Baby torn from womb: woman confesses to killing

Horror in American heartland » Baby girl is found alive and well as woman admits strangling eight-months-pregnant victim
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The Independent US

Who could have known how badly Lisa Montgomery wanted another baby, and to what ends she would to go to settle those needs? Who knows if horror could have been avoided if someone had somehow been able to help her?

Instead people across a swathe of the American heartland were yesterday reeling after Mrs Montgomery, 36, was charged with killing a pregnant woman, cutting the unborn foetus from her womb and then pretending the baby girl was her own child.

In this story of horror there was some light. The little girl - named Victoria Jo - was found alive and well by police and last night she was in hospital, being watched over by her father. "We have no indications that the child was hurt in any way," said Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey. "The child's probably going to be OK."

Police were alerted on Thursday afternoon after Bobbi Jo Stinnett, who had been eight months pregnant, was found strangled at her home in Skidmore, Missouri, where she and her husband, Zeb, ran a business breeding terriers. Her mother, who found her, and police who went to the house were confronted by a horrendous scene. Mrs Stinnett's mother told police it appeared her daughter's stomach "had exploded".

According to detectives Mrs Stinnett, 23, fought her attacker, who apparently strangled her from behind. Officials said she was gripping strands of blonde hair in both hands when her mother discovered her unconscious. Paramedics tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead at 4.27pm.

Initially detectives said they were looking for three suspects - two men and a woman - and a red Toyota car. But after examining Mrs Stinnett's computer they discovered a number of online messages in which she had arranged to meet a woman who was interested in buying a dog.

One of the messages from Mrs Stinnett was addressed to a woman, calling herself Darlene, whom she had arranged to meet on Thursday. "Darlene, I've emailed you with the directions so we can meet," it said. "I do so hope that the email reaches you. Great chatting with you on messenger. And do look forward to chatting with you."

With the help of private computer security specialists, police were able to identify the dial-up number that "Darlene" used to access the internet. This led them on Friday evening to a house in Melvern, Kansas, where Mrs Montgomery lived with her husband and two children. Her husband, Kevin, apparently believed she was pregnant.

Reports said that Mrs Montgomery's husband told police his wife had called him on Thursday evening to say she had been in a shopping mall in Topeka when she had gone into labour and that she had given birth to a baby girl. He went to collect her and took her home.

The reality was quite different. Reports said Mrs Montgomery had actually lost her own child, but had kept this from her husband.

When police went to the Montgomerys' house, Mrs Montgomery claimed the baby had been born at the Topeka Birth and Women's Centre. The FBI checked, and was told no birth had been recorded there that day.

A report prepared by FBI special agent Craig Arnold said: "After being advised of her constitutional rights, and having waived those rights, Lisa Montgomery thereafter confessed to having strangled Stinnett and removing the foetus." Mrs Montgomery was last night in custody, having been charged with kidnapping, resulting in death.

Meanwhile Victoria Jo was being treated in the neonatal intensive care unit at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Centre in Topeka, where the authorities said she was in good condition. In a statement Mr Stinnett said his daughter was a "miracle". He went on: "I want to thank family, friends and law enforcement officials for their support."