During the 1980s SIDS seemed to become an increasing cause of death among infants, a much higher rate than ever recorded in North America. This made it fairly easy to commit infanticide and not get caught. In fact it remains the number one cause of infant death in the U.S. and Canada. Someone must have finally smelled a rat. Over time, autopsy rates for deaths diagnosed as resulting from SIDS increased from 82.3% in 1980 to 92.5% in 1988, and autopsy rates for neonatal deaths increased from 79.0% in 1980 to 91.6% in 1988. This case is odd in that the woman who suspected her womanizing husband of murdering her child kept quiet for six years, until they separated. For that reason, her infant son wasn’t autopsied for 10 years after his death. The Maryland County police would arrest the ex-husband Garrett Wilson, who would be tried and convicted. But a question remained as to whether Missy Anastasi truly suspected her husband of killing their child, or if Wilson was suffering the extreme consequence of a woman scorned.
Wilson’s father, Eldred, seemed respectable enough. He had been named “Most Likely to Succeed” when graduating from high school in 1926. After taking some accounting courses he chose a steady, secure job at the U.S. House of Representatives inside the Sergeant at Arms office. His wife, Ethel, was a housewife. Wilson, born in June 1956, was to be their only child and he was a target for his father’s abuse and alcoholism “He had his bar just behind the dining room table and would walk back and forth to the kitchen to get ice and water for his drinks,” Wilson’s childhood friend, John Farley, said. “He began with beer and usually switched to scotch by nine.” Ethel became close to her son. Some people believed they were too close. “Why, my God, she breast-fed him until he was 4,” said Jackie Sandoe, who married Eldred’s nephew. When Garrett reached his teens, she would taunt him in front of his friends with remarks like this: “You did chin-ups on my boobs forever.”
One method of discipline Wilson’s father used on his son was to creep into the bathroom when the boy was showering and begin whacking him on the back with the flat of his hand. The pain was magnified by contact with wet skin. Other transgressions were dealt with by using a belt. By high school, Wilson was grossly overweight. He had reached his optimum height, 5’10″, but his weight exceeded 250 pounds. He would later credit this to a diet built around baloney sandwiches with chunks of cheese. He began to fight his pudginess by joining the high school wrestling team and lifting weights in the gym. Despite being quite rotund, with baby fat filling out his cheeks, Wilson developed a talent as a teenage Romeo, given to smooth compliments and extravagant gestures towards girls. His technique wowed impressionable young women. However Wilson’s constant pursuit of the opposite sex got him into trouble. He impregnated a young woman, Shelly, in early 1976, and then married her that March so that the child, a son, couldn’t be labeled a bastard. Shelly filed for divorce the day after the courthouse wedding. His father hushed up the affair, keeping it a secret even from his wife.
Death of Wilson’s Parents
The health habits of his parents eventually began catching up with them. His father began suffering blackout spells at his U.S. Capitol job and was forced to retire. He gasped with every step, suffering from both tuberculosis and emphysema. Neither crisis stopped Eldred Wilson from his addictions. He smoked five packs of cigarettes a day even while hauling an oxygen tank around. Drunk each night, he no longer walked to his bedroom but crawled there on his hands and knees. Surprisingly, Wilson’s mother was the first to die. Wilson discovered his mother dead in bed of a heart attack on a Saturday morning when he brought breakfast toast and coffee into the room. Her husband was in an alcoholic haze beside her.
With Ethel gone, Eldred deteriorated fast, the emphysema slowly killing him. Wilson put his father in a nursing home, giving him control of the family house and funds. His father died soon afterward, in August 1979, nearly three years to the day after his mother passed away. Wilson went on a wild spending spree, buying a new car, a horse, a purebred German Shepherd, and building himself a weight room and music studio in the basement of the family home in Friendly. He was soon broke and in debt, a pattern he would repeat all of his adult life. In Wilsons case the pattern would prove to be very dangerous.
Wilson had a disturbing criminal history when he and Anastasi met. Wilson was a charmer however, who still knew how to seduce a woman. He also had a criminal past and had been involved in a botched robbery. He offered Anastasi the odd explanation that he’d been given loan approval for the money before the robbery. In reality Wilson burglarized a safe in an office at his work, stealing $40,000. He faked an injury, saying he had been overwhelmed by two other men but the police didn’t buy the ridiculous story and Wilson quickly confessed and led them to the cash. “It was a stupid thing to do,” Wilson admitted. He pleaded guilty, got a five-year suspended-sentence and a fine.
He decided to raise money by selling the house. He had to sell the house. He was now married again to a woman named Deborah Oliver and there was a baby on the way – his second if you include his teenaged love Shelly in 1976.. In fact, by the time Oliver and Wilson married, Oliver had undergone four abortions at Wilson’s insistence. Apparently neither person had heard of the Pill. This time, Oliver refused to abort the infant and insisted that Wilson marry her. This married didn’t last long, although certainly longer than one day. The Wilsons lost a precious baby girl to SIDS. Eventually the couple divorced.
When Wilson told Anastasi about his previous criminal conviction and assured Anastasi that his criminal behaviour was over, on March 3 1986 they married. Within months, Anastasi became pregnant. Phew. Wilson never got tired. After the baby was born, Wilson took out a life insurance policy on his infant son. Weird.
Garrett Michael Wilson
The Wilson’s son was named Garett Michael after his father. Anastasi noticed her husband was always at work and was seldom home when his son was born. He didn’t seem to bond with his little boy. Genetic counsellors assured had Anastasi that SIDS wasn’t hereditary and the likelihood that it would happen again was extremely remote. August 27 1987, baby Garrett awoke and cried for his bottle. For the first time since the child was born, Wilson attended to the child. Suddenly Anastasi heard Wilson gasp but she didn’t approach the baby’s room. “He didn’t say anything was wrong.” Eventually she went to baby Garrett’s room and discovered her son wasn’t breathing and had foam around his mouth. Anastasi screamed “Garrett what did you do to him?”
