Authorities say a U.S. woman accused of killing six babies that she gave birth to over 10 years told investigators that she either strangled or suffocated the children and then put them inside boxes in her garage.
According to a probable cause statement released by police Monday, Megan Huntsman said that between 1996 and 2006, she gave birth to at least seven babies at her home and that all but one of them were born alive.
Huntsman, 39, said she killed them immediately after they were born, and put their bodies inside the boxes. The statement said each baby was wrapped in either a towel or a shirt, and placed in a plastic bag.
Huntsman is being held on $6 million bail — $1 million for each baby she's accused of killing. It wasn't immediately clear if she had an attorney.
Huntsman was arrested Sunday on six counts of murder after police found the infants' tiny bodies. A seventh baby found appears to have been stillborn, Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman said.
Husband made gruesome discovery
Formal charges have not yet been filed against Huntsman and no other arrests have been made, but Buhman said the investigation remains open.
Investigators were trying to determine if the seven babies had the same father or multiple fathers, Buhman said.
The gruesome case has raised a series of questions about how the killings occurred despite Huntsman carrying out what neighbours said seemed like a normal existence.
"How can you have a baby and not have evidence and other people know?" asked neighbour SanDee Wall. "You can't plan when a baby is going to come. Just the thought of somebody putting a baby into a box is a heartbreaker."
Police declined to comment on a motive and on what Huntsman said during an interview with investigators.
Her estranged husband found the first infant's body while cleaning out the garage after recently getting out of prison. Authorities do not believe he was aware of the killings and he isn't a person of interest at this time.
Police Capt. Michael Roberts said officers responded to a call from him Saturday about a dead infant, and then they found the six other bodies.
Family and neighbours identified the estranged husband as Darren West, who has been in prison on drug-related charges.
Investigators believe West and Huntsman were together when the babies were born, but don't believe he was aware of the killings.
Asked how West could not have known about the situation, Roberts replied, "That's the million-dollar question. Amazing."
The babies' bodies were sent to the Utah medical examiner's office for tests, including one to determine the cause of death. DNA samples taken from the suspect and her husband will determine definitively whether the two are the parents, as investigators believe.
Woman also has three daughters at home
Huntsman also has three daughters — one teenager and two young adults — who lived at the house.
Most women who kill their children do so by neglect and or on purpose, such as Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned her five children in her bathtub in 2001, said Cheryl Meyer, a psychology professor at Ohio's Wright State University.
'How can you have a baby and not have evidence and other people know?' - SanDee Wall, neighbour of accused
Meyer said another common category is the "concealer" — a woman who hides or denies her pregnancy and then seeks to dispose of the baby after it's born. Meyer said the concealer is typically a teenager who does not repeat the act.
"These are usually girls who are 17, get pregnant, become scared to death and don't want to tell their parents," said Meyer, who has written about mothers who kill their children. "They're not 30-year-old women who can go have an abortion."
To combat this, all states, including Utah, have safe haven laws that allow women to drop off unwanted newborns to authorities with no questions asked. The mother can remain anonymous as long as the child has not been subject to abuse or neglect.
Neighbours in the middle-class neighbourhood of mostly older homes south of Salt Lake City say they were shocked by the accusations and perplexed that the woman's older children still living in the home didn't know their mother was pregnant or notice anything suspicious.
Late Sunday, West's family issued a statement saying they were in a "state of shock and confusion."
West pleaded guilty in federal court in 2005 to two counts of possessing chemicals intended to be used in manufacturing methamphetamine, court records show. In August 2006, he was sentenced to nine years in prison, but appealed the term three times. He maintained his innocence and said he never had any intention to manufacture meth.
West's sister Sarah Wright wrote to federal district court in 2006, saying West is a good father to his three daughters. She said he worked at an excavation company for 11 years and is an avid outdoorsman who likes to fish and camp.