Sibling Criminals: Nature vs Nurture

Since the beginning of psychology man has been asking if it’s nature or nurture that determines our human behavior. There are some valid points on both sides of the argument and I as a former psychology student believe that we ARE the product of our environment.

My second cousins (their father Edward Cummins is my cousin), Brittany Cummins Pilkington and her brother Stephen Cummins both grew up in the same home, with both of their parents for the first five years or so of their lives. Shortly after their parents divorced both found new partners and continued to raise their children in separate two-parent homes.

Brittany Pilkington Booking Photo
Stephen Cummins      Booking Photo

Their mother found a new partner in Joseph Pilkington for nine years. During that time there was an allegation made that Brittany was being sexually abused but the case was never progressed because in 2010 two months after turning 18, the teen mother and Joseph got married, effectively stopping the investigation.


Fast forward to April 2014, Brittany is now pregnant with her third child, still married to Joseph and has two toddlers at home, Gavin age 4 and Hailey age 3. Joseph works a full time job that keeps him away most nights while Brittany stays home and takes care of the kids. On the morning of April 6 Joseph came home around 7AM to find Gavin unresponsive. He was later pronounced dead and his death was ruled “undetermined”.

Tragedy struck once again in the Pilkington home on July 22, 2014 when her three month old son Niall was too found unresponsive. Once again, his death was ruled “suspicious but undetermined”. Several months later Brittany found herself pregnant once again and this time the Logan County Ohio Children’s Services stepped in. Once the baby, Noah, was born he and his sister Hailey were immediately taken and put into state custody pending an investigation.

On August 11, 2015 following a Logan County Children’s Services had a three-day hearing, Judge Dan Bratka ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to keep the children in state custody and ordered the children returned to Brittany and Joseph. Six days later tragedy struck the Pilkington’s home for a third time when Joseph came home and found Noah unresponsive. Listen to Brittany’s 911 call here. For a mother who just found her third child unresponsive she shows absolutely zero emotion.

In May 2014 Brittany’s brother Stephen took his six week old daughter to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio because she was “crying a lot”. After an examination it was determined that his daughter was suffering from a fractured skull, 20 broken ribs and a broken femur. After a short investigation Stephen was arrested.

In July 2014 Stephen plead guilty to three counts of second degree felony child endangering and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. At his sentencing he gave testimony as to what he actually did to his child. He said, “I just wanted her to stop crying so I hugged her tight”. He also admitting to squeezing her head between his palms hard enough to cause the fracture that went over the top of her head from ear to ear. Finally he admitted that on several occasions over her short life that he would take her in both hands and slam to to the ground.

After a lengthy hospital stay his daughter was released. Her condition today is unknown to me as her mother has no contact with me or my family.

If we apply the nature vs nurture argument to these two people who grew up in the same house, with the same parents, who for the most part are law abiding citizens, we are left asking “what went wrong here?” It has been alleged by Brittany that her father was abusive and we know for a fact that she was sexually abused as a child by her husband who also kept her isolated from her family. This definitely would have an effect on her mental health. Apparently she was so isolated that she stated that before the death of her sons her daughter was her best friend. Furthermore she confessed that she killed her three sons because her husband paid to much attention to them and not enough to her daughter.

Stephen on the other hand is a different story. He had a steady girlfriend for a few years, both were members of the Ohio National Guard and he was attending college. For all intents and purposes he was “going somewhere” in life. So, why? Why squeeze your infant daughter to the point of near death? Why slam her fragile tiny body to the ground while she was crying in an effort to make her stop crying? Only Stephen can answer these questions and I certainly hope that while he is incarcerated he takes advantage of any and all counseling that is offered to him.

My personal opinion is that Brittany was definitely a product of her environment, suffering the abuse at the hands of Joseph, who was her own step-father for nine years. After their marriage I think the abuse continued and I believe she was jealous of the attention her sons received. Stephen I think is a little different. Sure Joseph was his step-father as well and granted I do not know for a fact but I would suspect there was physical abuse going on behind closed doors. But I personally think that he is a victim of stress. The stress from having a new baby, just him and his girlfriend taking care of her and both trying to maintain work and school schedules.

So what do you think? Did their environment growing up make them into the (alleged) killer and child abuser they are? Or were they both born bad?


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