Sun, Sep 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Fetus cut from woman's womb, three kids missing

GRISLY ACTThe body of pregnant Jimella Tunstall was found torn open on Thursday. One suspect is in custody; the search for her children is continuing

AP , EAST ST. LOUIS, ILLINOIS

A woman whose fetus had been cut from her womb -- perhaps with scissors -- was found dead in an overgrown lot on Thursday. Investigators recovered what may be the stolen fetus and searched the woods for the victim's three children.

A 26-year-old woman who police say was with the children when they were last seen on Monday was taken into custody. Police said she held a funeral earlier this week for what she claimed was her stillborn child; investigators are now analyzing those remains to see if they are the stolen fetus.

Authorities provided few details of the investigation and stopped short of calling the woman a suspect in the slaying of 23-year-old Jimella Tunstall, saying only that she was a person of interest.

"Our main concern at this point is trying to find the children alive," State Police Captain Craig Koehler said.

Dozens of searchers scoured Holten State Park in East St. Louis for Tunstall's children, ages 1, 2 and 7. Investigators would not say what led them to believe the children were there.

East St. Louis Police Chief James Mister said the boyfriend of the woman in custody reported that she told him during the funeral on Thursday that she killed a pregnant woman to get the fetus.

An autopsy showed that Tunstall's death was "very graphic and very brutal," said Ace Hart, a deputy coroner.

She died of a wound by a sharp object to the abdomen, possibly a pair of scissors that was found near her body, he said.

"We're thinking it's scissors," Hart said.

Hart said the woman in custody summoned police to Holten Park on Sept. 15, saying she had gone into labor. The dead baby, taken to a hospital, showed no signs of trauma and an autopsy failed to pinpoint a cause of death, he said.

The woman would not let doctors examine her and offered conflicting reasons for why she went into labor, alternately saying she had had consensual sex and was sexually attacked, Hart said.

"We're not rushing to judg-ment," East St. Louis prosecutor Robert Haida said. "We are taking our time and waiting on reports from investigators."

Authorities declined to say whether there was any connection between the victim and the woman in custody.

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