Desperate for a Child : On a Muggy Summer Day, Darci Pierce Decided She Would Kill to Have a Baby
It was a miserable day to be pregnant.
Hot, humid, late in July, 1987. Afternoon thunderheads teased the mountains to the east of the city, and even skinny people sweated.
Had it not been for motherhood, Darci Pierce and Cindy Ray might never have met on a broiling blacktop parking lot outside an obstetrics clinic. On this day, particularly, it was no place for a mother to be.
Ray had parked her cherry-red Chevy Blazer near the clinic door and hurried inside to lie on a cold vinyl examining table and listen to her child’s heart scratch lines on a paper tape. The sound was music, for unlike her first child, this one had been quiet within her.
Due to give birth in two weeks, Ray was tired, a little iron deficient, and, on a day busy with Tupperware deliveries, she had stopped only long enough for a snack. It had taken a Coke to stimulate the fetus enough for a good reading. A Mormon who never drank anything with caffeine, she swallowed it willingly, for peace of mind.
The fetal monitor, held fast to her abdomen by a soft pink belt, scratched on, and Ray relaxed in the coolness and chatted with her pregnant friends and a midwife before hurrying on.
Outside, Darci Pierce had pulled into the slot next to the Blazer in a dirt-white Volkswagen Beetle. She sat sweating in a tent of a dress, a white maternity housecoat with blue vertical stripes, big enough to hide a belly that everyone thought was an overdue baby.
In three hours, at 5 p.m., she and her husband, Ray, were due at the University of New Mexico Hospital where labor would be induced. The procedure had already been put off a week, draining her family, who for two years had shared her pain and longing to be a mother.
Now, her suitcase was packed again. The nursery at home was ready. Everyone awaited a call from the new father.
Looking for a Baby
Only Pierce knew that on that suffocating afternoon, July 23, 1987, she was not pregnant.
She had to deliver a baby by 5 p.m., and she had come to the obstetrics clinic at Kirtland Air Force Base to get one.
What occurred next--even after a confession and murder trial--is not entirely clear. But this much is known from interviews and court records: Ray, 23, and Pierce, 20, two women came together that afternoon in one of the nation’s most bizarre cases of baby lust. The story would unfold in the next 24 hours.
Psychiatrists say what happened is an extreme example of maternal instinct run amok, the same force that drove women in this country to steal 17 newborns since 1980. The desire to have a baby is tied to a woman’s identity, experts say, and even with the changing roles of women, the maternal instinct has not been lost.
But baby stealers often have deep psychological needs that go far beyond simple unfilled maternal feelings. Psychologists and psychiatrists say common denominators include a fragile sense of self-esteem, a disturbed family background and dependency on others.
At about 3:15 p.m. Cindy Ray’s husband, Sam, a military policeman, walked across the street from his office to the tan, two-story Ambulatory Health Center, where he stopped to put his gun belt in the Blazer. His wife’s Tupperware order was still in the seat. But in the clinic, where he expected to find her, another pregnant woman was on the examining table.
“You just missed her,” a nurse told him. “She just left, not five minutes ago.” He checked through the long building again, but found no sign of his wife. Returning to the truck, he left to pick up his 2-year-old son, Luke, from a baby-sitter.
Sam Ray was still looking for his wife when Theron Hartshorn, a stockroom supervisor at an Albuquerque wallboard company, left work and drove his Chevy pickup into the mountains, east on Interstate 40, south on 14, and east again onto a U.S. Forest Service lane where he was building a house. He lived 15 miles from town and turned onto his road about 4 p.m.
A quarter-mile past the cattle guard an off-white Volkswagen sat in the road facing him, with both doors open. Hartshorn got out to close one.
A woman suddenly appeared from the junipers on his left, straightening her white dress, and saying, “My friend and I need to be left alone.”
Thought She Was With a Man
“Fine, I need to get by,” he said. The thought occurred to him that she was with a man in the bushes.
