Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fetal Snatchers

Fatal Desperation

Tiffany Hall
Tiffany Hall

On September 21, 2006, a young sailor on leave called the police to report that his girlfriend, Tiffany Hall, 24, had admitted that she had killed a woman and stolen a fetus. This was the same young woman who had summoned police on September 15 to Frank Holton Park, claiming she had gone into labor and the baby had died. She was taken to a local hospital, where she told a sex crime detective that she had been raped, causing a miscarriage. However, her story was inconsistent and full of holes, and she left before she could be examined.

Apparently, she persuaded her boyfriend that she had miscarried his baby, so they had buried the child together, giving it the name Taylor Horn. But then Hall admitted that she'd miscarried his child some time before and had stolen this premature infant from her cousin. That's when he called the police. Hall was arrested, and the story turned even darker.

Soon thereafter, the mutilated corpse of a young woman was found in a weedy field in southern Illinois, and the autopsy indicated that she had been dead for several days. Someone had bludgeoned her with a blunt object and had cut into her belly with a sharp implement, delivering an unborn fetus. A pair of scissors found near the body was presumed to be the cutting tool, and St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone indicated that the cause of death was bleeding from an abdominal wound.

DeMond, Ivan & Jimella Tunstall
DeMond, Ivan & Jimella Tunstall

The victim was Jimella Tunstall, a close friend and cousin of Hall's. The infant had died, but Tunstall's children were missing, so investigators dragged a nearby lake, in case they had drowned, and searched the 1,100-acre Frank Holton Park. They stated to reporters that they had no evidence to believe the children were dead, so they remained optimistic about finding them. They had been seen since their mother's death, in the custody of the suspect, and the suspect's home was searched without turning up any indication of foul play.

But then on September 25, 2006, newspapers across the country reported that a fetal snatching incident perpetrated in Illinois was worse than first believed. Hall had told police what she had done in a desperate bid to acquire a baby.

According to the News Democrat, Hall indicated that after killing Tunstall, she had drowned her three children. They'd been there for several days. The oldest, age 7, was found in the dryer and the others, ages 1 and 2, in the washing machine at their East St. Louis apartment. But the appliances had not been turned on and there was little water in the washing machine, so it was clear that they'd been killed elsewhere, probably drowned in a bathtub, and then placed in the machines.

Jimella Tunstall
Jimella Tunstall

Tunstall had been seven months pregnant when she died, and Hall had kept the body in her mother's basement for several days before dumping it in a lot nearby, behind her house. The infant had been unable to survive on its own.

After an October indictment, Hall pled not guilty to the deaths of Tunstall and the fetus. Given the nature of the crime and the possibility that it involves a psychotic delusion, it's likely that if she goes to trial, her defense, like Lisa Montgomery, will be some form of insanity or diminished capacity. In fact, Hall's attorney, public defender Randall Kelley, indicated he'd have her tested for mental competency. It's not clear, despite her claim to her boyfriend and others, that Hall was ever even pregnant. However, her two daughters had been removed from her custody for three years in 1999, due to abuse, but were returned to her four years ago. Psychiatric testing will probe the effect on her of this circumstance.

On February 5, 2007, the prosecutor decided to seek the death penalty for Hall. In April, she was charged with killing the other three children, for which she will face a second death penalty. The reason it took so long for the second charge was that the prosecutor wanted to develop a solid body of evidence against her.

In the most recent case, there was actually a happy ending.

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