MELVERN, Kan. – A woman charged with killing an expectant mother and cutting the baby from her womb was showing the child off to people at a cafe and to her pastor hours before she was arrested, residents said Saturday.
Lisa M. Montgomery (search), 36, was charged Friday with kidnapping resulting in murder and was expected to appear in federal court Monday. The baby, whose mother had been eight months pregnant, was in good condition.
Hours before her arrest, Montgomery and her husband showed off a newborn girl at a restaurant, said Kathy Sage, owner of the Whistle Stop Cafe in Melvern, a small eastern Kansas town.
Many customers were surprised to hear the infant was only a day old, Sage said. She knew an Amber Alert (search) had been issued for a baby missing from Missouri but did not realize the infant the Montgomerys carried was connected until hearing from a reporter on Friday.
"You read about this stuff," she said. "It blows you away when it's here. This stuff is supposed to be in New York City or Los Angeles."
Montgomery was arrested later in the death of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was found Thursday in a pool of blood inside her small white home in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore.
Montgomery's husband, Kevin, has not been charged in the case.
The arrest stunned many in this community of about 420 residents who apparently had believed for months that Lisa Montgomery was pregnant.
While the Montgomerys ate breakfast Friday, another customer showed the baby off around the cafe. After eating, they took the girl to visit their pastor.
"It was a beautiful baby," Mike Wheatly said. "Absolutely beautiful."
Wheatly and his wife commented that the baby, whom the couple called Abigail, did not look like a newborn because her head was not misshapen from passing through the birth canal, a common result of childbirth that soon goes away. The only marks she had were a small scratch on her head and a slight bruise on her hand.
The pastor had not seen the couple since October, and everyone in the congregation expected her to give birth around Dec. 12.
U.S. Attorney Todd Graves said Lisa Montgomery contacted Stinnett through an online message board after seeing a Web site about the rat terriers Stinnett bred and raised. The site included a picture of Stinnett, showing she was pregnant.
Investigators searched Stinnett's computer and found the victim had been communicating through the message board with someone interested in buying a dog claiming to be a Darlene Fischer who lived north of Fairfax, Mo.
Authorities, helped by a North Carolina dog breeder who was familiar with the message board, determined the communication from Fischer actually came from Montgomery's house.
The Montgomerys were taken in for questioning Friday, and Lisa Montgomery was charged. Investigators said she confessed to the crimes.
Officials said Montgomery had not hired an attorney. Messages left by The Associated Press at the home of Kevin Montgomery's parents went unreturned Saturday.
Jeff Lanza, an FBI spokesman in Kansas City, Mo., declined to discuss motives and said the investigation was ongoing.
He would say only that Montgomery was being held in Kansas and was expected to make her first appearance in federal court Monday, though authorities did not know whether it would be in Missouri or Kansas.
The baby's father and several other family members saw the infant, named Victoria Jo, for the first time Friday night at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka.
The infant was in an intensive care unit. Hospital officials said she was responding normally for a baby taken from the womb one month premature.
"She's doing well," hospital spokeswoman Carol Wheeler said.
The family was not speaking to reporters, but Victoria Jo's father, Zeb Stinnett, issued a brief statement calling her "a miracle."
"I want to thank family, friends, Amber Alert and law enforcement officials for their support during this time," he said.
Montgomery is the mother of two high-school-age children. Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey said Saturday that Montgomery had told people she was pregnant with twins, though investigators were still trying to determine if that was true.
"She told people she was pregnant and had a miscarriage and lost one of the twins," Espey said. "We're thinking she never was pregnant."
According to court documents, Montgomery traveled to Topeka, about 30 miles north of Melvern, on Thursday to go shopping. She called her husband from there, saying she had gone into labor and given birth.
Kevin Montgomery and the couple's two children met Lisa and the newborn in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Topeka and drove home, according to an affidavit.
Killings of pregnant women are more common than many people realize, The Washington Post reported in Sunday's editions after a yearlong examination of death records.
Using state data and other sources, the newspaper documents the killings of 1,367 pregnant women and new mothers since 1990. It said there were undoubtedly more deaths, and that 13 states said they had no way of knowing how many such deaths occurred.
The Post said several statewide studies have found pregnant women more likely to die of homicide than of any natural cause, and that the deaths cut across racial and ethnic groups.