A needy woman, usually overweight and psychologically unstable, slips into a hospital and abducts a newborn. Hoping to seal a childless relationship with a boyfriend or husband, she returns home to present the baby as her own.
That, experts say, is the profile that fits most people caught abducting infants from hospitals.
It doesn't happen often they say-- only 121 times in the last 24 years -- but when it does, it is a new mother's worst nightmare.
Just last week, a woman dressed in scrubs snatched a baby from its mother's room at a Lubbock, Texas, hospital. The 4-day-old baby was found healthy within 24 hours, and Rayshaun Parson, 21, of Clovis, N.M., was arrested and charged with kidnapping.
Police say Parson, posing as a hospital worker, entered the mother's room several times before the baby was taken. She allegedly told the mother the baby needed tests. Video cameras showed her carrying the baby out of the hospital in her purse.
The good news is abductors usually take care of the babies, and the vast majority are returned safely to their mothers, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Of all the hospital abductions nationwide, only six abducted babies have never been located.
"So many women go into the hospital and are terrified of this," said Ernie Allen, CEO and president of NCMEC. "The numbers are not in the thousands, but when it happens, it is just as traumatic as anything you can imagine. To have had a newborn in your arms, and then it is gone."
As in the Texas case, the abductor is usually a woman who has lost a child or is incapable of having a baby. Typically, she is married or living with someone and "using this to keep the relationship alive," said Allen.
"The abductor is not the usual child abductor," said Allen. "Suddenly, a woman shows up at home with a baby and invariably the husband or boyfriend didn't know she was pregnant."
Dr. Margaret Spinelli, director of maternal mental health programs at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University, said it's hard to create a profile that fits every baby abductor. But she sees some similarities to another disorder: Pseudocyesis -- often called hysterical pregnancy -- has occurred throughout history, according to Spinelli.
"It's like those who want to be pregnant so badly they develop the physical symptoms of pregnancy -- they even lactate," said Spinelli. "It's hard to know what is going on in these women's brains. How do they think they can get away with it? My gut feeling is it is like a psychosis and there must be some sort of depression."
Women who have this condition can stop menstruating, grow large in the belly and even show hormonal changes. In one case, before sonograms were routine in pregnancy, doctors only discovered the hoax pregnancy on the delivery table.
Hospital abductions are down slightly since a high of 17 were reported in 1991, according to NCMEC. Last year, 12 infants were reported missing and all but one -- a Fort Meyers, Fla., case -- were found.
Babies are located when someone reports the strange appearance of a child in the family. In the Texas abduction, a neighbor told police he had noticed Parson with a baby in a stroller, and thought that was unusual.