Pregnant women murdered or abducted for their unborn babies

The suspicion that Laci was taken for the baby definitely crossed a lot of minds in the early days after her disappearance.  In a conversation caught on wire-tap, Sharon Rocha talked about it:

Sharon ROCHA: Yeah, that’s what I thought too.  I don’t know, the way they said it had funny, you know, sniffing all around.  It still…I’m still trying to get them to find that um, blue pickup that Kim McGregor said she saw several times.

Scott PETERSON: Yeah, definitely.

Sharon ROCHA: I mean if they were sitting there watching and it was a couple… I mean, I keep going back to someone, you know, taken her for the baby.

Scott PETERSON: Yeah.

Dr. Brian Peterson, who performed Laci's autopsy, concluded that Conner was not born vaginally.  He said Conner escaped Laci's womb from an opening at the top of the uterus.  He argued on the State's behalf that a hole in the uterus resulted from decomposition, and Mark Geragos argued that the hole could have been caused by someone cutting Conner out of Laci. 


This idea is given considerable weight when we factor in that Conner lived at least a week beyond December 24.  Considerable evidence points to the Medina burglary as the explanation for Laci's disappearance.  But is there a logical connection between the burglary and taking Laci for the baby?  Why would burglars want her baby?


One possibility is that two crimes were committed at the same time.  One crime being the abduction of Laci Peterson for her baby, perhaps by the men in the van that was seen by Jackson at 11:40 that morning and then later seen by Harshman in the late afternoon.  Or perhaps by that couple in the blue pickup.  The other crime being the Medina burglary, and it's value is that it proves that Laci was still alive after Scott left for the warehouse. 


Another possibility is that Laci was abducted by the burglars (the men in the van assisting Todd) and not immediately killed.  Later, someone suggests that she be kept alive for the baby, perhaps to give to someone associated with the group, or to sell on the black market. 


December 21, 2004:  Woman accused of stealing baby appears in court

October 13, 2005:  Unborn Baby Theft Attempt Thwarted

March 2006:  Homicides Involving The Theft of a Fetus From a Pregnant Victim

September 24, 2006:  Kids of woman slain in fetus theft found dead

C-section killings: Maternal instinct?



December 21, 2004:  Woman accused of stealing baby appears in court


KANSAS CITY, Kansas (CNN) -- Lisa Montgomery, accused of strangling a 23-year-old Missouri woman and cutting the fetus out of her womb, sat motionless Monday as a judge read the charge against her in U.S. District Court.

Montgomery, who was arrested in Kansas, has two federally appointed defenders, who answered all questions at her initial court appearance. Montgomery never looked up from the federal complaint in front of her during the proceedings.

Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Kansas City, Missouri, said Montgomery's next federal court appearance is set for 9:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. ET) Thursday in Kansas City, Kansas.

Afterward, Montgomery, of Melvern, Kansas, will be transferred to Missouri, where she is to stand trial, he said.

An identity hearing, held to confirm that the right woman was arrested and charged, also will be continued Thursday, Ledford said.

Montgomery was to be moved from the Wyandotte County jail in Kansas City, Kansas, to a federal detention center in Leavenworth, Kansas, which is used by both Kansas and Missouri, Ledford said.

Montgomery, a 36-year-old mother of two high-school age children, faces a federal charge of kidnapping resulting in death, which carries possible sentences of life in prison or death if she is convicted.

U.S. Attorney Todd Graves said Monday that the decision on what penalty to pursue would come much later.

"In this district, we have a history of seeking the death penalty in appropriate cases," Graves said. "It's not something we shy away from, but we're still a ways away from that decision."

Graves said authorities will proceed with the case in Missouri.

"We have the state line very close by, but it's charged on the Missouri side," Graves said. "The main body of what took place was on the Missouri side."

Lisa Montgomery is accused of strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett at Stinnett's home in Skidmore, Missouri, and cutting her fetus from her body.

The baby, now named Victoria Jo, was recovered and united with her father, Zeb Stinnett, in a hospital in Topeka, Kansas, after Montgomery was arrested Friday night.

The infant was released Monday evening from Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka, according to the hospital's Web site. At the request of the family, the hospital said, no further information will be released.

Relatives of both the victim and the suspect attended the hearing Monday.

Montgomery's husband, Kevin Montgomery, told reporters outside the courthouse that he hoped the Stinnett family was getting "as much support from their church and community as I am."

