out there. So that's chill, too. Here you go. We still love you.
And even if you're listening to this post quarantine, I bet it's still tough and weird. I'm willing to guess that. You know what?
It's still tough and it's always tough and weird. Yeah.
And today we are talking about something called the prom mom, which I think has something to do with a mother who killed her daughter. Maybe. Go on.
I want to hear what you think this is about.
Literally it. I you told me these words like a month ago, and I've never heard these words in that order before.
Right. It's very important that if there is a crime, you need to be able to get a rhyming title out of that somehow.
OK, so the prom mom was what the media started calling Melissa Drexler, who was eighteen years old on June six, nineteen ninety seven, when she and her boyfriend and another couple arrived at their high school prom in New Jersey and she went to the bathroom and delivered a baby.
Oh. Oh, wow. And then came back out to prom. And this was massive news. Oh my God. And just at the top, this episode is going to be about dead babies.
And I feel like that's already become my calling card on this show.
That's dark. So there's in the stalls of the women's bathroom, each one has like a little metal kind of a canister that tends to be on the side of the stall and you open it and that's where you throw away like tampons and stuff like a sharps container. Yes. Yeah. And it can have a serrated edge. And so Melissa Drexler apparently used the serrated edge of that and to cut her baby's umbilical cord.
Oh, my God.
And then threw the baby in the main trash I of the bathroom. Oh, soon after, Melissa throws her baby in the trash and goes back out from a maintenance worker, comes along and tried to lift the trash bag.
And it's like this is much heavier than usual. It's in a bag. So I'm going to send you an image. This is the cover of People magazine that is reporting on Melissa Drexler and a few other cases that it seems similar. Oh, wow. Tell me what you see.
So it's a People magazine cover with just atrocious graphic design.
That's kind of their thing. And the headline is Heartbreaking Crimes Kids Without a Conscience.
It's actually kids without conscience.
Rape, Murder, A Baby Dead at prom. A look at young lives that seem to have gone very, very wrong.
It's a little disturbing to me that they made that rhyme. But look at young lives. They've gone very, very wrong. That's like a Michelle remembers rhyme.
We like to see what you were going for. Michelle and Emily Dickinson rhyme. And so we have five kids pictured. We have Melissa Drexler, eighteen. Her baby was found dead at prom. Jeremy Strohmeyer, 18, accused of killing a seven year old.
Daphne Abdellah, 15, accused of a Central Park murder. Gray Arthur, 19, accused of murdering Jonathan Levine. Amy Grossberg, 18, accused of killing her newborn. So these are five separate cases. These are not all the kids involved in this problem thing.
No. Yeah, it was the prom. Mom was a solo thing. And yeah, it's interesting to me that aside from Melissa Drexler and Amy Grossberg, I don't think any of these teenagers have name recognition for Americans today. And even like if you pull someone off the street and ask them who Amy Grossberg is like, I don't think they're going to be able to tell.
You know, I've I've never heard of her. She's Anastasiya to me.
Interestingly, Amy Grossberg and Melissa Drexler both lived in New Jersey and they both were arrested for having allegedly killed their newborn babies within a year of each other. But interestingly, the Amy Grossberg and Melissa Drexler cases sort of get. Fused together in the public mind to form this like super case because Melissa Drexler gave birth at prom and Amy Grossberg gave birth in a motel room with her boyfriend present, and then he disposed of her baby in a dumpster. Oh, wow.
So now I want to read you a Reddit question, which is, what the hell is a prom dumpster baby? And where did it originate? Oh, it seems to be a fairly cliched joke about prom. I've heard it in many TV shows and comedy references. Was putting a baby in a dumpster, a common occurrence y prom. So many questions. And then there's like 400 responses to it. I think this also happened because there was a Family Guy segment in 2007, I believe, called Prom Night Dumpster Baby.
So we have this fusion of these two real cases that made significant headlines in 1997, one involving a baby being thrown in the trash can at the bathroom of a prom and one being thrown in a dumpster.
Yeah, and we have the merging of the most salacious details of both. We have the prom and the dumpster. Yeah, it's like we needed to fit those things together. Yeah. OK, I'm going to redo the opening of this People magazine article whose cover I just had.
You look at kids without a conscience, kids, and I would just like to hear your response.
OK, so during the past decade, the number of murders committed by teenagers has leaped from roughly 1000 a year to nearly 4000. Well, worrisome as that trend may be, a fleeting glance at recent headlines suggests some teens these days are also committing crimes of incomprehensible callousness. So the young people involved in some of these violent acts are without the capacity to make the connection with another life, says Dr. David Hartman. They need have no more reason for hurting another human being than they have for peeling an orange.
Oh no. Its greatest hits. Again, solid logic always follows the phrase teens these days, right?
If you know you're going to hear something that is unimpeachable and has nothing to do with projection or fear mongering.
And then, of course, the final half of the paragraph is just this pure like suburban parents fear for your lives message.
And the same way we saw in a lot of sex panics around teenagers were like, Phil, give a blowjob just as quickly as shaking your hand. It's doing the thing. We're like, Phil murdered someone or text them. It doesn't matter like these things that don't make any sense in human behaviors.
