When the Bough Breaks 

Elizabeth Lynn Faber was ignored by California's mental-health system -- until she killed her baby

Wednesday, Mar 8 2000
EARLY IN THE MORNING ON SEPTEMBER 6, 1997, ELIZABETH LYNN FABER APPROACHED THE DESK AT THE Hollywood YWCA, where she'd been living for the past five months, and announced that she'd be moving out. She'd put her 4-day-old son, Zelazo, up for adoption, she said, and friends would come by later to pick up her stuff. The receptionist, Heidi Beck, noticed nothing unusual about Faber's demeanor -- if anything, she seemed a little more upbeat -- but she did find it odd that an agency had been willing to take a newborn so abruptly on a Saturday. So after Faber left, Beck called her supervisor, Linda Burch.

"Did you know Elizabeth Faber was moving out today?" she asked.

"No," said Burch. "Where's her baby?"

"That's the strange thing," Beck said. "I haven't seen him all morning."

Related Stories

Thinking Faber had left the infant behind, Beck arranged to search her room. She found books on prenatal health and baby care, toys and clothes -- all the evidence of a dedicated new mom -- but no baby. Then Beck remembered something: Earlier that day, Faber had come down to the desk carrying a large plastic bag and had asked for the keys to the dumpster. Beck called Burch again. This time, she asked her to send someone to help her search the trash.

Accompanied by Beck, custodian Barry Lockhart poked around in the garbage with a stick until he hit something soft inside a plastic bag. He pulled it out. Beck refused to look, so Lockhart enlisted a man walking by to witness him opening the bag. Inside, he found Zelazo's body wrapped in newspaper and plastic bags. On the baby's right side under his ribs, Lockhart noticed what looked like a stab wound.

Zelazo Faber was officially pronounced dead at 2 that afternoon. The coroner's report named stabbing and possible asphyxiation as causes of death. The coroner also noted that the baby's stomach contained partially digested formula. Shortly before his death, he had been fed.

In the meantime, Elizabeth Faber had taken the bus to Santa Monica, where she called her sister-in-law and best friend since college, Rachelle Murway, from the Santa Monica Place food court. Unaware that the police were waiting at the house with Rachelle and Elizabeth's brother, Jonathan, Elizabeth asked whether someone could come to pick her up. Murway sent the police.

AT THE TIME OF HER ARREST, 24-YEAR-OLD ELIZABETH LYNN FABER HAD ALREADY BEEN COMMITTED at various times to three different psychiatric hospitals in two states, been fired from four jobs (for, among other things, insisting that the world was ending and that she was the bride of Christ). She had been diagnosed at various stages with bipolar affective disorder, organic delusional disorder, organic mood disorder with "mixed psychotic features" and post-traumatic stress disorder, nearly always in combination with polysubstance abuse. She had exhausted her family's patience by eluding, for seven years, their attempts to get her into a structured treatment program. Yet when Jonathan and Rachelle tried to explain to the police what Elizabeth's life had been like, the police asked why no one had done anything to help her.

Like Julie Rodriguez, the young woman who drowned herself and her two children in the Sacramento River last spring after her family had fought for years to have her committed, and Nelly Sofia Carbajal, the 47-year-old Fresno woman who in May 1998 left her newborn in a dumpster to die of exposure, Elizabeth Faber has been embraced by the advocates of change in California's involuntary-commitment laws, who argue that people with close relatives who are mentally ill -- "family members" in mental health parlance -- shouldn't have to wait for an act of violence before forcing someone into treatment. "If I had a high fever and was delirious, no one would make me wait until I lashed out dangerously in that delirium before giving me help," says Carla Jacobs, a board member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), an advocacy and support group. "They would pick me up, give me antibiotics, involuntarily if necessary. That's why we live in a society, to help and protect each other."

But other people -- among them many "consumers," people with mental illness who must actually use the system -- argue that Elizabeth's story puts other failings of the mental-health system in equally stark relief, to wit, the absence of community services for people with mental illness, particularly the homeless, many of whom would take advantage of services if only the services were there. "Most tragedies can be traced back to a void in community services," says Sally Zinman, executive director of the California Network of Mental Health Clients, an organization made up of consumers and "survivors." "It doesn't sound like this one is any different."

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Sexual Predator Is Targeting Females in Eastside Park

    A sexual predator is on the loose in an Eastside park, police warned today. Cops say the creep has targeted "lone females" walking in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park three times between January and July. He has groped, exposed himself and even attacked with a knife, the Los Angeles Police...
  • U.S. Reps Call For Federal Intervention in Dodger TV Blackout

    A group of local U.S. representatives wants the Federal Communications Commission to help end Time Warner Cable's blackout of Dodger games for competing cable and satellite providers. Negotiations to bring the team's games to AT&T U-verse, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, DirecTV, Dish Network, Mediacom, Suddenlink Communications and Verizon FIOS have gotten...
  • Foster the People's Downtown L.A. Mural Is Coming Down

    The controversial Foster the People mural downtown is coming down, the office of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today. Despite claims by the pop band that it had necessary permits and that the artwork was legitimately produced, the mayor's office states what we reported previously: The piece is on a...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • Street League Skateboarding Super Crown World Championship
    On Sunday, Street League Skateboarding touched down in the Galen Center at USC as part of a four-stop tour for SLS's Super Crown World Championship. The L.A. stop determined the roster for Super Crown, airing August 24th on FOX Sports 1. The final eight are Nyjah Huston, Luan Oliveira, Torey Pudwill, Shane O'Neill, Paul Rodriguez, Chaz Ortiz, Matt Berger and Ishod Wair. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Comic-Con's "Celebrity" Autograph Area
    A sometimes overlooked (but still incredibly unique) aspect of San Diego Comic-Con are the celebs available to sign autographs, as well as the autograph seekers themselves. If you've ever wanted to meet the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld or the guy who played Michelangelo in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, chances are, as you wander the Autograph Area, you'll be able to connect with someone you didn't even realize you were waiting your whole life to meet! All photos by Rob Inderrieden.
  • Real Madrid Soccer Practice at UCLA
    Fans came out to greet world champion soccer team Real Madrid as they practice at UCLA. This is the first time that soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has practiced with the team this year. All photos by Jeff Cowan.