Police: Woman Cut Baby from Mother's Womb

Psychologists say children may bring suspects a sense of identity or self-worth.

ByABC News
July 1, 2008, 2:45 PM

July 2, 2008— -- A Seattle-area woman is accused of killing a pregnant stranger and cutting her live baby from her womb, one of several similar incidents that mental health experts say sheds light on the rare phenomenon of females with a pathological desire to obtain a baby at any cost.

As first reported by ABC News affiliate KOMO, Seattle, Phiengchai Sisouvanh Synhavong was arrested for allegedly binding Araceli Gomez's hands and feet with yarn, removing her baby and stabbing the woman to death. Police say Synhavong later claimed that Gomez's infant son, who survived the horrific incident, was her own.

In the last three months, two other women, in Illinois and Missouri, were convicted of similar crimes.

Though the alleged crimes may seem incomprehensible, forensic psychologists told ABC News that some people who kill pregnant women and attempt to steal their babies may be motivated by extreme low self-esteem and a pathological desire to bear children.

"Unlike many homicides, in which a variety of different factors and influences make it impossible to generalize, the woman who commits this crime is someone whose feminine identity is very much wrapped up in her fertility," said Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist and head of The Forensic Panel.

"This is someone who is otherwise empty and has very little sense of self or esteem or value, and becomes overly invested in this idea" of having children, he said.

Welner and other experts compared the crime to women who steal infants from maternity wards and, even, to the far less extreme case of young girls who choose to have babies as a way to gain status and attention.

"It's a whole new life for a person who feels empty or insignificant," said Thomas Caffrey, a psychologist and former chief of psychological services at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.

According to KOMO, Synhavong allegedly called 911 and told dispatchers she had given birth, but that her baby may have died. When police found her in her car with a baby, Synhavong repeatedly asked, "Is my baby OK?"

Gloves soaked in blood, a boxcutter, bloody paper towels, yarn, a baby bottle and baby socks were among the items found in Synhavong's purse, according to court documents cited by the Associated Press.