Pregnancy key in missing case?

March 3, 2003 

Laci Peterson, reported missing Dec. 24, was due to have her baby last month.

Jackie Peterson, her mother-in-law, remains convinced Peterson may have been kidnapped for the baby.

She points to three other missing-person cases in California. Two involved pregnant women and the third a woman who had just given birth. Two of those women were found dead. The third has been missing for two years.

"I believed from the beginning that Laci was abducted for her baby," Jackie Peterson wrote in a recent e-mail to The Bee.

Peterson could give birth as late as this week, since many first-time babies often are several weeks late, she wrote, so there's still hope Peterson is alive.

Jackie Peterson said that while she worked at the Laci Peterson volunteer center, she received two e-mails from men who said their pregnant wives had been abducted, and she learned of three cases in the Bay Area and one in Fresno.

"All of the e-mail tips were turned over to the Modesto Police Department, so I don't know how many of those people were contacted," Peterson wrote.

Modesto police have not commented on specifics of their investigation, but said they have received more than 8,000 potential leads.

The case in Fresno was not an abduction of a pregnant woman, news reports showed, but rather the abduction of a newborn child from Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia. According to reports, police believe the female infant was abducted in December by her mother, Marcy Duarte, who had tested positive for drugs while she was in the hospital. Social workers took over care of the baby.

The baby's father later found Duarte and returned her to authorities. Duarte was arrested in December and is awaiting trial on child-concealment and child-endangerment charges.

Last year, a San Francisco man reported the abduction of his pregnant girlfriend, Evelyn Hernandez, 24, and her son, Alex, 5. The report was filed in May, one month after the woman had disappeared. Her wallet was later found with money still in it. Her remains were discovered in San Francisco Bay in July and police concluded that she, her son and her unborn child all were killed. The case is still under investigation.

A pregnant Fremont woman was reported missing in October 1999. Michelle Chan was believed abducted, but returned home a week later and said she needed time alone. She disappeared again a week after that. Fremont officials said Thursday that she has not been found. Her case is still under investigation.

"We've never been able to come up with anything on her," said Julie Terry of the Fremont Police Department's missing-persons unit. "I hope before I leave this job that I do find out what happened to Michelle."

In November 1999, 21-year-old Alice Sin disappeared. Sin was four months pregnant and left behind a 1-year-old son. Her body was found in January 2000 in the Nevada desert. She had died from multiple gunshot wounds. That case is still unsolved.

Possibly the most famous abduction of a pregnant woman involved Theresa Andrews of Kent, Ohio. Andrews, 23, was abducted Sept. 27, 2000, and shot to death by Michelle Bica, whom she had met a few weeks earlier while shopping for baby clothes at Wal-Mart.

Bica, 39, shot Andrews in the back, killing her, then performed a crude Caesarian section operation. For the next five days, she passed the baby off as her own.

Police said Bica had lied to her husband and neighbors for months, telling them she was pregnant. Bica killed herself in a locked bedroom as police arrived to question her about the baby's disappearance.

No numbers on abductions

It's not known how many pregnant woman have been abducted in the state, said Mike Van Winkle, spokesman for the California Department of Justice. The forms the state uses to report missing people do not have a special field for pregnancy, though sometimes pregnancy is mentioned somewhere in a report, he said.

"One of the people in the missing-persons unit said it's very common that runaways or the go-aways left home because they were pregnant and didn't want someone finding out," he said. "We see that a lot of times with teens."

A 1995 FBI study on abductions of pregnant woman and newborn infants found that the abductor most often is a woman who had faked a pregnancy. Out of the 145 cases analyzed for the study, 141 were committed by women, the study said.

"Most of these women are living a lie -- before, during and after the abduction," the study said. "Many have faked a pregnancy, which eventually forces them into a corner. They feel they have no choice but to produce a child by any means necessary. Indeed, infant abductions are the desperate acts of desperate women. As one infant abductor put it, 'I began getting really desperate trying to figure out what I was gonna do -- how I was gonna find someone to give me their baby -- now.'"

Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin can be reached at 578-2347 or pgiblin@modbee.com.

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