Inside the mind of a baby snatcher

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 May, 1993, 12:00am

PSYCHIATRIST Dr Connell is a fellow of the Hongkong College of Psychiatrists working towards a post-graduate degree in criminology at Hongkong University. He gave an insight into the psychological profile of a child abductor.

She is worried her boyfriend or husband is about to leave her, and to save the relationship she has either faked a pregnancy or suffered a phantom pregnancy, and told him he is the father. She is likely to have a history of psychological problems, and she will try to keep the baby forever.

This is the frightening profile of the abductor, who has put time and thought into the arrival of ''her'' child, and is likely to slip back into her world with a baby without raising too much suspicion.

''Based on research into kidnapping, abduction and child stealing, abductors tend to fall into three categories: comforting, psychotic and manipulative offenders,'' Dr Connell said.

''This woman seems to fall into the category of a manipulative offender, because of the way she apparently planned the abduction. She was quite calm, and chatted to the woman in the next bed.

''She is likely to be worried that her boyfriend or husband is going to leave her, as these offences tend to occur against a background of an insecure relationship, and may pretend the baby is her partner's, in an attempt to influence his feelings and save the relationship.'' Before taking the baby, the woman may have deliberately simulated pregnancy or had a false pregnancy.

''She would have been preparing people for the arrival of the child,'' Dr Connell said.

''The public should be alert to someone suddenly having a child in circumstances which seem suspicious or don't make sense.'' He said it was likely the woman had psychological problems known to someone else.

''She may be someone's patient, under treatment, or it may be that her family know she has a history of problems.

''Even though the abduction seems so deliberate, the person may still be mentally ill and in need of help. It may be a way of crying out for help. People who do strange things are usually unhappy,'' he said.

''Comforting'' offenders are defined as young girls, often from broken homes, with immature, hysterical personalities. They occasionally suffer mental handicap, and often have a history of psychiatric treatment for depression and suicide attempts.

They are motivated by a need for possession and comfort, and their needs are met by mothering a young baby whom they fantasise of as their own.

They may snatch a baby from a pram, abduct a child they babysit or take older children to play with.

''I don't think she fits this category, because the offence would not have been so well planned,'' said Dr Connell.

He said he did not believe she fell into the ''psychotic'' category either. ''If she were psychotic, she would have been so disturbed she would not have planned it well enough to dress in white to look like a nurse.'' Psychotic offences are usually committed by a woman suffering schizophrenia.

The characteristic picture is of a sterilised woman in mid-life who has a number of children but has been unable to care for them well enough because of her chronic illness and repeated hospital admissions.

She usually snatches the child impulsively from a pram, and thinks the child is hers.

He said if the baby was returned quickly, it would not be harmed by being taken away from its mother at such a young age.

''What is important is the quality of the care. Bonding with its mother doesn't really come into it at this stage.

Dr Connell said manipulative offenders would care well for the child, but warned that while comforting and psychotic offenders tended to either abandon the child or were quickly apprehended, manipulative offenders tended to keep the child for a long time.