"To me, this world is nothing but evil, and my own evil just happened to come out cause of the circumstances of what I was doing."
It was the 16th of December 2004. A Thursday. Twenty three year old Bobbie Jo Stinnett was eight months pregnant with her first child. She knew she was having a little girl and was excited to give birth. Bobbie lived with her husband Zeb Stinnett. She was well known in the small farming town and loved animals, especially dogs and horses and was a really kind and gentle person. She had a dog breeding business, Happy Haven Farms, and ran it from her home in Skidmore, Missouri, United States. Bobbie was involved in the breeding of rat terriers. Due to that, she went to dog shows and was part of an online dog breeding community where discussions about dog breeding took place.
Bobbie had listed some puppies for sale in December 2004 and on the 15th of December she received an instant message from a woman called Darlene Fischer from Fairfax, Missouri. Bobbie knew of Darlene via the online community forum as they had exchanged messages for weeks on the forum known as "Ratter Chatter". Aside from their mutual love of rat terriers, Darlene was also pregnant and they shared pregnancy stories.
Bobbie Jo Stinnett
Darlene told Bobbie that she was interested in purchasing one of her puppies so they agreed to meet the next day. Bobbie planned to meet Darlene and then afterwards she told her mother, Becky Harper, that she would collect her from work at 3.30pm.
That day, the 16th of December, Becky called Bobbie at 2.30pm to ask her if she could still collect her from work and Bobbie confirmed she would collect her. But just one hour later, at 3.30pm, when Becky finished work, there was no sign of Bobbie. Becky rang Bobbie just after 3.30pm. There was no answer so she walked to Bobbie's house. Her workplace was two blocks from Bobbie's house. When Becky got to the house, the front door was open so Becky walked inside and called out to Bobbie. There was no answer. When Becky entered the dining room, she found the most horrific scene. Her daughter was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Becky immediately called 911. She told the operator that her daughter was in need of urgent medical assistance and was eight months pregnant. Becky said that it looked like Bobbie's stomach had exploded.
When police arrived, they discovered that Bobbie's unborn baby was missing. The baby had been forcibly removed from Bobbie's womb and they did not know where the baby was or if the baby had survived. Finding whoever was responsible was of extreme urgency as police were aware that the baby may still be alive. Unfortunately, Bobbie did not survive the vicious assault. Becky and Bobbie's husband told police that Bobbie was due to meet a woman called Darlene as Darlene wanted to purchase a puppy but apart from that, they were not aware of anyone else who was due to visit that day.
Police were able to quickly trace Darlene via the text messages and IP from the computer she used to send the messages and emails to Bobbie. They discovered that the woman was not called Darlene and did not live in Fairfax. Her name was Lisa Montgomery and she lived in Melvern. Lisa drove from Melvern to Skidmore on the 16th of December and arrived at Bobbie's house at 12.30pm. Police believed the baby was taken between 2.30pm and 3.30pm.
Police went to Lisa's house on the 17th of December and her husband Kevin answered the door. When they entered, they found Lisa in the living room, sitting on the couch. She was holding a newborn baby.
The police told Kevin and Lisa that they were investigating the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett. They asked Lisa about the baby she was holding. Lisa told them it was her baby and she had given birth at a women’s clinic in Topeka. The police asked to speak to Lisa outside her home and in private. She told police that she did not want Kevin to know, but due to financial difficulties, she did not have the baby at the women's clinic but had the baby at home. Lisa told police that she was alone when she gave birth in the kitchen but she had the phone numbers of two friends who would help her if there were any problems. When asked about the placenta, Lisa told police she disposed of the placenta in a nearby creek. Lisa did not want Kevin to hear any of the details and she asked police if they could discuss the matter further at the sheriff’s office instead. They agreed.
At the sheriff's office, Lisa confessed to police that she killed Bobbie, removed the baby from her womb and abducted her.
The baby was returned to Bobbie's husband and he named her Victoria Jo Stinnett.
