In a case that drew international attention, a Colorado woman accused of cutting an unborn baby girl from her mother’s womb, was convicted on Tuesday on all counts, including attempted murder. Former nurse’s aide Dynel Lane, 35, will be sentenced on April 29, and faces up to 16 years in prison.
Victim Michelle Wilkins, seven-months pregnant at the time, survived the attack, but her unborn daughter did not, CNN reports. Wilkins had answered an online ad for baby clothes and arrived at Lane’s home on March 18 last year, where she was beaten and stabbed before Lane cut into Wilkins’ uterus and removed the fetus.
At the trial, Lane’s former boyfriend David Ridley testified that she had undertaken an elaborate ruse to fool him and their friends into believing she was pregnant. In addition to spending hours in medical waiting rooms, only to “become impatient” and leave, she also had friends throw her a baby shower and downloaded a sonogram from the Internet.
Although rare, Lane’s extreme actions are not unique. Since 1974, at least 33 women worldwide have attempted to forcibly remove fetuses from expectant mothers with the intention of passing the babies off as their own, The Chicago Tribune reports. Commenting generally on the phenomenon (not the specific case), Connecticut psychologist Theresa Porter said obtaining a baby — even by such violent means — is not actually the focus of these women: “It really, really is about the pregnancy.”
Motivated by the special treatment given to pregnant women, the perpetrators will typically engage in complex hoaxes, including padding their clothes, involving friends in celebrations and decorating a nursery. “It comes down to attention,” Porter told the Tribune. “You’re the center of attention. Everyone’s doing things for you. And this seemed to be a big issue for a lot of these women. They weren’t simply lying that they were pregnant. It was a big deal, and everyone knew, everyone was involved.”
The women in most of these cases are not psychotic — that is, out of touch with reality — Porter said. She did find three cases in which the perpetrators were found to be mentally ill. The behavior of the women who offended was consistent, Porter explained, with a personality disorder or ingrained pattern of dysfunctional thinking and behavior, but not necessarily a major mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
In four cases the victim was kidnapped after leaving an obstetrics clinic, and in seven cases the perpetrators met the victims on social media and offered them desirable items such as free baby clothes. Most of the victims and perpetrators were strangers or casual acquaintances.
“Even people who go into a maternity ward to kidnap a baby are different from these young women,” Porter observed. “How does one end up at the point where they’re willing to commit murder to get their goal?”
District Court Chief Judge Maria Berkenkotter will sentence Lane on April 29. Lane faces a minimum of 16 years in prison, but prosecutors plan to ask for more.