Abducted newborn found alive

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

UNION, Mo. -- A newborn girl who was abducted from her mother was found alive Tuesday and was in excellent condition, according to the doctor who treated her. Meanwhile, the woman who allegedly abducted the baby after stabbing the child's mother was arrested.

Dr. Peter McCarthy, an emergency room physician at St. John's Hospital in Washington, Mo., said 11-day-old Abigale Lynn Woods has been reunited with her mother, father and other relatives. She was expected to be released from the hospital later Tuesday. The family has declined to speak with the media.

"The family is elated and thankful to everyone in the community who prayed for them," McCarthy said. "The baby was hydrated, nourished and in good condition when she arrived at the hospital."

FBI Special Agent Roland Corvington identified the suspect as Shannon Beck, who lives just a few miles from the home where Abigale was kidnapped.

The case broke when Beck's sister-in-law, Dorothy Torrez, contacted authorities.

"She's the hero," Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said. "She's the one that made it happen."

Corvington gave this account:

On Sunday, Beck contacted Torrez to say she had given birth. Corvington said Beck had been pregnant but apparently miscarried shortly before her own child was to be born.

Torrez paid a visit Monday, and urged Beck to take the child to a doctor. Beck agreed, and Torrez accompanied her to the doctor's visit Tuesday in St. Louis, about 45 miles away.

Torrez noticed what appeared to be makeup on the baby's forehead. When she rubbed the forehead, makeup came off that was covering a small birthmark.

In publicizing the abduction, police had described Abby's strawberry-red birthmark. Her suspicions aroused, Torrez confronted Beck, who gave her the baby.

Torrez contacted police, and the baby was handed over to authorities around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

"An outstanding ending, obviously," Toelke said. "You talk about a lead breaking the case, and this was it."

Toelke said the county prosecutor would address criminal charges on Wednesday.

The child's mother, 21-year-old Stephenie Ochsenbine, told police Friday a woman entered her rural home, attacked her with a knife and stole the baby, who was a week old at the time.

Ochsenbine was released from a hospital Sunday.

Earlier Tuesday, authorities intensified the search around the family's home near Lonedell, blocking off highways and roads leading to the residence.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, police addressed whispers that perhaps a family member was responsible, saying they had found no evidence of that and noting that the father, James Woods, had passed a polygraph test and the mother's injuries were consistent with an attack.

Police had received more than 500 leads in an investigation that drew international attention. It wasn't immediately clear what led them to the abandoned building.

The search clearly intensified Tuesday afternoon as a helicopter circled the area above Abby's home, sometimes as low as 50 feet above the ground. Missouri Route 47, which runs by the home, was blocked off as search dogs scoured the yard and divers searched two nearby ponds.

Robert Bardot, who owns property near Ochsenbine's home, said FBI agents contacted him and asked to search houses on nearby properties he owns. He said agents searched the same properties Sunday, and he wasn't sure why they were returning.

It wasn't immediately clear if the woman and baby were found in one of his homes.

Ochsenbine graduated from St. Clair High School in 2004. In the high school yearbook that year, she said she planned to go to cosmetology school and own her own salon.

Ochsenbine told police she did not know the woman who came to her door and entered the house after asking to use the telephone. Ochsenbine's throat was slashed before the baby was taken.

Authorities said that after lying unconscious, Ochsenbine gathered up her 1-year-old son, Connor, who was unharmed, and went to a neighbor's home to seek help.

Fliers showing the baby were posted in gas stations and restaurants throughout Franklin County. The 6-pound girl, born Sept. 8, has dark brown hair, dark eyes and a strawberry birthmark on her forehead.

The abductor had been profiled as someone who had a child die recently or as someone who could not have children, told people she was pregnant and needed to steal a child so her lie would not be found out.

Experts in child abductions say kidnappings by strangers are extremely rare.

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