For every question - and Kevin and Becky Clark came up with plenty - the woman had an answer. Her explanations were sometimes strange, yet never implausible. The woman was 36 years old, didn't ask for any money and had happily given the Hilliard couple an ultrasound photograph. She also was lying about being pregnant.
For every question — and Kevin and Becky Clark came up with plenty — the woman had an answer. Her explanations were sometimes strange, yet never implausible.
She wanted them to adopt her unborn baby because of mental-health issues that left her unready to parent.
The father, a guy she met through an online Christian dating service, wasn’t involved because their encounter had ended in date rape.
Pulling away when Mrs. Clark got out a stethoscope to hear the heartbeat was just a matter of being startled and nervous.
The woman was 36 years old, didn’t ask for any money and had happily given the Hilliard couple an ultrasound photograph.
She also was lying about being pregnant.
“As grounded as we could be, it’s still really emotional,” Mrs. Clark said. “You want it to be true.”
The Clarks and other victims say the Newark woman apparently worked friend-of-a-friend contacts and stalked Facebook adoption pages to carry out bizarre hoaxes, feigning pregnancy and adoption plans for weeks before killing off a couple’s dream of family with a gruesome tale of stillbirth.
The Dispatch is not naming the woman, who hasn’t been charged with a crime. She answered her door yesterday but declined to talk, referring questions to her attorney, who also wouldn’t comment.
“As a nurse, and an empathetic person, I understand that she needs help,” Mrs. Clark said. “I don’t want to lash out, but I’m in no mood to forgive.”
The online profiles that have become all but standard practice among people looking to adopt make for increased risk as well as reward, adoption experts say.
Prospective parents “want to put themselves in the best position, and unfortunately there aren’t a lot of rules, regulations and guardrails on the Web,” said April Dinwoodie, CEO of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York. “It’s wide-open space.”
There was nothing tepid or cautious about the email that Kayla Hall received on June 26: Are you looking for a baby?
The South Carolina woman read the words and felt a rush of adrenaline.
“My heart caught on fire,” she said.
No one else had been so blunt and to the point in their messages to the Hall family’s Facebook adoption page.
“From that moment until we basically busted her, she and I were in contact every day,” Hall said.
Although Kayla and her husband, Jeff, who live in Summerville, S.C., had worked through agencies before, they found their two adopted boys “on our own, word-of-mouth,” Mrs. Hall said. “So this time we thought, ‘Let’s take it to Facebook.’?”
The message from the Ohio woman said she was 30 weeks pregnant with a girl and had been abandoned by the baby’s father and her own family. She told the Halls that she had placed her first child for adoption, too, giving that infant girl to a Columbus couple.
For unofficial verification, the woman directed the Halls to the Columbus couple’s Facebook page. It all made sense.
“I started following that Facebook page, totally believing that this lady’s baby was (the scammer’s) first child,” Mrs. Hall said.
When you badly want a baby, Mrs. Hall said, excitement and vulnerability mix in almost indescribable ways.
“Somebody is willing to do something for you that you can’t do for yourself,” she said. “I was devoted to her.”
The woman didn’t ask for money, but she clearly craved attention. She Skyped with the Hall children, messaged the family constantly, and eventually went to South Carolina for a visit. She enjoyed the beach, a pedicure, the warmth of a loving family.
She directed the Hall boys to put their hands on her belly to feel for hiccups and movement.
And then, on July 28, “She told me the baby was stillborn,” Mrs. Hall said.
She sent a photograph, saying it had been taken by an organization that provides free portraiture to parents who lose a baby. The infant in the picture, however, looked asleep.
Mrs. Hall confronted the woman after the organization told her it had no record of the portrait. She denied the scam at first, screaming at Mrs. Hall, and then blamed it on multiple personalities.
“I felt sick,” Mrs. Hall said last week. “I realized I literally had a sociopath in my home."
The Clarks, meanwhile, had been told that their soon-to-be-adopted son was stillborn months earlier, on Jan. 30. They were devastated but suspicious, especially when the supposed birth mother wouldn’t allow them to come to the hospital.
She texted the Clarks a photo of her hospital ID bracelet. And in this case, the dead-baby photo was graphic.
“Do you chance asking a woman who has just delivered stillborn if she’s lying?” Mrs. Clark said.
The Clarks agreed to see the woman again afterward, meeting for dinner at Easton Town Center. Mr. Clark said the evening was creepy. The woman insisted on going to Build-a-Bear to put a heart in a teddy bear for their lost child.
“For little kids, it’s a cute place,” Mr. Clark said. “For three adults? Just weird.”
Mr. and Mrs. Clark didn’t know about the Halls’ experience until Mrs. Hall contacted the Columbus mom who supposedly had adopted the scammer’s first baby. Mrs. Hall “sent a picture, and it was my daughter,” the Columbus mom said yesterday. “I lost my stomach.”
The Columbus mom, a friend of the Clarks’, didn’t want her name published. She had adopted her daughter — through Facebook — more than a year ago.
She said she had met the scammer through a co-worker, and upon hearing that she was facing an unplanned pregnancy, passed along that the Clarks were looking to adopt.
“They all had a Facebook page, we had a Facebook page — that’s how she chose her couples,” the Columbus mom said. “She kept track.”
The Halls went public with their story this month, and the Clarks followed. Both families say they are speaking out in an effort to stop the woman from hurting others. Another couple “emailed me a picture of her and they told me, ‘She told us she was pregnant with twins, and we lost them, too,’?” Mrs. Hall said.
Unlike the Halls, the Clarks had been working through an adoption agency.
“The director said, ‘Something’s off.’ We thought she (the director) was jaded. She was right,” Mrs. Clark said.
The couple’s pain was salved in May when they adopted a baby girl named Lily. They hope to adopt again but will be guarded about contact, legal oversight and medical verification.
“In some ways, waiting for a child is kind of like waiting for an organ donation or something,” said Susan Garner Eisenman, an Upper Arlington adoption lawyer. “It’s a process where there’s a scarcity. It’s something that’s going to make a difference in lives. People lose some of their cautions.”
Eisenman recalled one case a decade or so ago when a woman who had been using the Internet to find adoptive families promised her baby to four couples.
“Everyone showed up at the hospital,” she said. “She gave birth and parented the baby.”
The Halls say they will be more careful, too, but they haven’t given up on their Facebook adoption page.
“We’re still using it,” Mrs. Hall said. “I believe there are way more good people than bad.”
Dispatch Reporter Eric Lyttle contributed to this story.