Babies Were Linda German's Obsession—Was She Crazy or Just Madly in Love?

updated 03/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sitting in a West Virginia courtroom, wearing pink clothes and pearl earrings, Lindsey Regan Manns is an unusually cheerful 7-month-old baby. She is oblivious to the judge's requests to keep her quiet—and to the fact that she is in some way responsible for the somber proceedings. Last July 12, before Lindsey was a full day old, a secretary named Linda Lou German abducted the newborn from a hospital in Huntington, W.Va. German, who had told her friends and co-workers that she was pregnant then drove home to Ohio and pretended the baby was hers.
The next day, challenged by her mother, she agreed to bring the it baby back to the same Huntington hospital for tests to prove her maternity. When she entered the hospital for the second time in 48 hours, German, 26, was questioned by authorities, arrested and held without bail.

At her kidnapping trial last month, none of these facts were in dispute. At issue was Linda German's sanity. What kind of person, jurors were asked to decide, would fake a pregnancy, steal a baby and claim it as her own, then return to the scene of the crime?

According to her lawyer, W. Michael Frazier, Linda German was legally insane. Frazier told the court that German suffered from pseudocyesis, a condition in which a woman not only believes she is pregnant but may also experience some of the physical symptoms of pregnancy such as the cessation of menstruation and the enlargement of breasts and abdomen. (First diagnosed by Hippocrates, the syndrome afflicted Queen Mary Tudor, and turned up in Sigmund Freud's account of Anna.) Frazier argued that as the imaginary delivery date neared, German underwent a brief psychotic reaction in the absence of childbirth. In other words, said Frazier, "Linda's mind overrode her body." When her body failed to deliver a child, she stole someone else's and believed it was her own.

The prosecution told a different story, maintaining that the abduction was cold-bloodedly contrived over a period of nine months. German, they said, was a baby-snatcher, one of a newly recognized breed of criminal offenders—women who steal infants. (The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children recognized baby-snatching as a distinct crime just two years ago. According to the center's deputy director, John Rabun, there were only five cases of abducted babies reported in the years before 1980, but in the last five years there have been more than 40. The typical snatcher, the center has found, is a depressed woman who has suffered several miscarriages and who intends to keep the child rather than ransom it. German, says Rabun, fits the profile perfectly.)

According to trial testimony, the Manns baby-snatching case began in December 1987, when German appeared at the home of her mother, Edith Bowman, in Piketon, Ohio, and announced that she was two months pregnant. German, a divorcée who claims she has had four miscarriages—although she gave birth to a daughter, Hilary, in 1984—had a checkered résumé that suggested a troubled personality. An honors graduate of Piketon High School, German had served in the Marines for two years and was honorably discharged. But in 1987 she was jailed for passing bad checks in Florida, and the state was investigating allegations that she was an unfit mother. Most recently, German had been living in central Florida and dating a man named Al Gray, whom she identified as her unborn baby's father.

In the early months of 1988, her mother testified, German "did everything a normal pregnant woman would do." She found a job at WUXA-TV in Portsmouth, Ohio, and began to talk about maternity clothes and names for her child. German was fatigued and her abdomen distended; eventually she took maternity leave. In May 1988, German enrolled in a Waverly, Ohio, Lamaze class, asking her best friend, Pam Armstrong, to be her labor coach. Instructor Brenda Spencer, who has been teaching Lamaze for almost a decade, says, "I saw her belly. Linda certainly looked pregnant to me."

At first, only the alleged father, Al Gray, doubted German, because, he would later say, she had pretended to be pregnant in the past. And so, on July 3, Linda drove to Florida to show him that she was indeed pregnant—almost nine months, by her reckoning. Gray, who was seeing another woman, asked German to leave, and she did—driving toward home until she was in the vicinity of Lexington, Ky., where, she claimed, she felt labor pains and tried to find a hospital with a maternity ward. After several attempts, she said, she finally found one and gave birth to a girl.

But when German returned to her mother's home, the baby, whom she called Lauren, wasn't with her. "She told me the child was sick," Bowman said. But Bowman and Armstrong were worried. German no longer looked pregnant, but she didn't have a birth certificate or a hospital bill, and she was vague about many of these details. When Bowman demanded proof of the birth, German and Armstrong drove to a Lexington hospital. In the courtroom, Armstrong recalled the bizarre scene at the nursery: Pointing to a distant crib covered with a blanket, German said, "See, Pam. There's my baby." Armstrong burst into tears as she testified; the crib, she believed, had been empty. Yet two days later, Linda left Ohio again, and this time she returned with a child. Her co-workers at WUXA welcomed her back with a big banner reading IT'S A GIRL! She also called Gray in Florida and told him, "I have our baby."

