MySpace strikes again! Good thing cops got there when they did...
BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. -- Police on Tuesday said they saved a kidnapped pregnant woman just before her unborn baby was to be cut from her womb at a metro-area hotel.
Blue Springs Detective Troy Pharr said two women were arrested at the Interstate Inn in Blue Springs on Monday afternoon. Lauren M. Gash, 19, of Odessa, was charged with kidnapping and first-degree assault. Alisa D. Betts, 17, of Atchison, Kan., was charged with kidnapping. Bond has been set at $750,000 cash only for Gash and $500,000 cash only for Betts.
Pharr said Amanda Howard, 18, of Clinton, Mo., was found in the back of the hotel room and had duct tape around her neck. She had marks on her wrists and had been tied up, but she was not seriously injured, Pharr said.
"I think they wanted the baby. I think Lauren wanted the baby," Pharr said.
Police said they arrived just before the abductors were going to cut Howard, who is due to give birth next week.
"This is a very scary case," Pharr said. "I think we made it there in just the nick of time."
Gash had recently had a baby shower thrown in her honor, even though she is not pregnant, KMBC reported. Gash had been telling family members that she was pregnant and that she had recently delivered the baby by C-section at an Independence hospital, police said.
Women Met On MySpace
Howard told police she had met Gash through an ad on MySpace.com about baby clothes. Police said Gash had given a false name on the Internet and promised to give Howard some things for her baby if she would come to Kansas City. Gash said she would pick up Howard in Clinton, drive her to Kansas City to pick up the baby items and then drive her back home.
Howard told police that while they in the car on the way to Kansas City, Gash pepper-sprayed her and held her against her will. Howard said she was taken to the Interstate Inn, where Gash and Betts were going to cut the baby from her womb and leave her to die.
Howard said she was tied up and that one of the women sat on top of her belly and twisted her head violently in an attempt to break her neck.
Howard had been at the Inn for about 45 minutes when police knocked on the door and were able to stop the situation.
"When we arrived at the scene, Lauren came to the door, the victim was in the bathroom -- she was very upset. She got her hands free while Lauren was away," Pharr said.
Officer Brandon Shrout was one of the first officers at the hotel. He said they knocked on the door to the hotel room and it took several moments before Gash opened the door. He said when he first spoke to Gash, her face was flushed and she claimed her friend was screaming because she was having labor pains.
Shrout said he saw Howard in the back part of the room and she was crying.
"We noticed right off she was shaken, she was crying, she had tape around her neck. We separated (Gash and Howard). It took time to unravel things, but we figured it out. The look on Ms. Howard's face told the whole story," Shrout said. "I was shocked. I've been here 12 years, and I've never seen anything close to that, ever."
Tipster Calls Police
Pharr said police had received a tip that a woman was in a hotel room and was screaming loudly. The tipster said the woman was pregnant and may be going into labor.
Pharr said police later learned Betts was the tipster who called police. He said Betts had gotten cold feet about the plan to cut out the baby, so she left the hotel room. Based on Howard's description, Betts was later arrested in the hotel complex.
Detectives said they are investigating whether anyone else was involved in the plot.
Fake Birth Certificate Found In Room
During a search of the hotel room, detectives found rope, tape, scissors, an exacto knife, medication and a vial of insulin.
Police said they also found a fabricated birth certificate under the name of Johnny Gash. There was also a piece of paper with a baby's footprint pictured on it and a plastic armband typical of what is given to newborns in hospitals, Pharr said.
'Everything Looked Normal'
Hotel employees said Gash and Betts had checked into the Inn on Sunday.
"Their interaction was just talking back and forth like two people would -- giggling and talking about what they're going to do for the day. Never gave any indication that they had somebody held up in their room," a hotel employee told KMBC.
A housekeeper said she saw baby blankets and a diaper bag in the room.
"I went in myself, yesterday, and I exchanged towels out. Everything in the room looked normal. Looked like they had a baby, but there wasn't any baby that I saw," housekeeper Beth Lark said. "I never saw anything that would make me jump out and say, 'Maybe I should go get my boss.' There was nothing unusual in the room."
Victim In 'Good Spirits'
Howard, who graduated from Clinton High School in May, is expected to give birth to a boy next week. It will be her first child.
Pharr said Howard is traumatized over the incident, but is recovering.
"She is doing very well, all things considered. She's very strong. Her mother is with her. A sonogram was done on the baby; the baby is doing well," said Annette Howard, the victim's former stepmother. "She's in good spirits, and she's realizing what a lucky young lady she is."
Annette Howard said the victim wants everyone to know to be very careful when meeting people online and to never go anywhere with someone you don't know.
"She wants people to realize they need to listen to their instincts. She told me, 'My head told me not to do this, but my mouth said yes. I should have listened to my head,'" Annette Howard said. "It's absolutely terrifying. We just thank the Lord that she's the fighter she is."
Other Pregnant Women Assaulted
The region has had two other cases of assaults on pregnant women. Lisa Montgomery, 39, of Melvern, Kan., has been charged in the 2004 death of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, who was killed in her northwest Missouri home when she was eight months pregnant. Montgomery is accused of strangling Stinnett and cutting the baby girl from her womb. The baby survived.
Montgomery's trial has been scheduled for Oct. 1. She has pleaded not guilty, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
In Belleville, Ill., Tiffany Hall, 24, is accused of killing 23-year-old Jimella Tunstall, her 7-month-old fetus and her three young children in September. Hall also has pleaded not guilty and faces the death penalty.