Skidmore, Missouri is known for its small town charms, but 18 years ago, it became the scene of an unthinkable crime that still makes seasoned authorities tear up.
On December 16, 2004, Becky Harper, the mother of 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnet, made an anguished call to 911 at 3:30 p.m.. Harper said her daughter, who was eight months pregnant, was at home on the floor and that “it looks like her stomach had exploded.”
Paramedics raced to the scene, where they found Stinnett dead. She had “a jagged gash across her abdomen that exposed some of her internal organs,” Randy Strong, Sheriff, Nodaway County, told “Twisted Killers,” airing Thursdays at 9/8c on Archiweekend. Her unborn baby had been cut from her womb and was missing.
Investigators found no signs of forced entry to the home, suggesting that Stinnett may have known the killer. An Amber Alert was put out for the baby. The FBI and the Highway Patrol joined local law enforcement on the case.
Detectives canvassed the neighborhood, and found one witness, who reported seeing a dirty red subcompact car parked near Stinnett’s home that had never been in the area before.
Police interviewed the victim’s devastated husband, Zeb Stinnett, who’d met Stinnett in high school. He claimed he left home at 7 a.m. for work at a manufacturing plant and had nothing to do with the crime. His alibi checked out and he was cleared as a suspect.
Investigators learned that Stinnett bred and raised rat terriers. They also found out Harper spoke on the phone with her daughter at 2:30 p.m. on the day of the murder. Stinnett had exchanged emails the night before with a woman in Fairfax, Missouri, about 20 miles from the crime scene, who wanted a puppy, and a woman was with Stinnett when her mother called. Detectives narrowed the window of the slaying to between 2:30 and 3:30 that afternoon.
A forensic search of Stinnett’s computer was carried out by Curtis Howard, a retired Det. Sgt. Electronic Crimes Unit, St. Joseph PD. He found that the woman inquiring about the dogs called herself Darlene Fisher. Deeper digital analysis was done to determine more about her.
At the same time, autopsy reports revealed that Stinnett had been strangled. But the cause of death was exsanguination – she bled out from the crude c-section. Blood between the victim’s toes indicated that Stinnett had stood at one point during the attack. Investigators believed Stinnett was unconscious after being choked but came to when the knife was plunged into her abdomen.
“She was trying to fight off this attacker to save herself and her baby,” said Strong.
“There’s multiple reasons why somebody would want to steal an infant child, one of them being to sell that child on the black market,” explained Dr. Kate Termini, a forensic psychologist.
On December 17, a woman in Texas called in with a tip regarding a woman named Lisa Montgomery, whom she’d met at a dog show. Montgomery, like Stinnett, raised rat terriers. Montgomery, the tipster said, gave birth the same day Stinnett was murdered.
Officials searched for Lisa Montgomery and found that she lived in Melverne, Kansas, 170 miles from Skidmore. Detectives headed out to interview her.
At the same time the forensic analysis of Stinnett’s computer revealed that the Darlene Fisher emails had come from a computer registered to Kevin Montgomery, Lisa’s husband.
FBI agents surveilled the Montgomery home, where a dirty small red car was parked. The vehicle matched the description of the car seen near the crime scene a day earlier.
Around 1 p.m., Lisa and Kevin Montgomery were observed by authorities arriving home with a baby. Skidmore detectives arrived on the scene a short time later.
As they approached the home, said Strong, “We didn’t know if we were getting ready to walk inside the devil’s house.” He told Kevin Montgomery, who was cooperative, that they were investigating an Amber Alert and checking out all recent births. Inside the home, officials saw Lisa Montgomery seated on a couch holding a baby.
Detectives saw that the baby was breathing and took care not to alarm Lisa in any way that might cause her to harm the infant. Lisa said she’d given birth the day before at a birthing center in Topeka, Kansas. She had no discharge papers.
Investigators discreetly called the center and discovered that there had been no births there on December 16. Detectives asked Lisa if an agent could hold the baby while they talked further. “Surprisingly, she said sure,” said Kurt Lipanovich, a former FBI special agent.
When she was separated from her husband, Lisa told officials she gave birth at home, with help from three friends. Asked for the names of her helpers, Lisa changed her story again. They weren’t with her, they were on call.
“As these investigators start to peel away the layers, they’re boxing her into a corner,” said retired LAPD investigator Tracey Benjamin. “She’s losing ground. She knows that they’re on to her.”
Eventually Lisa broke down. She admitted that the baby was Bobby Jo Stinnett’s.
Investigators determined that her husband was unaware of his wife’s criminal actions. She had convinced him that she was going to have a baby — but tragically, that baby was Stinnett’s unborn child.
“She had to know that there was a huge risk that Bobbie Jo would die,” said former NYC prosecutor Beth Karas. “She intended to cut the baby out of her womb and leave this woman bleeding on her floor.”
Inside her red car they found a note with the victim’s address on it, a bloody knife and a rope knotted with hair. A search of the suspect’s computer revealed that Lisa had tracked Stinnett’s pregnancy through pictures, researched Cesarean sections, and arranged a meeting on December 16.
“The evidence was overwhelming that this was a premeditated cold blooded murder,” said Lipanovich. “She planned it, she executed the murder.”
Lisa Montgomery was charged with first-degree murder and faced the death penalty. Her trial began on October 2, 2007, where the defense claimed that Lisa had suffered abuse as a child and didn’t understand her actions.
But on October 22, 2007, the jury returned with a guilty verdict. On January 13, 2021 Lisa Montgomery, 52, was executed by lethal injection. She was the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953.
In 2021, the New York Post reported that Stinnett’s baby, now a teenager named Victoria Jo, hasn’t spoken publicly about the tragedy.
To learn more about the case, watch “Twisted Killers,” airing Thursdays at 9/8c on Archiweekend, and stream episodes here.