Why Pregnant Women Become Murder Victims

While the media spotlight shines on the grisly recovery of Laci Peterson's remains in California, authorities 3,000 miles away in rural North Carolina made a less-publicized, equally grim — and far too common — discovery.

On Monday, police found the remains of 20-year-old April Renee Greer, whose dismembered body was found in a trash can that had washed into a farmer's field. Greer was 8½ months pregnant when she was reported missing on March 8. Her boyfriend, Jerry Lynn Stuart, 27, has been charged with first-degree murder in the case.

Meanwhile, the slaying of Evelyn Hernandez — another case eerily similar to Laci Peterson's but not as well-known — remains a mystery almost a year after she disappeared.

Hernandez was eight months pregnant when she and her 5-year-old son were reported missing last May. Three months later, Hernandez's torso washed up along a San Francisco bay beach.

Her son and the fetus she carried have not been found, and police have been unable to make an arrest. The father of her child — who is married to another woman and has a child — has not been called a suspect. Authorities say he has been cooperating with investigators.

These cases seem to support studies from recent years that have found that homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women outside of medical complications.

According to a 2001 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 20 percent of Maryland women who died during pregnancy were murdered. This supported the findings of previous studies in Cook County, Ill., and New York.

Experts and women's advocates are not surprised to find that pregnant women are especially prone to violent deaths. In many cases, pregnant women are killed by their husbands or significant others.

"Most pregnant women are killed by people they know, like husbands or boyfriends," said Pat Brown, a criminal profiler and CEO of the Sexual Homicide Exchange.

"Sometimes it depends on how far along the woman is in the pregnancy," she said. "If it's a serial killer, they normally go after women who may be three months pregnant and are not showing very much. With serial killers, the women are tiny, easy to handle, not too big — someone they can easily overcome. They go after a 'neat package,' something that is desirable where they could get something big.

"With husbands or boyfriends, the women tend to be eight months pregnant — they're there and the baby is coming," Brown continued. "They can see the woman and unborn child as something that is in the way, keeps them from living the lifestyle they want."

Jealous of the Unborn

While pregnancy is supposed to be a happy time, it can aggravate an already troubled relationship undermined by either extramarital affairs or a long history of abuse.

"Her body begins to change," said Sheryl Cates, executive director of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "There are also hormone changes that a woman experiences. … Emotionally, she may cry a lot, which may be irritating and frustrating. If you already have a volatile situation, add those factors [and] you have an escalation of violence. Often, that leads to death."

Sometimes pregnancy can make husbands or boyfriends feel ignored, prompting them to seek gratification elsewhere. Soon, the pregnant wife and unborn child become obstacles, not sources of happiness, and that can lead to premeditated murder.

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