Yes, this is what every generation thinks about the subsequent generation. I think it allows us to make peace with our own aging. But like, humanity is degrading and they are worse than we were.
I was listen to a podcast the other day about this. And there's literally letters from people in ancient Rome writing about like kids today, like I'm really worried about this next generation.
Like this is one of the most common human traits.
To be fair, the Romans fucked.
Yeah. This article has that fantastic opening paragraph and then it talks about Melissa Drexler. Wonderful. Among members of the Class of 97 at Lacy Township High School in New Jersey. Melissa Drexler, 18, was known as a quiet, diligent student and aspiring fashion designer who dreamed of becoming the next Donna Karan. She seemed shy and opened up only to a few close friends. On June six, she went to her senior prom, dressed in a floor length black sleeveless velvet gown, Drechsler arrived in a limousine at the Garden Manor Banquet Hall in Aberdeen, New Jersey, at about seven forty five pm with her boyfriend, John Lewis.
She immediately retreated to the restroom with a classmate to freshen up when her friend grew concerned that she was taking so long. And one of the stalls, Drechsler, Monmouth County prosecutors say, told her she was having a heavy period and to let their dates know she would be a while. The girl returned to the restroom about 15 minutes later, and Draxler emerged, zipped her dress and tucked up her makeup. A few minutes later, after asking the deejay to play a Metallica song, she hit the dance floor with Lewis.
She seemed normal, says a fellow student. All smiles. Meanwhile, a cleaning woman summoned by school officials to clean up the blood street stall to the ladies room discovered the lifeless body of a six pound, six ounce baby boy and a tired garbage bag in the trash basket. After learning that Draxler was the last to use the restroom, teachers began questioning her. She was not upset, says Monmouth County prosecutor Robert Honaker. She indicated that she had delivered an infant.
Such a blank response, though bewildering, is not unheard of, says Dr. Phillip Resnick, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Oh no, with mothers who deny their pregnancy and don't form a bond, it's like a foreign body going through them like a peach pit. Yeah, so yeah. What do you think eventually mean?
You were going to have to reckon with the fact that all we want to do is just read twenty year old People magazine stories to each other on Saturday mornings.
I think we did reckon with that by starting a podcast where we got to do that in a professional capacity. I think we've really done well.
I mean, I have I have roughly one hundred and seventy four follow up questions about like what really happened and what was really going on and like the logistics of how this is even possible. I just want to know everything.
Yeah, well, for context. So another source has it that Melissa Drexler gives birth in the space of about 20 minutes later, it emerges that her water broke earlier that day. So she was in contractions like throughout the day if she was getting ready for prom, whether she was aware of that or not. And so she gets to prom, she goes into the bathroom, and 20 minutes later, she has a baby. Oh, twenty minutes. Like that's like that's amazing to me.
That's another thing that really stood out to me logistically that like as a gay man, I am not an expert on birth procedures, but I mean, people talk about like 12, 14 hours, like people don't say like twenty minutes. And then I like, listen to Metallica and I was dancing ten minutes after.
I mean that it almost sounds fake to me, but this seems like some version of these events actually occurred.
So, I mean, what's interesting is that this aspect of it is not really called into question.
Like the timing is reported pretty consistently. It doesn't appear that she or her lawyers attempt to challenge that in any way. The issue basically, as it is, whenever one of these cases is in the news, is, was the baby born alive? And if so, did she kill it? And if so, was she in a state of dissociation or distress or what have you that mitigates that? Or are we going to look at it as murder?
And this becomes a question, you know, that is obviously very divisive and brings in also, you know, just the are the political value of babies, which is quite profound because having a stillbirth in a bathroom is a very different act than having a living baby and then suffocating it.
And then it's like, did she do it intentionally or did she take a living baby and put it in the trash? Right. She's still responsible, but it's a more passive act. And how do we deal with that?
And we deal with the fact that, you know, she made literally no effort to conceal any of this from anybody like she had concealed the entire pregnancy. Nobody knew she was pregnant, but like she gave birth in her bathroom at prom.
Like, that's like if you made a list of places where I can get most easily, like, yeah, it is interesting.
That's got to be at the top of the like. She didn't even leave prom. Yeah.
To me it suggests like a profound level of self denial. Yeah, it has to.
And there is in fact a term for this very thing. When you become pregnant, you are in deep denial of being pregnant and you either genuinely do not know or you have some awareness of it, but you're able to totally compartmentalize it. Oh, and so here's a quote from a really great article in Daim by Miranda Culp. We hear from Dr Diana Lynn Barnes, a psychotherapist who specializes in maternal mental health, who describes the different types of denial and provides a framework for understanding these cases.
Affective denial is when the new mother knows intellectually that she is pregnant. But the heightened sensitivity around a pregnancy that we might expect is absent. They don't ask and don't talk about it. This is often overlooked or chalked up to different. Adjusting, but with affective denial, the new mother relates the baby not as a joyous event, but as, quote, a traumatic reminder. Wow, these women will often come around to accept the baby when they see the sonogram or start to show physical signs of pregnancy.
