Baby found alive; woman arrested
(CNN) -- Authorities late Friday said a Kansas woman who had a miscarriage earlier this year confessed to strangling a pregnant Missouri woman in her home and then cutting the baby from her womb -- a crime the local sheriff described as the most gruesome he had ever seen.
Lisa Montgomery, 36, of Melvern, Kansas, was arrested and charged in the kidnapping of the child "resulting in the death of the infant's mother" Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, according to an FBI affidavit filed late Friday.
If convicted, Montgomery could face a maximum of life in prison or the death penalty, and a maximum $250,000 fine.
The infant girl has been recovered and was in good condition at Stormont-Vail Regional Medical Center in Topeka.
The girl's father was reunited with her Friday evening, authorities said. She was the couple's first child.
"The baby is fine. The baby is doing great," U.S. Attorney Todd Graves said.
Stinnett was found dead in a pool of blood in her home Thursday afternoon by her mother, who called 911 saying it looked "as though her daughter's stomach had exploded," according to the affidavit.
Crime scene investigators later determined her womb had been cut laterally, the baby removed and the umbilical cord cut, the affidavit said.
"The victim was found with blond hair clenched in her hands," the affidavit says.
Town in shock
The crime shocked Skidmore, a town of about 300 people, with some residents shuttering their doors, saying they no longer felt safe.
"It's very hard for me to accept this," Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey told reporters. "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."
The affidavit paints a picture of deceit and premeditation on the part of Montgomery.
It alleges that the woman, using a fictitious name, contacted Stinnett on Wednesday through an Internet chat room about looking at rat terriers the Stinnetts sold over the Internet.
The two agreed to meet Thursday at Stinnett's home. Then, on Thursday afternoon, a neighbor reported seeing a dirty, red pinkish, two-door vehicle -- most likely an import -- outside the Stinnett home.
Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, is shown in an undated photo.
With a search under way on the ground, computer investigators began talking with Internet providers and were able to trace the fictitious e-mailer to the Montgomery's home, more than 130 miles away.
Authorities immediately began surveillance of the home and saw Montgomery Friday with a "newborn female infant," according to the affidavit.
They also noticed a vehicle matching the description of the one seen outside the Stinnett's home. It alleges that the suspect's husband, Kevin, told authorities his wife called him shortly after he arrived home from work Thursday, around 5:15 p.m., saying she had gone shopping in Topeka, went into labor and had a baby.
The husband and the couple's two high-school age children drove to Topeka and met Montgomery in the parking lot of a Long John Silver's restaurant. He, his wife and the child drove home in his pickup truck, and the older children drove his wife's car, a red Toyota Corolla, the affidavit alleges.
Montgomery told her husband the baby was born at a women's clinic in Topeka, but authorities said a subsequent check there revealed no babies were born there Thursday.
Once in custody, the 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."
Espey and Graves said Montgomery had a miscarriage at some point this year, although they would not say how recently it occurred.
Espey told CNN the pregnancy was six months along when the child was lost. Of the possible motive in this case, Espey said, "I think she was probably going to take it because she had lost one through a miscarriage at about six months."
Authorities expressed great relief that the child was recovered alive, and attributed that success to the Amber Alert system.
Authorities learned of the Internet chat room where Montgomery allegedly made contact with Stinnett from a tipster in North Carolina. "We may have not ever recovered this little baby if the Amber Alert system was not put into place," Espey told reporters. "I'm overwhelmed with the fact that we're going to be able to get this baby back."
Sgt. Sheldon Lyon, a spokesman with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said, "This is a great day for law enforcement in northwest Missouri."
The Internet chat room "Ratter Chatter," a haven for rat terrier lovers in cyberspace, was overwhelmed with responses from its users, many of whom indicated they knew both the victim and suspect in the case.
"I cannot believe how sorrowful I am. They have taken Lisa into custody. I don't know what is worse -- the horrible crime -- or the possibility that it might be Lisa. Someone just shoot me," wrote one user by the name of Jill.
Another user named Teresa wrote, "I am sitting here in shock, not knowing how to break this. I just received a phone call from a reporter in Missouri saying that Bobbie was killed today and her fetus stolen! I am absolutely horrified!"
Skidmore was the subject of intense media attention in 1981, when town bully Ken Rex McElroy was shot to death in his pickup on the main street in front of more than 40 witnesses. Despite a lengthy investigation, none of the witnesses would identify the killer.