The death of Adam Williams: Mom described as "angry," and I’m trying to imagine how I could ever kill my son

UPDATE: In an excellent story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, “No One Saw It Coming,” Henry K. Lee has Judith Williams described by ex-husband as “angry woman,” and by the landlord of her Walnut Creek home as “goofy,” and worth were it not for the fact that he was fond of her son, Adam.

“For whatever reason, it didn’t seem like she could ever give up her anger,” said Jim Williams, who works as a consultant for a laser-printer company. “She would want things to go a certain way, and with Judy, little things can be very, very big.”

He said he never fought for custody of Adam because he “didn’t want to provoke her.”

“It didn’t take a whole heck of a lot to make her really upset,” he said. “We picked our battles very judiciously.”

I’m trying to imagine my son in a few years at age 16.

I’m also trying to see myself being in such a desperate, dark, narrow place that I would be absolutely convinced that I need to take my life—and my son with me.

It is hard to comprehend the logistics of being a mother killing her teen-age son. If you read up on cases of maternal filicide, which I did as part of a research project a few years ago, you’ll learn that most mothers who deliberately kill their children prey on infants or young children, children over whom these women have actual physical control. And, by the way, women who deliberately kill their children are a subset of all maternal killers, and belong in a separate category from mothers guilty of abuse or neglect.

I’m trying to imagine being a woman, like Judith Williams– professional, living in an affluent Walnut Creek neighborhood, outwardly happy, I assume–coaxing my son, a Las Lomas High junior, into taking a drive with me after dusk up to Mount Diablo. Our destination is a picnic area presumably with a view.

Last Friday—it was a warm night, wasn’t it?

I’ve armed myself with a .357 revolver, and already euthanized my boy’s dog and three cats. But he doesn’t know, according to accounts offered to the Contra Costa Times by Contra Costa Sheriff’s and coroner’s investigators and family.

I’ve written my note, presumably explaining why I must die, and why my boy, Adam, needs to die, too.

Now, we’re at the picnic area, with its view and the clear skies of a warm July night. He’s walking around the car. I fire into his chest. As he falls to his knees, I put the gun to his head and fire again.

And now, having done the worst thing a mother can do, I can kill myself.

I’m sorry if it hurts anyone for me to dwell on Adam Williams’ last horrifying moments. I’m so terribly sorry for Adam Williams–and Judith Williams–and their friends and family.

But I don’t think I am the only mother reading the details of his death—-or the only parent-—who, for even a second or two, is putting herself into Judith Williams’ place in order to understand “how,” “why,” “could I” and “under what circumstances”?

People on the message boards for the Contra Costa Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and this blog are angry. They call Judith Williams evil, a monster. No decent loving parent would ever contemplate such an act, much less carry it out, they say.

Or there are some who are looking to others to blame: Adam Williams’ dad or other relatives, who perhaps didn’t pick up on warning signs, who didn’t see that she was getting stressed out about custody arrangements with Adams’ father, from whom she was divorced, or about her struggling nurse staffing business. Some will try to blame the recession, or our culture of achievement, in which people can feel like failures when believe they aren’t living up to to certain social or economic standards.

The anger and finger-pointing is understandable—when an innocent teen boy, full of promise and love for life—loses his life. Over an act that seems so evil, so insane.

So, perhaps it is right to hate Judith Williams, or to cast blame elsewhere. It’s also understandable to pick apart her actions, and of those close to her or Adam, and to see how anyone failed to pick up on the warning signs, the so-called red flags.

I can say I’ve had moments of wishing I didn’t have a son, when he’s pushed my buttons in a way only he can. This was especially true when he was younger. I’ve had times when I’ve wanted to make him magically vanish for a few minutes, an hour, a few days. I’ve also had moments when I’ve felt down about myself, when I’ve become convinced that I’m a failure, unlovable, a horrible person, wife, mother. I’ve had moments, not too long ago, actually, when I have awakened in the middle of the night, asking, with an almost cold, intellectual scrutiny, what’s the point?

I can’t say, though, that I’ve ever descended slowly or dropped suddenly into that desperate, narrow, dark place of someone who is suicidal. I’ve only thought of suicide in an abstract way. As in, if I ever become terminally ill or so incapacitated in a way that I believe life is no longer worth living. Then, I’ll consider ending my life. Maybe.

