What would drive a parent to kill their child? Revenge is one of the main motivations behind filicide. Revenge at an ex-partner for leaving them. One such case of revenge-fueled filicide is that of Susan Eubanks from San Marcos, California.
It was the 27th of October, 1997, and Susan was spending the afternoon getting drunk and taking Valium. Later in the afternoon, she got into a fight with her boyfriend, Rene Dodson. During the argument, Rene told Susan that he was ending their relationship and moving out. After storming out of the home, Susan slashed his tyres. Several hours later, Rene returned to Susan’s home to pick up his belongings. He was escorted by two police officers who he had asked to come with him “to preserve the peace.”
Susan and Rene had only been together for around two months. Their relationship began after Susan and her former husband, Eric Eubanks, ended their relationship. The relationship between Susan and Eric had been tumultuous and each had run-ins with the law.
In July of 1996, Susan was arrested for drunken driving after almost hitting a police car. She had a blood-alcohol level of .21. She was put on five years’ probation, fined $1,500 and ordered to attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim-impact panel. Then on the 5th of September, 1997, Susan filed for divorce from Eric and the following week, she filed a restraining order against him. She wrote that on the 12th of September, she had come home to find her clothes ripped up and the word “DIVORCE” written with nail polish on the bathroom mirror. She also claimed that Eric had threatened to kill her.1
Life in the Eubanks home had been anything but normal. Susan had been dealing with a collapsed marriage, was $40,000 in debt, was unemployed and an alcoholic. Quite often, Susan’s problems spilled over to her children and she was often abusive towards them or absent. She had three sons by Eric – 7-year-old Austin, 6-year-old Brigham and 4-year-old Matthew – and one son by a former husband – 14-year-old Brandon. Quite often, Brandon thought about moving in with his father but always decided against it because he didn’t want to leave his half-brothers behind. “She would drink and get mean. She was verbally cruel and abusive, cursing at them and hitting them… She would keep him out of school and football practice so she could go out,” recollected Brandon’s grandmother, Sally.
The abuse from Susan started long before her marriage to Eric. According to John Armstrong, her first husband and the father of Brandon, Susan had smacked Brandon when he was just 3 ½ years old, causing a bruise that was so bad she tried to keep him out of public view for days out of fear she would be reported for child abuse. Patrons of a local bar, North Bar, said that Susan would often leave the kids in the car in the parking lot as she sat and got drunk. “They would come to the door every now and then asking for something to drink,” said one of the patrons.2
Now back to the 27th of October, 1997. After Rene left with his belongings, Susan sat at home alone, getting drunker by the minute. In the early evening, Susan called Eric and left him a voice mail during which she threatened her life as well as the lives of their children. “Say goodbye,” said the message in part. Eric called the police but by the time they arrived at Susan’s home, it was too late.
As the police approached the house, they heard faint sobbing coming from inside. When nobody answered the door, it was broken down by officers. Inside the living room, they discovered the lifeless body of 14-year-old Brandon. Next, they discovered the bodies of 7-year-old Austin and 6-year-old Brigham, both in their bunk beds. In another bunk bed in the same bedroom, police found 4-year-old Matthew. Matthew had been shot once in the head but was still clinging to life and quietly sobbing. Police also found Susan, sobbing and bleeding in her bedroom. She had shot herself in the stomach. They also discovered an untouched 5-year-old cousin of the brothers.
All of the victims had sustained gunshot wounds and investigators pieced together their final moments on earth.
Brandon had been shot and killed by Susan first. Presumably because he was the oldest and would have attempted to defend himself and his brothers. Brandon had been forced to grow up too early and carried a far heavier burden that than any teenager should have to bear. He truly was his brothers’ keeper and their protector. He gave up hobbies so that he could cook, clean and look after his half-brothers. In fact, it would later be uncovered that on the day of the murders, Brandon had called his best friend’s mother and asked her to take him and his half-brothers away from the environment they were being raised in. Brandon had been shot in the back of the neck as he sat eating cereal and watching television. When he fell to the floor, Susan shot him once more in the temple.
The other three boys had been together in their bedroom. It was speculated that they were most likely asleep when the shooting began Using a five-shot revolver, Susan shot the three remaining children over 6 times; she had to reload the gun at least once. Investigators found a note beside her bed which chillingly read: “I’ve lost everyone I’ve ever loved. Now it’s time for you to do the same.” It was addressed to her ex-husband, Eric.
The following day, Matthew tragically died in hospital from his injuries but not before his father got to visit him. Susan – who had been rushed to Palomar Medical Center in Escondido – underwent surgery and made a full recovery from her injuries. From her hospital bed, Susan pleaded not guilty to the murder of her four sons.
The murders sent shockwaves across the city and family members and friends were sickened with grief. “Why didn’t she just kill herself and leave the children alone? She took away out joy and our sunlight,” said Sally Armstrong, Brandon’s grandmother. In fact, Susan’s own sister, Michelle Smith, reported Susan for abuse to the San Diego County authorities several times in the past. According to Michelle, she was told an investigator would “look into it” but said that she never heard back from them. “If Child Protective Services . . . had listened to my calls, my sister wouldn’t be in the hospital on murder charges and I would still have four nephews,” she said.
Michelle told the media that her sister had been on a downward spiral for the past three years. She described an incident wherein Susan’s nephew – who lived with Susan after her brother died – was forbidden from using the bathroom after he went to bed. The young boy was so afraid of punishment that he removed his soiled diapers and hid them. When Susan found out, she smeared the soiled nappies on the boy’s face and in his mouth. “She was stupid enough to think I would think it was funny or cute. Then she said she was just joking, and then she said, ‘It’s none of your business how I raise my children,’” recalled Michelle. On another occasion, Susan ordered Brandon to scrub the floor with ammonia and bleach. When Michelle warned Susan that such a concoction is toxic, she replied: “Well if it kills the little bastard, then so what?”
Despite this, Michelle still felt as though Susan loved her children and said that she was always speaking lovingly of them and bragging about their accomplishments. She said that the woman who killed the boys was not the sister she knew and loved. “I loved her. I still love her. I’ll never stop loving her. I want people to know she did love them,” she said.
A long-time friend of Rene, Debbie McNeil, said that around two weeks before the murder, Susan had told her that she bought some bullets and said that one of the bullets may have been intended for Rene. When Debbie said she didn’t believe Susan, she made Austin confirm it. He said they had bought bullets. ”Poor little guy, he couldn’t have known one of the bullets had his name written on it,” she recollected.
During Susan’s trial, the defence attempted to portray her as a doting mother but said that she was so intoxicated that she abandoned all logic and gave in to her recurring fantasies of murder-suicide. Prosecutors, however, said that Susan was in an “anti-men” mood that day and killed her children simply to get revenge on her former husband and her boyfriend, who she felt had betrayed her. They pointed towards the note Susan had left as evidence of this.
After just two hours of deliberation, Susan was convicted on four counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. She currently resides on Central California’s Women’s Facility.
- San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 October, 1997 – “Oldest of Slain Boy Reached out for Help”
- The San Diego Union-Tribune, 30 October, 1997 – “Mother Arraigned in Hospital”