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Detectives, FBI Follow Tips, Online Messages to Track Down Baby Stolen From Murdered Mother's Womb

December 17, 2004
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Detectives, FBI Follow Tips, Online Messages to Track Down Baby Stolen From Murdered Mother's Womb

Also see:
IP Address Helped Detectives Trace Woman Accused of Taking Baby After Killing Mom-To-Be

By Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - A baby cut from her mother's womb was found alive and healthy less than 24 hours after her mother was strangled in her home in northwest Missouri, police said Friday.

Detectives followed an anonymous tip and a trail of online messages to the home of Lisa and Kevin Montgomery in Melvern, Kan., where they found the baby unharmed. At first, Lisa Montgomery told investigators the baby was hers. But she soon confessed to strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, cutting her open, and removing the nearly full-term girl, according to court papers filed late Friday.

Lisa Montgomery has been charged with kidnapping. Authorities would not discuss any additional charges that might be filed against her or her husband.

The affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Craig M. Arnold laid out a meticulous plot to kill Stinnett, 23, and take her child.

Stinnett, who worked in an engine factory, bred rat terrier dogs and advertised them online. She also participated in several message boards for breeders, chatting about new puppies and dog shows and about the pending birth of her first child.

On one of those message boards, a woman calling herself Darlene Fischer from Fairfax, Mo., expressed interest in buying puppies and asked to come look at Stinnett's dogs, according to the affidavit. They set up an appointment for Thursday; Stinnett e-mailed directions to her home in Skidmore, Mo.

Authorities reviewing those exchanges after the slaying could not find any listing for a Darlene Fischer in Fairfax.

Instead, they found that the e-mails purportedly sent by Fischer were actually sent via a modem hooked up to a phone line in the Montgomery residence in eastern Kansas.

Staking out the house, law enforcement officials saw a dirty red Toyota Corolla pull up Friday afternoon. It matched the description of a car that one of Stinnett's neighbors had reported seeing outside her house at the time of the slaying. Authorities went in, found the newborn and took the Montgomerys into custody.

Kevin Montgomery told investigators that he believed his wife had delivered the child a day earlier, while she was out shopping in Topeka, according to the court documents. He said when she called him with the news of the birth, he and his two teenage children drove to Topeka to pick up her and the baby, arranging to meet them in a fast-food restaurant parking lot.

Although the baby was born several weeks premature, by a brutal caesarean section, she appeared "to be healthy and in good shape," Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey said. Authorities took her to a Topeka hospital for examination, but there were "no indications this child was hurt in any way," Espey said. "The child is probably going to be OK."

The baby's father, Zeb Stinnett, was expected to be united with her in the hospital late Friday, officials said.

In Skidmore, which has a population of about 350, Bobbie Jo Stinnett was known as a sweet, quiet woman who was crazy about her dogs: Fonzi, Haven's Twister, Willie's Belle and several others.

She and her husband called their breeding operation Happy Haven Rat Terriers. "We offer our puppies to GREAT homes only, as we'd rather keep 'em," Bobbie Jo Stinnett wrote on the couple's website.

A breed inspector and licensed judge for the National Kennel Club, Stinnett traveled the Midwest dog show circuit.

Photos from a show in Norman, Okla., last month captured her in a white maternity shirt, jeans and sneakers as she showed Fonzi.

Although Stinnett often attended the shows solo, her husband accompanied her to this one because he didn't want her to be alone when she was so close to delivering their baby. A friend who met up with the Stinnetts at the Oklahoma show said Bobbie Jo was thrilled about the upcoming birth and about her terriers, which did well in the competition.

"She just loved her dogs. That was her life," said Teresa Henderson, a breeder in Ohio who corresponded with Stinnett online.

The Stinnetts usually had four or five dogs loose in their house, but Henderson said it was unlikely the terriers would have provided any protection against intruders. "They could just kick the dogs away," she said. "They're puppies. They're so little."

Authorities said there was no sign of forced entry. Stinnett's mother, Becky Harper, told investigators that her daughter had been expecting visitors to look at her dogs. She had been on the phone with her daughter at 2:30 p.m. Thursday when Stinnett said: "Oh, they're here. I've got to go," according to the affidavit.

An hour later, Harper went to her daughter's house and found her lying in a pool of blood. She told the sheriff's dispatcher that it looked as though her daughter's stomach had exploded.

Detectives found blond hair clutched in Stinnett's hand, indicating she had struggled with her assailant. They also recovered fingerprints from the scene. Stinnett had been strangled from behind, they said.

A breeder who knew Stinnett well said the slaying had stunned and terrified the small online community of rat terrier breeders, especially since the public message boards may have helped the assailant hatch the plot.

"She was just one of the sweetest people," the breeder said. "She didn't have an enemy. That's why this doesn't make sense. It's beyond my comprehension that anyone could do this."

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