Inside the dark world of foetal abduction after Lisa Montgomery's execution

LISA Montgomery became the first woman to be executed in the US in almost 70 years after she cut a baby from a pregnant woman’s belly.

Fabulous investigates the shocking crime of foetal abduction.

Blood pouring from the deep wound in her neck, Michelle Wilkins fought desperately for her life – and that of her unborn child.

Her attacker’s hands were clamped around her neck, while the lamp she’d been bludgeoned and stabbed with lay by her head. 

“There was so much blood,” Michelle recalls.

“All I could think about was saving the life of my daughter Aurora, but with my attacker pinning me down I was helpless.

“My last thought before everything went black was: ‘How can this be how we die?’”

It sounds like a scene from a horror film, but Michelle is a real-life, rare survivor of the brutal crime of foetal abduction – where an unborn baby is forcibly cut from the womb and kidnapped. 

The horrific offence was brought into focus recently by the case of death-row prisoner Lisa Montgomery, 52.

On January 13, she became the first woman to be executed by the US government in 67 years, having been convicted of killing a woman and stealing the baby from her womb in 2004. 

Michelle, now 31, was seven months pregnant when her own attack happened on March 18, 2015, in idyllic Longmont, Colorado, close to where she lived in Boulder with her partner Dan, 40.

She had visited the home of a woman named Dynel Lane, who had offered free baby clothes on Craigslist.

But once Michelle was inside her home, Lane dragged her into a basement bedroom where she beat, cut and choked her, before removing baby Aurora from her womb with a kitchen knife.

It is a crime made even more shocking by the fact that Lane, then 34, was a mother to two daughters  aged three and five, and a seemingly upstanding member of her community, where she worked as a nursing assistant.

She had previously lost her 19-month-old son Michael in July 2002 after he drowned in a fish pond, but by 2015 seemed to have rebuilt her life with husband David Ridley.

Friends and family described her as a caring mother.

Yet in the year leading up to the attack, Lane had faked a pregnancy, creating an elaborate hoax by posing in photos with a distended belly.

She had even shown her daughter an ultrasound scan and friends had held a baby shower for her. 

Assuming Michelle was dead after the attack, Lane cleaned up before her husband came home from work, when she told him she had miscarried.

He found the baby in a bathtub and drove the child and Lane to hospital, where she begged staff to save the baby.

Lane said nothing to Ridley about Michelle, still unconscious in their home. 

When Michelle eventually came to an hour later, at first she didn’t realise her baby was gone.

“I could feel my insides on the outside of my body, so I pulled my maternity pants up over them to keep them in,” she recalls.

“It registered that they were my intestines, but I also thought: ‘I hope to god Aurora’s OK.’” 

In her panic to leave the scene, Lane had left Michelle’s mobile phone on a bedside cabinet and she managed to call for help.

The police arrived within minutes, followed by paramedics.

She’d lost half the blood in her body and was rushed to surgery at the same hospital Lane was in with Aurora.

“When I came round in the hospital, Dan was there,” she says.

“I looked at him and he looked at me and shook his head.

“His eyes filled with tears. I knew then she’d [Aurora] died.” 

Meanwhile, doctors had quickly established that Lane had not given birth, and when questioned she admitted taking the baby, but claimed she had acted in self-defence after Michelle attacked her. 

“I think I choked her,” Lane said during an interview.

“When she stopped moving, I didn’t want the baby to die, too.

“I got a knife and I cut the baby out.”

Aurora’s autopsy could not establish if she’d survived outside the womb, so Lane was charged with unlawful termination of a pregnancy, attempted murder and four counts of felony assault.

At her trial in 2016 she did not take the stand and was sentenced to 100 years in prison.

“I do not spend time thinking about my own attacker or trying to understand her actions,” Michelle says.

“I have no desire to meet or engage with her.” 

While foetal abduction is rare, since 1974 there are thought to have been 25 to 30 cases globally.

Most share similarities. Mothers are stalked, befriended or lured into danger.

Inevitably, the perpetrators fake their own pregnancies – and the victims and their babies rarely survive. 

While there are scant official statistics and no incidents to date in the UK, there have been cases everywhere from Europe to Asia, and South America to Australia.

In the US there were four recorded cases between 1983 and 2003, but there have been 14 since, as well as four attempts.

Last year, there were two recorded cases.

On August 28, Flavia Godinho Mafra was lured to a fake baby shower in Canelinha, Brazil.

She was later found dead and her baby gone. Thankfully, the baby survived and a 26-year-old was arrested in connection with the death.