But German's mother was still suspicious, especially after reading that a baby girl had just been abducted from Cabell Huntington Hospital. Again she demanded that her daughter prove Lauren was hers, so German drove with the baby to the Huntington hospital to be tested. As soon as she arrived, she was questioned by police and the FBI. A medical examination revealed that she had not recently delivered a baby. Shortly thereafter, German confessed that she could not remember exactly what she had done or where she had been—but she admitted that the baby was not hers. "I can't retrace any of these events," says German, now being held in the Cabell County jail in Huntington. "I didn't even recognize Linda Manns [the baby's mother] in court. And I was pregnant."

A forceful, attractive woman, German says she does remember driving to Florida to demand that Al Gray relinquish parental rights to her baby. She recalls getting back in her car, driving toward Ohio and going into labor. "But I don't remember a hospital," she admits, and then she starts to cry. "I want to remember this. I can't," she says, turning her face to hide her tears from her 4-year-old daughter, who comes to visit her every week. "I don't want Hilary to see. I feel so sorry for her."

Dr. Johnnie Gallemore, chairman of the psychiatry department at Marshall University medical school in Huntington, is convinced that German is telling the truth. "I believe fully that Linda German thought she was pregnant," says Gallemore. In court he explained the effects of pseudocyesis to the jury and testified that "German believed, when she took the baby, that that baby was rightfully hers."

Assistant U.S. attorneys Amy Lecocq and Joseph Savage saw matters differently. They argued that German's baby-snatching was premeditated and that her obsession with Al Gray motivated the crime. Gray, 30, a handsome biologist from Lake County, Fla., said he met German at a bar in the fall of 1986 and that they had dated until Gray left town a year later on a business trip. While he was gone, German forged Gray's name on a power of attorney and bought a car. When Gray discovered the fraud, the two fought and the relationship—already shaky—ended. Gray tried to bring charges, and German, who had just been in jail for passing the bad checks, fled home to Piketon. But she never stopped thinking of Gray, who has since married another woman. "Linda was obsessed with Al," says Pam Armstrong. "She would phone him almost every day and tell me all about him."

When German told him she was pregnant, Gray testified, he asked her to prove it. German scheduled two ultrasound examinations but never appeared for the tests. When she later arrived in Florida claiming to be close to her due date, he says she didn't look it and he didn't believe her.

Moreover, the prosecution introduced evidence that after returning from Florida, German made three separate attempts to steal a baby. On July 7, German placed a phone call to the maternity ward at Cabell Huntington Hospital and talked with 18-year-old Emma Messer, who had just given birth to a girl, Faith Daniell, and identified herself as Jackie Moore. Messer testified that the caller said she had also just given birth to a baby girl, but that her child was sick. The next day, German came to the hospital, found Messer and the two chatted amicably. Then Bennie Sturgell, the father of Messer's child, arrived to take her and the baby to their home in southern West Virginia.

Later that day, German appeared on Sturgell's doorstep, about 50 miles from the hospital. Emma and Bennie were surprised but invited her inside, where German asked if she could look at the baby. But while she was holding Faith in her arms, Emma testified, German removed a sharp knife from her pocket and threatened to drop the child unless she could keep her. "I didn't know what to do," Bennie said in court. "I bit her." German dropped the knife and sped off in her car.

The following Tuesday, German, dressed in nurse's whites, was back on the maternity ward at Cabell Huntington. This time she spotted Dallas Davis, 18, who had just given birth to a baby girl. German said it was time for the baby to be fed and asked Davis for the crib card needed to remove a baby from the nursery. Davis handed over the card, but the nursery supervisor refused to let German take the child because she wasn't an immediate relative. German then returned Davis's card and went into a nearby room, where Linda Manns was sitting with baby Lindsey.

According to Manns's testimony, German said she needed to bring Lindsey to have her picture taken. Manns protested; she wanted to wait until the baby's grandmother could bring some nice clothes from home. No matter, said German, the photo would just be a cameo.

Manns finally agreed and gave the baby to German. A few minutes later, Manns realized German had gone and that she had taken their child. The hospital called the police, who called the FBI, which immediately set up a 24-hour telephone hotline. At 8:30 P.M.—32 hours after the snatch—German phoned the number to announce she was coming into the hospital with a baby. The prosecutors believe she returned the baby not to prove it was hers, but because even her own family refused to credit her story.

On the last day of testimony, the prosecution called Dr. William McFall, the psychologist who had examined German upon her arrival at the Federal Correctional Institution in Lexington, Ky., seven months earlier. McFall told the court that German's tests did not in any way indicate psychological abnormality. As prosecutor Savage said after the trial, "German may have been crazy bad, but she was not crazy mad."

The case went to the jury on the afternoon of Feb. 24. It took eight women and four men less than an hour to return a verdict of guilty. Sentencing is scheduled for May 1, when German faces the possibility of at least seven years in prison.

German displayed no emotion upon hearing the verdict. Despite the prosecutors' conviction that her obsessive love for Al Gray had been the catalyst for the entire charade, she insisted shortly before the jury returned that "I have no feelings for Al Gray anymore." Yet on the last day of the trial, when Pam Armstrong and Edith Bowman brought Hilary to the jail for a visit, Linda German's first question for Armstrong was, "How is my Al?"

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