Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fetal Snatchers

Neurotic Pattern

The Brady/Smith incident was the ninth assault on a pregnant woman in the U.S. since 1987, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Seven of the nine women had died, and seven of the stolen babies had survived. (Sarah Brady and her daughter both survived).

The odd thing about this type of crime is that while the predators seem to be mentally unstable, they're highly organized and usually have an elaborate plan carried out over several months. Although their methods may differ, they have a fairly predictable pattern. Such crimes are generally committed by women using a confidence-type scam and they have a history of deception in other areas of their lives. Usually, they work alone, developing a relationship with a "predetermined target," but some have enlisted assistance.

Dr. Phillip Resnick
Dr. Phillip Resnick

Dr. Phillip Resnick, who assisted in the defense of both Andrea Yates (who drowned her five children) and Deanna Laney (who stoned hers), told reporters that he interpreted the act of fetal snatching as the maternal instinct gone wrong. Its clinical name is "newborn kidnapping by cesarean section." The perpetrators are typically women who've learned they cannot have children or who have lost a child. Their longing to be mothers develops into a crafty determination to get a baby, so they look for a vulnerable pregnant woman. Mentally, they've gone so far beyond normal that the cost of a life to acquire a child seems minimal to them. The baby, they think, will complete them, and they're often jealous of women who do have babies or are about to give birth. Resnick says that being barren takes on terrible symbolism, so stark on the minds of these offenders that they can see only their own need, and not the ultimate consequences to themselves or others.

Deanna Laney stoned her children
Deanna Laney stoned her children

In 2002, a study was published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences on kidnap by cesarean section. The study examined six such incidents, extracted from 199 cases of infant abduction that had occurred between 1983 and 2000. Five of the perpetrators wanted the baby for themselves, while one was going to sell it. In some cases, they hoped to cement a failing relationship, while others were obsessed with having a baby.

 It was found that those who commit such crimes are self-centered, obsessed with babies, and tend to live in a delusional fantasy world, but they are not considered psychotic. That is, they are fully aware of reality; they just prefer their fantasy. In general, they're socially functional until they swing into their fantasy, at which point they tend to dissociate and lose psychological integration. "To use a metaphor," says Burgess, "their identity and integrative capacity is held together by a shoestring. When the shoestring is untied, they unravel." Typically, they're cold and detached as individuals, and clearly self-absorbed to the point of having callous disregard for how they treat others. Often, they manifest a personality disorder of some type, and the inability to have a child in the way they want can be a blow to their narcissistic sense of self.

Their MO involves a confidence-style approach, in which they pretend to be something they're not in order to win their victim's trust. They have also conned others into believing they're pregnant. Usually, they use a knife or cutting device to remove the child, but kill the mother with bullets or strangulation. Several have had prior criminal records.

Strangely enough, they're often so engrossed with preparing for the day they will get their baby that they fail to think ahead to the questions they'll be asked, or about practical matters such as birth certificates. That's usually how they get caught.

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