Truly Sick: Was Child Killer Melissa Huckaby Just Trying to get Some Attention?

photo of convicted child killer melissa huckaby in court crying

Melissa Huckaby has pled guilty and faces life in prison for the senseless murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu of Tracy, California a year ago.  What has long been baffling about this story is why Huckaby, whose daughter was a friend of the little girl’s, strangled Sandra to death after sexually assaulting her with a rolling pin.  The latest theory?  A disorder called Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome.

From People:

Such behavior has a name: Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, a form of child abuse, in which a person harms somebody else, often children, for attention. The prosecutor in the case noted that Huckaby’s daughter may also have fallen victim: the child had a history of being sick and in need of hospital care way too often.

“There were 20 or so times that Melissa cut herself, set fires, or verbally or psychologically attacked someone else, such as a roommate,” says Deputy District Attorney Thomas Tesla. “And there was something like that going on here (after the murder), where she wanted to be the center of attention.”

This is just … sick.  It’s horrible enough to harm children because you are angry or tired or frustrated or drunk or whatever.  I have never laid an angry hand on either of my kids (and it’s not like I’m on some moral high ground here, by the way—I’m just blessed with very well-behaved children), but there have been moments where I could understand where people would.  I think of it as a perfect storm—you lose your job, you go out and get drunk, you get a DWI on the way home, your kids have fed your Delmonico to the dog, and you snap.  Is it right?  No.  Never.  But I can see theoretically how it could happen.  Hurting kids to get attention?  I cannot fathom it.

Evidently Huckaby’s actions following the crime brought the spotlight directly on her.  And evidently this is just what she wanted …

The day 8-year-old Sandra Cantu disappeared from a Tracy, Calif., mobile-home park, Melissa Huckaby sent a text message to the child’s mother.

“Tell the police that I had something stolen today around 4 p.m.,” Huckaby texted to Maria Chavez on March 27, 2009. “I don’t know if that makes a difference or not.”

That stolen item turned out to be an Eddie Bauer suitcase that contained Cantu’s body, the victim of a brutal sexual assault and murder.

Now, with thousands of pages of previously sealed documents released and the lifting of a gag order, authorities are offering a theory: The bizarre text message and Huckaby’s subsequent strange behavior suggested she killed the child in an attempt to attract attention to herself.

The text message was just one clue. Also, the day after Sandra disappeared, Huckaby was hysterical and hyperventilating as she went to police to say she had found a note on lined notebook paper.

The misspelled message stated Sandra’s body was locked in a stolen suitcase thrown in water at Bacchetti and Whitehall roads. “I wonder if she wanted to be the one who solved the case by finding the note,” Tesla suggests.

Investigators thought it unusual that a woman who reported losing a suitcase “should be the one woman out of everyone in this complex who should happen to find a note that reports that the stolen suitcase was used to hide the child’s body,” FBI Special Agent Michael Conrad would testify in the grand jury, according to transcripts.

So text messages, missing suitcases, and found notes.  Wow, Melissa Huckaby, just … wow.

During an April 6 search of Huckaby’s home after the suitcase was recovered, FBI agents found a notebook with “Cute but psycho. Things will even out” printed on the cover. On the pages they found indentations matching the letters from the note.

“It didn’t take an FBI expert to figure this out,” Tesla says. “She has a distinctive way of writing certain letters. You can compare it to her known handwriting… and tell as a layperson that they’re written by the same person.”

Huckaby confessed in the face of all this, but her confession was based around Sandra Cantu getting into the suitcase for a game, ultimately suffocating accidentally.  She stated at her sentencing, that little Sandra Cantu “didn’t suffer. I didn’t sexually molest her.”

But, Tesla contends, forensic evidence offers a grimmer version of the crime: Huckaby took Cantu to her grandfather’s nearby church, sexually molested her with a rolling pin, strangled her and stuffed her into the suitcase in a snug fetal position that Cantu couldn’t have squeezed into on her own. Huckaby then tossed the suitcase into an agricultural ditch that stunk so badly of manure that searchers couldn’t retrieve the suitcase until it eventually floated to the surface.

I used to be really into Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels.  Dr. Delaware is a child psychologist who’s best friends with an openly gay LAPD detective named Milo Sturgis and gets involved in solving murders as a result.  The book that struck me the hardest was called Devil’s Waltz, and it’s about a little girl who is constantly sick … and the increasing suspicion of both Delaware and Sturgis that she’s a victim of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome at the hands of her mother.  I remember being so relieved that it was a work of fiction; even though I knew it was a real psychological condition, the book pages made it far away.

This is close, and it’s making me sick to my stomach.  I’m an infamous pacifist; I abhor violence of any sort.  However, if Melissa Huckaby was anywhere nearby, I’d probably be in jail tomorrow.  For me, that’s saying a lot.  And while Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome might be an explanation, it is no excuse … and it certainly didn’t come out of the clear blue sky based on reports of her self-mutilation, penchant for setting fires, and having a child that needed far more medical care than a kid her age should have.

Where the hell were the people around Melissa Huckaby that could have noticed what a twisted woman she was?  Could something have been done that would allow Sandra Cantu to be alive today?



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24 thoughts on “Truly Sick: Was Child Killer Melissa Huckaby Just Trying to get Some Attention?

