true crime

Womb raiders: A history of a horrific crime committed overwhelmingly by women.

WARNING: This post details the murders of pregnant women. It may be distressing for some readers. 

Savanna Lafontaine-Greywind was a happy 22-year-old and heavily pregnant when she went to visit neighbours.

Days later her body was discovered wrapped in plastic and floating in a river, her uterus empty. This discovery came after a newborn baby was found by police in her apartment building.

That little girl is doing well, her father and Lafontaine-Greywind’s boyfriend says. Meanwhile, their neighbours, Brooke Crews, 38, and boyfriend William Hoehn, 32, have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

It’s a horrific crime, one that raises the almost unthinkable question: Was Savanna killed so her neighbours could steal her unborn child?

It wouldn’t be the first time a crime of this disturbing nature has been perpetrated. Fetal abduction, fetal theft or “womb raiding” is a relatively new crime, with the first documented case in the US dating back to 1974. Since then there have only been about 20 of this kind, each with its own heinous backstory. But looking at these cases a pattern emerges. Most womb raiders are women, motivated by relationship problems and driven by desperation.

Infant abduction expert John Rabun says these are often women who feel they need to “cement a relationship” or to keep a partner from leaving them, and to do so have faked a pregnancy.

As the pretend due date draws closer, the woman becomes desperate, deciding her only option is to kidnap a pregnant woman and snatch her baby, Rabun tells Inforum.

“This actually takes some fairly detailed planning,” he says.

“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.”

Lafontaine-Greywind’s case differs in that Crews and Hoehn have both been charged with her murder, but as we look back at the history of this crime, we find it’s more often a woman acting alone.

The first documented case of womb raiding in the US.

In 1974, mother-of-three Margaret Sweeney, who was eight months pregnant, was invited to a home and attacked by a crazed West Philadelphia woman who “wanted a baby badly”.

The 26-year-old was hacked, shot and buried in a shallow grave by Winifred Ransom, but not before she performed a Caesarean on the mother and extracted her baby girl.

Police at the time said the infant, who survived, was found upstairs in Ransom’s home. She told them she was unable to have children.

Listen: There’s something wrong with the Amanda Knox documentary. (Post continues after audio.)

During the trial, it was revealed that Ransom’s husband, John, 40, had alerted police to the crime after he was unconvinced by his wife’s story. She had told him she had given birth to the child herself and killed the younger woman when she tried to take her.

Ransom was acquitted of the crime thanks to an insanity plea and a judge finding she had committed the crime under a “psychotic delusion”. She was released after serving 20 months in a mental health facility.

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Kidnapping, lies, friends and betrayal.

The next case reported case wasn’t until 13 years later, in 1987, when Cindy Ray was kidnapped on her way back to her car after a prenatal check-up.

Darci Pierce, 19, had lied to her husband and friends about being pregnant and, fearing that her husband would leave her if he found out the truth, devised a plan to steal a baby she could pass off as her own.

Pierce has studied c-sections before she attacked her eight-month-pregnant target, brandishing a fake gun. She had planned to carry out the procedure at home, but as her husband was there, she drove to a secluded location where she strangled Ray and hacked at her abdomen with a car key until she could get to her infant.

Darci Pierce in 2016. (Image: police mugshot.)

Ray was left to bleed to death while Pierce called emergency services to take her and the baby to hospital where she attempted to pretend she'd given birth to the infant herself. It wasn't long before she was found out, and eventually sentenced to a minimum 30 years in prison. The baby, a girl later named Amelia, miraculously survived.

Other cases involve women befriending their victims, such as in 1996 when 17-year-old Carethia Curry was killed by a woman she had met and bonded with while shopping in children's stores.

She was murdered by her friend, Felicia Scott, in the 29-year-old's home after the two had gone out for pizza.

Mamamia has been able to find just under 20 other recorded cases in 1995, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and now in August of 2017. No fetus abduction case has been recorded in Australia, and the majority of cases found were committed in the US.

As nursing professor, Ann Burgess, who lead a 2002 study into kidnapping by c-section, told Inforum, not every case is the same, but the perpetrators do have a similar motivation.

"They want an infant for whatever reason and they are willing to do whatever they need to do."

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