Carlina White Case Highlights the Face of Child Abductors

PHOTO Carlina White is shown as an infant, left, and again, Jan. 19, 2011.

As police look for the woman who abducted Carlina White from a Harlem Hospital as a baby 23 years ago, they have a profile that explains the majority of baby-snatching cases: mostly women who have a psychological need to "fill a void" in their lives.

The women have no love for babies, nor are they necessarily the empathetic childless victims who often sway the courts to give them lighter sentences, said Kenneth Lanning, a retired FBI agent who was in charge of the infant abduction research project in the agency's Behavioral Science Unit.

And they are not pedophiles who have a sexual interest in their victims.

"In most of these cases, these women need children, not because they love babies, but because they are trying to preserve a relationship with a man and they need the man for their economic survival," Lanning said.

It is a rare crime; only about 100 to 150 cases a year of the hundreds of thousands of missing children cases, most of which are teenage runaways or custody cases between biological parents, experts say.

Infant abductions differ from the kidnapping of older children, who are sometimes molested by a male sociopath and then quickly murdered.

"When you look at the vast universe of child abductions, the first thing to realize is that on average they [the abductors] are white males, 25 to 35, but when you are talking about infants, that profile is worthless," Lanning said.

"In a few occasions we are wrong but, statistically, it is women who do this."

On Aug. 4, 1987, 19-day-old Carlina was taken from her biological parents, Joy White and Carl Tyson, when they took her to the hospital with a fever. At the time, the parents accused a mystery woman who had been hanging around the hospital.

"Way I feel when I lost my daughter, oh, my God, that was like a big part of my heart just like, just was ripped apart," Tyson told the New York Post.

A $10,000 reward was offered and the parents never gave up hope for their daughter's eventual return.

Carlina was taken to Bridgeport, Conn., and, later to Atlanta, where she was given a new name, Nejdra Nance. She was raised by the woman for 23 years, unaware that her biological family was from New York City.

Motive for Child Abductions

White later became suspicious when she could find no documentation such as a birth certificate or Social Security card and wondered why there was no family resemblance. She eventually contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Police are looking for a woman called Anne Pettway, who has several aliases as well as a criminal history that includes charges of embezzlement, forgery and theft. She's on parole for embezzlement charges in North Carolina. Pettway, who cannot located, has said she was a good mother, according to reports, but White has alleged she was abused.

In terms of motive, abductions can be divided into six broad categories, according to an Analysis of Infant Abductions published by the missing children's center: nontraditional, ransom, profit, sexual, killing or miscellaneous criminal activity.

White's case would be considered nontraditional, an abduction of a young infant or young child taken usually by a woman "to fill a perceived void in the offender's life," Lanning said.

"Understanding distinctions between types of child abductors and abductions is important in investigating and solving the cases," he said.

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