Victoria Jo Stinnett
Lisa was charged with kidnapping resulting in death.
At Lisa's Trial, the Court heard that Lisa and Bobbie met at a dog show in April 2004 and were part of an online dog breeding community. When Bobbie discovered she was pregnant, she shared the news with the online community. Lisa was a member of the same community. Around the same time, the Spring of 2004, Lisa told her own family and friends that she was pregnant. But what Lisa failed to tell them was that she had undergone tubal fulguration, a sterilization procedure that involved occluding her fallopian tubes by cauterization, more than a decade earlier so could not get pregnant.
Lisa spent the next eight months pretending she was pregnant. She wore maternity clothes and purchased items for the baby.
Lisa's husband Kevin and her children believed she was pregnant. Her first husband and his wife knew Lisa could not be pregnant due to the sterilization and they accused her of lying. She told them she would prove them wrong.
The Court heard that when Lisa arrived at Bobbie's house on the 16th of December, she had a sharp kitchen knife with her and a white cord in her jacket pocket. When Lisa knocked on the door, Bobbie went inside and got the puppies. She brought them outside so that Lisa could play with them to decide which one she wanted to purchase. A short while after Becky called to ask Bobbie to collect her, Lisa attacked Bobbie. Using the cord she brought with her, she strangled Bobbie until she was unconscious. At that point, she cut into Bobbie's abdomen using the kitchen knife. Bobbie regained consciousness and fought for her life. Lisa tightened the cord and strangled Bobbie again to stop her struggling. Bobbie died. Lisa removed the baby, cut the umbilical cord, and left.
The baby was uninjured. On the way back, Lisa clamped the umbilical cord and suctioned the mucus from the baby’s mouth. Lisa had a car seat in her car that she brought with her for the baby.
From a parking lot outside a women's clinic in Topeka, Kansas, Lisa called Kevin and told him she had given birth. He met her at the parking lot and drove her home. They named the baby Abigail and the next day they went out for breakfast and showed people their new baby Abigail.
Zeb Stinnett and Victoria Jo Stinnett
It was the Prosecution's case that Bobbie died and the baby was abducted as a result of a cold and calculated plan that Lisa had devised so that the lie she had told her friends and family would not be revealed. It was their case that she was in fear that the lie would be exposed by her first husband, Carl Bowman, as they were in the middle of a custody battle and Lisa feared he would use that information against her at the Court proceedings so she needed a baby to convince others that she wasn't lying.
The Prosecution's case was that Lisa lied to her family and friends when she told them she was pregnant and carefully and meticulously planned how she would abduct a baby and pass it off as her own. Her plan, they argued, was a calculated one, and one she had planned with great precision. Lisa contacted Bobbie using a fake name in an attempt to hide her identity and prevent anyone tracing the crime back to her. At the same time, she was telling everyone she knew that she was pregnant. She bought a home birth kit and searched online for how to perform a caesarean section. The Sheriff involved in the case, Sheriff Strong, said that the crime was meticulously planned and that the woman he arrested continued to lie until backed into a corner. At one point, Lisa tried to implicate her own brother and said he was with her when the baby was taken. But his alibi confirmed that that was another lie.
It was the Prosecution's case that Lisa was involved in a custody dispute with her first husband. When he discovered she told her second husband Kevin that she was pregnant, he believed she was lying. He knew that she was unable to become pregnant and he sent emails to her, telling her that he planned to tell Kevin and use it against her in the custody proceedings. Lisa told him she would prove him wrong.
Less than one week before Bobbie's death, on the 10th of December, her first husband filed a motion for change of custody of the two minor children who lived with Lisa.
The Prosecution called an expert witness, Dr Dietz, to testify. They did this as the Defense had put them on notice that they were raising an insanity Defense and would argue that Lisa had pseudocyesis.
Dr Dietz testified that there are two different phenomena that have been called pseudocyesis. The first is a condition in which a woman sincerely believes that she is pregnant. This belief normally ends when the woman is presented with evidence to prove she is not pregnant. Women who suffer this form are not mentally ill and do not have any delusions.
