The XX Factor

Profile of a Baby Snatcher

The case of Ann Pettway’s abduction of Carlina White 23 years ago-discovered when the child renamed as Nejdra Nance began investigating her own background-opens questions about what, exactly, is the profile of a baby-snatcher. In Daniel Engber’s piece on (rare) hospital kidnappings, he writes of analysis conducted by National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the FBI:

The thief is almost always a woman of child-bearing age, usually in a relationship with a boyfriend or husband. She often commits the crime in an effort to salvage her romance: She fakes a pregnancy and tells her partner that the stolen infant belongs to him. Even when she’s not trying to dupe a lover, the snatcher’s intentions tend to be uncomplicated: She will care for the baby as if it were her own.

Leaving aside the issue of how a woman who’s not pregnant manages to convince friends and relations that she is-a reversal, as one of my colleagues points out, of those women who didn’t know they were pregnant till they were giving birth- the description fits with what’s been reported about Pettway. According to the New York Times , the woman (apparently Pettway) who wandered the halls of Harlem Hospital for weeks masquerading as a nurse had suffered several miscarriages and was frustrated she couldn’t have her own child. (If she’d recently been pregnant, this might explain why she was able to more easily pass White off as her child.) Pettway’s cousin told the New York Post he thought she wanted a baby in part to cement her relationship with a boyfriend . “What I think happened was, she lost her child and got [White] as a means of holding onto this guy,” the cousin, Brian Pettway, told the Post .

Most recently, that same cousin has been appealing for compassion on Pettway’s behalf after Pettway admitted the snatching. “She’s trusting all the true facts will come out,” Pettway’s lawyer said recently. “And when they do she will be looked at in a different light.” But if the type of crime Pettway has confessed to is rare, it also feeds an elemental fear of many mothers, leading to the kinds of drastic hospital security practices Engber writes about. It’s hard to imagine Pettway will get much sympathy in the court of public opinion.