The following content contains disturbing accounts of violence. Discretion is advised.
It took 90 minutes for the jury to reach their verdict—their first vote was unanimous. After 142 witnesses spoke and the prosecution presented over 100 pieces of evidence, Taylor Parker, 29, was sentenced to death for the killing of Reagan Simmons-Hancock, 21, on November 9, 2022.
Parker is the seventh woman ever to be placed on death row in Texas.
Parker killed Simmons-Hancock, whom she knew, in 2020, to steal the expectant mother’s unborn daughter. The baby, Braxlynn Sage Hancock did not survive after being cut from Simmons-Hancock’s womb. Simmons-Hancock’s 3-year-old daughter was in the house at the time of the crime, reported ABC News.
One juror said Parker scowled throughout the trial, “She didn’t look remorseful,” he told KTBS TV.
The Motivation Behind the Crime
While the number one cause of death for pregnant women is homicide, according to researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—it is typically at the hands of a partner. Much rarer are cases where women kill other women for their unborn babies.
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The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported in September 2022 that what they call “fetal abductions” made up 6 percent of the total amount of reported infant abductions (of which there have been 336 since 1964). In the U.S., there have been 21 cases of fetal abduction cases since 1987, according to the NCMEC, and of those, 19 resulted in the mother’s death, and nine led to the death of the fetuses.
The crime is not unique to America.
An October 2022 paper published in Minerva Forensic Medicine, referenced eight reported cases in South Africa, Colombia, Hong Kong, Brazil and Mexico. Currently, a team of Brazilian researchers, alongside an American team that includes Ann Burgess, a pioneer of the FBI’s criminal profiling methods, are examining nine cases across Brazil, and hopes to release the first study that interviews the offenders, rather than relying on court documents to explain their motives and actions.
Forensic psychologist Theresa Porter, an expert on female violence and coauthor of “Female Aggression” believes that motive behind fetal abduction goes far beyond the desire for a baby.
“This is not the maternal urge run amok,” she told The Guardian in 2015, pointing to narcissism and grandiose delusions as an explanation for the crime. “There’s no evidence they bond with the babies they snatch. These women are often extreme con artists. They are psychologically impaired, but the majority are not psychotic.”
Burgess, the author of “A Killer by Design: Murderers, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher the Criminal Mind,” tells A&E True Crime, she agrees that motivation stems from narcissism, and points to only one case in the 21 U.S. cases where a defendant was determined to have had a psychotic break.
Warning Signs of a Fetal Abductor
Dr. Gary Brucato, a clinical psychologist specializing in psychotic illness and violence and co-author of “The New Evil: Understanding the Emergence of Modern Violent Crime,” calls fetal abduction an “elimination crime.” Offenders “view a pregnant person as a chess piece to be knocked out,” he tells A&E True Crime. “There’s a lack of empathy.”
Brucato also likens the crime to women who kill their own children because they like the attention that comes with that loss.
Fetal abductors “are quite similar to that subtype of serial killer” as they are hooked on the attention associated with pregnancy, he says. Warning signs of fetal abduction could be an over-interest in others’ pregnancies and a reputation as a pathological liar, agree Burgess and Brucato. Another commonality among fetal abductors, Brucato says, is exhibiting a personality disorder—though they may have different ones.
On the surface, the women who commit these crimes, at least in the U.S., appear to have little in common. They are of different ages and races, some are already mothers and some have no children. But fetal abductions typically start with the same lie: That the perpetrator is pregnant. And the crime often coincides with a fear of losing a romantic partner.
While victims can be known or unknown to their killer before the crime, a fetal abductor will “often utilize confidence style tricks to persuade their victims,” according to the 2022 Minerva Forensic Medicine study.
Some of those tricks are easier to play than they used to be, thanks to social media, where future perpetrators can track potential victims’ pregnancies and reach out to them. “It heightens the opportunity for offenders to find victims,” says Burgess.
Women Who’ve Murdered to Kidnap Babies
Twenty-two-year-old Angelikque Sutton was murdered in New York City in 2015 by her childhood friend Ashleigh Wade. The two had recently reconnected on Facebook over their pregnancies. But Wade, also 22, had convinced her boyfriend and others—even a neighbor who was an OB-GYN nurse—that she was pregnant using a sonogram that she likely downloaded from the internet, according to the Guardian.
Wade had allegedly suffered a hysterical pregnancy, a false pregnancy that may actually appear with symptoms associated with pregnancy, but believed she lost her baby.