“My friend and I need to be alone,” she insisted, three or four times. He closed the door and drove by, glancing back. There on the hillside was another woman lying on her back. As the woman in the white dress crawled back up toward her, Hartshorn changed his mind. It was two women messing around.
For the next two hours, as fear rose in his throat, Sam Ray carried Luke in his arms around the air base. No one had seen his wife since she had left the clinic. It was so unlike her.
Sam Ray and Cindy Giles grew up in Payson, Utah, and fell in love while in the high school band, where he led the drum section and she marched beside him with cymbals. They were Mutt and Jeff to their friends, he a 6-foot-4, slim, good-looking senior, Giles a 5-foot-3 sophomore, thin and shy, athletic and cute.
In April, 1983, after he returned from an 18-month church mission in England, they had married and moved to Germany in the Air Force. They had married in the Salt Lake temple, both still virgins who believed marriage was forever.
Cindy Ray wanted the perfect family. Success, for the Mormon woman, was serving her husband and her children, and she embraced that philosophy.
In her purse on July 23, along with her Blazer keys and the pink monitoring belt the clinic had given her to wash, were undergarments worn by the most devoted of Mormons, to remind them of their covenant with God. Ray took them off only to avoid embarrassment at the clinic.
Later in the day, about 4:30 p.m., a shaken salesman appeared at the desk of Rob Mohr, the new car sales manager at Montano Acura in north Albuquerque.
“There’s a lady in the parking lot who’s having a baby,” he said. “Rob, she’s asking for you.”
‘Delivered My Own Baby’
On the lot sat an off-white Volkswagen with a woman at the wheel. She was clutching a newborn baby wrapped in a blood-stained dress, white with blue stripes. The woman was in a sweat-soaked slip and looked distraught.
“I delivered my own baby,” she said. Her story, which came haltingly, was that she had gone into labor on Interstate 25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque and given birth by the road, biting the umbilical cord. The baby was still waxy, with patches of blood and mucus on its head. She had named her Amanda Michelle.
Mohr checked the sales log. Darci and Ray Pierce had been in the previous week to look at a car they couldn’t afford. She looked pregnant at the time and said she was due in a week or two.
As a car salesman knelt by the VW door to keep her company, Pierce asked him to remove a toy 9-millimeter Ruger automatic pistol that was on the rear floorboard and put it in a map pocket. Then she asked him to ride with her to the hospital, where her husband was waiting, beaming.
The baby’s time of birth was logged as the time of its admission: 4:45 p.m.
Story Began Unraveling
Darci Pierce was exhausted but thrilled. Her husband noticed her necklace hanging broken and the Krugerrand, a keepsake from an exchange trip to South Africa, missing. He slipped the chain off her neck.
She wanted the baby checked, but refused to be examined herself. There was blood and mud from her thighs to her feet. Doctors were worried about bleeding, but she was angry and short and wouldn’t let them near. She wanted to sign a waiver, get a birth certificate and check out. Ray Pierce wouldn’t let her.
He had known Darci Ricker since 1984, when they met at a Rotary outing in Portland, Ore. He had been an Eagle Scout, with a job at a hobby shop and plans for the Air Force. In Ray Pierce, she found a future.
Ricker had fantasized about perfect families, with perfect children and a perfect husband. She often told friends that she was rich, that her mother kept up with fashion and that she lived in a fancy house. The reality was something else.
Hated Her Past
She was haunted by her origin. Given away at the age of 11 days by a door-to-door pots-and-pans salesman to a family he called on, she considered it the ultimate rejection.
She was adopted, but hated her fat mother who baked wedding cakes for extra money, and she rarely saw her father awake because of his night-shift job driving a forklift. She moved out of the house before finishing high school and in with Ray Pierce in 1985. Her parents didn’t attend her high school graduation.