But pervasive denial is when the knowledge of the baby either disappears or never comes into the woman's consciousness. Denial is a coping mechanism that gives us some distance from a shocking piece of information before it sinks in. But these women never awaken to the pregnancy, even when they are asked directly. It's simply too terrifying to face the consequences.
I mean, what's amazing about that is on some level, we all do that all the time. Yes, right. Like I know there's seventeen dollars in my bank account, but like, I'm going to go to Applebee's anyway. Like you do these things where it's like you don't want something to be true.
Yes. Oh yeah. And so you just don't do it.
That's a really good metaphor. You're like, I'm not going to have an overdraft, I'm not going to have an overdraft. I'm not going to have an overdraft.
But this is just a really extreme form of that.
Yes, yeah, exactly. It's an extreme form of very recognizable human behavior. And I think that is one of the things that freaks us out about it. Yeah. And also, I guess, contemplating, like, how much of having a baby is rehearsal and is thinking about it. And I think we have this very culturally inscribed idea that, like, we know what pregnancy looks like when you are pregnant, you get really big and you have food cravings and you know, and it's very obvious to everyone what's going on.
And it turns out that it doesn't have to be, especially if apparently if you're in deep denial. So there are many cases over the years where young women give birth to babies that no one in their life had any idea they were pregnant with. Know people frequently say it's like she did not even look pregnant. Like, yeah, there's a girl named Brooke, Skylar Richardson, who was wearing a bikini the summer before she gave birth, like when she was quite pregnant.
Like, some people just don't grow or show all that much. Wow. Mm hmm.
Well, and the funny thing, too, about so we had a quote from Dr. Phillip Resnick about, you know, for these young mothers in denial, it's like passing a peach pit, which sounds like he's I mean, that's you don't get enough context. But I feel like that quote is being used in a way to suggest, like, yeah, they're heartless, peeling an orange, passing a Peach Pit steerable.
But interestingly, Philip Resnick is the father of neonaticide studies and was one of the most vocal and early proponents of like let's think seriously about the social phenomenon and like he coined the term neonaticide. Interesting. So here's here's the classification we have. This is a resonant quote. And the literature on child murders by parents are usually lumped together under the term infanticide. So that refers to all murders of children by their parents and the author's opinion. There are two distinct types of child murder.
Neonaticide is defined as the killing of a neonate on the day of its first filicide is operationally defined as the murder of a son or daughter older than twenty four hours.
So those are two completely separate categories. He's taken infanticide and for his purposes, this is published in 1970, has split it into two separate category psychologically. So there is killing your own child for whatever reason or combination of reasons at some point when they are a child. And neonaticide, according to Reznik, is a separate thing that it takes place immediately after birth. And it, I think, relates more to the birth and the pregnancy than to the child themselves.
In a way, it's an extension of the denial that you were ever pregnant. Yes. Wow.
You know, in cases like this, the places that babies are found, you know, they get found in trash cans, they get found in dumpsters, they get found in alleys dumped by the side of the highway, like awful things like that. And if you think about it in terms of like this person killed this baby and then dumped their corpse, you know, they just treated them like garbage, like what a terrible person. Like, you can make that argument.
And I think you can also make the argument, and this is my argument, that all of these places are congruous with the fact that these people just have not accepted that they have given birth to a baby at all. Like this is the way you treat evidence that you're trying to dispose of. This is like where you throw a gun that you used to commit a murder. Right.
So when do we rewind and find out what really happened with Melissa at the beginning of the story, I guess if we want to begin with Melissa Drexler, we can talk about how her friends remembered her before this happened. And there's a New York Times article that I'm drawing on this for that information and also for the way that she is described by the media after committing this crime. That is shocking to many people and that have many people calling for blood.
Oh, and so the title is Before Prom Night. A suspect was the girl next door.
That's very the first 10 minutes of every. True crime podcast, yes, and I feel like often in kind of true crime tropes, we have like the normalcy was a cover of darkness inside and often I think, like the normalcy is the darkness or what we read as the normalcy is the darkness. But I'll read to you a little bit from this article. Please do. A month ago, 18 year old Melissa Drexler was just a quiet, somewhat introverted high school senior who wanted to graduate from Lacey Township High School, get on with her summer job at a retail store on the beach and hang out with her boyfriend.
By all accounts, hers was an undistinguished life. She and ordinary girl really mellow. One friend called her. She'd gone to dancing school. She wanted to be a fashion designer. She liked club music. She was looking forward to the prom, trying on dresses with her friend Rebecca. And so we learned from this article that according to her friends and to people who knew her family, Melissa is kind of quiet. They describe her as a compassionate person and someone who always wants to lend an ear to a friend who is in need of some consolation or support, but who also, according to her friends, is kind of on the stoic side.
She's not prone to really opening up about her feelings. And so her senior year of high school, she's been taking a fashion merchandising course at vocational school in the mornings and then she has high school classes. And then she's apparently been spending most of the day with her boyfriend. So she gets off school at 1:00 and then they spend the afternoon together and then he goes to work at Wal-Mart at 8:00. And so that's kind of her life, her boyfriend.