Choking back tears, Montgomery said his heart was broken for the Stinnett family as well as his own.

"It's a long road that we've got to go down now," he said. "Families are mighty precious to me and I hope they are to him. Zeb and Victoria Jo have got a rough road to go down."

Two funds, one for Victoria Jo and one for her mother, are listed on the hospital's Web site.

A wake and funeral service for Stinnett will be held Tuesday at 2 p.m. (3 p.m. ET) in Maryville, Missouri, just north of Skidmore, and are closed to media and the public, the funeral director said. The burial is open to the public, he said.

Mother found dead Thursday
On Thursday afternoon, Stinnett's mother found her daughter dead in a pool of blood in her home and called 911, saying it looked "as though her daughter's stomach had exploded," according to an FBI affidavit.

Investigators determined Stinnett's uterus had been cut laterally, the fetus removed and the umbilical cord cut, the affidavit said.

Once in custody, an FBI affidavit alleges, Montgomery "confessed to having strangled Stinnett and removing the fetus. Lisa Montgomery further admitted the baby she had was Stinnett's baby and that she had lied to her husband about giving birth to a child."

Graves said Montgomery met Stinnett through an Internet chat room, with Montgomery showing interest in a dog that Stinnett had offered for sale. Montgomery traveled to Skidmore in northwestern Missouri on Thursday, police said.

FBI Special Agent Jeff Lanza said that computer files were an integral part of the investigation.

"There were actual contacts we were able to pick up from the suspect's computer," he said.

Lanza said that investigators believe Montgomery likely acted alone.

"I don't anticipate additional charges in the near future," Lanza said. "She's the only one charged."

Graves said Montgomery's husband had been questioned early on but was "considered innocent."

Graves and Lanza declined to discuss possible motives.

Two towns in shock
Residents in Montgomery's hometown of Melvern said Saturday that the woman and her husband had showed the infant to people.

The Rev. Mike Wheatly, a local pastor, said the Montgomerys said they had named the baby Abigail. He said Lisa Montgomery told him she had given birth to the child at a birthing center in Topeka.

Wheatly said he and others -- including Montgomery's husband -- believed she had been pregnant and was due in December.

"There was no reason to suspect anything," Wheatly said, adding that her husband, Kevin Montgomery, had told him he "felt the baby kick." (Full story)

But, he said, the Montgomerys "probably didn't see each other very much" because of their work schedules. Kevin Montgomery, he said, was a regular attendee at Wheatly's church, "where he was raised," but "Lisa, the last time we saw her before the other day, was October."

"We felt betrayed. We were angry," Wheatly said. "But most of all, we're very, very, very sad."

Sheriff Ben Espey of Nodaway County, Missouri, said Montgomery had a miscarriage sometime this year. Espey said she was six months pregnant when she miscarried.

But Graves said investigators weren't certain she had had a miscarriage.

The crime shocked Skidmore, Stinnett's hometown of about 300 people, with some residents shuttering their doors, saying they no longer felt safe. After Stinnett's body was found, police issued an Amber Alert to help find the infant.

"It's very hard for me to accept this," Espey said. "Nobody here could ever perceive this taking place -- to have a fetus taken out of someone's womb and then doing an Amber Alert to try to find a child."




October 13, 2005:  Unborn Baby Theft Attempt Thwarted


A woman was charged Thursday with cutting open her pregnant neighbor's belly with a razor knife to try and steal her baby, an effort that was thwarted when a passer-by saw what was happening and alerted authorities.

The victim, Valerie Oskin, 30, was taken to a hospital, where an emergency Caesarean section was performed. Hospital officials said Thursday afternoon they couldn't release any information about Oskin or her baby.

Peggy Jo Conner, 38, of Ford City, Penn., hit Oskin over the head with a baseball bat, state police said. She then drove Oskin about 15 miles to a secluded, wooded area in Armstrong County, about 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, and cut Oskin across her abdomen, Trooper Jonathan Bayer said.

"She was sliced over an old (cesarean) scar and severely bleeding," Bayer said.

A teenager on an all-terrain vehicle came across the two women in the woods.

"She probably would have bled to death if this young boy had not discovered her when he did," Bayer said.

Although Conner told the boy that Oskin was fine, he called his father, who notified police. Bayer said he believed Oskin was in her third trimester of pregnancy.

