The Chilling Story Of Beth Thomas, The Six-Year-Old Who Tried To Murder Her Little Brother

Published October 28, 2023
Updated November 29, 2023

"Child of Rage" Beth Thomas terrorized her younger brother and her adoptive parents — then experts uncovered the disturbing cause of her behavior.

Beth Thomas

YouTubeBeth Thomas as a deeply troubled child (left) and as a healthy adult (right).

Her name was Beth Thomas.

At only six years old, Beth admitted to a clinical psychologist, on tape, that she would kill her adoptive parents and birth sibling if given the opportunity. Her adoptive parents, Tim and Julie Tennant, locked their young daughter in her room at night because they were afraid of what she might do.

Meanwhile, the couple had no idea that their adopted daughter had been horrifically abused by her birth father, and it wasn’t until Beth started speaking to a psychologist that she could begin to heal from her trauma.

Videotapes of the therapy sessions between Beth and Dr. Ken Magid were later compiled into a 1990 HBO documentary, Child of Rage, which revealed the haunting effects of severe neglect and sexual abuse on a child.

Beth Thomas’ Traumatic Childhood

Child Of Rage

Public DomainBeth Thomas displayed “psychopathic” tendencies early on, and it took years to uncover the root of her behavior.

Details about Beth Thomas’ birth are scarce, but it’s believed that she was born around 1982, somewhere in the United States. When she was just one year old, her birth mother died, leaving her and her newborn brother Jonathan alone with their abusive and violent birth father.

Beth’s biological father sexually abused her for months. When he wasn’t physically harming her, he was neglecting her. He also abused Jonathan. By February 1984, both children had been removed from their father’s home. The Department of Social Services then told two prospective adoptive parents that they had two young children up for adoption.

These prospective adoptive parents were Tim Tennant (sometimes spelled Tennent), a minister at a small Methodist church in the American South, and his wife Julie. Married for over a decade and unable to have biological children, Tim and Julie were delighted to welcome 19-month-old Beth and seven-month-old Jonathan into their home. They knew little about the children’s background and were told that they were “normal and healthy.”

But shortly after Beth Thomas was adopted, she began displaying “psychopathic” behavior. As a toddler, she removed a nest of baby birds from a tree, even though Julie said that the birds’ mother wouldn’t come back if the nest was gone — then Beth squeezed all the baby birds to death.

Even more disturbing, Beth physically and sexually abused her brother. She attempted to kill Jonathan multiple times, at one point smashing his head onto a concrete floor, according to the Daily Star. She made no secret of her desire to murder her sibling, and she also expressed her desire to stab her adoptive parents. And when she wasn’t threatening violence, she was masturbating at inappropriate times — sometimes even in public places.

Terrified by their adopted daughter, who seemed to completely lack a conscience, Tim and Julie Tennant resorted to locking Beth in her room every night to protect her brother — and themselves — from her rage. But they couldn’t live in fear in their own home forever, and by the time Beth Thomas was six years old, they decided to seek professional help.

A “Child Of Rage” Who Shocked America

Child Of Rage Beth Thomas

YouTubeSix-year-old Beth Thomas undergoing therapy in the HBO documentary Child of Rage.

Ultimately, Beth Thomas was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD), a severe trauma response present in children who do not form an emotional bond with their caregivers. This mental health condition is only diagnosed in the most extreme cases. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s estimated that about one to two percent of children suffer from RAD, but the number is believed to be higher for children in the foster care system.

Examined by psychologist Dr. Ken Magid, Beth began to slowly reveal the root of her trauma — the severe abuse and neglect she faced at the hands of her biological father. In 1990, HBO released a documentary titled Child of Rage that chronicled the young girl’s therapy sessions as she battled RAD.

Viewers were stunned by Beth’s disturbing behavior and the confessions she made during her therapy tapes with Magid. When Magid asked the young girl how she would kill her adoptive parents, she responded, without any emotion, “Stab them.” Beth also explained that she would murder them at night because “I don’t like them seeing me do it, but they can feel me do it.”