And then that's close smallish group of female friends is how she described at the time and apparently the fall preceding the prom where she gives birth to the baby in November the previous year. Her boyfriend is like Melissa's period's late. And then he's like, nevermind, everything's fine. And that's like the only thing anyone well hears about that at all. That the only foreshadowing.
Yeah. And it's interesting because this case is in the news at the same time as the Amy Grossberg case. And interestingly, it seems like Amy Grossberg did realize she was pregnant, was able to verbalize that her boyfriend knew she had told him and they were both kind of in on it. But in this, maybe I would still call it a form of denial, but like a less profound form of denial, I think there's different degrees of all these kinds of psychological states and so is Grossberg and Peterson.
It seems like they were like, OK, Amy's pregnant, but no one can know and we're not going to tell anyone about it.
And that's a problem for future us. And then with Melissa Drexler, there seems to have been just this total denial, like no one even appears to have suspected anything.
It's amazing. It's also interesting that she doesn't have any history of any mental health stuff.
It seems like I mean, like nothing that she was treated for really taken in. And that's interesting, too, because it's like how many kind of like middle class kids are really struggling, but in ways that never manifest and behavior for which they're severe enough consequences or that leaves a paper trail at all. Yeah. So who knows. Yeah.
I mean, what else do we know about sort of what was going on with her that would have put her into this state, this mental state?
So a week after the news about Melissa breaks, there is a New York Times article called Concealing a Pregnancy to Avoid Telling Mom. And that is the thesis. If parents and mothers in particular haven't been blamed for enough of their children's problems, there is yet another accusation against them. One of the most common reasons some young women hide their pregnancies for nine months is that they are afraid to tell their mothers. So they talk about Melissa. They talk about another teenage girl also in New Jersey.
Nineteen ninety seven was a bad year for New Jersey who went to her parents garage in the middle of the night to give birth to a baby and then was intending to take the baby out somewhere to surrender, but passed out instead. And her parents found her and the baby when they woke up. Wow. And then we have a quote from Dr. Margaret Spinelli of Columbia University who says that in extensive interviews with nine teenagers who killed their newborns, she found several patterns.
Seven of the nine had been sexually or physically abused by someone outside the family. The girl was usually her father's favorite, excelling in school and earning good grades. They have no sociopathic traits, he said. Some are cheerleaders. Oh, God, I love that quote.
Oh, my God, that's such Serabee.
Yes, because what's the opposite of a sociopath? A cheerleader.
And those are the two poles of human morality.
Sociopathic. Clearly, and most of us are somewhere in between, and then do we have any information on why she wasn't showing?
OK, so here's a paragraph from Newsweek. Students have started placing bets on whether Drechsler will show up for graduation the Saturday. Others are still arguing over whether she was the one to request the Modlin Metallica song Unforgiven at the prom. Nearly all of them has flipped to her picture in the new yearbook, searching for clues into the psyche of the quiet, slender girl who hid her pregnancy under nothing more than baggy clothes and USLAW. Wow, but all they find is a photo and a name.
No teams, no activities, no clubs. Wow. Although that song is actually really good. It is.
If she did choose it, it's a very interesting choice.
What do we know about Melissa's like upbringing and parents and stuff?
She's described as being shy and having parents who who indulged her. They bought her a car. They bought her gas. They didn't want her to have to work. A classmate's mother says in the article that Melissa is a child. Emotionally, she didn't make decisions on her own about things. Someone else says her family is almost too nice. This is a People magazine article. So I'm inclined to take with a grain of salt any sort of categorization of a family that's done sort of, you know.
Yeah. On a very tight deadline or. Yeah. To kind of hammer out a thesis about her parents were overindulgent. Yeah, that's the ticket. Right. Right. But that makes the day. On the other hand, that also makes sense to me as at least potentially the picture that we're looking at where yeah. There's this unwillingness to bring this adult truth into the household. Yeah. So here's how The New York Times describes her parents. So also prepare to unpack this.
I imagine that I'm handing you a nice lumpy tote bag. The Drexler's, by all account, are decent, ordinary people stunned by the events of June 6th and they sudden notoriety. My heart goes out to these people, said their lawyer. This is their first encounter with the criminal justice system. The case is to go to a grand jury in a few weeks. If Mr. Axler is indicted, goes to trial and is convicted, she could face 30 years to life in prison.
These are very unsophisticated, very humble people, their lawyer said.
These people don't have a disingenuous bone in their bodies. There is nothing special about them. They're religious. They're well-liked in their neighborhood.
I mean, you know what this reminds me of? Actually, what it reminds me of, whenever we see a stand up comedian do something that indicates like a deep well of sadness, we always have this fake sense of surprise. Like when Robin Williams killed himself, there was this fake like, how could a funny person be so sad inside?
And it's like most comedians are sad inside. Like, this is a very typical story that we've heard many times of people using humor to cover up real hurt.
