In 2004, Lisa Montgomery killed a pregnant woman to steal her fetus. Sixteen years later, the United States are preparing to execute him on January 12 and continue to wonder about the reasons that can lead to such an act.
“Stealing a baby by disemboweling its mother” remains very rare, but this type of attack “has increased over the past fifteen years,” notes John Rabun, who co-founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
His organization has documented 21 “fetal abductions” since 1964 in the United States, including 18 since 2004.
That year Lisa Montgomery was 36 years old. A mother of four grown children, she had undergone a tubal ligation a few years earlier, which her relatives did not know.
After spotting her victim, an eight-month pregnant dog breeder on a discussion board, she came to her home under the pretext of buying her a terrier.
Instead, she had strangled her, before cutting her uterus with a knife, and left her in a bloodbath.
She had left with the little girl – who survived – and introduced her to her new husband as their newborn baby. The latter had believed her, until the police intervened the next day.
Lisa Montgomery was sentenced in 2007 to the death penalty for this “particularly heinous” crime, according to the Department of Justice, which has set her execution for January 12.
Without denying the gravity of the facts, his lawyers are trying to commute his sentence to life imprisonment. They point out that she was the victim of violence and gang rape as a child and that she suffers from psychotic disorders.
Without entering into this debate, experts draw parallels with other comparable dramas, the last of which took place in October in Texas.
The crime is often committed by a woman who has lost or unable to have a child, who “wants a baby to improve a bad relationship with a partner,” said Ann Burgess, professor of psychiatry in Boston.
“She has a man in her life and that’s the only reason she steals a child,” adds John Rabun.
Before taking action, she undertakes “a lot of preparations”, according to Mme Burgess. She typically gains weight, can decorate a nursery, and sometimes throws a party to celebrate the baby’s upcoming arrival (a “baby shower”, Americans say).
“These women plan everything, they also read medical texts” to learn how to perform caesarean sections, adds John Rabun. “One of them had highlighted passages up to the time of the incision. Then she stopped reading, ”he says.
These criminals are in fact totally indifferent to the fate of mothers. “They don’t seem to understand that with an open stomach you can die,” he says. Of the 21 cases of “fetal abduction” identified by his organization, nineteen mothers have died.
In contrast, the perpetrators of these crimes took care of the children as if they were their own, and thirteen infants survived.
“Don’t want to talk about it”
For educator Elizabeth Petrucelli, former director of hospital security, pregnant women should learn to recognize red flags.
She herself had reacted, in 2015, when a user of a forum had found it strange that one of her acquaintances, supposed to give birth in November, is still pregnant in mid-January. “If she’s desperate, she could do the worst,” commented Petrucelli, who had not been taken seriously.
Two months later, this woman, Dynel Lane, attacked a future mother on the pretext of wanting to give her children’s clothes. The latter had survived, but not her baby.
This proves that we must discuss the problem “even if we do not want to, for obvious reasons”, believes Mr.me Petrucelli.
“We are trying to educate gynecologists, midwives”, abounds Mme Burgess. “It’s important to talk about this because victims are often drawn to the promise of free food or clothing for the baby,” and they need to be aware of the danger, she says.
But that will probably not be enough, admits Mme Petrucelli. “How do you prevent something so rare?” I do not think it is possible. “