Verna McClain Like Most Infant Abductors, Fits Familiar Psych Profile
(HOUSTON) -- As details emerge on the kidnapping of an infant in Texas on Tuesday, psychologists said the woman who allegedly committed the crime seemed to fit a familiar profile of an infant abductor: a woman who desperately wanted a baby.
Verna Dean McClain, a 30-year-old mother of three, is charged with capital murder for allegedly shooting and killing a 28-year-old mother, Kayla Marie Golden, and kidnapping her 3-day-old son in the parking lot of a pediatrician's office outside of Houston on Tuesday. Police said she admitted committing the crime because she wanted a baby to mislead her fiance into thinking that she had recently given birth to his child.
Witnesses reported that McClain drove up next to Golden's pickup truck in the parking lot and, after a brief altercation, shot her several times before snatching the baby from his car seat and driving away, hitting Golden with the car in the process.
The baby, Keegan Schuchardt, was found alive and well six hours after the kidnapping in McClain's home.
Infant abductions are rare and differ from kidnappings of older children, who are more likely to be the target of sexual crimes and then murdered. Between 1983 and 2012, 283 infants were taken by someone other than a family member from hospitals, homes or "other places," according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Most were recovered unharmed.
But Ken Lanning, a retired FBI agent who has studied nearly all cases of infant abduction for the agency's Behavioral Science Unit, said the abductors usually fit a common profile.
"The perpetrator is almost always a woman who, for one reason or another, has some desperate need to have a baby," he said.
In some cases, infants are taken for ransom or because of a conflict with the parents or family of the baby. It was not immediately clear whether or not McClain had any connection with Golden or the baby's father, Keith Schuchardt.
But in most cases, experts say a woman who takes a baby experiences a void in her life -- a void she believes only a baby can fill.
But neither does a woman take a baby simply for the joy of loving and caring for it.
"In almost every case, it is a woman who is desperate to have a child in order to keep a man," said Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston.
Women who commit these crimes may feign pregnancies and, at a certain point, must come up with a child to present as the man's.
Police said McClain told them she recently had a miscarriage.
"The primary reason is an effort to save a relationship with a man by presenting him with his baby," Lanning said.
As much as McClain seemed to fit the profile of a typical infant abductor, her alleged crime appeared to have some unique aspects.
McClain was already a mother of three children, ages 16, 10 and 6 -- but Lanning said older children may not be enough to satisfy the mental and emotional urges of women who commit these crimes.
"The key is [that] she doesn't want a child, she wants a baby," he said.
"It also is possible that she had her other children with a different man," and faced a partner's insistence that she give birth to his child, Levin said.
Whatever the motivation for taking another woman's baby, these crimes are usually the result of months of planning and preparation. Women may wear padding under their clothing to appear pregnant, make fake sonograms or follow prospective mothers to select a victim.
Levin would be surprised if McClain randomly selected Golden as her target.
"There's a very good chance, in my opinion, that this victim was stalked," he said. "She may have been followed by this perpetrator since the day of birth."
McClain is a registered nurse, but it is not known if she worked in the facility where the baby was born.
Infant abductions used to happen primarily in hospitals. Women would monitor the hospitals, find babies they wanted and select the ideal time and place to abduct them. But as hospitals became aware of the problem and increased their security measures, the number of hospital abductions has gone down.
According to NCMEC, of the 17 infants abducted in 1991, 11 of them were taken from health care facilities. In 2009, 11 infants were abducted, but just three of them were taken from a health care facility.
However, lower numbers of hospital abductions have corresponded with increases in the numbers of babies taken from their homes or public places.
Lanning said abducting a baby outside of a hospital usually means a direct confrontation with the parents, which makes violence toward mothers much more likely.
"At some point, when she said, 'That's the baby I'm going after,' nothing's going to stop her," he said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio