Lisa Montgomery and Bobbie Jo Stinnett were two women from two completely different worlds until one day, their lives collided. This collision would lead to one of the most graphic and disturbing murder cases Missouri had ever seen.
Lisa Montgomery was a 36-year-old woman from Melvern, Kansas. She often pretended that she was pregnant to gain advantage in her interpersonal relationships. In 2004, she told her friends, family, and husband that she was expecting a baby. She even told her ex-husband, Carl Bowman.
However, in 1990, Lisa had underwent a tubal ligation and was unable to have any more children. Due to her repeated lies and deceptions, Carl threatened to expose her lies and gain custody of their two teenage children. Nevertheless, Lisa continued to claim that she was pregnant. The whole world would soon come to discover why.
One afternoon while browsing the internet in late 2004, Lisa came across a website which was run by 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a dog breeder who sold dogs from her home in Skidmore, around 120 miles away from Melvern. Bobbie had been a high-school cheerleader and an honours student who was in the process of building a placid nuclear life with her childhood sweetheart.
Bobbie’s website included a photograph of her which clearly showed that she was heavily pregnant. Lisa contacted Bobbie via a rat terrier chat room. She posted a message for Bobbie which read: “Please get in touch with me soon as we are considering the purchase of one of your puppies.”1
Bobbie replied to Lisa and the two swapped email addresses. Lisa informed Bobbie that she too was expecting a baby and Bobbie sent her directions to her house. The email from Bobbie read in part: “Great chatting with you on messenger. And I do look forward to chatting with you tomorrow AM.” The two had arranged to meet at Bobbie’s house where Lisa said that she would be purchasing one of her dogs. The following morning, on the 16th of December, 2004, Lisa showed up at Bobbie’s door. Unbeknownst to Bobbie, Lisa wasn’t there to purchase a dog, she had something much more sinister in mind.
When Lisa arrived at Bobbie’s home, the expectant mother opened the door with open arms. Once inside, Lisa turned on Bobbie. She strangled her to death and sliced open her abdomen and removed her 8-month-old foetus before fleeing the scene. Bobbie’s mother, Becky Harper, found her daughter’s body at around 3PM. Becky said the wounds inflicted on her daughter appeared as though her “stomach had exploded.” Attempts by paramedics on the scene to revive Bobbie were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at St. Francis Hospital.
Lisa was easily identified as the main suspect in the grisly murder due to the internet correspondence the two woman had been having in the lead up to Bobbie’s murder. Following the murder, Lisa had taken the new born baby had returned to her hometown of Melvern and started to show the baby girl off as her own. She had even presented the baby to her husband, Kevin, and claimed she had into premature labour while he was at work.
The very next day, Lisa was arrested and the baby was returned to her father, Zeb Stinnett. While the baby had been cut from Bobbie’s body one month premature, she was healthy. She was named Victoria Jo and she became the miracle that emerged from what could only be described as a grim nightmare. “She is just a beautiful, baby girl,” said Carol Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center.2
Lisa was charged with kidnapping resulting in death.
During Lisa’s trial, her defence attempted to argue that Lisa was not guilty by reason of insanity. They stated that they believed that she had a mental disorder which left her incapable of understanding that what she had done was wrong. They painted a picture of a woman who had been left scarred by the sexual abuse she had suffered from her stepfather as a child as well as the emotional abuse inflicted by her mother. They put forward the theory that Lisa had suffered from a delusional belief that she was pregnant despite the fact she was unable to have any children.
The prosecution, however, argued that Lisa killed Bobbie specifically so she could steal her unborn daughter and then raise her as her own. The painted Lisa as a scheming, dishonest and manipulative woman who faked pregnancies to gain preferential treatment. They put forward the theory that Lisa and killed Bobbie in an act of desperation spurred by threats of exposure from Carl.
During closing arguments, defence attorney John O’Connor said: “We have seen the unthinkable. It is natural to want to strike back. It’s hard to put our arms around mental illness because we don’t understand it… I’m not asking for sympathy, I want you to have empathy.” Assistant U.S. attorney Roseann Ketchmark refuted this, stating: “The defence told you in opening statements that their case would tell you why. The ‘why’ is that this defendant did not want to be exposed.”3
The jury sided with the prosecution and Lisa Montgomery was found guilty of kidnapping resulting in death. The sentencing phase was to follow which put Lisa’s life in the hands of the jury. The defence once again reiterated their belief that Lisa was so mentally ill that she could not comprehend that what she had done was wrong. The prosecution, however, cited potential aggravating factors which made Lisa eligible for the death penalty, including the brutal nature of the murder and the fact that Bobbie had died during the act of kidnapping.
The prosecution also focused on the impact that the slaying had on members of Bobbie’s family. Her husband, Zeb, told the jury that the murder had completely devastated his life. “My world just crashed…” he said. He further said that he had not yet told Victoria Jo what happened to her mother. Bobbie’s cousin, Mindy Winger, said: “Victoria reminds me a lot of Bobbie, and I wish she could have seen what her mom was like.” Other family members testified while the prosecution showed photographs of Bobbie’s childhood and through a few years of her marriage. They also displayed pictures of the clothing that Bobbie had purchased for the birth of her baby daughter.4
The defence called on members of Lisa’s family to testify in a bid to save her life. Her husband and two of her daughters testified that they would maintain a close relationship with Lisa from behind bars. Kevin said: “I’m trying to support her, to make it easier for her. She calls and I just like to hear her voice… I love her.” Her sister, Dianne Hedberg, testified that their mother had been abusive and neglectful towards them throughout their childhood and at one point, she was even removed from her care.
After deliberating for more than five hours, the federal jury decided that Lisa Montgomery should die for her crimes. Judge Gary Fenner sentenced her to death. In October of 2020, Lisa was scheduled to be executed on the 8th of December, 2020. She will be the first female inmate to be put to death by the American government in more than 60 years.
- Press-Register, 11 December, 2004 – “Computer Records Led Police to Suspect Digital Solution to Grisly Crime”
- New York Daily News 21 December, 2004 – “Kidnapped Baby & Dad Go Home”
- The Kansas City Star, 23 October, 2007 – “Jury Finds Montgomery Guilty in Death of Woman Whose Baby Was Kidnapped”
- The Kansas City Star, 24 October, 2007 – “In Penalty Phase of Lisa Montgomery Trial”