Conner was arraigned Thursday on charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault and aggravated assault of an unborn child.



March 2006:  Homicides Involving The Theft of a Fetus From a Pregnant Victim


Murders of pregnant women for their unborn babies are brutal and savage crimes. The offender literally cuts the fetus from the victim mother's womb in a bizarre replication of a cesarean section procedure. This type of homicide is statistically rare, but not without precedent. In an article published in 2002 by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences entitled, "Newborn Kidnapping by Cesarean Section" authored by Burgess, the author presented six cases as reference in the clinical identification of a new category of personal cause homicide for The Crime Classification Manual.

I conducted a separate study that would relate to law enforcement considerations in these type cases. As of 2005, the research established seven documented cases of homicide in which the offender(s) killed a pregnant woman, described as a victim mother, for the purpose of obtaining the victim mother's fetus. Also found were two Attempt Theft of Fetus cases for a total of nine incidents. Table #1 lists the nine cases referred to in this article. The author provides a brief synopsis on each case to demonstrate the similarities as well as the dissimilarities.

The author prefers not to use the clinical term cesarean section since it connotes a medical procedure as opposed to the depravity and evil demonstrated by offenders who kill a victim mother for her unborn child. A cesarean section is a surgical procedure in which the abdomen and uterus are incised and a baby is delivered transabdominally (1).

The procedure is normally performed when conditions exist where a vaginal delivery might be hazardous to the mother and/or infant. The well being of both mother and child are taken into consideration during a cesarean section. Obviously, an offender who commits such a reprehensible crime is not concerned about the victim mother. According to Cathy Nahirny, Administrative Manager at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "Cesarean kidnappings represent a small fraction of the 232 infant abductions by non-family members since 1983 according to the center's records." (2) Ms. Nahirny provided the author with a listing entitled "Infant Abductions Where Infant Cut From Mother's Womb," which listed seven homicides and one theft of an infant after birth.

According to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children there have been nine attacks on pregnant women since 1987. There have been at least three assaults on an expectant mother for her child since 2003. Seven of the nine pregnant women were murdered during the attack. Seven of the nine babies survived. (3)


1 DARCIE PIERCE, WF 19 CINDY RAY 7/23/1987 Albuquerque, NM
2 JACQUELINE WILLIAMS BF 28 DEBORAH EVANS WF 28 11/16/1995 Addison, Illinois DuPage County
EVANS 11/16/1995 Addison, Illinois
EVANS 11/16/1995 Addison, Illinois
3 FELICIA SCOTT BF 29 CARENTHIA CURRY BF 17 1/31/1996 Tuscaloosa, Alabama
4 JOSEPHINA SALDANA FH 40 MARGARTIA FLORES FH 40 9/14/1998 Fresno, California
5 MICHELLE BICA WF 39 TERESA ANDREWS WF 23 2/27/2000 Ravenna, Ohio
6 EFFIE GOODSON WF 37 CAROLYN SIMPSON WF 21 12/22/2003 Okemah, Oklahoma
7 LISA MONTGOMERY WF 36 BOBBIE JO STINNETT WF 23 12/16/2004 Skidmore, Missouri
Killed by the victim mother
SARAH BRADY WF 26 2/10/2005 Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky
Killed by the victim mother
VALERIE OSKIN WF 30 10/12/2005 Kittanning, Pennsylvania

Case #1

In a New Mexico case, the married offender named Darcie Pierce approached an eight months pregnant woman as she left a prenatal clinic at Kirkland Air Force Base. The offender threatened the victim with a toy gun, forced her into a car, and drove to her home where she had surgical instruments and medical books. However, the suspect's husband was at the house.

The offender then drove the victim to an isolated location where she strangled the mother into unconsciousness. She tied the victim to a tree and cut open the victim's abdomen with her car keys and delivered a baby girl. She left the victim to bleed to death. Pierce was arrested after she reported that she had delivered a baby. She was taken to a local hospital where an examination revealed that she had not delivered a baby and authorities were notified.

Case #2

In an Illinois case, three perpetrators identified as Jacqueline Williams, her boyfriend Fedell Caffey and her cousin Lavern Ward, went to the victim's apartment. The victim mother was the ex-girlfriend of one of the abductors and she already had a child by him. The victim mother was both shot and stabbed and a crude caesarean section was performed. Although the older child was originally spared when his mother was killed in their apartment, his abductors decided he knew too much and had to die. He was stabbed to death and then dumped 10 miles from the scene of the original crime. People from the community identified those responsible. The baby was recovered alive and well.