The second is a condition that involves mental illness. The mental illness is normally schizophrenia. This condition involves delusions and in particular the delusion of pregnancy.
Dr Dietz testified that the delusion is a firmly held conviction. That aspect of it differs to the first example in that even when presented with the evidence that they are not pregnant, they do not believe it. They have a firm and unwavering belief that they are pregnant.
It was the opinion of Dr Dietz that Lisa did not suffer from pseudocyesis at the time of Bobbie's death. He came to that conclusion as he believed that Lisa did not sincerely believe she was pregnant. He was asked to explain why he believed Lisa did not sincerely believe she was pregnant in Court. He said that Lisa was in no doubt that she had undergone permanent sterilization. Lisa had children and every time she was pregnant with them, she sought medical care and prenatal care. She did not seek any care with this pregnancy.
Dr Dietz referred to an insurance application she filled out in September 2004. On that form, she marked that she was not pregnant.
Furthermore, it was his opinion that Lisa was not delusional.
He testified that:
“delusion of pregnancy would be consistent, she would tell the same story, she would happily reveal it. No one could talk her out of it.”
In this case, Lisa gave contradictory accounts regarding the sex of the fetus, whether she was carrying twins or a single fetus, and the manner in which she would deliver. Her story changed depending on who she spoke to.
Lisa also gave different versions of events in relation to where she gave birth.She first said it took place at a women's clinic and then at home. When she was arrested, she claimed that her brother was with her at Bobbie's house. When police told her she had been caught in a lie, namely her brother was not with her as he had an alibi, Lisa said that she had amnesia before and during Bobbie’s murder.
Dr Dietz concluded that Lisa malingered the 2004 pregnancy:
“In other words, she knew she was not pregnant but told people that she was.It’s my opinion, with reasonable medical certainty, that at the time of the charged offenses the defendant did not suffer from any mental disease or defect, that affected her ability to appreciate the nature and quality of wrongfulness of her acts.It is my opinion with reasonable medical certainty that the defendant was entirely capable of appreciating that she was engaged in a lengthy and elaborate plan designed to kill Bobbie Jo Stinnett at a stage of advanced pregnancy, to successfully conduct a Cesarean section on her first attempt and to kidnap a healthy infant she could present to the world as her own."
The Court heard that it wasn't the first pregnancy Lisa had faked. In the years following the sterilization procedure, Lisa claimed that she had four pregnancies at different stages. She first claimed she was pregnant in 1994 and then in 2000, before she married Kevin, she told him she was pregnant and wanted to have an abortion. Kevin gave her forty dollars and there was never any further mention of a pregnancy. Lisa again claimed she was pregnant in 2002 and told Kevin she had Doctor's appointments but would not allow him to attend. Her Doctor testified that he had treated Lisa for ankle pain and a cold but he did not provide her any prenatal care. Lisa later told Kevin that the baby had died and she donated the body to science.
The Defense's case centered around the Defense of insanity and it was their intention to call experts to testify in relation to Lisa's mental disease or defect.
The Court heard that Lisa had a troubled life. It was the Defense's case that she was physically and sexually abused by her stepfather. When she was just eighteen years old, she married her step-brother Carl Bowman. The Court heard that she had four children with Carl and then underwent the sterilization procedure.
They divorced in 1998. Carl remarried and Lisa married Kevin.
The Defense called their expert witnesses, Dr Ramachandran and Dr Logan. They both diagnosed Lisa with depression, borderline personality disorder, post- traumatic stress disorder, and pseudocyesis.
Dr Ramachandran testified that pseudocyesis is a somatoform disorder in which the patient develops the delusion that she is pregnant. It was his testimony that the woman must have an intense desire to become pregnant. He said that that desire gives rise to hormonal changes that result in physical changes consistent with pregnancy. This includes abdominal enlargement, breast enlargement, nipple pigmentation, and the cessation of menstruation. Women may even develop food cravings, suffer from morning sickness and even have contractions.
