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Eliminating the Burdens: The Staudte Family Murders


            Diane and Mark Staudte were raising their four children in the city of Springfield, Missouri. Diane worked as a nurse, while Mark was a musician and the primary caretaker for the couple’s children. In 2012, however, a series of events lead to tragedy and heartbreak. Mark passed away from what was thought to be natural causes, probably a heart attack, his family believed. Only months later, the couple’s son passed away. Lightning struck twice, but it became apparent that something suspicious was happening when another of the Staudte children became gravely ill the following year. When the truth was revealed, the community of Springfield, Missouri was shocked and devastated.

            Mark Staudte met Diane Richter, a nursing student, in the early 1980s. The couple fell in love and married. Diane finished her degree and began working as a nurse. Meanwhile, Mark was a frontman for a band. Diane gave birth to the couple’s son, Shaun, on July 2nd, 1985. The couple went on to have three more children, all daughters. Sarah and Rachel were born in 1988 and 1990. The couple’s fourth child, Brianna, was born in 2001. Diane worked as a nurse and was the family’s breadwinner. Mark dabbled in his music but was primarily a caretaker for the Staudte children.



            Shortly after Shaun was born in 1985, he began having seizures. He was later diagnosed with autism as well. He required special care even as he became a young adult. Sarah began college in her twenties, but she struggled significantly. Rachel was the exception, as she excelled in school and college. She was the “golden child” and Diane Staudte’s favorite. Diane eventually stopped working in patient care and started a job for an insurance company, allowing her more time with her family. Following her job change, Diane became more involved in her church as well.

            In the early days of 2012, Sean posted several odd comments on his Facebook page. While the twenty-six-year-old was known to have special needs, the posts were disturbing and cryptic.





 



 









 

            On April 8th, 2012, Diane and her children attended church. Mark had not felt well, so he stayed home. As you can tell from Shaun’s posts, Mark appeared to be having neurological symptoms in the previous days. When Diane and the kids came home, they found Mark Staudte dead in his bed. A medical examiner ruled the death of natural causes. Mark’s brother assumed that Mark had a heart attack or a stroke as a result of a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle. It was not a stretch to believe that the sixty-one-year-old had died of natural causes. Diane received a small insurance settlement after Mark’s death.



            Tragically, the family’s grief was compounded by the death of Mark’s mother, who passed away in Harrisburg, Illinois in August of 2012. The following month, just five months after Mark’s death, Shaun Staudte was found dead in his home. Shaun was found unresponsive with a ring of blood around his mouth. Doctors believed that Shaun had a seizure, and his death was related to his underlying medical conditions. The Staudte family had been through hell.



            Diane continued living with her three daughters and caring for them. Rachel was doing well in college and continued to be her mother’s favorite. The youngest of the Staudte girls was just in middle school. Sarah Staudte had graduated college but was having trouble securing a job. Sarah’s student loans were coming due, however, adding additional stress to Diane who had always been responsible for providing for the family.

            In June of 2013, Diane called 911 to report something was wrong with her twenty-three-year-old daughter Sarah. Sarah was having flu-like symptoms, much like Mark Staudte had prior to his death. Once at the hospital, Sarah was admitted to the ICU and found to be in multi-organ failure. Staff at the hospital began to be suspicious of Diane. As her daughter was near death in the ICU, Diane announced that she had a scheduled vacation that she planned to enjoy regardless of her daughter’s condition.

            While Sarah fought for her life, police in Springfield, Missouri, received an anonymous tip. The tipster expressed concern that Sarah Staudte had possibly been poisoned and that Mark and Shaun’s death may also be related. Mark and Shaun had both been cremated the year prior, but there were blood and tissue samples from Shaun’s autopsy still available. Detectives quietly began to investigate the illness of Sarah and deaths of Mark and Shaun.

            Testing on Shaun’s tissue and blood samples showed the presence of ethylene glycol- the main ingredient in antifreeze. Police now believed that Shaun and Mark had both been poisoned. The investigators found a journal written by Rachel that seemed to predict the deaths of her father, brother, and sister. Was Rachel responsible for the deaths of her brother and father and illness of her sister? Police wanted to find out, so they brought Diane and Rachel in for questioning.

            Rachel finally admitted that she and her mother had planned the deaths of Mark, Shaun, and Sarah. Diane confessed as well, insisting that Rachel was innocent and had nothing to do with the crimes. Diane stated that “I didn’t know what else to do. I really didn’t”. She explained to investigators that she hated her husband. She felt he was not contributing to the household, and he had a bad temper. She said that her autistic son would follow her around and not leave her alone. He had become a burden in her life, so she researched how to kill someone with antifreeze. Diane went on to say that Shaun was “beyond a pest”.

            On June 21st, 2013, Diane Staudte was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of armed criminal action. The following day, Rachel Staudte was charged with the same two counts of murder and one count of armed criminal action. The community, particularly the church that the Staudte family had been members of, were stunned to learn how cold and callous Diane and Rachel had been. A mother killed her own child and her husband. She attempted to kill another of her children, Sarah, stating that Sarah was not finding a job or contributing to the household. As sickening as this case already is, Rachel and Diane had also planned to kill the nine-year-old girl after Sarah, citing her learning disabilities as motive.

            Faced with their confessions, the forensic evidence, and Rachel’s diary detailing the planning of the murders, Rachel Staudte accepted a plea deal. She agreed to testify against her mother in exchange for reducing her charges to two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault. She was sentenced to life in prison plus twenty years. She is currently housed at the Women’s East Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.

            Rachel never had to testify, however. Diane entered a Alford plea, admitting that there was enough evidence to convict her but not admitting responsibility for the crime. She was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in 2016. She is currently housed at the Chillicothe Correctional Center in Chillicothe, Missouri. Rachel and Diane are both appealing their convictions and sentences. Diane now claims that her confession was coerced, and she is innocent of any wrongdoing. Brianna was placed in foster care, and it is believed that her name was changed to protect her.

            Sarah Staudte miraculously survived her poisoning and recovered. She had permanent neurological deficits as a result of her attempted murder. She resides in an assisted living center because she requires assistance with her activities of daily living. She has forgiven her mother and sister but is not in contact with them.

            Being a parent is stressful. Being a parent of a special needs child is even more stressful. Diane Staudte was the breadwinner with three out of four of her children having learning disabilities. I can imagine the stress and pressure she was under was enormous. That being said, it’s still unfathomable that a mother could kill her own children for “being a burden”.

 

 



References

Snapped (2017) “Diane Staudte” Season 20 Episode 9- available on Peacock streaming

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