I know people who have been suicidal. My husband was suicidal, and I twice had to get him to an emergency room.

I can say that I’ve never been in the place he was, so I guess it’s ultimately impossible for me to understand where Judith Williams was coming from.

Still, it’s worth trying, and I’m focusing on suicide, because if you read up on the literature of mothers who kill, you will find that these women often are suicidal—with the exception, of course, of someone like Andrea Yates, who was desperately ill and delusional but not necessarily suicidal.

But to begin to understand the how and why of Adam Williams’ death, experts would say, you have to understand suicidal thinking—because Judith Williams’ act, which yes included the murder of her son, was ultimately a plunge into self-destruction.

For those women who kill their children, national experts on ths subject, such as Philip Resnick, of the Department of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, say these women often have depresion, psychosis, prior mental health treatment, and suicidal thoughts. He puts their motives into several categories including:

–Altruism: a mother kills her child out of love; she believes death to be in the child’s best interest (for example, a suicidal mother may not wish to leave her motherless child to face an intolerable world; or a psychotic mother may believe that she is saving her child from a fate worse than death)

–Psychosis: a psychotic or delirious mother kills her child without any comprehensible motive (for example, a mother may follow command hallucinations to kill)

–In the most rare cases, a spouse revenge filicide occurs when a mother kills her child specifically to emotionally harm that child’s father.

Contra Costa County Sheriff’s investigators have Judith Wlliams’ note, which may shed light on how she viewed her self-destruction and Adam’s place in it. From various studies and articles I’ve read about maternal filicide, and from first-hand experience with someone who was in that desperate, dark, narrow place, I’m guessing that Judith Williams saw killing Adam as a necessary step to killing herself. She didn’t want to live anymore, and she, therefore, had to eliminate the one person who is most any mother’s reason to keep living: her child.

Resources, other reading on suicide and maternal filicide:

Contra Costa Crisis Center, (800) 263-TALK, (800) SUICIDE: Suicide Warning Signs and helping a suicidal person.

Suicide Warning Signs, American Society of Suicidology

Cheryl Meyer, Kelly White, Jim Franz, Tara Proano, Michelle Oberman, others Mothers Who Kill Their Children: Understanding the Acts of Moms from Susan Smith to the “Prom Mom,” New York University Press, 2001

Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford, and Shanna L. Beasley, Floriday Atlantic University, An Exploratory Analysis of the Contexts and Circumstances of Filicide-Suicide in Chicago, 1965-1994.

27 thoughts on “The death of Adam Williams: Mom described as "angry," and I’m trying to imagine how I could ever kill my son

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking article on this terrible event, and for the resource list posted at the end. May this information be some comfort and help to those touched by this tragedy or who may recognize a part of themselves in it.

    We are all doing the best we can on this earth with whatever gifts and burdens we are simultaneously endowed.


  2. Sorry, I don't find your comments thoughtful, or helpful. I find them foolish. You don't know enough facts. (period)


  3. Dear Anon 9:11,
    You're right. I don't know any more of the facts than were presented in the newspaper. I don't know Judith WIlliams, or Adam's father, what was going on with her, what she was like, what was in the note.

    I'm writing, based on what academics, studying these sorts of cases, say is often going on when a mother does something like this to her own child and then takes her life.

    Maybe what I've written isn't helpful. Then, I'm sorry. I would like to be, and if I've offended anyone, especially in the family, I sincerely apologize.


  4. Soccer Mom,
    Please ignore Anon 9:11am.
    There are cranks in this world who complain about everything; and Anon 9:11 criticizes in order to to diminish you, not because he has anything important to say.
    Both your articles are very well- thought-out and interesting.
    I may or may not have time to read comments on the newspaper sites, but I must say that when I read your original posting, my immediate thought was about how absent the bio dad seemed to be.
    I wonder if he has new step kid$, younger bio kid$ with new wife.
    I think he has some culpability in this tragedy.


  5. I wonder if we'll every find out why. I hope that it's one of the first two motives. I would be devastated to find out that she was totally selfish and simply didn't want to share her boy with his dad and his dad's family.


  6. Thank you for trying to make sense out of a senseless, selfish act. Don't pay any attention to bloggers like 9:11. No one will ever know all the facts, idiotic comment on his/her part.


