There is an epidemic of missing and murdered mothers in the United States. Many missing and murdered moms get a great deal of press coverage, but for some reason, their cases go unsolved.
Among these missing and murdered moms is Marlen Ocha-Lopez. Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, 19, was a dark-haired beauty and nine months’ pregnant when she went missing April 23, 2019, in Chicago, Ill. That day Ochoa-Lopez had attended classes at Latino Youth High School in Chicago, planning to pick up her 3-year old at daycare later that day.
According to police, prior to her disappearance she had appealed to other mothers on a Facebook group called “Help a Sister Out,” asking for help securing a double stroller for her toddler and new baby.
A high-school student, Ochoa-Lopez wrote in a post that she was unemployed and short on cash, and willing to buy, trade, or accept the double stroller as a donation.
A woman had responded to her Facebook post with an offer to provide baby clothes and other items. The woman then directed Ochoa -Lopez to private message her for more information. Ochoa-Lopez had purchased baby items from the woman before.
On May 14, 2019, the body of Ochoa-Lopez was found stuffed inside a garbage bin in the backyard of the woman who had offered her baby supplies.
Ochoa-Lopez had been strangled with a cable and her unborn baby forcibly removed from her womb.
(Arrested in the death of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez; Clarissa Figueroa, daughter Desiree Figueroa, and boyfriend Piotr Bobak.)
Police arrested the woman from the Facebook post, Clarisa Figueroa, 46, along with her daughter Desiree Figueroa, 24, both charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child less than 13 years old. Desiree Figueroa’s boyfriend Piotr Bobak was charged with concealing the death of a person and one felony count of concealing a homicidal death.
“Words cannot express how disgusting and thoroughly disturbing these allegations are,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
Community helping put the puzzle together
During the 3 weeks Ochoa-Lopez was missing, friends and family frantically searched for her. According to the family’s pastor, Jacobia Cortes, when Ochoa-Lopez’s husband tried to report her missing, he was told to return in 72 hours. He did return and in addition, the family had hired a private investigator.
The family also turned to the local church who came together and helped plaster the neighborhood with fliers of Ochoa.
As a result, people in the neighborhood began calling the church to report they had seen Ochoa-Lopez enter the home where she would be later found dead. According to Cortes, concerned residents also said one of the women who lived at the residence, describing her in her 40’s, had suddenly had a baby without ever appearing to be pregnant.
The same day Ochoa-Lopez went missing the Chicago Fire Department received a call that a newborn was in distress at the home where Ochoa was eventually found.
According to fire department spokesperson Larry Langford, for the three weeks that Ochoa-Lopez was missing, her baby boy was hospitalized and accompanied by a woman who claimed she had given birth to him. However, according to Ochoa’s father, Arnulfo Ochoa, there were missed opportunities to find his daughter earlier.
Grizzly details surface
On May 14, police obtained a search warrant and crime lab technicians searched the house on Chicago’s Southwest Side, only 4 miles from Ochoa-Lopez’s own home.
(Chicago police search the home of Clarisa Figueroa on May 14, 2019.)
Bleach and other cleaning supplies were found in the home, along with evidence of burned clothes.
“They are finding remains of burned clothes, they are finding some blood indication on the living room carpet, some blood indication on the hallway, some blood indication on the bathroom floor,” police said.
Ochoa-Lopez’s body was found in a garbage can, hidden in the yard, along with the cable used to strangle her.
Desiree Figueroa told police she helped her mother strangle Ochoa-Lopez from behind the couch until she took her last breath and peed herself.
Apparently, Clarisa Figueroa plotted for months to acquire a newborn before they kidnapped Ochoa-Lopez and cut her baby from her womb using a butcher knife, according to prosecutors.
(Cook County prosecutor Jim Murphy briefs Chicago media with details of murder of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez.)
Ochoa-Lopez was lured to Clarisa Figueroa’s home. When she arrived, Desiree Figueroa showed her a photo album of her late brother to distract her as her mother went behind Ochoa-Lopez with a cord and began strangling her, prosecutor Jim Murphy told reporters.
