Married pair charged over baby theft

By Rachel Wells, Jamie Berry
Selma Milovanovic
August 10, 2004

Anita Ciancio and her father Nick are reunited with Montana.
Picture:Shannon Morris

A married couple with five children of their own kidnapped a three-week-old baby from a Deer Park shopping centre on Saturday and renamed her, a court hearing was told early this morning.

The couple, Mark Andrew McEachran. 43, and Cheryl McEachran, 48, from Maryborough in central Victoria, appeared in an out of session court hearing charged with kidnapping Montana Barbaro who was yesterday reunited with her mother after a 40-hour ordeal.

The couple had given themselves up to police in Ballarat about 1.30pm, hours after the child was found abandoned at a derelict house in Erskine Street, North Melbourne.

The hearing was told that the the couple had five children, but had been trying for two years to either conceive or adopt another child. Mrs McEachran renamed the stolen baby Kia, the court was told.

Detective Senior Constable Brett Regan said that after stealing Montana from her mother Anita Ciancio in a violent attack on Saturday afternoon, the couple drove to a nearby shopping centre and bought a blue jumpsuit for the baby to conceal her gender.

He said they drove around Melbourne with Montana on Cheryl's lap, before staying the night at a caravan park in Langwarrin North. He said Montana did not stop crying and would not sleep, so the couple decided to drive back to Melbourne


They pulled over to the side of the road and cut her hair with scissors to further disguise her. They then drove to North Melbourne and selected a house at random at which to leave Montana after hearing media reports pleading for her return. Detective Regan described the house as a "cesspool".

The court heard that when the pair had seen Mrs Ciancio with Montana at the Brimbank Central Shopping Centre in Deer Park they made a spontaneous decision to grab her. "Mark said they should get a baby for Cheryl," Detective Regan said.

Mark McEachran was charged with 11 counts, including taking a child by force. Cheryl McEachran was charged with eight counts, including child stealing, kidnapping, imprisonment, intentionally causing injury and recklessly causing injury.

This morning's hearing followed a dramatic day, beginning with the chance discovery of the baby by a jogger who heard a faint whimpering sound coming from the Erskine Street house.

Guessing it could be baby Montana "Lesley" quickly alerted the police.

"I went straight home and rang 000," said Lesley. "I just perhaps wondered how long she'd been there... she didn't sound distressed at all. It was just that normal whimpering. Being a grandmother, I know those sounds."

Police at the abandoned house where baby Montana was found.
Picture:Paul Harris

Hours later, Montana was back in the arms of her mother, Anita Ciancio, ending a harrowing and very public ordeal. "It feels like your heart has been just put back in your body and you're in one piece again," Ms Ciancio said.

Ms Ciancio, standing outside the Royal Children's Hospital, where the reunion took place, described her daughter as gorgeous, beautiful and perfect.

"My heart told me all along that she was going to be fine. I think a mum knows these things and I felt that she was fine."

Having collapsed under the strain at a news conference a day earlier, Ms Ciancio stood proudly and thanked everyone involved in the return of her daughter. "My heart will forever be grateful," she said.

"It's brought our baby back and she's safe and she's well and she's just been looked after, it appears."

The abandoned house where Montana had been dumped was frequented by drug users, according to neighbours.

Paramedics arrived about 9am to find Montana in the care of police, and apparently unharmed.

"I was most concerned what would be confronting us this morning," said Metropolitan Ambulance Service group manager Peter Swan.

"At all times, she was conscious, alert, actively looking around and sucking her fist and we were really pleased to find her in that condition."


Montana's grandfather, Nick Ciancio, was initially stuck for words when asked about the baby's safe return. "You see my face - it says it all," he said.

The McEachrans were remanded to appear today.