As early as the third grade, a neighbor forced her to have oral sex and other men made sexual advances, Pierce’s psychiatrist testified at the trial that came later. She seduced a cousin when they were 6 and they slept together six years, the cousin told the court. Pierce was fully developed by 9, with full breasts, long brown hair and dark eyes. Her husband testified she had told him of a lesbian affair she had while he was in basic training.
She had physical problems, too--an ovarian cyst and one unsuccessful pregnancy in 1985. She took the loss of the fetus hard, and the next year became obsessed with having a child.
Pregnancy Sham Began
In 1986 she took maternity leave and pay from a department store where she worked and began wearing maternity clothes. Yet pregnancy tests given by her doctor were negative. On her due date in 1987 she told co-workers the baby had been stillborn, and asked her husband to cover for her. He refused.
As far as he knew, she was pregnant, one reason he had married her in December, 1986.
At the time she said her due date was May. After the move to Albuquerque, it became July 16, then July 23. By the time she delivered the baby to the hospital, she had been in maternity clothes 14 months.
At 6:30 p.m. Sam Ray officially reported his wife missing to police. At home in the a trailer park he put Luke to bed.
“Your mommy’s lost,” Ray told him, “but you can have your daddy.”
Searched for Cindy
Through the evening he and Mormon friends called airlines, hospitals, the bus station and relatives in Utah. He also called Sister Rosemary, Cindy Ray’s midwife, who happened to be on duty at the university hospital where the Pierce baby was creating a stir.
By now, doctors in the ob/gyn section knew that the Pierce baby had not been born vaginally. The head was beautifully round. And the blood on Darci Pierce was in the wrong place.
About 10 p.m., after constant urging by her husband and nurses, Darci Pierce agreed to be examined--if they didn’t tell her husband what they found.
Dr. Susan Graham, the chief resident, said Pierce looked like a woman 20 weeks pregnant with a “nice little bulge” in her abdomen. But it was not a uterus; it was soft. She had not given birth.
Admitted to Lying
Pierce then admitted that, and said she had lied to keep her husband from knowing the baby wasn’t his. The baby, she said, had been delivered by a surrogate mother in Santa Fe, attended by a midwife who splashed blood on Pierce’s legs to make it look as if she had delivered. She said she had met the surrogate outside an abortion clinic in Portland, paid her $10,000 for the baby, and flown her to Santa Fe.
It was an unbelievable story. At the very least, what midwife would fail to clamp the umbilical cord?
At 1 a.m. Graham locked the nursery and called police.
Darci Pierce was by now calm, almost serene, as police, nurses and doctors swarmed about her. What was the midwife’s name? She couldn’t remember. Where did you get $10,000? A trust fund. She seemed to have an answer for everything, but the answers didn’t make sense.
Elisabeth Koehler was the charge nurse in labor and delivery after 11 p.m. She walked Darci Pierce to the nursery to look at the baby.
Doctors Confronted Her
“You know how powerful the mind can be,” Pierce said. “People can fake pregnancies.”
At 3 a.m., Koehler, Graham and another physician confronted her.
“Do you know Cindy Ray?”
“No. I have no friends in town.”
“The mother of this baby may be out there somewhere and may need our help.”
“I’m sorry that Cindy Ray is missing, but I know nothing.” She was calm.
At 3:30 a.m. Ray Pierce was told that Amanda Michelle was not his baby. It was obvious to police who questioned him that he believed his wife had been pregnant.
Told Story to Police
At 7:30 a.m., after being awake most of the night, Darci Pierce was taken to a conference room filled with detectives. She repeated the story of the surrogate mother. They questioned her for two hours, angrily.
“It’s my baby. I paid for it,” Pierce told them.
About 10 a.m., in a side room away from the police, nurse Koehler brought the baby to Pierce, who cradled it in her arms and stroked its hair with her finger.
“I feel like a real person for the first time in my life,” she said. “This baby is going to live its entire life with me.”
She began to talk of her adoption, and how she never felt a part of her family.
What About Baby’s Mother?
“Do you want the same thing to happen to this baby?” Koehler asked her. Pierce was quiet.
