For many months now, the country has kept a close eye on the evolution of the Laci Peterson tragedy. Initially, police called it a missing persons case. We sympathized with the tormented husband as he awaited the safe return of his pregnant wife.
But over time, the mystery took a gruesome turn and Laci's husband Scott now stands accused of murdering her and their unborn son, Connor.
Sadly, this is not an isolated case. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (search), the leading cause of death among pregnant women is murder.
“Domestic violence is about power and control,” Jerry Fulcher, public policy director for the coalition, explained. "It's about one person trying to control another person by using violence and threats and other forms of coercion. And pregnancy may be a time when the batterer feels particularly out of control — a time when he feels the need to assert more control over [the woman], over the situation.”
On April 21, the same day Scott Peterson pleaded not guilty to capital murder charges, police in Burlington, N.C. were making an equally horrifying discovery. The dismembered body of 20-year-old April Greer (search), seven months pregnant, was found in a trashcan. Police have charged her boyfriend with first-degree murder.
Despite the recent headlines, this is not a new phenomenon. In 1989, Charles Stuart claimed he was wounded and that his pregnant wife was killed in a random attack in Boston, Mass. When his brother ultimately fingered him as the triggerman, Stuart killed himself by jumping off the Tobin Bridge.
In another case, Rae Carruth (search) was on the cusp of gridiron stardom with the Carolina Panthers when girlfriend Cherica Adams told him she was pregnant.
“I think it was becoming more smothering to him, the more she talked about getting married and being a family,” Saundra Adam's, Cherica's mother, said.
During Carruth's trial, it became clear that he didn't want the burden of a wife, let alone a baby. According to court testimony, he asked Adams to have an abortion but she wouldn't hear of it. She wanted the baby and wanted to be a mother.
“His position with the Panthers was not going to intimidate her,” Saundra Adams said. “She knew financially she would be okay whether she was with him or not with him, and I think she let him know that.”
David Graham prosecuted Carruth.
“The situation with Cherica Adams was not the first occasion when Mr. Carruth had at least talked about violence in terms of causing an abortion,” he said. “He had actually threatened to — according to this one witness — take her life if she did not abort his child that she was carrying.”
But Cherica never knew this. In fact, she was happy that her on-again, off-again relationship with Carruth seemed to be getting back on track. So when he asked her to go to the movies the night of November 15, 1999, she had no reason to suspect she was about to become the victim in a real-life horror film.
“[Carruth] is a very likeable and fun guy unless you happen to be his girlfriend and you get pregnant and you want to give birth to that child,” Graham said. “Then he will become the most dangerous person that you've ever met.”
Adams survived the night, but died a month later. She was 24 years old.
“I don't even remember hanging up the phone,” Saundra Adams said. “I just remember dropping to my knees to pray, and just letting out this horrific sound. Just praying, 'Lord, let my baby be okay. Don't let her die. Let her be okay.'”
Cherica's baby Chancellor was delivered 10 weeks early and survived, but suffers from cerebral palsy.
Carruth was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and two other offenses, and sentenced to 18 to 24 years in prison. Witnesses at his trial testified he wanted Cherica dead in order to avoid paying child support.
“I think he was always used to getting what he wanted,” Saundra Adams said. “Women accommodated him, and I think that could push his buttons some — not being able to totally be in control of her.”
Margerry Bakely also believes her sister's pregnancy was her death sentence. Bonny Lee Bakley (search) was the wife of actor Robert Blake.
“He was either really sweet to her or very cold and rude, but [Bonny] kind of chalked it up to his being a celebrity and maybe a little spoiled and things like that,” Margerry Bakely said. “If things weren't going his way, he'd get nasty.”
When Bonny Bakley discovered she was pregnant with Blake's child, he made it clear in a telephone conversation she taped that he did not approve.
Baby Rose was born in June of 2000. After DNA tests confirmed Blake as the father, he and Bakley married. The honeymoon never really began. They lived in separate houses and for a time, in different states.
According to Margerry Bakley, Blake begged Bonny to move to Los Angeles. She finally agreed, and was dead five days later.
“We all tried to talk her out of going out there,” Margerry Bakley said. “But she believed that he was just blowing off steam and things would be alright.”
Rose turns two this month. She's being raised by Blake's daughter from his first marriage, Delinah. Robert Blake has plead not guilty to all charges, including murder and solicitation.
In some cases, the target is not the mother, but the unborn child. Ohio Dr. Maynard Muntzing (search) was already married to someone else when Michelle Baker told him she was pregnant. A hidden police camera caught him pouring anti-ulcer medication into his lovers' drink, trying to induce a miscarriage.
According to reports, Muntzing had plans to reconcile with his wife and didn't want an illegitimate child. He is currently serving a five-year sentence for attempted felonious assault and contamination of a substance.
Baker lost her baby two months later, though authorities could never say definitively why.
Saundra Adams is raising the boy her daughter lost her life to have. Chancellor Adams is a rare survivor of the vicious attacks that happen too often to pregnant women. Despite the hurdles he encountered coming into this world, Chancellor serves as a legacy to his mother's strength and sacrifice.
“He's so determined. He's got such a strong will, and I see all of that in him,” said Saundra Adams. “It makes me so happy to know how she held on just so she could bring this baby into the world. I salute her daily for being a wonderful mom.”