  7. Readers,
    Thanks for your comments and assurance that what I wrote might be useful to someone. That's my purpose. I can't guess at the motives of Anon 9:11. I was/am concerned that this writer is friends or a family member, with a legitimate gripe, not someone who just doesn't like what I do.

    If Anon 9:11 wants to elaborate more on why my not knowing all the facts makes my commentary foolish, I'd love to hear more. And Anon 9:11 can, of course, stay anonymous. If there are facts I should know about, let us (or me) know. There is my e-mail, of course.


  8. I'm with you soccer mom. I find this act to be completely pointless. It's incredibly selfish of her to take her son with her. The only excuse for her is an altered mental state. I could never imagine hurting/killing any of my children.


  9. Sadly, I knew this woman and her son. She was a customer of my husbands PC Repair business. She never showed any signs of mental problems. From all the times my husband did work for her, she adored her son and he adored her. I cant imagine how desperate she must have felt to end her own life but to also take the life of your child….It is not for us to judge her but remember the last thing she did before she died was murder her son and then murder herself. She didnt have time to ask for forgiveness for what she did so she has to pay for that eternally. All we can do is pray for Adams father and the rest of the family that they will find some peace in this horrible tragidy.


  10. Jennifer you're a loon.

    “It is not for us to judge her but remember the last thing she did before she died was murder her son and then murder herself. She didn’t have time to ask for forgiveness for what she did so she has to pay for that eternally.”

    Unfortunately I don't believe in heaven and hell, but if I would, I would be sure that judgmental people like you will rot in hell for eternity.

    “All we can do is pray for Adams father and the rest of the family that they will find some peace in this horrible tragedy.”

    Again we don't know the facts, maybe Adams's father is a poor victim in this case, or maybe Adam's father pushed the poor woman into this tragedy.

    We just don't know but crazy fools like you, based on a few lines in a newspaper, are ready to make judgments about good and evil.


  11. I love how all the critical comments come from anonymous people. Got a strong opinion? C'mon put your name to it.

    As a human, I could totally see being so despondent that I would kill myself. As a parent of 3, I can't fathom ever intentionally harming my own child.

    If I can take a stab at what's bothering Soccer Mom, it's that becoming a parent means doing the best you can to raise your child. To end your own child's life, intentionally, just doesn't make any sense to a (normal) parent.


  12. Why is it that people want to understand a mother who kills her child and herself? I rarely, if ever see this kind of empathy when a father does the same. Personally, I'm fed up with the gender-bias inflicted upon men.

    Maybe this comes from 30 years of feminist propaganda in the media. Like the myth they created* that 95% of domestic violence is male on female. Wrong – it's equal. (*the author admitted making it up.)

    Let's stop giving women a break they do not deserve.



  13. Thank you Soccer Mom, for taking the time to ask the questions AND taking the time to research what is to many moms a baffling scenario.

    That said, I would LOVE to see that suicide note. I wonder if she justifies her actions or if she just apologizes?

    Also, between the time it took to euthanize her pets, write the long suicide note, and then drive all the way to the top of Diablo, she could have changed her mind, right? I wonder if she ever wavered once she made the decision, or if she was resolute once she had made the decision?

    We'll never know.


  14. Thank you, Soccer Mom, for creating this forum where people can write and share their feelings, and please ignore the people who write nasty things about you for being honest about your thoughts. This tragedy has left me deeply saddened. Maybe it's because I was a single mom with a son (now grown) myself, and I keep thinking of how he counted on me to be his champion when he was younger. Maybe if Adam had been so young that his mother thought he wouldn't be able to survive without him, there would be some sense(however twisted), to her taking him with him. But he was 16 years old and could have made his way in the world, even if it would have been tough to cope with his mother's suicide.
    I can't stop thinking about that poor boy and what must have been going through his mind in his final moments, realizing that his mom, of all people,was taking his life.


  15. Thanks for taking all of the crazy jumble and sadness and shock that was rattling around in my head and making some sense out of it. Not that it makes any real sense but you made it far more linear. I've run the gamut of shock, blame, hurt, anger and just profound sadness and in the end it doesn't matter. What matters is that mother and child are no more and it's just tragic.


