MARYVILLE — Hundreds of mourners gathered Tuesday in this small northwestern Missouri farming community to bury a young woman who was strangled and whose baby was cut from her womb.
Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, of Skidmore was found by her mother Thursday in a pool of blood in her small home, her baby missing. A woman Stinnett knew from breeding and showing rat terrier dogs made a first court appearance Monday on a charge of kidnapping resulting in death.
Family and friends said the suspect, Lisa M. Montgomery, 36, of Melvern, Kan., tried to pass off the infant as her own before her arrest Friday. The baby girl, Victoria Jo Stinnett, spent the weekend in a Topeka, Kan., hospital before going home Monday afternoon with her father, Zeb Stinnett, and another relative.
The Rev. Harold Hamon, who married the Stinnetts in spring 2003 at Skidmore Christian Church, spoke at the funeral. Stinnett was then buried at Hillcrest Cemetery in Skidmore, where members of the community gathered for an evening reception with her family.
Near the downtown Skidmore building where the potluck dinner was under way, Bill Dragoo recalled the shy, young mother-to-be and her husband, who lived about a half block from Dragoo.
“There are not enough words to tell you how good of people they really were,” said Dragoo, 52, who helped build Stinnett’s dog kennel. “The community is 100 percent behind them.” Inside the community building, mourners declined requests for interviews. Asked why, an older man piped up, “1980.” That’s when someone in broad daylight shot to death 47-year-old Ken Rex McElroy, a man with a violent history. No one admitted seeing anything, and the case has never been solved. Many in the community resented the media spotlight the case cast on their town.
Cars lined the highway for more than a mile outside the cemetery Tuesday, and the mourners huddled tightly under a blue tent to ward off the cold during the 10-minute burial service. Hamon told them that they were gathered not for an ending, but a beginning, and that Stinnett was now in a safe place. Reading from the Bible at times, he stressed emphasized that now is not a time for anger, but for healing.
The crowd that came for the funeral packed the flower-filled sanctuary and overflowed into the entryway. One tearful mourner unable to make her way into the sanctuary carried a dozen pink roses in her arms. Eventually, she became so distraught she had to be taken outside.
The FBI would not comment on whether Stinnett and Montgomery had met before Thursday. But a Nebraska dog trainer who planned to attend the funeral said the two women had chatted on the Internet and attended the same dog shows, including an April event in Abilene, Kan. The two were even photographed together at the dog show in Abilene, said Nancy Strudlof Omaha, Neb.
During their down time at one show, Strudl said some of the contestants went to a café and talked for hours. Strudl said Stinnett was shy but “a sweetheart after you got to know her.” Strudl also said Stinnett “stood up” for Lisa Montgomery, whom Strudl accused of misrepresenting the pedigree of dogs she sold and photos taken by others as her own.
“She said, ‘Maybe it was just a misunderstanding,’ ” Strudl said. “She was so trusting, and she convinced them to give (Montgomery) another chance.”
Strudl said other breeders were skeptical of Montgomery’s claims that she was pregnant because she “never gained an ounce.”
“She told us all she was pregnant with twins, and about a month and a half ago her messages were ‘I lost one of the twins. It’s so terrible, but they saved one twin,’ ” Strudl said. “We didn’t believe she was pregnant. I don’t know how she fooled her family and community.”