By Derek Jensen
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A Utah mother accused of slaying six of her own infant children over the course of a decade secretly gave birth to each of the babies without medical assistance at home and then immediately killed them, police said on Wednesday.
Megan Huntsman, 39, was ordered held in lieu of $6 million bail on Monday on suspicion of murdering six newborn babies whose tiny bodies were found rolled up in shirts, towels and plastic bags and stashed inside separate cardboard boxes in the garage of her former home.
Police in the Salt Lake City suburb of Pleasant Grove, Utah, say Huntsman has admitted under questioning that she strangled or suffocated the six babies just after they were born in a rare case of serial infanticide that ran from 1996 to 2006.
The body of a seventh infant born during the same period and disposed of the same way also was found in the garage, but police say they believe that child was stillborn.
Police disclosed new findings in the case as medical examiners continued autopsies on the remains and DNA tests aimed at confirming such details as the manner and cause of the infants' deaths, their parentage and their genders.
Following extensive interviews with neighbors and family members, including Huntsman's three older children - all daughters, now aged 20, 18 and 14 - investigators say the mother somehow managed to keep nearly a decade of consecutive pregnancies a secret.
"We have not found anybody who has ever suspected that she was pregnant," Pleasant Grove police Captain Mike Roberts said.
"All seven were born in the home," Roberts said. "We have no proof of any medical anything during any of the seven pregnancies. Nothing."
PUZZLE OF SURVIVING CHILD
Adding to the puzzle is the fact that at least one of Huntsman's surviving daughters, the 14-year-old, was born in the middle of the period during which the mother is suspected of killing six of her babies.
Huntsman was arrested on Sunday after her estranged husband, Darren Brad West, found the body of one infant tucked into a cabinet while cleaning out the garage at the home and called police, authorities have said. Investigators then discovered the six other remains.
He is believed to be the father of all seven, though neither West nor the three surviving daughters - also presumed to be his children - are suspects "at this point," Roberts said.
West, 41, who was released from federal prison earlier this year after serving time for a drug conviction and now resides in a halfway house in Utah, had been preparing to move back into the Pleasant Grove house, which is owned by his parents.
Huntsman left the house in 2011 to move in with her boyfriend in another Salt Lake City suburb, according to police.
Her three surviving daughters remained in the Pleasant Grove home, sharing the house with West's sister and her husband, who reside in a basement apartment there, police said.
Roberts said all of the deceased babies, though their remains were badly decomposed, appeared to have been carried to full term. He said autopsies might be completed on Wednesday but declined to say when results would be released.
Roberts also said he was aware of reports that Huntsman recently suffered a miscarriage, a development he said was still under investigation.
Pleasant Grove neighbors report seeing fluctuations in Huntsman's weight over the years, but say they never suspected she was pregnant. Similarly, Roberts said Huntsman's two adult daughters told police they were unaware of the pregnancies their mother concealed.
Police say they do not believe mental illness was a factor in the killings. Based on interviews with Huntsman, investigators say they have a motive but have yet to reveal it.
"I've heard speculation that she was in a cult," Roberts said, "but that's all coming from the neighbors. Unfortunately, we can't release the motive at this point."
Roberts said he expects formal charges in the case to be filed by prosecutors by next Monday, when an arraignment has been scheduled for Huntsman.
(Reporting by Derek Jensen; Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)