And it's the same thing here where there's like this fake sense of surprise of like a family in the suburbs. How could this happen to an ordinary family? It's like most bad things happen to ordinary people and like bad things happen to ordinary people all the time.
And ordinariness is a cover for something much more complicated most of the time.
This is why the Ted Bundy industrial complex drives me insane, because like the crux of the argument about why Ted Bundy is like the most surprising and therefore the most amazing serial killer or whatever, is that like, he seemed so normal, right?
He was a normal American man.
And it's like, yes, yes. And then they like and he was active in the Republican Party.
And it's like, yes, trouble with empathy.
Of course, he was doing well in Republican political organizing. I mean, that is part of like the construction of suburban whiteness. Right.
Is this idea that like, well, everything's normal as the default. And it's like every time we see something darker. Yeah, we're like little goldfish. It's like swimming around in a circle.
I mean, like a castle, a castle, a castle.
It's like the same revolution over and over again. That's the best description of American audiences relationship to true crime.
I've heard. And it's not that we don't remember seeing the castle before.
We just like pretending like, oh, my gosh, yeah. Imagine the castle, right?
Like somebody struggling with mental illness in the suburbs. In the suburbs. Yeah.
And to me, I want to be originary functions of true crime as a janitor and sort of what it has come to represent. It exists to tell us whose lives are important. Right. Because if Melissa Drexler were black and she killed her baby, I'm pretty sure she would be described in the 90s as a super predator. She would be picked up as an example for a super predator trend piece. And, you know, part of the reason that she and Amy Grossberg become.
Kind of a trend is because they're both from, like, idyllic New Jersey, like nice white kid New Jersey, like, how could it be? Right. And again, the implication is like, how could you kill a baby if we bought you this garbage disposal?
That sounds weirder now that I say yes than it was in my head.
Do we have any indication of, like, how we could predict this in people or cure it somehow?
So in a previous episode long, long ago, I mentioned that I had a Google News alert set for the phrase dead baby. Yes. And I think this started for me when I started thinking more about kind of the disparity between the fact that, you know, as a country, we are making it harder and harder for women to access abortion and to access contraception. And as much as we love the symbolic baby and we want to get babies born, we are increasingly unwilling to help people take care of their babies.
And so the dead baby Google News Alert was basically this worst case scenario digest in my inbox every day. And a headline from December 11th, 2018 headline Unidentified Baby Girl is New Jersey's first safe surrender of twenty eighteen. So in ninety nine, after these dad, an abandoned baby cases kind of had captured headlines for a while. We saw the first American Safe Haven law, which are also sometimes called Baby Moses laws being passed, which basically means that we are establishing that if you give birth to a baby and you're like, I can't take care of this baby, I don't even want anyone to know that I had this baby.
I need to get this baby far away from me right now that you can take your baby to. The locations vary based on states, but frequently they're like hospitals, fire stations, and you can anonymously surrender your baby. And so these laws didn't exist until nineteen ninety nine now that these states have them. But this was something that, like ways of surrendering infants safely have existed since like the 14th century. But this is when as modern Americans, we looked up and were like, hey, we should have some kind of a system that allows you to give up a baby that you cannot take care of with no repercussions.
Like that's an idea. So we have the safe haven laws in all 50 states, which the goal is to combat exactly the situation, like someone concealing a pregnancy, secretly giving birth, feeling panic, feeling shame, feeling nothing. And so I feel like that answers some of the problem.
But I think more deeply, you know, the question, too, is like, how do you address the issue of the denial?
Right. Right. And how do you predict this in advance? Because, of course, parents wouldn't know that their daughter was doing this because by definition, she's not talking about it. Mm hmm.
So I'm trying to find a George Orwell thing. We're going to hear some George Orwell. Oh, no, I know. Michael, who is George F. Will?
Oh, just a conservative school columnist. He's been around since 1987.
OK, this is this is George F.. Well, he's starting off by talking about Unforgiven, the song that some say Melissa requested the outcome. Metallica's song begins, New Blood joins the Earth. And quickly, he's subdued. I love that he's quoting Metallica. It is just another song of adolescent self pity, the not altogether intelligible gist of which is the usual effect. Shondra Society. The Unforgiven is oppressive, subduing the new blood of youth. But the society that shapen is Drexler's seem not to have inhibited her noticeably.
She seemed to be enjoying herself, said a friend, about misdirects legs postpartum dancing. Medical examiners have determined that the baby was alive during the birthing process, which occurred early in the prom. Miss Draxler will be charged with something maybe murder, maybe endangering a child, maybe conducting a partial birth abortion at prom without a license. No God who taught her to think or not think in a way that caused her to regard her newborn baby as disposable trash.
It was Metallica. She has grown up in a society that does not stress deferral of gratification. And it's not her fault that the baby arrived during prom, for Pete's sake. She has come of age in a society where condom dispensing schools teach sex education and the matter manner which is been well described as plumbing for hedonists. If she is like millions of other young adults, she has pumped into her ears thousands of hours of the coarsening lyrics of popular music.