Case #3

In an Alabama case, the perpetrator named Felcia Scott and victim mother were friends. They had plans to go out to dinner, when the mother was abducted. When she did not return home by the next day, the family reported her as missing. The abductor returned home in the early morning hours the next day. She told her husband that she had had her baby and needed to go to Birmingham to see her doctor. Three months later, the victim mother's body was located at the bottom of a 50-foot ravine approximately 60 miles northwest of Tuscaloosa (near Birmingham), stuffed into a plastic garbage can sealed with duct tape. The victim mother's abdomen had been sliced open and she had been shot repeatedly in the head.

Case #4

In a California case, the perpetrator named Josephina Saldana abducted the victim mother from her home. She had called the victim mother a few days earlier and offered her family gifts of free baby furniture and a one-year supply of diapers. The woman went to the victim's on the day of the abduction and told the victim mother that they needed to go to the warehouse to collect the gifts. The victim mother was eight months pregnant. When the victim mother did not return, the family called the police. The next day, the perp showed up at Valley Children's Hospital with a dead fetus. She claimed she had given birth to the child in her car. She was subsequently arrested and found guilty. While in prison she hung herself.

Case #5

In an Ohio case, the perpetrator named Michelle Bica, and her husband had casually met the victim mother and her husband while the two couples were shopping. They exchanged home addresses. Michelle Bica, who was faking her pregnancy, began stalking the victim. She called the victim mother and made an appointment to see a car she was selling. Bica conned the pregnant mother to leave her home and accompany her back to her residence, where the mother was shot and killed. Her fetus was removed. When the victim mother's husband discovered his wife was not home, the car was missing and the house was unlocked, he called the police and filed a missing person report. The police located the vehicle a few blocks away. Investigators checked phone records to determine who had called the family that day and conducted interviews. Bica had an alibi, which quickly fell apart. When the police returned the second time, Bica had committed suicide.

Case #6

In an Oklahoma case, the perpetrator, Effie Goodsen, was a patron of the casino where the victim mother was employed. Video cameras at the casino captured the image of the victim mother and the suspect departing the building. The abductor offered to give the victim mother a ride home and also provide her with some baby clothes since the offender was expecting a baby boy. The victim's husband reported her missing. The next day, Goodsen arrived at Holdenville General Hospital with a very small, unresponsive infant. Staff determined that the three month premature infant was deceased. An exam of the alleged mother proved that she had not recently delivered a baby and law enforcement was notified. Hunters found the victim's body a few days later in a ditch about two miles from where the abductor used to live. The victim mother had been shot in the head and her abdomen had been cut open. Goodsen was found incompetent to stand trial.

Case #7

In a Missouri case, the perpetrator named Lisa Montgomery and victim mother were casual acquaintances. The victim mother was 8 months pregnant at the time of the incident. She and her husband bred rat terrier dogs and had a website. Montgomery had contacted the victim mother using a fake name and requested directions to the residence under the guise of buying a dog. The victim's mother arrived at her daughter's home about 1 hour later and found the victim mother lying in a pool of blood, the fetus cut from her womb.

Multiple law enforcement agencies worked on the case and the victim's computer was carefully examined. Investigators were able to trace some e-mail communications the victim had with the abductor. Montgomery eventually confessed to strangling the victim mother and cutting the baby from her womb. The abductor and victim mother were casual acquaintances and both attended the same dog show in April 2004, in Abilene, TX. (4)(5)(6)


In a Kentucky case, the perpetrator named Katie Smith lured the victim mother to her apartment on the pretense of giving her a baby present from Babies R Us registry online, a gift that had been mistakenly delivered to the Smith's residence in Ft. Mitchell. Smith's apartment was outfitted with surgical tools and a fully stocked nursery. Smith attacked the victim mother in an attempt to extract her unborn child by cesarean section. However, the woman fought back and fatally stabbed her attacker. (7)(8)


In a Pennsylvania case, the perpetrator named Peggy Jo Conner who purported to be pregnant bashed her eight-month pregnant neighbor over the head with a baseball bat. She then put the badly beaten mother in her car and drove the victim 15 miles to a remote wooded area. The victim had been cut across her abdomen over an old caesarean scar with a razor knife. A teenager who came upon the scene saw Conner kneeling next to the pregnant victim who was lying on the ground. The teen informed his father and the police were called. Investigators found a bassinet, a baby swing and other baby related items in Conner's trailer home. Conner had convinced her live-in partner that she was pregnant even showing him a sonogram. (9)(10)


In each of the seven (7) homicides as well as the (2) attempts (Case#8 and #9), the primary offender was a female 19 to 40 years of age acting alone. The exception was Case#2 Jacqueline Williams, who was accompanied by her boyfriend and male cousin, who assisted in the murders.

