The deaths connected to Debbie Fornuto involve SIDS. Because of this, I had to reach out to a forensic coroner I know and get some help, because after initially looking into this case, I was willing to say it was tragic, except the murder of her husband. I was convinced if Debbie had suffocated her children, it would have shown up in an autopsy – meaning I thought Debbie might have been blamed for something beyond her control (having never had children myself, SIDS isn’t something I know a lot about). I was told I was correct, suffocation leaves bruises, fibers get inhaled into the throat, and fingertips get bruised from clawing at the person or object covering their mouth and face. And then he told me, it was possible to kill someone, especially an infant without leaving marks and he even described a situation in which a four year old child came into his work space and the body didn’t have a single bruise on it. A few hairs were found in the kid’s throat, but no fibers. But healthy four-year-olds don’t die of SIDS, something had to have happened to the kid. Eventually, police figured out the boy’s mother, took extraordinary measures to smother the child and she didn’t apply pressure to his mouth and nose (which is where and why bruising occurs during suffocation). I got the nitty-gritty details of the child’s death, but decided not to share them here because they were extraordinary and most people wouldn’t think of them on their own.
“Poor Debbie, it’s such a tragedy” A neighbor said after paramedics left Debbie Fornuto’s house in the fall of 1972. Debbie called paramedics after she found her five-month old daughter Denise not breathing during nap time. Doctors attributed Denise’s death to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and it was ruled natural causes.
Some have said the death of Denise pushed Debbie over the edge. Some believe Debbie is responsible for the death of her first baby. What we do know for sure is that from 1972 to 1989, is that death seemed to follow Debbie around. Five of her children would die before their first birthday, one would live until he was two-years-old. And her husband would be murdered in 1989.
Debbie would not be charged in any of these deaths, not even her husband’s murder. All the children’s deaths would be listed as SIDS related deaths, even the death of two-year-old Delos Jr. (which is almost outside the age frame for a SIDS death). The deaths of her children would put a strain on all of Debbie’s marriages and it would be her in-laws that would tip authorities that something wasn’t right about the situation after the death of her sixth child Daniel. However, no evidence could ever be found and even with an autopsy they could not figure out how she was killing them in such a way as to mimic SIDS.
Because death followed Debbie’s children, it put a real strain on her marriages and she was married and divorced twice before meeting Delos Gedzius. Delos and Debbie would have three children, before Delos Sr was murdered. The last two children Debbie had were put on monitors that sounded an alarm when they stopped breathing. With Daniel Gedzius she said she put the monitor on him and left for work. When she returned, the alarm was screaming and her husband was “drunk and passed out in the living room.” She blamed him for Daniel’s death. The marriage dissolved.
As Debbie and Delos finalized their divorce, they often met for dinner. During one of these dinners they got into an argument that bothered Delos enough he called and told his family. However, both Debbie and Delos had left the restaurant just fine and gotten back home. It was 1990 and Delos was renting an apartment. A few days later, police arrived at Delos’s apartment to find he’d been shot to death the night before. The murder is still unsolved and there are no suspects. Debbie died in a car accident in 2002. At the time of her death, they were still investigating the deaths of her six children and the murder of her husband Delos.
As with most cases where the suspect has died, there are a lot of mixed stories about Debbie and her reaction to the deaths of her children. She was described as inconsolable after the deaths by a lot of people. A few women said that pregnancy and birth was brutal on Debbie, but it was the 1970s and 1980s and postpartum depression wasn’t a “medical diagnosis” yet, let alone something like “postpartum psychosis”. Neither of these would join the lexicon until the 1990s. Mothers who weren’t dealing well with their hormones after birth were basically told to suck it up and get on with mothering. So what if they were a little blue? Women have been having children for millenia and that was just how it was.
The person I asked about this was pretty sure that some mental illness was at play. I was leaning towards Munchausen’s. But she was leaning towards postpartum psychosis, because of the ages of the babies. Postpartum psychosis can last for as long as two years after giving birth, especially if not treated (and as I’ve already pointed out, it was the 1970s and 1980s). We all know pregnancy does things to our bodies. We gain weight, we eat for two, our hormones go super wonky as our bodies flood themselves with estrogen, progesterone, and testerone, as well as endorphins and hormones that influence our appetite and diet. After giving birth, these things do not just magically return to pre-pregnancy norms. And there is actually a “norm” for post-birth hormone fluctuations within moms and it can vary based on things like breastfeeding, returning to birth control, as well as exercise and diet, plus there’s hormones associated with the sleep deprivation experienced by every single new parent on the planet. Doctors in the mid-2000s found that even some men suffer from postpartum depression, as they struggle to a return to life postpartum and deal with sleep deprivation and not just men who battle sympathetic pregnancy symptoms (known as Couvade Syndrome).
Denise was 5 months old, Jennifer was 4 months old, Barbara was six months old, Jason was twelve months old, Delos was two years old, and Daniel was just 10 weeks old. Postpartum depression doesn’t just affect women who are mentally ill before getting pregnant. It can happen to any woman. Its deadlier counterpart postpartum psychosis has the same impact, a woman does not need to be mentally ill before pregnancy to experience postpartum psychosis. Both last longer if a woman is breastfeeding because the body ensures the hormones continue to flow so that breast milk will be produced and released. And it’s not uncommon for women who experience postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis to breastfeed for longer than women who don’t, because the hormones that the body produces to ensure breastfeeding is possible makes the woman “feel a little better.” My expert felt that even in the case of Jason who was two years old, postpartum psychosis could still have played its part in his death, because its not completely uncommon for women to have hormone imbalances for long periods of time after giving birth, especially as mentioned above if they are breastfeeding.
I mention all of this, because it seems possible that if postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis had been recognized things in the 1970s and 1980s, these deaths may not have happened. And the psychiatrist I talked to about it agreed. Now, I can’t prove that Debbie Fortuno had postpartum psychosis or Munchausen’s Syndrome, but it is plausible. Furthermore, it may have just been a case where Debbie didn’t really want kids, but her husbands did and so she kept having them and this was the her way of unencumbering herself of her children. Or as it was pointed out to me on another post, she may have just been “evil.”
I tried to do background research on Debbie, and her life before the death of her first child was pretty blank. There just wasn’t information out there about it. I run into this most when a person’s childhood and teen years are incredibly normal. People are more willing to offer up childhood traumas and things than “it was just average” when dealing with murder suspects. Because of this, I suspect Debbie had a rather banal childhood and was a typical teen for the 1950s and 1960s. She wasn’t running around with motorcycle clubs and experimenting with LSD while sacrificing cats to Satan after having an alcoholic father who beat the crap out of her and her siblings a few times a week in other words.
Not every woman who kills is mentally ill, but mental illness in women is far less studied than mental illness in men, especially when it comes to “female” mental illnesses like postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, and Munchausen’s Syndrome. Whereas, schizophrenia which is very rare in women, has massive amounts of funding behind its research and we understand it better. Yet, the treatments for postpartum depression and psychosis which are both mental illnesses with physical triggers could be treated and cured better than schizophrenia.