Yes. However, foremost among the moral tutors who preparedness Drechsler to act as she did is the Supreme Court by pretending in Roe v. Wade not to know when life begins, the court encouraged looking away from the stark fact. That abortion kill something, so according to Jeff. Well, we have to stop Metallica and we have to stop the Supreme Court.
It's like you just type in Teen Mom and then you just click on whatever predictive text gives you over and over and over again.
You type in like teens and it's like sexting or like rap lyrics pierced labia.
I also I'm sorry, but I hate I know you went to grad school, but I hate the thing where we do this literary thing where we link the lyrics of songs to like the situation.
It's it's just there's something so hocky about it. Yes.
It is very hackie. I think it's one of those things of where it makes you seem smart to do that. Yes. But you're not actually performing any analysis. They're just being like this thing is like this other thing. It's like, great, George, OK? And then it's condoms and Supreme Court all the way down.
This is like the Natalie win argument. But like conservative pundits love talking about the classics, but they don't appear to actually read them.
Yeah, and this and this is a nice way that I can contradict George Will, actually, because there's this interesting trend in colonial America where. Hold on, let me pull up my I have another I got to go to UNGEI store and I love store so much to I feel so happy when I'm there. I think it creates in me the way LexisNexis does for you. So we're going to talk about the Concealment Act of sixteen, twenty four. And I'm going to read a passage about that from a book by Charlie Lofton, whose name I hope I'm pronouncing correctly, who's a professor at the University of Sydney Law School.
And so this is about the UK. We're going to see British law migrate over to the United States. I was going to become the United States. Eventually, concern with women's sexual immorality, illegitimacy and poverty coalesced in a statute dealing specifically with newborn child murder by single women enacted in sixteen twenty four. The sixteen twenty four act created a species of constructive crime and offence, paralleling murder and a legal presumption that a woman concealing the death of her illegitimate child had murdered in the act.
Provided that were lood women concealed the death of a bastard child, the sad mother. So offending shall suffer death, as in the case of murder. Remember, it was Fehling at murder back then. It's and there's a bride she called my favorite murder.
Oh, the sixteen twenty four act provided that if a woman could produce a witness to testify that the child had been born dead, she could avoid conviction and death. However, as several writers point out, it was often difficult for unmarried women to secure a witness to the birth because of the secrecy of the affair or seduction that led to it. Right. So in other words, if I have become pregnant and a, quote, illegitimate way, then it is my job to like even if I have been concealing this pregnancy the whole time, to find a witness, to have the baby in front of and someone who's, like, societally respected enough that they will be listened to a fair shake up.
The baby did not survive because automatically it just it puts me in a position where, like, if something goes wrong, I could face theoretically the death penalty.
Right. Right. If your baby died of natural causes, then you'll have to prove that it wasn't you. Yeah.
It's also notable that they include the word lewd in their lewd women. It's also greatest hits blaming the women for the illegitimacy, of course. Right.
It's not ever blaming the men. Yeah. It's the hit board game of the sixteen nineties. Blame a woman. Yeah, but so the nice thing about the Concealment Act of sixteen twenty four is that it's like this law has no pretenses. It's like guilty until proven innocent.
You're a woman and married and pregnant and. Right. This lewdness will not stand. Yeah.
And so this was the extremely punitive way that we went about prosecuting women who we perhaps very slightly suspected of lying about having not killed their babies. Prove it. Yeah.
And what happens, interestingly, is that this extremely punitive law, because the punishment is death and increasingly courts are reluctant to execute women for this. And the women who are executed are at the margins of society. They're non-white, they're service. They're enslaved people. It's a very classic American example of some people being more equal under the law than others.
But basically, we end up with this very harsh law that is on the books and that people generally don't really want to use. Right, right. And I think that's where we are today.
So is this what ended up happening with Melissa? Yes.
When she's indicted in September of nineteen ninety seven, the Monmouth County prosecutor tells the media that, like he's not going to seek the death penalty, he's thought he's he's decided he's not going to seek the death penalty, which implies that it was. However, on the tape, right? Right. What I think happened is this and this is the same thing that happened with Amy Grossberg, you start off by implying that, like, well, the death penalty is on the table.
We could use that, but we're not going to we're going to be nice. Right. When the chances of getting a jury to impose the death penalty on a middle class white teenage girl is just like in New Jersey. Like that's going to be tough. Yeah, right. Like, that's like me saying, like, yeah, I could have a skate off with Tonya Harding, but I choose not to write.
I choose not to skate. This actually made me want to look this up.
And so I want you to guess this. So the death penalty, as you know, was taken off the table for a period and then reinstated in nineteen seventy six. So how many women do you think the United States has executed since nineteen seventy six. Oh wow. God, my guess is going to be wildly off.
Twenty five. That's pretty close really. 16. Oh that's that's. How many men have we executed in that time.
Oh my God. Like many. Like more than a hundred. Yeah.
It's fifteen hundred and eighteen. Oh wow. Yeah. Yes. A hundred times more almost. Yeah. And so that's very interesting to me that the death penalty is something you sort of talk about to conjure with the idea and be like, by the way, I'm capable of doing this, but functionally I'm not. And they want and then we started talking about aggravated manslaughter. Aggravated manslaughter is 10 to 30 years. And as they're preparing to go to trial or for her to make a plea, Melissa Drexler is also free on bond.
