Carlina White Case Highlights the Face of Child Abductors

PHOTO Carlina White is shown as an infant, left, and again, Jan. 19, 2011.PlayAP Photo/Getty Images
WATCH Carlina White Story: On the Trail of the Kidnapper

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.

"It may, however, have little, if any, legal significance and should not automatically imply that one is a lesser crime or one offender is less dangerous or culpable."

James Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, agreed with the distinctions.

"Infants are stolen to take possession or also for ransom," he said. "Older children either for sex or also for ransom.

"You see, older children cannot easily be convinced of different parenthood, while infants are not especially appealing to pedophiles."

The age of the child is important in determining how to profile the kidnapper. The missing children's center defines an infant as a child younger than 1.

Although a teenage victim is technically a child, she has more in common physically with a 20-year-old, who is an adult, Lanning said. Prepubescent children -- ages 12 and older -- are more likely to be the victims of a sexual crime.

"Ted Bundy's last victim was a 12-year-old girl, but most people don't think of him as a pedophile," Lanning said. "Technically, she was a girl, but the physical characteristics of a 16-year-old, for example, are more like a 26-year-old."

In the Jaycee Dugard case, for example, Phillip Garrido may have eluded the law for so long because police had discounted him as a sex offender, because they were erroneously looking for a pedophile.

"This guy had a botched abduction of an adult and so he goes for something younger who is easier to control and uses a woman to help him," Lanning said. "He interacts with her for the next 18 years as an adult woman and she becomes the mother of his children."

Unless the kidnapper has a rare and odd proclivity, those who abduct the youngest children are almost always women and usually those from low socio-economic backgrounds who have a dependency on their male partners, according to FBI studies.

"A very high percentage of women who abduct infants, not necessarily all of them, do it to have a baby," Lanning said. "And that doesn't mean every time an infant is abducted we know that 100 percent. A tiny percentage is sexually aroused by babies."

In a case in California, two men kidnapped a baby to raise her as a "breeder" to bear children so that they could later molest them, Lanning said. "You are dealing with an isolated situation. … We know the more common reason people abduct adult children is money, ransom, sex and murder."

Infant abductors can be "very clever," Lanning said.

One woman, whose husband was in jail, abducted a 4-year-old child, ruling out an infant. She reasoned that he would not have been fooled if she had given birth to an infant, because "he wasn't around" to have sex with her and be the biological father.

"She wanted to preserve her relations with her man," Lanning said. "She didn't need a baby; she needed a husband or a boyfriend and convince him it was his baby. It had to be 4.

"The key thing is that doesn't get reported is these women don't adopt or take in foster children because they have to go home and say to the boyfriend or husband, 'Here is your baby,' and that's why many of them fake pregnancies."

Women plan these crimes for months and are "creative and clever and cunning," he said.

They can produce phony sonograms and use pads in their clothing to appear pregnant. When they are convicted, they tell stories about infertility and miscarriage and "engender a lot of sympathy."

Pettway, the woman whom White called mom, reportedly lost a baby before the abduction.

"They don't plan for what to do after the baby goes home and they show it to the boyfriend and live happily ever after," he said. "Most women take care of them and love them, but it's not always true. The guy may hang around for a year or two but not long term."

Cutting Out the Fetuses

The majority of these women are usually caught quickly when a neighbor reports that a woman suddenly showed up at the supermarket with a baby.

Those who are most successful, as in the Carina White case, leave the town or state where the kidnapping happened.

"The further away you go, the better the chance that you get away with the crime," he said.

Sentences can vary depending on the case.

Federal law does not distinguish between kidnapping cases: "It's kidnapping whether it's a birth or death," Lanning said. "There is no major difference in the eyes of the law. It's a gray area to what extent there is consent."

Some cases involve the actual cutting out of the fetus by a crude Caesarian section, according to Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston.

"These sociopathic women will literally snatch an unborn child from a mother's abdomen in the ninth month of pregnancy," Levin said. "They are the smallest minority. You really have to be awfully desperate to kill the mother to get the child and to do it hands-on in such a gory manner. Most people are incapable of that."

Most are not intending to hurt the mother, Levin said. "She rationalizes that the biological mother can have another baby and she can't. She has a conscience, but has a complex rationalization that she can use to justify this criminal act."

As for Carlina White, Levin said that because the kidnapper took the girl 23 years ago without being detected, that means police have a wealth of information from the home. White can also identify the woman who claimed to be her mother.

"I am not sure where police will start," he said. "They have already started and I am sure it began with the daughter and the home she was raised in."

Levin said the public will likely be involved as soon as people learn "what the woman looks like and her personal habits."

"They probably know where to look," he said. "There will be a public display of her photo and information about her lifestyle that will ultimately bring her to justice.

"It shouldn't be very difficult. She is clever but she should be easy to apprehend. I'd be shocked if she stayed on the loose very long."