Kidnapping rare despite the myriad motives

By Catharine Munro
August 10, 2004

Kidnapping may be a staple of Hollywood (the new Denzel Washington film Man on Fire, say) or the streets of Manila, but it is rare in Australia, legal and psychology experts say.

When motivated by money or revenge, it is regarded by the courts as gravely as manslaughter, drug trafficking and rape, according to barrister and law lecturer Ian Freckelton. "It's up high in the most serious category," he said.

The 15-hour abduction of four-year-old Samara Hnaien from her Highett home last year earned three men jail terms ranging from three-and-a-half to nine years. They had threatened to kill her and had demanded $110,000 in revenge for being sacked by Samara's father from their hotel jobs.

The snatching of three-week-old Montana Barbaro from a Deer Park shopping centre differed from the textbook categories of kidnapping because it appeared to have been collaborative but without early indications of ransom or revenge. "It's very unusual for someone to kidnap someone else's baby... it's even more unusual for someone to collaborate in it," Mr Freckelton said


Melbourne University forensic psychologist Lynne Eccleston said that over a 10-year career she had treated only two women, both as prisoners, who had stolen babies. These women, and those in other cases she had researched, had miscarried and could not accept the reality of their loss.

"(They) often seek to replace the lost baby, and that's when the kidnapping occurs. It's usually when they are in a distraught state," Dr Eccleston said.

Such women could be suffering postnatal depression and may never before have committed a crime. "Sometimes the kidnapper will be overcome with remorse or guilt and they will hand the baby back," Dr Eccleston said.

In some cases of miscarriage, women would pretend nothing was amiss and even pad their bellies to simulate pregnancy. They would kidnap someone else's baby when their own would have been due.

"Of course, they have to produce a baby," Dr Eccleston said.

In one case in Philadelphia, reported in March, Luz Cuevas found her daughter Delimar Vera, 6, at a children's birthday party after losing her when she was just 10 days old.

Mrs Cuevas said she had always been suspicious of Carolyn Correa, who lived nearby, after she had announced she was pregnant during a visit soon after Delima's birth.