McFeely: 'Womb raiders' follow a pattern, but Fargo case might be different
FARGO -- We were all thinking it and Fargo Police Chief David Todd verbalized it.
"We were investigating several different theories, including Savanna being held against her will and/or her unborn child being induced or removed and possibly being alive," Todd said Friday.
The chief used those words during a press conference about the Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind disappearance.
He opened the door to the horrific idea the region was whispering about since police revealed they'd found a two-day-old infant believed to be Savanna's in a north Fargo apartment shared by Brooke Lynn Crews and William Henry Hoehn. Those two people were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping in connection with Savanna's disappearance.
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Maybe somebody forced Savanna, who was eight months pregnant, to have the baby early. Or perhaps, in a particularly depraved twist, they took it from her womb. Todd didn't say this happened. He only raised the possibility. There are many unanswered questions with this case, including the whereabouts of Savanna. As of press time, she still had not been found.
But this is a real phenomenon.
It's called "newborn kidnapping" and, while rare, it happens often enough that it's been studied and written about by researchers, authors and experts on endangered children. There are fewer than 20 known cases in the United States of the most heinous possibility, when the mother is cut and the baby removed. It's called "newborn kidnapping by Caesarean section."
In grisly references, perpetrators are called "womb raiders."
Who could do such a thing? What type of mind would allow somebody to go down that twisted road?
"There's a clear pattern in women who do this," said John Rabun, an infant abduction expert for the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va. "They are women who need to cement a relationship with a male significant other. She has a need to have a male bonded to her and she'll do whatever she has to do."
Most often, Rabun said, a woman in a failing relationship will fake a pregnancy to keep a partner from leaving or divorcing her. As the alleged due date nears, she becomes desperate to obtain a newborn, so she will kidnap or murder a woman in the late stages of pregnancy and remove the baby.
"This actually takes some fairly detailed planning," Rabun said. "Usually, the woman who needs the baby will befriend the pregnant woman. She'll play on the common bond of them both being pregnant, even though she really isn't pregnant. She'll gain trust however she can."
The Fargo case would be significantly different in one way, however—the man. Hoehn was arrested for kidnapping, the same as Crews, indicating his participation in the alleged crime.
"What's unusual in this case is you have both a man and a woman," said Ann Burgess, a Boston College nursing professor who was a lead researcher in a 2002 study on newborn kidnapping by Caesarean section. "If it turns out to be what we're talking about, it would be unusual because, in most cases, the man is just on the periphery. He isn't part of what's going on until after the fact."
Burgess said it's common for perpetrators to set up a "lure" for victims. In the most recent case of kidnapping by Caesarean section, in Colorado in 2015, the victim discovered a Craigslist ad for baby clothing. When she traveled to the address, her baby was taken. In another case, the perpetrator offered a large supply of diapers to a pregnant woman.
"Not every case is the same, of course," Burgess said. "But there is always a similar motivation: They want an infant for whatever reason and they are willing to do whatever they need to do."