On 17 March 2016, the events of a classic urban legend became a real-life news story when a Texas woman was arrested after reportedly putting her two-year-old daughter in an oven. According to local reports, Tasha Hatcher was charged with first-degree felony injury to a child (who was burned over more than two-thirds of her body but is expected to live):
According to a statement released by Somervell County Sheriff Greg Doyle, deputies responded around 11:45 p.m. to a home in Glen Rose after receiving the report of a child who had been burned.
Witnesses explained to deputies that a woman, later identified as 34-year-old Tasha Shontelle Hatcher, told them she had put her baby in the oven, Doyle said.
The child was taken to a hospital in Fort Worth before being transported by air ambulance to the Parkland Memorial Hospital Burn Center in Dallas. Texas Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marissa Gonzales said the child has been taken into their custody and will be placed in foster care when released from the hospital.
Hatcher was arraigned on 19 March 2016, with her bond set at $300,000. Two days later, the Dallas Morning News reported that that Hatcher may have been under the influence of drugs at the time, including the synthetic recreational drug K2. Local child welfare officials also said that Hatcher was thought to be under the influence of methamphetamine, and a detective asserted she had tested positive for other intoxicating substances:
While talking with a Somervell County deputy, Hatcher kept “singing to God and giving praise to him,” and she also made sexual comments to the deputy and lunged at him, according to the affidavit.
She later told the deputy that she shot a cat and placed it in the oven before putting the girl in the oven. Hatcher was taken to the Glen Rose emergency room before being booked into the jail for a medical evaluation. There, she continued acting inappropriately and sexually, but did not ask about her child or what happened, the affidavit states.
A family services official stated in an affidavit that Hatcher used methamphetamine before she placed her daughter in the oven and that she wasn’t coherent or rational when she was found. The affidavit also states there was no evidence she had taken K2 except that she talked about it when she was arrested. A sheriff’s detective said Hatcher also tested positive for marijuana and alcohol at the hospital, the DFPS affidavit for removal states.
The incident in Glen Rose was notable in part because of its resemblance to a long-circulating urban legend of similar description. Roughly around the time women began entering the workforce in larger numbers in the 1960s and the “drug culture” rose to prominence, a popular tale began to be spread of a “hippie babysitter” who, while “tripping” on drugs,
placed the infant left in her charge into an oven, believing it to be a turkey. The earliest versions of this legend didn’t involve the use of mind-altering substances, but as the 1960s-era counterculture sparked increased concern over recreational drug use, the story evolved to serve as a warning about the dangers of unvetted caregivers and the irresponsible use of psychedelics. The original version of the legend appeared to be a criticism of women who abdicated their wifely duties (namely child care) in pursuit of work outside the home and recreation. (When the details of a decades-old piece of lore play out in the real world, that phenomenon falls under the folkloric definition of “ostension.”)
In 1999 and 2005, children were killed in separate documented instances involving microwave ovens, both victims having been placed in the microwaves by their own mothers (not babysitters), and neither case reportedly involving drugs. In one incident, family members speculated that the mother’s epileptic seizures possibly led her into a “confused state” during which she unwittingly killed her child.
Other examples of ostension include a lighter urban legend involving plumbing problems discovered to result from a pipe clogged with condoms (even though the man of the house didn’t use them), a darker case describing a neglected horse whose feckless owner hauled it in a run-down trailer until the poor animal was maimed beyond rescue, and a grimly humorous tale relaying the plight of an elderly patient who was improperly secured to a gurney.