When Ochoa-Lopez managed to get her finger under the cord, Clarisa Figueroa yelled at her daughter, “You’re not doing your f—ing job!” The daughter then pried Ochoa-Lopez’s fingers from the cord “one by one” while her mother continued to strangle the teenager for another five minutes.
Reading from court documents, Murphy said when Ochoa-Lopez showed no signs of life, Clarisa Figueroa cut her open with a butcher’s knife, removed the baby and the placenta, then put the baby in a bucket with the umbilical cord still attached.
Authorities think the nightmarish plot was hatched during 2018, when Clarisa Figueroa told her family she was pregnant, later posting an ultrasound and photos of a room decorated for a baby on Facebook. Her daughter said she was surprised because she believed her mother had had her tubes tied.
According to Murphy, this announcement came not too long after Clarisa Figueroa’s own adult son had died from natural causes during 2018.
On March 5, 2018, Clarissa Figueroa made a Facebook post that read, “Who is due in May?” Another post said, “Where is the May mammas at?” Ochoa-Lopez, seven months pregnant at the time, replied and that is when Clarisa Figueroa offered her free baby clothes.
When Clarisa Figueroa first asked her daughter to help her kill someone to take their baby, the daughter initially said no.
They first met with Ochoa-Lopez around April 1. Desiree told her boyfriend of her mother’s intention to kill Ochoa-Lopez, and he warned he would call the police if they harmed the young mother. According to the prosecutor, Clarisa Figueroa then told the boyfriend the whole thing had been an April Fool’s joke.
They killed Ochoa-Lopez when she returned the second time on April 23. After killing her, the mother and daughter allegedly wrapped her in a blanket, placing the body in a large plastic bag. They proceeded to drag the body outside and placed it in a garbage can in a hidden area next to the garage.
Clarisa Figueroa then called 911 and claimed she had just delivered a baby and that it wasn’t breathing, authorities told reporters. When the first responders arrived, the baby was blue. The baby was immediately transported to a nearby hospital.
“At the hospital, doctors found no signs Clarisa Figueroa had just given birth,” prosecutors said. “She also had blood on her arms, hands, and face that police later determined to be the blood of Ochoa-Lopez.
Christ Medical Center in suburban Oaklawn has declined to comment, cutting state and federal regulations.
The baby, named Yadiel, remains hospitalized in intensive care and on a breathing machine.
(Funeral procession comes together to bury Marlen Ochoa-Lopez on May 25, 2019.)
On May 25, hundreds filed into a Stickney funeral home to pay their respects to the young mother.
“Today is a sad day – not only for [Marlen’s] family but for all of Chicago,” one community organizer said.
There are Many More Missing
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as of April 30, 2018, there were 86,927 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
Though no agency in the country can provide statistic specific to missing pregnant women, NCIC lists approximately 5, 714 missing persons with disabilities.
Many cases may be of people missing are due to diminished mental capacity such as Alzheimer’s, and other mental health issues but a few are pregnant women. However, while it is rare a pregnant mother goes missing, it seems to be happening with more frequency.
When a person goes missing, it becomes a cooperative effort on behalf of the police, the community, and the media,” says private investigator Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations International. “When a pregnant mother goes missing it should be treated with utmost urgency.”
Some missing pregnant women make national news, and some do not. Often it can depend upon the circumstances of the disappearance, but some experts say the police and media response can also be affected by race and socio-economic status.
Lauth who has been a private investigator specializing in missing person cases for 25 years, says the public’s reaction to a case becomes paramount when searching for a missing person and Ochoa-Lopez’s case reflects how successful community involvement can be in a missing person case. “Many, many cases are solved with the information provided by the public,” says Lauth. “Getting information out via media is often the only way to generate that one lead that may help law enforcement bring the victim home.”
Disappearance of Bethany Decker
Bethany Decker was 21 and five months pregnant when she vanished from her Ashburn, Va., apartment on January 29, 2011. She had been visiting her parents at their Columbia, Maryland home earlier that day.
(Bethany Decker vanished from her Ashburn, Va., apartment on January 29, 2011.)