After removing Sutton’s daughter from her womb, Wade told authorities, “Holding her felt right and I believed that the little girl was mine.” The girl, named Jenasis, survived the caesarian section.
Wade was arrested almost immediately after her crime and was found guilty of murder and kidnapping in 2017 and sentenced to 40 years to life.
In May 2019, Clarisa Figueroa, 46, lured a stranger, Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, 19, to her Chicago home via a post in a Facebook group for moms. She offered the young woman free baby clothes, according to the Chicago Sun Times. The first time Ochoa-Lopez, who was already the mother of a 3-year-old son, visited Figueroa’s home, she did indeed get clothing, reported People.
When she went back a second time, she was ambushed by Figueroa and Figueroa’s daughter Desiree Figueroa. They murdered Ochoa-Lopez and then performed a crude C-section before discarding her body in a garbage can outside their home.
When Ochoa-Lopez’s newborn son showed signs of distress, Clarisa Figueroa called 911, saying the baby was her own. The infant was taken to a local hospital.
Three weeks after the killing, police following up on a missing person’s report for Ochoa-Lopez, received a tip about the Facebook communication between the pregnant woman and Clarisa Figueroa. Authorities were then able to confirm the child’s actual father was Yovany Lopez. Soon after, they found Ochoa-Lopez’s remains.
The infant died weeks later in the hospital—in his father’s arms.
Both Figueroas are charged with two counts of murder, among many other charges, and despite Clarisa’s boyfriend, Piotr Bobak, pleading guilty in January 2023 to covering up the murder, the Figueroas are pleading not guilty. While in jail and awaiting trial, Desiree gave birth to a child in November 2019.
Perhaps one of the most notorious cases of fetal abduction also started in an online discussion group.
Lisa Montgomery, 36, targeted and killed pregnant dog breeder Bobbie Jo Stinnett after chatting with her about buying a puppy in December 2004. Montgomery told Stinnett she was also pregnant, a lie she’d told her husband and many others as well.
“[Montgomery] first picked a victim who was carrying twins,” Diane Fanning, author of “Baby Be Mine,” a book about the murder tells A&E True Crime. “And when that woman lost one of the babies, suddenly [Montgomery] wasn’t carrying twins, although she’d been telling everybody she was.”
Later, Montgomery’s focus shifted to Stinnett, a 23-year-old mother of one who was eight months pregnant, and was living in Indiana, some miles away from Montgomery in Missouri.
Montgomery escaped the scene of her crime, taking Stinnett’s baby, whom she called Abigail, home to her elated husband, Kevin Montgomery. For one day, they celebrated “their” new arrival. Kevin had no idea his wife’s pregnancy was faked, that she had faked pregnancies and miscarriages before or that she had been sterilized after the birth of her fourth child with her previous husband, her stepbrother Carl Boman.
Montgomery’s attorneys say that she was coerced into that sterilization by Boman and her abusive mother Judy Shaughnessy, A&E True Crime reported in 2021. Bowan had also apparently threatened to tell Kevin Montgomery about the sterilization.
Lisa Montgomery was found guilty of federal kidnapping resulting in death. The United States Justice Department called the murder and kidnapping “heinous.” Montgomery’s death sentence was affirmed after an appeal, and “her request for collateral relief was rejected by every court that considered it.” In 2021, she became the first woman to be federally executed in nearly 70 years.
The punishment was controversial. The New York Times reported in a story titled, “Punch After Punch, Rape After Rape, a Murderer Was Made,” that Montgomery’s post-conviction counsel interviewed nearly 450 people, including family members, doctors and teachers who said she was mentally ill as a result of trauma. (A childhood riddled with physical and sexual abuse was also described in Baby Be Mine and a BCC interview with Montgomery’s half-sister.)
Dr. Katherine Porterfield, a clinical psychologist who spent about 18 hours evaluating Montgomery testified that she believed Montgomery was psychotic.
“Being psychotic, it does not mean you are not intelligent, nor that you cannot act in a planful way,” she says. “We’ve seen crime for years and years in our country in which people enact terrible violence coming out of a psychotic set of beliefs or thought process. Lisa Montgomery is no different. She enacted this in the grip of a very broken mind.”
“I’m still baffled that she got the death penalty,” Fanning says. “She was so blatantly mentally ill.” That’s not to say that Fanning believes that Montgomery wasn’t extremely dangerous. “Say she got away with it,” she posits. “What would happen the first time that baby didn’t give love completely back? Toddlers defy mothers all the time. So, what does she do to that child? She’s already taken a life.”