So people kind of know where this is going. And my feeling is that like at the start, when the outrage is strong, when, like, people are as upset as they ever will be and they want the sense of like a strong hand velvet glove, whatever thing, that's the right time to be like, death penalty is possible. OK, no death penalty, but thirty years or maybe murder. And people are like, yeah, OK, good.
And then they move on with their lives.
They get distracted by sales, they take up the craft. This stops being front page news. And then you played it down to a couple of years. Is that what happens? This is what happens.
So the prosecution's medical examiners are saying the baby definitely was born alive. And the fact that there's air in the baby's lungs means we know that she is fixated the baby. The defense lawyers bring in forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who is also a former member of O.J. Simpson's defense team.
No fucking way were there like two lawyers in America in the 1990s.
There were apparently like five forensic pathologists. Yeah, but yeah, he comes on as the pathologist for the defense and says, well, the Erfoud found in the baby's lungs could come from the EMTs trying to resuscitate him.
OK, so is there is there a trial or. This is just a plea deal. This is a plea deal. OK, so Melissa does plead guilty in August of nineteen ninety eight. And as part of her guilty plea, she has to describe the circumstances surrounding her baby's death. So this is how The New York Times reports that Mr X listed next to her lawyer as she read a statement written in a Bloche uprate cursive. I went to the bathroom and delivered the baby, she said.
The baby was born alive. I knowingly took the baby out of the toilet and wrapped a series of garbage bags around the baby. In matter of fact, language apparently intended to show the, quote, knowing indifference that is required for a charge of aggravated manslaughter. She continued. I was aware of what I was doing when I placed the baby in the bag. I was further aware that what I did would most certainly result in the death of the baby.
Yeah, it's I mean, it's interesting to think about how much we don't know because we don't know how she's saying these words. We don't know how she feels about what she's saying. When you plead guilty to a crime, you have to describe your guilt. So like it's possible that she on the inside is still maintaining like, no, the baby was born dead, I swear it, because, like, has to describe this as part of what a plea deal is.
Right. So I don't know. I mean, it seems we can believe either one. I personally, I, I don't find it hard to believe at all that she could have delivered her baby. And then, I mean, she was in there for twenty minutes. So, like, it's I don't think there was time for contemplation.
I mean, I have no evidence for this, but I can imagine someone just sort of sleepwalking through these steps without giving them a lot of thought, just sort of acting on instinct, which doesn't make it OK.
It makes them actionable. Yeah. It's something that you can imagine a non monster doing. Yeah. And or this feeling. If like if I don't acknowledge that this has happened, then it won't have happened, like this can continue to not be a baby. Yeah, and Melissa ends up pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter, which is the one that has been described in the previous New York Times article as having a 10 to 30 year sentence.
The headline when she pleads guilty is Woman Gets 15 Years in Death of Newborn at Prom. And then second paragraph, the judge said that the woman, Melissa Drexler, 20, would be eligible for her first parole hearing after serving two years and 11 months. OK, she ended up being in prison for thirty seven months, so three years and one month. And so my theory is that, you know, you start off sounding as harsh as possible and then you slowly kind of whittle it down to something that's actually reasonable.
Maybe this is an example of how the law at times is more about. I don't know that there are some populations that you want to show what you could do to them and some populations that you just you know, you have no reluctance at all and you just do it right.
That's how the same system gets applied unequally to different populations is because it always has the capabilities, but only for certain people. Do you reach that potential? Yes.
And so this becomes also interesting. And the Grosberg case where Amy Grossberg and her boyfriend, Brian Peterson, had gone to this motel in Delaware and she had given birth there, and they start off presenting a unified front and saying, we panicked. We thought the baby was stillborn, and we panicked and disposed of the body.
And then they turn on each other, because what happens is that eventually Amy's lawyers are like, actually, it was Brian's idea to get rid of the body.
And then Brian Peterson's lawyers come back and are like, no, Amy Grossberg told me to get rid of it, and I did. And so between them, each contradicting each other's stories, Brian Peterson served 20 months and Amy Grossberg serves twenty two months.
This case goes to my argument that, like the criminal justice system, we should treat everyone like a white teenage girl whose future it's truly concerned about disrupting.
You know, just the idea that, like Melissa Drexler kills a baby, people are able on some level to appreciate the fact that, like her, seems more just like wildly out of touch with with sanity and reality than than malice. And like this is not a well person and like, they have a salvageable life. So let's try and salvage that.
Like, I just I feel it's just that's just a perspective that it's possible to bring to everyone who's brought in front of you as an officer of the law. Right. I feel like regardless of whether you feel any sympathy or empathy for Melissa Drexler, it's inevitably very interesting to see her as like this monkey wrench that fell into the criminal justice machinery where, like every person she appeared before, they were like, well, right.