It was the belief of Dr Ramachandran that Lisa suffered from severe pseudocyesis delusion. He testified that he believed Lisa was in a dissociative state when she murdered Bobbie and delivered the baby. He was of the opinion that the sexual abuse Lisa suffered as a child predisposed her to pseudocyesis.
He claimed the fact that she carried out internet searches and purchased items for the baby were consistent with her having pseudocyesis.
Furthermore, Dr Ramachandran opined that Lisa was suffering from a severe mental disease or defect and that she was unable to appreciate the nature and quality of her acts.
The Jury spent five hours deliberating and found Lisa guilty of kidnapping resulting in death. The next day, she was sentenced to death. They unanimously found that the government had proved beyond a reasonable doubt all statutory and non statutory aggravating factors. The Prosecution had argued that the aggravating factors in this case included the crime being carried out “in an especially heinous or depraved manner in that the killing involved serious physical abuse to Bobbie Jo Stinnett.” The Jury agreed and she was sentenced to death by a lethal injection of pentobarbital at Terre Haute prison in Indiana.
Lisa was on death row in a federal prison in Texas for female inmates with special medical and psychological needs. During her time there, she received psychiatric care.
Lisa got a new Defense team to try to have the death sentence commuted to life in prison. They argued that due to the horrific abuse that Lisa suffered in her past, she should have never received the death penalty. It was their case that the lawyers at her first Trial did not share all of the details as to how horrific Lisa's past was and the Defense they put forward was inadequate. They argued that at the time of the crime, she was psychotic and out of touch with reality. It was their argument that Lisa's abuse began before she was even born. She was born with foetal alcohol syndrome as a result of her mother's heavy drinking. They outlined some of the abuse she suffered. They claimed Lisa was beaten, had her mouth taped shut and when her mother remarried, the abuse was even worse. They claimed Lisa was sexually abused by her stepfather and he allowed his friends to rape and beat her. They also argued that her mother allowed men who called to the home, like electricians and plumbers, to sexually abuse her in exchange for the work they carried out.
Her lawyers argued that her first husband threatened her with exposing her lie and as a result she was under pressure and detached from reality and fantasised about being pregnant. But their arguments and objections to Lisa being on death row did not result in any change to Lisa's sentence. The execution went ahead.
Lisa received a lethal injection at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, after a last-minute stay of execution was lifted by the US Supreme Court. She was the only female inmate on federal death row in the US and the first female federal inmate to be put to death by the government in 67 years.
Lisa was asked if she wanted to say anything before she was executed and she said no. She was pronounced dead at 01.31am on the 13th of January 2021.
Lisa'a attorney, Kelley Henry, said: "The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman. Lisa Montgomery's execution was far from justice."
But many others disagree.
Sheriff Randy Strong told BBC News that the scene that he and his four colleagues found that day was so bloody, they are still traumatised by it. He said: "The people that are defending Lisa, I wish I could take them back in time, and put them in that room. And then go, 'Look at this body'. And then go, 'Stand there and listen to the 911 call of Bobbie's mother. This is the stuff of nightmares."
Social media, especially platforms like Twitter and celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, have helped to elevate the discussion surrounding the death penalty. But in those discussions, the name that people focus on is the name of the person who is on death row. Prior to Lisa's execution, there was a name trending on Twitter and that name was #LisaMontgomery. Whether we agree or disagree with the death penalty, we should not lose focus on the true meaning of the word victim. The only name that should be trending in relation to this case is #BobbieJoStinnett - a sweet, kind and innocent victim and the mother of a beautiful girl Victoria Jo. She was a newlywed and a much loved daughter and friend and was just beginning a new chapter in her life. We cannot allow celebrities, celebrity lawyers or large social media platforms to change the narrative. Always follow the story, follow the facts and remember who the victim was. It's the very least they deserve.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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