At the hospital Anastasi insisted she wanted to speak to doctors about her concerns regarding her husband, but “he was with me every moment, I couldn’t get away from him.” Baby Garrett was pronounced dead. Anastasi told her sister-in-law “he did it.” Wilsons family attributed her shocking statement to her grief. The autopsy revealed that the infant died due to sleep apnea – a condition where an infant simply stops breathing. Hold the phone. Sleep apnea is very easy to fake with an infant. Holding a pillow gently over a baby’s face will suffocate a baby without leaving signs of a struggle. At that time, sleep apnea was thought to be the leading cause of SIDS however and the police didn’t investigate the baby’s death.
Life (insurance) Goes On
Anastasi joined a support group for parents whose infants had died of SIDS. The facilitator assured her that Garrett Michael was a textbook example of SIDS. She urged Anastasi to accept the diagnosis and move forward with her life. At that time it was almost heresy to believe that a SIDS death could be a homicide. Anastasi finally accepted this advice and she remained in the marriage.
One night Wilson returned home with a paper bag filled with $50,000.00 in cash. He explained it was the settlement for the infant’s life insurance policy. Anastasi was thrilled and didn’t question him about it. She and Wilson spent all of the money together, including using some of it for a down payment on a house. Now that’s just a little weird.
By 1990 Wilson was spending well beyond his means. Debt collectors began hounding the couple and Anastasi’s family offered them money to prevent the bank from foreclosing on their house. However by the year’s end Wilson was unemployed and they filed for bankruptcy. Wilson took a series of sales jobs during the next three years in three different states. His jobs kept him away from home for long periods at a time. Uh-oh. You know that can’t be good. Anastasi finally left Wilson and returned to Maryland, hoping he would join her. Instead Wilson filed for divorce. He gave the court a false address for his wife and the divorce was completed without her participation. “Don’t worry we’ll still see each other,” Wilson assured her. Anastasi agreed. What she didn’t know was that Wilson was now married to another woman named Vicky Wampler. They had a healthy 10-month-old child, Marissa.
After receiving numerous messages on her answering machine from Anastasi to Wilson, Wampler contacted Anastasi and revealed the truth about her life with Wilson. Anastasi warned her to protect her child from Wilson. Wampler believed “I think that Missy was very angry about losing the man she had loved, worshipped, obsessed herself with three years.” In the summer of 1994 Anastasi decided to pursue her suspicions about Wilson and their infant’s death. Her private investigator contacted Wilson’s first wife Debbie Oliver, who burst into tears and said “oh my God he killed that woman’s baby too didn’t he?” Wilson had also taken out life insurance on Brandi Jean, his second infant. This insurance agent commented, “I’ve always wondered when this day would come.” If you’re counting, Wilson has by now had four children with four women, two of the children living. Busy boy.
In 1995 police initiated an investigation into Garrett Michael Wilson’s death. The prosecutor, David Boynton wondered “why didn’t this woman call the police seven or eight years ago?” He was troubled by the circumstantial evidence. Montgomery County authorities travelled to Texas for Wilson’s story. Wampler was astounded and “I guess I thought that how can anybody in their right mind believe a woman who decided that a man killed her child six years after the fact.” Wampler knew that Wilson committed the occasional infidelity but refused to believe he was a killer. Wilson told people that Anastasi had never accepted their son’s death and she was envious of his new life with Wampler and their 2-year-old daughter. He admitted he had taken out a life insurance policy on baby Garrett for $100,000.00. Police now became suspicious of Wilson’s role in the infant’s death.
The investigation continued but at times it stonewalled. By late 1996, authorities still had no answers. Anastasi wrote a letter to U.S. Senator Janet Reno, an advocate for child victims. The Justice department responded and referred Anastasi to Ingrid Horton. Horton met with prosecutors and police revealed they believed Garrett’s death was a murder. Horton contacted forensic pathologist Linda Norton about SIDS. Norton believed SIDS was masquerading too many baby deaths. Norton was immediately suspicious about Wilson when she learned he’d already lost a child to SIDS. “The day he does decide to take care of the child, the child dies.” The local coroner investigated the former records for Garrett’s autopsy and changed the manner of death to homicide.
The Arrest and Trial
On May 13, 1998, Wilson was arrested by the Montgomery County Police Department for Garrett Michael’s murder. Nine police cars filled with officers converged upon his in-law’s house. Wampler wondered, “what has he done now?” In July 1999, the trial began in Montgomery County. It was big news. The state allowed prosecutors to tell the jury about Brandi Jean, despite the fact that he wasn’t on trial for her death. They claimed Wilson killed his children to “satisfy his spending habits.” They also claimed he had the opportunity to kill both babies. Anastasi told the court that she went to feed her cats before she checked on baby Garrett after she heard him cry out. The defense portrayed her as a scorned woman whom Wilson had divorced to marry someone else. Anastasi insisted she was simply worried about his children and “I wanted him to be stopped.” Prosecutor Douglas Gansler told the jury that “the chances of more than one child dying of SIDS in the same family is 1 in 4 million.”
After two weeks, Garrett Wilson was found guilty of first degree murder by a jury of his peers. Wilson went into shock. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Was justice served in this case? I believe the case of Brandi Jean shouldn’t have been included in this trial as he wasn’t on trial for her murder. I believe only Garrett Michael’s death should have been tried by the court. The fact that there had been a previous crib death impacted greatly on the jury. Wilson should be allowed an appeal and a re-trial.