Pregnant woman vanished in North Dakota in suspected foetal abduction by neighbours

Ms Kristine Phillips Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was expecting to give birth next month.

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - A pregnant woman vanished. Her baby was found alive - while her body was spotted in a river.

Ms Kristine Phillips Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was expecting to give birth next month. A picture posted on Facebook shows her holding up a pink card as her boyfriend kisses her temple. "It's a Girl," the card says.

But on Aug 19, the 22-year-old woman from Fargo, North Dakota, disappeared.

Police said she told her family that she was going to a neighbour's apartment to help with a sewing project. She was never seen or heard from again; kayakers found her on Sunday afternoon in a river a few miles across the border in Moorhead, Minnesota. Her body was hanging on a log, heavily wrapped in plastic and duct taped.

Adding a layer of mystery to a case that has befuddled investigators and volunteer searchers for more than a week, a newborn girl was found days earlier in that neighbour's apartment. Police say the infant is probably Ms LaFontaine-Greywind's daughter.

Investigators remain tight-lipped about what happened to Ms LaFontaine-Greywind after she went to that apartment. Questions remain about how the baby girl was delivered and what happened to her mother after she was born.

Police have so far declined to confirm speculation of foetal abduction, in which a pregnant woman is forced to give birth or a baby is forcibly removed from the mother's womb.

"We still have a lot of investigating to do to put (together) the puzzle pieces in this case," Fargo police chief David Todd told reporters during a news conference on Monday (Aug 28). "Our sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to the Greywind family as they suffer through this horrible loss...Savanna was a victim of a cruel and vicious act of depravity."

Two people have been arrested in connection to her death. Cass County State Attorney Birch Burdick announced on Monday that 38-year-old Brooke Lynn Crews and 32-year-old William Henry Hoehn will be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and false information.

State Attorney Burdick did not say what, specifically, Crews and Hoehn are accused of doing, but investigators say they believe the two, who live in the apartment where the infant was found, were probably the last ones to see Ms Lafontaine-Greywind.

Ms LaFontaine-Greywind was last seen about 1.30pm local time on Aug 19, when she went to Crews and Hoehn's apartment upstairs. A woman living there offered to pay her US$20 (S$27) to model for her while she was sewing a dress, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

Before Ms LaFontaine-Greywind walked out the door, she left behind her wallet and a newly ordered pizza, her mother, Mrs Norberta LaFontaine-Greywind, told the paper.

When Mrs LaFontaine-Greywind knocked on the neighbour's door a few hours later, she was told that her daughter had left. She knew then that something was wrong.

"She's eight months pregnant. Her feet were swollen, so she wouldn't have taken up walking like that. There was pizza here that she hadn't eaten. She wouldn't just leave that lady's apartment and go somewhere," she told the paper.

The family reported the young woman missing later that day.

More than three dozen law enforcement officers and K-9s were sent to find Ms LaFontaine-Greywind. Investigators and volunteers scoured the neighbourhood and the nearby Red River for days. Officers also searched Crews and Hoehn's apartment three times.

Nothing was found - until last Thursday, when investigators searched the apartment for the fourth time. They found a newborn, alive and in good health. She was taken to a hospital and is now in the custody of Cass County Social Services, authorities said.

Police chief Todd did not elaborate on what led investigators to search the apartment again, only saying that they "were able to develop a criminal nexus" that justified a search warrant.

He said Crews and Hoehn admitted that the baby was Ms LaFontaine-Greywind's daughter, but that was the extent of the suspects' cooperation with investigators.

"Both Hoehn and Crews invoked their right to counsel and refuse to answer any more questions," police chief Todd said at a news conference last week.

The two were arraigned on Monday afternoon. Crews' court-appointed attorney was not immediately available for comment. Hoehn's lawyer did not return a call from The Washington Post.

Police chief Todd said it was possible that the infant was not in the apartment during the first three times that investigators searched.

Ms LaFontaine-Greywind, a certified nursing assistant, was part of a Native American tribe in North Dakota. She and her boyfriend, Mr Ashton Matheny, had just signed a lease to a new apartment, the Duluth News Tribune reported. They were supposed to move in this week.

"All I wanted was a life with Savanna and my baby," Mr Matheny told ABC affiliate WDAY. "But they took it from me. My world's gone, man. They took my world from me."

Mr Matheny said DNA samples have been taken from him to confirm that the baby is his, but testing would take days.

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