US couple charged for murdering pregnant neighbour, taking her baby

A handout combined photo of William Hoehn and Brooke Crews made available by the Fargo Police Department on Aug 30, 2017. PHOTOS: EPA

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was supposed to give birth to a baby girl in September. She and her boyfriend had just signed a lease on a new apartment where they would live with their daughter, whom they had decided to call Haisley Jo.

But the couple's plans did not go as planned.

The girl was born weeks early, in what Fargo Police Chief David Todd had described as a "cruel and vicious act of depravity" committed against the mother and her child.

LaFontaine-Greywind is dead; her body was spotted over the weekend in a river in another state, hanging on a log, heavily wrapped in plastic and duct tape, police said. Her baby was not with her; instead, the child was found in her neighbours' apartment.

Court documents shed some light into what authorities believe happened inside the Fargo, North Dakota, apartment, where relatives say LaFontaine-Greywind went the afternoon of Aug 19 and never returned home.

The two tenants, charged in connection with the young woman's death, have since given conflicting statements to investigators.

William Hoehn, 32, said he came home from work at about 2.30pm that day to find Brooke Crews, 38, cleaning blood in their bathroom. Then she showed him an infant girl. "This is our baby, this is our family," she told him, according to a probable cause affidavit.

About an hour earlier, LaFontaine-Greywind had told her family she was going to her neighbours' apartment to help with a sewing project, police said. She left behind her wallet and a newly ordered pizza, her mother told the Duluth News Tribune. Her family later reported her missing.

In his interview with police, Hoehn admitted he threw away garbage bags carrying bloody towels and his bloody shoes into a dumpster somewhere in the neighbouring city, the affidavit said.

Crews told investigators that LaFontaine-Greywind came over to the apartment, and she taught the young woman how to break her own water to induce child birth, the affidavit said. Crews then claimed LaFontaine-Greywind left the apartment, returned in the early morning hours of Aug 21, and handed Crews a newborn. By then, police and LaFontaine-Greywind's family had been looking for her for two days.

More than three dozen law enforcement officers and K-9 dogs looked for LaFontaine-Greywind. Investigators and volunteers scoured the neighbourhood and the nearby Red River.

Officers also searched Crews and Hoehn's apartment multiple times. After searching the apartment for the fourth time last Thursday, authorities discovered a newborn girl, alive and in good health, police said. She was taken to a hospital and was kept in the custody of Cass County Social Services.

LaFontaine-Greywind's body was found a few days later, on Sunday when kayakers spotted her body in a river across the border in Moorhead, Minnesota. Todd, the police chief, said investigators were also looking into a nearby abandoned farmstead, where searchers found suspicious items suggesting the area could be a crime scene.

Todd did not elaborate on what led investigators to search the apartment again, only saying they "were able to develop a criminal nexus" that justified a search warrant. He said it's possible the infant was not in the apartment when investigators searched it the first three times.

Crews and Hoehn told investigators the baby was LaFontaine-Greywind's daughter, Todd said. Court records also state Crews admitted taking advantage of her neighbour in an attempt to keep the child as her own.

But that was the extent of their cooperation with investigators, Todd said."Both Hoehn and Crews invoked their right to counsel and refuse to answer any more questions," he said at a news conference last week.

Hoehn and Crews have each been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping and giving false information to law enforcement. They were arraigned earlier this week. The Washington Post was unable to reach Crews's court-appointed attorney this week. Hoehn's lawyer did not return a call.

Authorities have released little information about how and where LaFontaine-Greywind died, other than describing her death as the result of "homicidal violence."

Police also have yet to say how the baby was delivered and have so far declined to confirm media questions about whether this was a case of fetal abduction, in which a pregnant woman is forced to give birth or a baby is forcibly removed from the mother's womb.

The baby will remain with county social services pending a DNA test to confirm whether she is LaFontaine-Greywind's child.

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

Matheny said DNA samples have been taken from him to confirm the baby is his, but testing would take days. "All I wanted was a life with Savanna and my baby," Matheny told ABC affiliate WDAY.

"But they took it from me. My world's gone, man. They took my world from me."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.