  16. In some strange way, this whole tragedy is bringing our community closer together so that we might ask ourselves “why?” and “could this ever be me?.” We all have a dark side, and dark thoughts. When they are pent up – and not dealt with – people feel isolated and hopeless, these thoughts and feelings can overtake and seem rational. Soccer mom's very personal and intimate information -(about depression in her family) and her (very helpful) resource list – might actually save lives. If anybody is feeling hopeless, helpless, and suicidal – reach out, get help NOW. No one is going to judge you. The sad thing about this terrible story is that Mt. Diablo is now a crime scene, and a tragic reminder of this horrible incident. Our community is very upset about what happened -and it is important to acknowledge the deep pain and anguish all of us parents and our teens are feeling right now. I don't have a religious background, but I do have an understanding about psychology. More affordable mental health services are desperatly needed in our community. I think there should be a special team in place to help those disturbed by this tragedy to get psychologial counseling and support immediately. It's a real wake up call.


  17. My son was a friend and classmate of Adam for the last 2 years at Las Lomas and told me that Adam mentioned to him last month that he did not want to live with his Mom anymore because she was too controlling and mean to him and that he wanted to move back in with his father. My thoughts are that Judith did this in order to get back at his father as she was jealous that the father had found love in his life and if she couldn't have Adam the father couldn't either.


  18. Thank you for writing this and courageously admitting that there are times when you wish your child could vanish for a bit. It seems like mothers (and I'm not one) are under a lot of pressure to always be delighted and content with their role.

    While flashes of “what if” make sense to me. What doesn't make sense is all the deliberate steps this woman took. When she bought the gun, when she killed the pets, when she wrote the note, so many chances to just stop. I am reminded of the play Medea by Euripides in which she agonizes over her decision and even seems to turn aside from her plans but ultimately murders her children.

    I don't know what she was going through, I can't. But in the end her choice just feels so selfish.


  19. This is ironic that an Examiner reporter is scooping info from Soccer Mom's blog. I wonder if they'll reference this blog at all.


  20. Being a single mother myself, I have faced the pressures that come along with it. I have three children and at times, I have been hit with the financial, emotional and day to day crisis. I will admit, I do feel depressed those days and will cry and think suicide. But I NEVER think about hurting my children. I do think that I cant kill myself because I do want to see my children grow up and I want to see them happy. Killing myself would not make them happy. SO we must all ride through the tough chapters and move on and grow from them.

    I think this woman who killed her son had more then just anger, she was mentally ill. To be so selfish to hurt her son and not just herself, I think she had gone so far into illness that she didnt even know it. The hard part is that we dont know if she ever asked for help or even hinted she needed it. We cant say what if or who. We need to learn from it.

    Reach out to a woman in your life, or even a man and just say hi. Offer a cookie or some tea and a smile. Everyone just passes by so quickly, it seems we all forgot how to say a simple “hi” and offer our friendship. You never know, that smile could save someone's life.


  21. Would you believe that I lived only three doors down from Adam Williams — almost an acre away– and never met his mother.
    My son played basketball with Adam at my neighbor's home, enjoyed his company,and, unfortunately, recognized his face in the CC Times immediately when the story broke– but I only heard from my neighbors who his mother was.

    I feel terrible knowing that he lived in this ideal neighborhood– with neighbors who have grown up in this community together, and raised children together– but never took the time to question what was going on in his life.

    Adam & his Mother lived in a rental home on a very large property — set way back from the street– so no one really knew what was going on in their home.
    No one ever thought that he was in any danger. Now I just regret that we did not ever reach out to his mother and ask her if she needed help– it breaks my heart to know that we might have been able to save them both if we just knew that they needed help.


  22. At one time or another we have all felt down on ourselves. Maybe wanting to take the step of ending it all just to get rid of the worthless feeling deep in our guts. But to think of taking another life, even more, your own child is almost unheard of. I'm very sad for Adam's family and for his mother's family as well. It's never easy to lose someone you love. If anger was an issue, someone should've stepped in and helped her before it was too late. My heart and love go to the family and friends for their loss. God bless…


  23. Absence mental psychosis, I think that it's a very selfish thing to do. Especially with a teenager. One might buy into the argument that the mother feels that the child can't live without her, but I just can't buy it when the kid is a teenager. Unless this mother was psychotic, she knew the boy would grieve her death, but he would move on without her.

    The article doesn't state really what role Adam's father played in this tragedy. It speaks about custody. What if he wanted more or the boy to live with him?

    In recent years, we seen the motives as revenge/punishment against a former spouse/partner.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s