Beth also expressed her desire to kill her birth sibling, and admitted to sexually abusing Jonathan. When Magid asked her what she did with Jonathan’s genitals, she said, “I hurt it… I pinch it. Squeeze it. Kick it.”

Even more disturbing was Beth’s past with her birth father, who had brutally abused both her and Jonathan. Magid asked her about a recurring nightmare about a violent man she’d mentioned before, and she replied that in the dream, “I would be in the house upstairs. He comes up the stairs and hurts me.” As it turned out, the man in the nightmare was her birth father.

In one tape, Magid questioned Beth about her biological father and what she could remember about him. Despite her young age, Beth spoke in graphic detail about her birth father’s physical and sexual abuse: “He touched my vagina until it bled. It hurted a lot. And um, he wouldn’t feed me a lot. He’d hit on me. Wouldn’t be very nice to me.” When asked about how old she was when the abuse happened, Beth said that she was only a year old.

Beth Thomas’ Successful Treatment — And The Controversies That Followed

Beth Thomas Now

YouTubeBeth Thomas now as a fully healed adult.

After Beth Thomas completed her sessions with Dr. Ken Magid, the psychologist decided that the girl should be temporarily separated from her adoptive family, as she still required intensive therapy to heal. According to news.com.au, she was then placed in the care of Connell Watkins, a therapist who specialized in intensive behavioral modification therapy.

Watkins was extremely strict with Beth, requiring her to ask permission to eat, use the bathroom, and nearly everything else. She also kept her in a locked bedroom at night. This forced Beth to work to earn the trust of Watkins and the other staff members who were helping her. Only then would Beth earn privileges and more freedom to do what she wanted. She flourished under Watkins’ care and finally began to express remorse for the pain and anguish that she put her brother and her adoptive parents through.

However, Beth did not return to the home that she spent her early years in and was instead re-adopted by a different woman, Nancy Thomas, during the course of her treatment. From there, Beth continued to thrive, eventually graduating from the University of Colorado with a degree in nursing.

She later got a job as a registered nurse at Flagstaff Medical Center in Arizona in 2005. Incredibly, Beth Thomas now takes care of babies. She also volunteers with her second adoptive mother Nancy’s program Families By Design, which aims to help families with adopted or foster children.

Child Of Rage Film

Odyssey/WikipediaThe 1992 film Child of Rage was inspired by the real case of Beth Thomas and her 1990 HBO documentary.

But while this may seem like a fairytale ending for the former “Child of Rage,” some view Beth Thomas’ successful therapy as an anomaly — especially since she was treated by the now-controversial Connell Watkins.

In 2001, Watkins was found guilty of negligent child abuse in relation to the death of a 10-year-old girl in her care, Candace Newmaker. The girl was fatally smothered during a pseudoscientific “attachment therapy” practice called rebirthing, which involved wrapping a child up in blankets and pushing against them with pillows to simulate the feeling of being born. Watkins was sentenced to 16 years in prison but was paroled after seven years.

The advocacy group Advocates for Children in Therapy has spoken out against attachment therapy in general, and has specifically criticized both Beth and Nancy Thomas for promoting its practices: “[Nancy] Thomas’s parenting methods are based on isolation, deprivation, humiliation, and being non-communicative with the child… Beth Thomas is one of only two survivors of Attachment Therapy known to speak well of the practice as an adult; both market pro-Attachment Therapy materials and services.”

But even though attachment therapy may be more harmful than helpful to most children with conditions like reactive attachment disorder, the good news is that there are other options for kids in need of treatment. The Cleveland Clinic suggests that options like psychotherapy, family counseling, social skills intervention, and parental skills classes may be beneficial — but the earlier the disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better.


After learning about Beth Thomas, the subject of “Child of Rage,” check out these 15 child killers who are even more chilling than their adult counterparts. Then, read about the psychologist who claims that child sex dolls should be given to pedophiles so they don’t abuse real children.

Hannah Reilly Holtz
Hannah Reilly is an editorial fellow with All That's Interesting. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Texas Tech University and was named a Texas Press Association Scholar. Previously, she has worked for KCBD NewsChannel 11 and at Texas Tech University as a multimedia specialist.