Homicides Involving the Theft of a Fetus from a Pregnant
©2006 Vernon J. Geberth, Practical Homicide Investigation
Reprint: Law and Order, Vol. 54, No. 3, March, 2006
Article Expanded for Research
Return to Research Materials
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)
|Case #||PERPETRATOR||VICTIM||DATE||CITY AND STATE|
|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|
|2||FEDELL CAFFEY BM 22
|2||LAVERN WARD BM 24
|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|
|8||KATIE SMITH WF 22
Killed by the victim mother
|SARAH BRADY WF 26||2/10/2005||Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky|
|9||PEGGY JO CONNER WF 38
Killed by the victim mother
|VALERIE OSKIN WF 30||10/12/2005||Kittanning, Pennsylvania|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Case #8: ATTEMPT THEFT OF FETUS - OFFENDER KILLED BY VICTIM MOTHER
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)
Case #9: ATTEMPT THEFT OF FETUS - OFFENDER ARRESTED
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)
INVESTIGATIVE ASSESSMENT AND ANALYSIS: THE OFFENDER PROFILES
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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