All of the offenders had faked their pregnancies convincing family and friends that they were about to give birth. Four of the women were unable to conceive, two offenders had hysterectomies and one offender had a tubaligation. The offenders, who had put on weight, had dressed in maternity clothing. Some of the offenders had made preparations for their "newborn" including setting up nurseries, visiting the hospital, and showing "their" sonograms.

The offenders had pre-selected and stalked their victims. Stalking incidents indicate obsessions on the part of the offenders, which is manifested through a persistent and intense preoccupation with the victim or target. Historically, stalkers are usually male offenders known to the victim and in most instances, involve former lovers, boyfriends or spouses. However, it should be noted that there are also stalkers, who are complete strangers to the target. These stalkers can be men or women. In cases such as these the stalker is invariably a woman with a fixation on obtaining the victim mother's baby.

In some cases they met the victim mother through casual introduction, engaging the victim by befriending them or offering advice assistance and/or gifts. The offenders were able to manipulate their victims by conning them until they were ready to attack. The exception was Darcie Pierce, who was desperate and overdue" in her faked pregnancy. She confronted her victim at gunpoint (fake gun) to abduct her and steal the fetus. Although she had surgical instruments at home, she couldn't bring the victim mother there because her husband was at home. She used her car keys to open the victim mother's abdomen to extract the fetus.

Four of the seven homicide offenders went to their respective victim's homes to initiate the homicide. Two of the offenders took the victim mother to an isolated location. In Case#5 the offender was able to con the victim mother back to the offender's home to be killed. In Case#8, the offender was able to con the victim back to the offender's residence where she had the surgical tools ready to extract the woman's fetus. In Case#9 the offender went to the victim's trailer home. Six of the seven homicide victim mothers were killed before the fetus was cut from the womb. One victim was left to bleed to death. The women and their babies survived in the two attempt fetus theft Cases #8 & #9.

Offender Motive

In the nine cases that the author reviewed, the primary motivation underlying these murderous acts were to sustain a relationship with a male partner by providing them with a child. Seven of the women had convinced their significant others that they were pregnant. In Case#4 the motive is not clear. In Case#8 (Attempt) it appears that the offender was just obsessed with becoming a mother. The offender did not have a significant male in her life. She had convinced family, friends and co-workers that she was about to give birth. She carried around a book filled with snapshots of her looking pregnant. She had a nursery stocked with baby items and a hospital bag packed and ready as if she were about to deliver a child.

According to Burgess, et al. another motivation is to fulfill a childbearing and delivery fantasy. "The female abductors, is essence, become a mother by proxy by acting out a fantasy of them delivering a baby." (11) Burgess et al. present that the abductors in their six-case study, "decided to do something physical to get the baby." (12)

From an investigative standpoint, this suggests that the motivation involves some significant planning and preparation. The cases that the author has cited herein clearly represent organized and criminal behavior. The psychopathology of these offenders may very well encompass some form of delusional thinking but not to the point of insanity. The women offenders in this study were fully conscious of their actions and intentions. They chose to kill the victim mother for her unborn child to fulfill a narcissistic need. The offenders then disposed of the victim mother to effectively cover-up their crime and avoid detection. In the opinion of the author, this psychopathology is more consistent with psychopathy than psychosis.

Investigative Strategies

Police Response

The initial police response to "Report of a Missing Pregnant Woman" must include immediate notification to detectives and a broadcast of the victim mother description. Research on this type of offense indicates that the offender will most likely accomplish this crime within less than two hours of the abduction. In fact, the author recommends an Amber alert type response, which will actively inform the media and the community of this event.

Detective Response

Detectives should immediately begin a neighborhood canvass to ascertain whether or not the victim mother had been seen in the company of another pregnant woman. In most of these cases, the offender has initiated some sort of casual relationship with her potential target. It is not unlikely that the offender has visited with or interacted with the victim mother on prior occasions. Attempt to obtain assistance from federal authorities early on in the investigation.