You know, it's so interesting, like how the machinery reacts to something that it registers as a person. Right. Right. And I wish we could say more about her life, but it also seems like she has figured out how to disappear. If it was like an interesting story about when she appeared in court after the initial flurry of press coverage, she had lightened her hair and the initial pictures of her. She had dark hair and all of them.
So she is kind of like walked past the cameras that were like on an on stakeout waiting to see or crying like Citizen Ruth.
I love that. Yeah. Just pregnant with no plan. So laugh. And, you know, she does her time and then, you know, like, she managed to just like, be uninteresting. And my hope is that she's she's found some peace. Yeah. And people don't know her name. You know, it's also interesting to see what happens when you just kind of go limp. Right.
She's somehow managed to avoid the where are they now? Industrial complex. Yeah, except for us. Yeah, it's for us.
So, yeah. What's our conclusion? What are our final thoughts? I don't know.
Let's just I guess maybe my conclusion. OK, here's something constructive. I also interviewed a Penn doctoral candidate named Sarah Ray, who is a scholar of monstrous birth's, which dead babies form a Venn diagram with monstrous birth. Yeah, monstrous. Is this where this was a big thing in Puritan America specifically? I mean, think about it like we didn't have ultrasound until quite recently. Right? So, like, we haven't really known, like, how long is pregnancy?
What does it look like? When does it start a pregnancy become viable? So women who are accused of having given birth legitimately or having killed a baby or. Are able to be like, well, I actually was only pregnant for, like a couple of months, like it wasn't a viable pregnancy and also previous like throughout also much of history when we have had any science at all, we have said that pregnancy is really only viable at quickening, like when you start to feel the baby move.
And before that we were like, you're kind of pregnant, but it's like it's not. You're a little bit pregnant, like you feel the baby move, it's a gray area that was previously how we saw this. And so ultrasound was really what revolutionized that idea because suddenly you can see the baby, right. So historically, you know, pregnancy has been more accepted as the sort of mysterious thing. There are ways that you can get out of it.
But then this is my favorite quote from that interview, where you find laws against illegitimacy, you also find strong motivation for infanticide. And to me, that's what George Will is missing. And that's, I think, one of the reasons why we have not meaningfully progressed past the sixteen hundreds, at least legally.
Tagline Yeah, sorry, but it's true is that, you know, why are women killing their babies?
And there's so many possible reasons, right? There's there's shame. There's profound denial. And the question of how do we affect that, I think is manifold, because it has to do with teen psychology. It has to do with a lack for teenagers of people who are able to listen to them and not immediately give them consequences for what's going on in their life. But I also think that, like, if you become pregnant, just going into some form of denial about it might be just the most feasible response.
Right. You know, the reason that we see infanticide where illegitimacy is illegal is that if you give birth to a baby, are revealing the fact that you're having an illegitimate baby, your baby is illegal, like the baby is wrong. And so society places you in a position where neonaticide becomes one of your better options. Right. And, you know, that's society's fault. Right? Right.
Well, I mean, one of the things that Foster is being in denial is when something will have a catastrophic impact on your life. Like I was in denial about being gay for a very long time because I thought that it would be the worst thing that ever happened to me and that I would never be capable of happiness and that I was the sinner and I would go to hell.
But I was never in denial about being left handed because that has no effect on my life.
So it seems like one of the ways you can reduce this in the aggregate is just make it less catastrophic for an 18 year old girl to have a baby. Right. Right. That like there will be free child care and she's going to have enough money and. Oh, yeah, all of these things, it seems like, would make it less likely that you'd be like, I'm not having a baby, I'm not having a baby, I'm not having a baby.
I like this because my argument was like, let's use this as an argument for increased access to contraception and abortion. And you're like Galaxie brain. Let's do that and let's have universal free childcare. Yes. And then you got fewer dead babies. I mean, everybody wins. Yes. It's funny.
I feel like that George Orwell piece is so dear to me because I feel like he is so flamboyantly missing the point at every single time.
It's just beautiful is like the first of all, it's Metallica lyrics.
Like he unconvincingly applies them to her. And then, you know, his argument is like too much sex education, too much the stigmatization of sex. That's what has made this happen. And it's like, no, I think it's the opposite.
I think they yourself are helping to create and strengthen this culture where sex is bad. There is something unsavory and wicked about it. And if you have started having it, maybe your mom can't know, maybe your parents can't know. Maybe you have absorbed a cultural message that tells you that you are bad now and they cannot love you anymore. Like that is a very reasonable thing to believe if you grow up in the United States because people say it to you every day.
So, yeah, George Will is bad, Metallica is good and lyrics mean nothing.
Sex is wholesome, have safe sex, got an abortion if you need one. And I think that we have this dangerous tendency to look at behaviors that we don't like and prohibit or punish them. Wouldn't it be exciting if we were to look at the ways people behave and that are harmful to themselves and or others and be like, I believe that this behavior is not a conscious and well thought out choice. I think that you are doing your best and your best could be better if we gave you more resources to work with.
We shaped our laws around the question of what it would take for you to flourish as a human being.
Right. And I also think that, you know, with all of the moral catastrophes of this People magazine article, everything they're doing is still not as bad as the graphic design.