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HOLMBERG: Teen killer’s mom talks about what went wrong 21 years ago

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – It was a natural birth. A smooth one.

Back then – 36 years ago – 18-year-old Yvonne Anderson looked down at the healthy, sweet face of her firstborn child and marveled.

But within just few years, a different kind of wonder dawned.

“I think she was born kind of not right,” Yvonne Anderson said of her little girl, who grew up to become one of the most unusual and brutal killers in recent Richmond history.

Caroline Cooke

Caroline Cooke

The story of Monique Anderson has largely been a mystery since she broke into the Kensington Avenue home of 71-year-old hospital volunteer Caroline Cooke on January 21, 1993.

Monique Anderson as a teenager

Monique Anderson as a teenager

Monique had celebrated her 15th birthday just four days earlier.

“I think Monique snapped,” Yvonne said. “When the lady came in – Mrs. Cooke came in – and caught her in the house, Mrs. Cooke tried to hold her and she just snapped.”

The bludgeoning death was so staggering, one longtime former member of the homicide squad called it the worst crime scene of his career. The judge in the case said it defied human understanding.

Mrs. Cooke’s blood was in three rooms. She was covered with lacerations and contusions all over her body. Her ribs had been shattered, her internal organs damaged, according to her autopsy report. The broomstick she had been sexually assaulted with remained inside of her.

Investigators believed it must’ve been a man behind the damage.

Monique Anderson age 5

Monique Anderson age 5

Yvonne Anderson said her daughter’s mental condition became fairly clear by the time she was five. She put a neighbor’s cat in a fish tank, along with other acts of violence and aggression. “We had her in an and out of counseling since she was four or five.”

Monique stayed in a variety of facilities for troubled youths. She was diagnosed with a severe mental problems and was given a variety of medications.

“I found out later in life it could take some years to get the cocktail right,” Yvonne Anderson said. “I just don’t believe they ever got Monique’s cocktail right.”

She does not try to minimize her daughter’s crimes, which included entering many other strangers’ homes to steal. During our interview, Yvonne Anderson made it a point to clearly apologize to Mrs. Cooke’s family.

But she believes Monique didn’t get the significant care and follow-through she desperately needed back then because she was a poor African-American girl from the projects.

She also believes Monique got a long prison sentence – totaling, in essence, 55 years – for the same reason. She notes, accurately, that both Monique’s court appointed lawyer as well as the prosecutor argued the girl was insane and belonged in a mental hospital.

Yvonne Anderson said the judge was white, the victim was white and Monique got sent to prison for something she did as a certifiably unstable black juvenile.

The prosecutor at the time, Claire Cardwell, said Monique’s judicial downfall was that she came across as conniving, street-wise and extremely dangerous. That crime scene couldn’t be dismissed.

Court testimony indicated that Monique suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. But Yvonne Anderson insists she didn’t drink a drop while she was pregnant with Monique. She went along with that defense strategy, she told me, because Monique’s attorney told them it could help the girl’s chances in court – that she was damaged through no fault of her own.

There’s no question the girl was damaged. But her mother says she has no idea why. She said she’s certain that Monique didn’t suffer any physical or sexual abuse in their home as a little girl, or later.

Monique has spent a good bit of time in prison in isolation – “in the hole,” she said. She said she believed her daughter prefers it that way.

But she hasn’t gotten the help she desperately needs, Yvonne Anderson said.

“The Department of Correction has had Monique longer than I had her in my custody. Y’all have had her for 18 years and y’all haven’t been able to do (anything).”

Monique’s younger sister, Sheree Anderson, said they fully realize Monique took a life. “She was only 15. Yes, you should know right from wrong at that age . . . But in her state of mind, she probably didn’t know what was right or what was wrong . . . she was 15 years old.”

She certainly won’t get better being locked up in the hole, Sheree Anderson added.

Had Monique been ruled not guilty by reason of insanity, there wouldn’t be the state oversight and control over her release date via the parole board, said both Mrs. Cooke’s daughter and one of her neighbors.

Former next-door-neighbor Beth Damerel asked how much faith should she have in the mental health system that failed Monique – and Mrs. Cooke – 21 years ago.

But if Monique had been judged to be criminally insane and a danger to society, she could be held for the rest of her life – if there was a secure place for her.

But in the prison system, she’ll eventually serve all of her time. She’s been up for parole – and turned down – several times she first became eligible seven years ago. Her current parole hearing is still being decided. It’s unlikely she’ll get out any time soon.

Yvonne Anderson said the once-sweet little girl she gave birth to all those years ago will never get better where she is now.

“So when it’s time for her to be coming home for real,” asked her mom, “what are you going to do then?”