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Abandoned fetuses stump police

Detective Albert Johnson parked his Honda Accord near the fence that separates Hillcrest Memorial Park cemetery from a retail parking lot. He walked past mounds of dirt and gravel to a grassy area shrouded with tree limbs and litter.

Two days earlier, on March 30, a man collecting aluminum cans had found a dead fetus on that patch of grass. It was lying on a fairly clean, dry blanket.

The discovery alone would have warranted furrowed brows. But what really stumped investigators, puzzled medical examiners and ignited speculation in the community was that it was the second fetus found in five days — in nearly the same spot.

On March 26, a woman walking her dog at Hillcrest Memorial Park cemetery found a fetus on a tombstone.

"It's just strange," said Mary Owens, who said she was staying with a relative on Daniel Court near the cemetery. "That's all I can say."

Betty Wolfenbarger, who lives at Stone Bridge Apartments on Village Drive, said most people she has talked to assume that the fetuses belonged to a scared, young girl.

"I hope they find out," Wolfenbarger said. "But they may never."

Johnson, the detective lingered in the area on Wednesday in hopes that someone with answers would come forward.

No one did.

"That's pretty traumatic for a woman to have to go through," Johnson said later in the week while working in police headquarters.

With few leads to follow, police are at a loss in piecing together the case.

Sgt. Jesse Harris, an investigator in the Lexington police Crimes Against Children unit, said he could not recall ever working such an odd case.

"I've been investigating these types of cases for almost 13 years now and never had anything like it," Harris said.

An autopsy showed that the fetus found March 26 was female and at about 22 weeks gestation. The coroner's office said the second fetus also was female and at 20 to 23 weeks gestation.

Neither fetus could have survived outside the womb, according to the coroner's office.

Because the fetuses were not capable of life, Harris said, the cases are not considered homicides. Harris said the appropriate charge would be concealing the birth of an infant, a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

The medical examiner has not yet determined whether there's a relationship between the two fetuses, meaning there might be one or two mothers. That has left investigators and city officials wondering whether it was a mother who miscarried — or something more disturbing.

"The one thing I don't want it to be is that somebody's performing illegal abortions over there," said Urban County council member Peggy Henson, whose district includes the cemetery.

Kathy Satow, founder of Newborn Lifeline, an Indiana-based non-profit that tries to help women who are concealing pregnancies, said she received a news alert about the fetuses that were found in Lexington.

She also was puzzled by the events.

"I've been doing this 10 years, and I cannot think of a case more unusual," she said.

Every situation is different, Satow said. But the women who conceal births are typically in their 20s or late teens and "have never made a mistake in their lives."

"They're scared to death that their families will not be able to handle it," she said.

The chances that a woman will abandon a baby are greatly reduced when at least one person knows the woman is pregnant, Satow said. Still, some people might have suspected, even if they didn't know for sure.

Satow said those people might be able to help police.

Harris said his primary concern is the safety and condition of the mother or mothers.

There are a number of infections that can occur after childbirth as well as cuts that might or might not be noticeable to the woman, said Dr. James Ferguson, a professor and chairman of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at the University of Kentucky.

Ferguson said women who have recently given birth also are generally counseled about postpartum blues and depression, contraceptives and handling breast milk.

Harris said police have exercised "a lot of discretion" in the handling of this case.

"We certainly wouldn't want fear of prosecution to cause somebody not to get the medical treatment they need," he said.

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