KUSA – The brutal attack on 26-year-old Michelle Wilkins on Wednesday afternoon has shocked the Denver metro area community. In the aftermath, many have asked how such a horrendous crime could occur.
Wilkins was seven-months pregnant with a baby girl when Dynel Lane allegedly cut the child from Wilkins’ womb at Lane’s Longmont home Wednesday afternoon. The baby did not survive.
According to court documents, the 34-year-old mother-of-three lured Wilkins to her home after posting a Craigslist ad for baby clothes. Officers found a text message on Wilkin’s mobile phone from “Dynel” giving Wilkins the Longmont address.
Although rare, these types of attacks have occurred before. Connecticut-based forensic psychologist Theresa Porter compiled a list of 21 worldwide incidents between the years of 1987 and 2009. In psychological research, they are referred to as “fetal abductions.”
Every incident Porter reviewed involved a woman attacking another woman. The assailants put a good deal of planning into the attack, and they almost always required some sort of deception on the part of the attacker.
In most cases, the assailant befriended the victim through trickery in order to lure the victim to a safe place to carry out the attack. In some cases, the assailant would kidnap the victim and keep her alive for weeks before stealing the baby. In the vast majority of cases, the victim died in the attack.
A 2002 study from the Journal of Forensic Science found two main motives for fetal abduction attacks: “To keep a partner,” and “To act out a child-bearing and delivery fantasy.”
In most cases, assailants have been lying for months about being pregnant. According to Porter, many of these women meet the criteria for a condition known as Factitious Disorder By Proxy, what used to be known as Munchausen’s Disorder By Proxy. With this disorder, a person deliberately makes another individual sick in order to gain attention.
According to a 2009 survey from parentsconnect.com, women rated “attention” as the aspect of being pregnant they enjoyed the most. Pregnant women are typically showered with attention from friends and strangers, which can be a highly pleasurable feeling.
Women who have Factitious Disorder By Proxy who end up as fetal abductors tend to have that strong need for attention, and they attempt to garner that attention by pretending they are pregnant and actually acting out a baby delivery fantasy—often presenting to a hospital after the fetal abduction claiming to have had a miscarriage.
Fetal abductions typically shock the community where they occur. Many ask questions about what could drive a person to commit such a heinous crime. They are rare enough that little research exists to answer that question, but when they do occur, there tend to be striking similarities between events and the women who carry them out.