Decker who was majoring in global and economic change didn’t show up for her classes at the nearby George Mason University (GMU), or her full-time job but it would be three weeks before she was reported missing.
During the time Decker attended college at GMU, she became pregnant by Emile Decker, an Army National Guardsman. The two married in 2009 and they had a son six months later. Emile Decker was often deployed to Afghanistan for months at a time.
While working at a Centreville Italian restaurant, Decker met Roland, a Bolivian immigrant who was approximately 30 years old and began an extramarital affair with him. By 2010, there were problems in the Decker’s marriage and Decker moved to a separate apartment in Ashburn. Roland soon followed and moved in with her, but Decker found him controlling and abusive. Several times a day Roland demanded Decker send him a picture of herself from her cellphone to show who she was with. Concerned, her parents began devising a plan to get their daughter out of the relationship but by the end of the year Bethany found out she was pregnant.
In January 2011, Emile Decker returned to the United States for a month-long leave to see Decker. By the end of the month, they went on a week-long vacation in Hawaii and returned on January 28, spending the night at Decker’s parent’s home in Maryland.
The following morning Emile Decker stayed at the home and Decker returned to her apartment a little over an hour drive away. On February 2, Emile returned to Afghanistan. Friends that met him at the airport to see him off noted that Bethany wasn’t there like previous occasions but attributed her absence to the couple’s marital problems.
Initially, friends and family were not concerned when they didn’t hear from Decker as of the beginning of February. They said she made an effort to stay in touch but with her busy life and classes at GMU, along with a full-time job, sometimes days would go by before they heard from her.
February 19, Nelson asked her parents, who lived near Ashburn if they could drive by their granddaughter’s house to see if she was there. Decker’s Hyundai was parked out front at an unusual angle with a flat tire. Immediately concerned, Decker’s grandparents called Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department and made a missing person report.
Detectives found Decker had not used her bank account or cell phone since January 29 and initially focused the investigation on Roland and Emile Decker since both may have a motive to harm her.
Emile Decker returned to the states and took a polygraph.
Police then focused on Roland who said he had not seen Decker since the 29th but offered no additional information.
Roldan who had a criminal record prior to Decker’s disappearance is considered a person of interest in the case. In 2015, Roldan was arrested for the attempted murder of another girlfriend Vicky Willoughby.
(Ronald Rowland is suspected to be the last person who saw Bethany Decker alive on January 29, 2011.)
Police in Moore County, North Carolina, responded to a 911 call for a domestic incident at Willoughby’s home on November 12, 2014. Police said Willoughby shot Roland in self-defense twice, once in the chest and once in the abdomen. Roland then grabbed Willoughby’s .38 caliber handgun and shot at her three times, hitting her in the head and leg. She lost an eye in the shooting.
After the Willoughby recovered, she appeared on the Dr. Phil Show and claimed Roldan had made statements to her that implicate him in the disappearance of Decker. He is currently serving time in a North Carolina prison.
In March 2019, Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman announced to media that police have had movement as recently as “last week,” in the eight-year search to determine who killed 21-year old Bethany Decker.
Though Chapman did not elaborate on what the development was, he said it came after a January search warrant of Decker’s Facebook account.
(Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Mike Chapman announces recent development in the disappearance of Bethany Decker.)
Loudoun County investigators have never charged Roland or named him as a suspect but have said he is no longer willing to answer questions about the disappearance of Decker.
Two weeks after Decker disappeared, Emile Decker said he received a “sketchy” email, “and did not believe it was sent by Bethany” according to a Facebook search warrant filed January 9 of this year.
“Suspicious activity” was also later reported on Decker’s Facebook account by her mother and some of Decker’s friends according to the warrant.
Better technology has assisted investigators with pinpointing the origin of the suspicious activity to reexamine Decker’s Facebook account.
During Roland’s conviction for the attempted murder of Willoughby, North Carolina prosecutors stated after Roland completes his time, sometime in 2021, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will then take him into custody for deportation proceedings to Bolivia.
However, Loudoun County sources told WTOP News that they expect a grand jury to indict Roldan for Decker’s murder despite her remains not being found.