The canvass may provide the investigators with offender descriptions, license plate numbers and other identification information.

Additional Information

The value of transmitting this information in an Amber Alert format is that people who may have had suspicions about a friend or neighbor who purported to be pregnant and wouldn't think of notifying the police might now have a different frame of reference. In the cases that the author reviewed, there was always someone (usually another woman) who had expressed doubt about the offender's alleged pregnancy or the sudden appearance of a newborn. Interviews with investigators who had been involved with these type cases validated this assumption.

In five of the murder cases, (Case# 1-3-4-5-6) the offenders disposed of or hid the body of the victim mother. In two cases (Case# 2-7) the body was left at the scene. In three cases where the body was disposed or hidden the offenders showed up at a hospital. Two offenders (Cases# 4 & 6) arrived with the dead fetuses claiming to have given birth. The other offender (Case# 1) showed up at the hospital with a live baby for assessment.

Subsequent hospital examination revealed that the offender women had not given birth. Authorities were notified and the offenders were arrested. The live child was properly identified through DNA and returned to the biological father. The bodies of the three victims were recovered during the criminal investigation.

Two of the offenders (Case# 3-5) continued the charade until police investigators caught up with them. Offender Scott managed to elude authorities for eight days as she presented the baby as her own. She was arrested and the baby was returned to the victim mother's family. Offender Bica "played" mother for five days, during which time she showed off her new baby to friends and neighbors. Bica shot herself when the authorities came to her residence to arrest her. The newborn was reunited with the biological father after DNA testing.


These crimes are unimaginably evil. They devastate the surviving families of the victim mother and horrify the general public. In my opinion, the infants that do survive such a traumatic birth are truly miracle babies. However, these cases are not without precedent. There are unique behavioral profiles to these offenders. I have provided herein examples of their motivations, manipulations, and preparation for their crimes, including victim selection and modus operandi to serve as a "Frame of Reference" in the investigation of these type incidents.

Vernon J. Geberth, M.S., M.P.S. author of the New and Completely Revised textbook, Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques, FOURTH EDITION, 2006. For further information on Theft of Fetus see Chapter 20 in the textbook.

(1) Mosby's Medical & Nursing Dictionary. 2nd ed. St. Louis The C.V. Mosby Company, 1986, page 217.
(2) Telephone Interview April 19, 2005
(3) USA Today. Richard Willing Reporter, "Bizarre Cesarean Kidnappings of unborn babies increase."
(4) New York Post, December 19, 2004, p 5
(5) Ibid, December 20, 2004, p.5
(6) New York Times, "Baby Found in Kansas Thoughjt to be that of Slain Woman," Stephen Kinzer, December 18, 2004.
(7) USA Today, "Bizarre Cesarean Kidnapping of unborn babies increase." Richard Willing, April 15, 2005.
(8) The Cincinnati Enquirer, "Attacker 'obsessed with becoming mom' Jim Hannah, February 13, 2005
(9) New York Post, October 14, 2005, page 17
(10) CBS News October 13 and 14, 2005.
(11) Burgess, Ann W.R.N., D.N.S., Baker, Timothy, Ph D. Nahirny, Cathy and Rabun Jr., John ACSW "Newborn Kidnapping by Cesarean Section." Journal of Forensic Science, July, 2002 Vol. 47, No.4
(12) Ibid.




September 24, 2006:  Kids of woman slain in fetus theft found dead


EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. - Three young children were found dead Saturday, hours after a woman was charged with killing their pregnant mother and her fetus in a grisly attack in which her womb was cut open, authorities said.

The two boys, ages 7 and 2, and their 1-year-old sister were found together in an apartment in the East St. Louis public housing complex where their mother lived, Illinois State Police Capt. Craig Koehler said.

The kids were last seen Monday with family friend Tiffany Hall, 24, now charged with first-degree murder in the death of their mother. Hall is also charged with intentional homicide of an unborn child, said St. Clair County State’s Attorney Robert Haida.

Not charged in kids’ deaths
Koehler declined to say whether Hall was suspected in the children’s deaths. The cause of their deaths had not been determined and autopsies would be performed Sunday, he said.

The body of their mother, Jimella Tunstall, 23, was found last week in a weedy East St. Louis lot.

