If you have not read about this horriffic case yet, Lisa M. Montgomery of Melvern Kansas had a baby girl fourteen years ago and then had her tubes tied. Since that time, she frequently claimed that she was pregnant to her ex-husband, current husband, and fellow dog-show attendees. Even more recently, she claimed on a rat-terrier computer forum that she was carrying twins and that she lost one of the twins in the early stage of the pregnancy. But it was all a lie. “None of the rat-terrier people believed she was pregnant,” terrier breeder Nanci Strudl told the Kansas City Star. “She never gained an ounce.”

Her ex-husband was filing to take custody of their children, and Lisa was desperate to have another child with her second husband. Meanwhile, she had been attending various dog shows, where at one point, she had her photo taken with a young expectant mother-to-be named Bobbie Jo Stinnett, Lisa came up with a fake name (Darlene Fischer), contacted young Ms. Stinnett on the internet and claimed that she wanted to come over to look at Ms. Stinnett’s rat terriers in order to purchase one of the pups. That morning, Lisa Montgomery went to the Wal-mart to pick out baby clothing. One lady thinks that it may have been Lisa who approached her in the Wal-mart that morning, offering to hold her baby while she shopped. Her motherly instincts told her this was not a good idea so she didn’t allow the stranger to hold her baby. In any case, Wal-mart officials did see Lisa on the security tapes that morning buying clothing. Then she went to the young mother-to-be’s house. Bobbie Jo Stinnett had been on the phone with her mother and told her mother that she had to go meet a new customer who was interested in pups. When she opened the door, Lisa Montgomery strangled her, cut the fetus out of her womb while she was still alive, cut the umbilical cord on the child, cleaned and dressed the baby, and then called her husband to tell him that she had delivered the baby while she was out shopping. Lisa Montgomery’s husband and kids met her near Topeka, Kansas the next day and the “new family” went home. Bobbie Jo Stinnett’s mother found Bobbie Joe laying in a pool of blood, called the ambulance, and unfortunately Bobbie Jo died on the way to the hospital in the care of the paramedics. She was 23.

When I read stories like this, I do my best to try to understand what would cause somebody to commit such an act. Given that cases such as this occur with some regularity, the first lesson I take away is that once again, this is a reminder that we are biochemical animals with intense biological imperative drives. We are shocked because the acts seem to be the act of unreasonable people. And that’s the point. Reason would not enter into it, given that it is a higher level brain function, separated from the lower instinctive drives to mate, run, kill, eat, and nurture. I will never know what Lisa Montgomery’s issues were. But if I had to guess, there might be shame at having lost a child, fear of an angry husband if she told him she lost it, and the innate desire to mother that had been cut short and that needed an outlet.

It sounds like she had been a pathological liar about being pregnant and had finally worked up the courage to steal somebody else’s baby and claim it as her own. So the lower instinctive drive activated the higher-level social skills, got her near a potential target, and then she killed another woman and took that child as her own. This is something that sometimes happens in the non-human animal kingdom as well. We are not as far away from it as we would like to think. Sure, we are separated by ethics and morals. But some people don’t have those. My friend and mentor Peter Koestenbaum recently wrote an appropriate article in his weekly leadership newsletter:

CHOOSING ETHICS

Being ethical is always a decision. Animals may have feelings, capable of bonding and attachment, but we don’t say they are ethical. Being ethical is typically human. And humans who tamper with their ethics endanger the integrity of their very humanity. The difference lies in the zone of freedom. For we choose our behavior in accordance with the criteria of what is ethical and what is not. A person may commit a heinous crime, but if that person lacks judgment, cannot reflect, cannot think, that person is given treatment instead of punishment.

Human freedom is rooted in the human fact of free will. And free will is scary. Why? Because we can choose anything we want. In the purity of our philosophical truth, the truth about freedom is that, like it or not, we are at least potentially and theoretically free to choose whether we are to attach ourselves to something, like our child, or whether we want to distance ourselves from, and do not care what happens to, people at the other end of the world. We can also choose the reverse….

December 20, 2004

[From The Philosophic Consultant, 2002, Koestenbaum]

What I want to know is, exactly how clueless is her husband? Her previous husband knew that she had her tubes tied. You would think that her current husband would know that. You would also think that he would notice if she had added 20-30 pounds of fat and was cycling through the standard pregnancy biochemical cycles for eight months. She managed to cover it up long enough to find the young mother and take her child. That alone seems bizarre and hard to believe, but perhaps she wrapped herself up with blankets around her waist to cover up the obvious or perhaps she was bearing a lot of extra weight so it wasn’t noticeable. But if the rat-terrier people didn’t believe her, then why did her husband? Did they never have sex? More likely, he knew she wasn’t pregnant but didn’t want to know where the baby came from. That is only my speculation though.

The child was taken from its womb at eight months. Who knows when it was actually scheduled to arrive, but it was brought into the world sooner and much more abruptly than anticipated, and by all accounts she is doing fine. That is the resiliency of life and I think it is quite awesome. It makes me think of my favourite line from Jurassic Park: “Life always finds a way.”

I feel horrible for Zeb Stinnett, husband of the dead young mother-to-be, who will now have to live with that death and will have to raise his child by himself all because some crazed biologicially driven woman from another state murdered his wife and stole his child. And for Mr. Montgomery and his kids who will have to sit through a lengthy trial while their wife and mother is charged with kidnapping and murder.The kids are in school so I can’t imagine how that is going to affect them. Fortunately, they have been handed over to Montgomery’s ex-husband, the kids’ biological father. Not that that will make it any easier for them.

Bobbie Jo, rest in peace. And Baby Stinnett, welcome to the world. Hopefully that will be the worst thing you will ever experience while you’re here.