  1. Wow, this is kind of heavy for Zelda Lilly don’t you think? I mean this is a feminist site, lots of women with trigger issues here. At least throw in a trigger warning, can’t have your audience freaking out. As for your question, probably not. It is my opinion that the range of acceptable behavior (what won’t get you locked up) is a lot broader than people like to admit. Also, there is no master list of what a person does. If someone questioned all of a persons friends, coworkers and family for any unusual or suspicious behavior they would get a very dark picture of just about anyone. But it would be misleading, there are extenuating circumstances, but then again the person could be a monster.

  2. People like that have no empathy for anyone other than themselves. It is the ultimate in selfishness. Other people are merely pawns in their game to get what they want. And they will take the game to extremes most other people can not even fathom. If this woman would somehow get more attention and approval by admitting to what she did, she would be admitting it. But from what I’ve heard inmates aren’t very, shall we say, “nice” to child molesters and killers in their midst. And those of us on the outside are, at the very least, repulsed by her. Even as a person who likes to think she looks at things rationally, I think that there is some behavior that just defies any diagnosis or explanation. I think the only way to describe Melissa Huckaby properly is “evil”.

  3. I don’t think that most people can wrap their minds around the idea that a friend or family member could be this evil. It’s only in hindsight that all of the pieces start to come together.

    The only positive thing to come out of this is that this Huckaby woman essentially solved the case for the police.

    Hopefully, she will die very quickly in prison. Call me cold, but anyone that harms a child is like a rabid animal and should be put down.

    • When I heard about the basis for the movie,Slumdog Millionaire,and the fact that people actually blind and mutilate poverty stricken children,I couldn’t sleep that night. Still don’t like to think about it.

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  5. I’d be interested in reading all documents about this case, but only if it were fiction like the novel you read.

    I don’t understand these individuals nor do I ever want to. The whole case is sad and disgusting.

  6. This is not the real killer. Poor girl’s real killer/s is/are out there, running free. MELISSA is just a scapegoat. This shit is stinkier than u think. Have u ever heard about ritual sacrifice? SANDRA was such a victim. There are countless and most of them disguised as “usual” murders. Enuff to distract sheeple’s attentions. JON BENET RAMSEY was another.

  7. xyz periodically posts trollish-bordering-on-insane comments.

    I’ve actually become used to it and sometimes have to fight the urge to pat it on it’s pointy little troll head.

    ‘Cause it’s all trolly and mean and stuff. It wears one of those miniature violet pleather jackets and sports a schnauzer-like beard and ‘stache.

    Simply trolladorable.

  8. The last paragraph of the People article might help answer your questions:

    – In the first few days of the investigation, detectives assumed the killer was a man. They trailed local sex offenders and investigated their alibis. Says Tesla: “We thought there was no way a woman would do these things.”

    So maybe she would have been perceived as dangerous or threatening if she were male. Maybe she would have raised more suspicion?

    You know, before I had my daughter, I could read stories like this and think “Oh how awful, what a beast”. Now, without even consciously putting myself in Sandra’s mom’s shoes, I am physically moved by this story. I feel my eyes well up and my stomach twist. For me it’s not unbelievable that a woman could do this. It is, however, unbearable to know that a mother could do this.

        • Puf, do you have inside information that the rest of us don’t about this case? Because it hasn’t gone to trial yet, and the results of 3 autopsies showed nothing.

          Any woman who has lost 5 kids to SIDS or any other reason would be emotionally fragile and easy prey to an intimidating publicity driven prosecutor.

          There is some kind of system built into most women in regards to their children. No matter what happens, even if you never voice it – you feel at fault.

          You feel completely responsible.

          If they fall and get a bloody nose because they tripped over a rug, you blame yourself because you put the rug there.

          If they flunk a spelling test, you feel bad for either passing along bad spelling genes or for not helping them study for the test.

          Let therm go on a ski trip and they break a leg? You should have insisted on lessons.

          They wreck a car and end up in the ER? You never should have let them have such a powerful vehicle.

          It goes on and on and on. Just because it isn’t rational doesn’t make it go away.

          If I lost 5 kids, I would most definitely be in a mental hospital. That has to do something to you.

          Smothering another human being leaves very obvious, tell tale marks. She could have possibly gotten away with one, even two – but 5? At some point, the medical examiner would start to wonder. I am positive that SOMEONE involved in this case took the time to simply open the child’s eyes and look at the sclera. Petechiae would be present. Very simple, very obvious.

          And Puf? 47 is old?
          I pity you.

        • A woman’s psychotic behavior is often overlooked (if Melissa hadn’t basically sent a notarized letter saying “I did it” she would never have been suspected. If she hadn’t plead guilty they would have had a hell of a time convicting her…. If you see a man smashing a car with a baseball bat you call the cops, you see a woman doing the same thing people gather around and cheer.

  9. Not to justify or downplay the implications or repercussions of the murder on the involved, but it is important to remember the nature of psychological illness. At times, individuals commit acts that they are — in their own mindset– incapable of preventing or unable to keep themselves from carrying out. The impulsivity of Munchausen’s and the overall effects and symptoms of the illness should be remembered. Neglect of the psychological component, and blatant accusation of the involved — without a significant understanding of the disease — is ignorant and does nothing to assuage the tragedy of the murder.

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