An autopsy showed Tunstall bled to death after sustaining an abdominal wound caused by a sharp object, believed to be scissors, said Ace Hart, a deputy St. Clair County coroner.

Hart said he believes Tunstall, who was seven months pregnant, was knocked unconscious before her fetus was removed during a slaying he called “very graphic and very brutal.”

‘A very emotional time’
Hall, jailed on $5 million bond, will likely be arraigned Monday on the two charges, each carrying a 20 to 60 years or life in prison, Haida said. The murder count could be punishable by the death penalty.

The bodies of DeMond Tunstall, 7, Ivan Tunstall-Collins, 2, and Jinela Tunstall, 1, were found in an apartment at the John DeShields public housing complex.

Authorities said a lead directed them to check the apartment, which had not been searched previously. They declined to release more information.

“Anytime you have three deceased children, it’s a very emotional time,” Koehler said late Saturday as he fought back tears. “All these investigators have worked tirelessly with one outcome in mind — to find these children alive.”

Officials suspect Tunstall was slain on or about Sept. 15, Haida said.

The same day, Hall summoned police to the Frank Holten park, saying she had gone into labor, Hart said. The dead baby, taken to a hospital, showed no signs of trauma, and an autopsy the next day failed to pinpoint a cause of death, he said.

Conflicting stories about baby
Hall would not let doctors at the hospital examine her and offered conflicting reasons for why she went into labor, alternately saying she had consensual sex and was raped, Hart said.

Authorities say Hall acknowledged to her boyfriend during the baby’s funeral Thursday that the child wasn’t his, and that she had killed the mother to get it. The boyfriend, reportedly a sailor home on leave, told police, who arrested his girlfriend hours later, investigators said.

DNA tests should determine definitively whether the baby was the one Tunstall was carrying, Hart said.

The baby was buried Thursday as Taylor Horn after a funeral arranged by L. King Funeral Chapel, whose president said Hall called minutes after the service was to start, asking if she could reschedule for a different day so more relatives could attend. At the time, Levi King said, only two relatives were there.

The woman showed up two hours late, ultimately signing an affidavit for the funeral home stating that the child was hers, King said.

The East St. Louis case is the second recent case in the area involving babies.

Shannon Torrez, 36, of Lonedell, Mo. — south of St. Louis, about an hour’s drive from here — is accused of slashing a young mother’s throat and kidnapping her baby on Sept. 15. The baby was returned unharmed Tuesday, the same day Torrez was arrested.

Also in Missouri, Lisa Montgomery will stand trial April 30 on charges of snatching a baby from the womb of Bobbie Jo Stinnett at her Skidmore, Mo., home in 2004. The baby survived.



C-section killings: Maternal instinct?

In wake of Illinois murders, psychologists mine reasons behind newborn kidnapping.

Jeff Donn / Associated Press

It's a crime so monstrous as to surpass comprehension. Yet its passion takes root in some of the most tender ground of human experience: pregnancy and motherhood.

What drives a handful of women to slice open the bellies of others to steal their newborns?

Researchers have uncovered hints. "You can describe it as sort of the maternal instinct run amok," says psychiatrist Dr. Phillip Resnick, who had written about the subject.

In East St. Louis, Ill., Tiffany Hall, 24, is charged with killing a woman and her fetus; investigators believe she cut the mother open with a pair of scissors. Authorities say Hall also told police she drowned the woman's three other children.

Such crimes are exceedingly rare in a country with more than 4 million births a year. Previously, only eight similar cases have been documented since 1987 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Yet they are frequent enough to have acquired a clinical-sounding name: newborn kidnapping by Caesarean section.

It is a variety of the more common crime of snatching an infant, experts say. Attackers are women of childbearing age who typically have lost a baby or can't have one, mental health professionals say. They feel empty and fiercely long for a child -- or another child -- to cement a shaky love relationship.

"They look at these pregnant women and say, 'Look at all the attention they're getting. They're complete,' " says N.G. Berrill, a legal psychologist in New York.

However, at some moment they cross a boundary and descend almost to Shakespearean depths of tragedy. "The meaning of being barren for some women is just extraordinary," Resnick says.

Cathy Nahirny, who tracks such cases for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, still can't fathom them after 16 years there. She favors a simpler explanation. "Are they evil? Yeah, I guess you could call them evil. They want what they want -- and they will stop at nothing," she says.