“It’s going to primarily, I would imagine, be a circumstantial case,” said Chapman. “You have to compile all the evidence, and see where it all leads, and make sure you have enough to achieve a conviction.”
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Bethany Decker is asked to call the Loudoun County Sheriff at 703-777-1021.
Disappearance of Jasmine Robinson
Jasmine Robinson, 23, was last seen February 18, 2019, at her home in Alachua County, Fla. She was seven months pregnant at the time of her disappearance.
(Jasmine Robinson is seven months pregnant and reported missing February 18, in Alachua County, Fla.)
After coming home from work, Robinson told her aunt she was going to bed at approximately 8 p.m. but friends and family became concerned when she hadn’t answered her phone and failed to report to work the following day. The family made a missing person report to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Department.
From investigating Robinson’s home, police believe Robinson left her residence with “someone” as it did not appear Robinson had not been ready to go anywhere, leaving many of her belongings at the house.
“Over two squads of detectives have been engaged in her case. What we need now is that last piece of information from the public about where she is,” said Lt. Brett Rhodenizer of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
The Florida Sheriff’s Association Criminal Apprehension Assistance Program and Crime Stoppers are offering a reward of up to $8,000 for information that leads to the arrest of anyone responsible for the disappearance of Robinson.
“Whoever saw her last, we need that information because that would give us the key starting point, where we can then have the assistance from the public, use the specialized resources that are available to the sheriff’s office to get out and begin that very deliberate ground search to bring Jasmine home,” said Rhodenizer.
Anyone with information about regarding the disappearance of Jasmine Robinson is asked to call the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office at 352-955-1818.
Disappearance of Kierra Coles
Kierra Coles, 26, stepped out of her home in Chicago’s South Side in her postal worker uniform and disappeared into thin air on October 2, 2018.
(US Postal worker Kierra Coles has been missing from her South Side Chicago apartment since October 1, 2018.)
She was three months pregnant when she disappeared.
During her last phone call with her mother, Karen Phillips, Coles asked for advice about a product and “she seemed okay.” Coles was reported missing on October 4, after her Phillips hadn’t heard from her in two days and calls were being forward to voicemail.
Chicago Police was called to perform a welfare check at Cole’s apartment but found nothing out of the ordinary.
After checking with neighbors, police said the following day; Coles was seen on a neighbor’s surveillance video leaving her apartment near 81st Street and Vernon Avenue. Her vehicle was found in front of her apartment complex with her cell phone, prenatal vitamins, and a packed lunch still inside.
To add to the mystery, coworkers of Coles say she called out sick that day.
Leaving everyone baffled, Cole’s father, Joseph Coles told Dateline his daughter was excited to be a first-time mother. “She had no reason to disappear,” he said.
(Family members of Kierra Coles hand out fliers in Chicago’s South Side.)
In the months following Cole’s disappearance, authorities have searched areas around the city of Chicago. Since Cole’s disappearance, her father quit his job in Wisconsin and moved to Chicago to search “night and day” for his daughter.
“I’m trying to stand out here and stay strong for my daughter and my grandbaby,” said Joseph Coles. “I do my daily routine – pass out fliers, trying to get the word out,” he added. “There’s a lot of love in this family. There is no way in hell she would run away.”
Police announced they feel “foul play” is suspected in Cole’s disappearance.
Chief Guglielmi told Dateline there is a minimum of two to three people of interest in the case and who was the last to see her. “We’ve narrowed down our group here to a personal associate of hers – a friend – who was one of the last people to see her.” Guglielmi did not comment on the person’s name.
Cole’s father holds out hope his daughter and grandbaby are still alive.
“I just want the world to know I love my baby and my grandbaby. It would be closure to know my baby is safe and home,” said Joseph Coles. That would be a blessing of a lifetime. The way the situation is now, I am keeping hope. Because there are young women who have been missing for longer than Kierra has, and they’ve been found safely. So, I am keeping hope.”
As Cole’s due date passed on April 23, she remains missing.
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Kierra Coles is asked to call the Chicago Police Department at 312-746-6000.