“How do you think this baby’s mother would feel?” There was no response.
“Do you have any idea where this baby’s mother might be?”
Pierce began to talk.
“Maybe something terrible has happened, but I can’t bring it up.”
Pierce handed the baby to another nurse and asked her to take it away. She began to cry.
“I’ve done something horribly wrong. I’m afraid maybe something is wrong with the woman.”
‘I Killed Her’
She asked to see Steve Coppinger of the Air Force office of special investigations. In minutes she confessed. Koehler walked back into the room.
“Elisabeth, I killed her. My mother is going to hate me.”
Within minutes Coppinger, Koehler, Albuquerque detective Tom Craig and Pierce were driving east on Interstate 40, south on 14, and left onto the dirt roads of the Cibola National Forest at her direction. She was chatty, about the gun she used to get Ray into the car, about a place she considered turning around.
As the car crossed the cattle guard, Pierce became hysterical. “I killed her. I took the baby. God I hope she’s not dead.” She pointed to a tree. “There she is.”
Pierce was screaming. “Get me out of here. Please kill me.”
Strangled, Cut Open
Cindy Ray was lying on her back beneath juniper trees. She had been strangled with the pink monitor belt, which dangled from a tree. She had been cut open with the ignition key to her Blazer. It was a 5-inch wound, in exactly the right spot for a Caesarean. She had been unconscious but alive when the incision was made. Through the cut that delivered her daughter, Cindy Ray’s life had run out.
When police moved her body, they found Darci Pierce’s Krugerrand underneath.
Sam Ray’s commander and chaplain knocked on his door just before noon and told him the story as he held Luke on his lap. Then they took Ray to the hospital and handed him a bundle of pale green bunting with his baby girl inside.
She was tiny, 6 pounds, 8 ounces, a healthy pink except for a small scratch on her head. She looked like her mother.
Mental State Debated
Pierce taped a confession that afternoon, 24 hours after she had abducted Cindy Ray. The tape was played at her trial in March.
Psychiatrists talked to her for hours, and later, at the trial, argued over her mental state. Defense psychiatrists found evidence of multiple personalities. One part of her thought she was pregnant, another part covered up the fact that she was not. One part strangled Cindy Ray, another saved the baby. Under hypnosis she spoke of another part, “the dark one.” The videotape was never shown to the jury but she was on a constant suicide watch.
The state’s psychiatrists said she was sick, but not insane. The jury agreed. On March 29, Pierce was found guilty of first-degree murder, kidnaping and child abuse. On Thursday she was sentenced to life in prison. Her defense attorneys say she will never get the psychiatric care she needs.
It was the country’s third known case of a crude Caesarean by a woman longing for children. The other two occurred in 1975, in Philadelphia and North Hollywood. Both were murders, and in both cases the babies survived.
Aftermath for the Rays
Cindy Ray was buried a week after her murder, in the Payson cemetery with a small granite stone reading “Our Mommy” on the front, and “Greater Love hath no one, than to lay down their life for a friend.”
Sam Ray, given a hardship discharge from the Air Force, has enrolled in Brigham Young University for a teacher’s degree. During the day his mother keeps Luke and Amelia Monik, now 8 months old. The baby rolls over, smiles and giggles and loves to chew her feet.
“For a long time I wouldn’t sing to her,” said Millie Ray, Sam’s mother. “I’d just get a lump in my throat. It’s miraculous that Sam got her back. Her hard time is going to come later, when it finally all has to be explained to her.”
In his mobile home, Ray has a box of his wife’s things to show the kids when they’re old enough, along with clippings of the case. He plans to remarry someday, but he said: “I want them to know who their mommy was. She loved other people with all her heart. I imagine she felt sorry for the woman.”
Toward Darci Pierce he claims no bitterness.
“I feel sorry for her. I feel sympathy for women who cannot have children of their own. One of my best friends couldn’t have babies. It’s a hard thing.”