Then, on October 9, 22-year-old Reagan Simmons-Hancock was found dead at her home in New Boston, Texas.

She had been seven-and-a-half-months pregnant and her baby had been cut from her womb.

Her friend Taylor Parker was arrested 12 miles away with the baby, who was not breathing. 

Experts fear social media and the internet are making foetal abduction easier, with sites such as Facebook and Craigslist featuring in many cases. 

Lisa Montgomery used the internet to identify and groom her victim.

The then 36-year-old mother of four from Melvern, Kansas, befriended dog breeder Bobbie Jo Stinnett, eight months pregnant with her first child, by posing as a customer on an internet chatroom.

Montgomery strangled 23-year-old Bobbie Jo to death in her own home in Skidmore, Missouri, but miraculously the baby – a daughter named Victoria Jo – survived.

After the attack, Montgomery, who had also been faking a pregnancy despite being sterilised in 1990, phoned her husband Kevin to tell him she’d gone into labour and the baby had been delivered in a clinic. 

Meanwhile, Bobbie Jo was discovered by her mother Becky Harper.

She immediately called the police, describing the wounds inflicted upon her daughter as though she had “exploded all over the place”. 

Bobbie Jo was pronounced dead at hospital and when police accessed her emails they discovered messages from Montgomery, who used an alias.

They were then able to trace her real identity from the IP address.

At the subsequent trial, Kevin, who was not charged with any crimes, said he believed his wife was pregnant because her abdomen became large, her periods stopped, she had morning sickness and she took prenatal vitamins. 

Victoria Jo, now 16, lives with her father Zeb and has never spoken of the horror of her birth. 

M William Phelps, crime writer and producer of iHeartRadio’s podcast Paper Ghosts, wrote a book about the case called Murder In The Heartland. 

He tells Fabulous: “The internet gave Montgomery an open door and offered her a way to charm Bobbie Jo.

“Skidmore was a quiet, peaceful town, and the reaction to Bobbie Jo’s murder was one of jaw-dropping horror.”

Montgomery’s execution caused controversy across America, after President Donald Trump – a long-time supporter of the death penalty – refused to grant her clemency and turn her sentence into life imprisonment.

Montgomery’s supporters argued she suffered a range of mental illnesses, including PTSD, bipolar disorder and pseudocyesis (false pregnancy) delusion caused by an abusive childhood. 

Earlier this month, her lawyers revealed she had been sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of 11, and when she resisted he slammed her head so hard on a concrete floor she suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Her legal team also claims her stepfather’s friends gang-raped her, while she was said to have also been abused by her mother, who sold her for sex and pressured her into later getting sterilised.

In court, Montgomery pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Former district attorney Stanley Garnett – who prosecuted Michelle’s attacker Dynel Lane – and former deputy district attorney Harry Zimmerman, wrote to Donald Trump opposing the execution.

“Women who commit such crimes… are likely to have been victimised themselves,” they wrote.

“We know from first-hand experience that these crimes are inevitably the product of serious mental illness.”

However, this may not always be the case, as Dr Helen Gavin, a psychologist at the University of Huddersfield, explains: “The overriding view from male experts is the sheer desperation to have a child can drive a woman to steal a baby right out of another woman’s body.

“There are lots of women who cannot conceive. Most do not rush out and kidnap an unborn baby.”

According to Dr Gavin, there is also little evidence of foetal abductors suffering from phantom pregnancies.

“But a large proportion have pretended to be pregnant, and needed to produce a newborn to uphold the deception.

“This is not a mental disorder. This is cold, rational planning for a clear objective.”

After years of physical and mental rehabilitation, the injuries have healed but Michelle is left scarred.

She now works at a psychology practice near her home in Boulder and is studying to become a counsellor so she can help others.

But she continues to suffer from PTSD, which has led her to some dark places.

“There were times it was tempting to think about suicide,” she says.

“Trauma lives in the body and that’s something I still struggle with.

“I have flashbacks. I feel hands around my throat and I have trouble breathing.” 

Her relationship with Dan did not survive the attack and the couple later split.

She has not had a relationship since, though she says she now feels ready to consider motherhood again.

After the attack, Aurora’s body was recovered and Michelle and Dan were able to spend precious time with their daughter.

A photograph of her hangs on the wall in Michelle’s home.

She keeps her ashes and will one day plan a funeral service for her.

“It’s a grief different from that experienced by people who knew their children as humans with personalities,” says Michelle.

“There was a deep grief not just for my daughter, but also for the innocence I lost.”   

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