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Serial infanticides: the strange case of Michele G.M. Kalina

This is another post I’ve been trying to get to for some time now.

I’ve been writing for years about hidden pregnancies, secret births, and how no matter what some of the “baby safe haven” law/legalized child abandonment advocates insist, there will always been some number of women who will never be reached by these laws.

If there’s any one constant globally, it’s that the ongoing “background noise” of dead babies being found from time to time is simply a reality that every culture must come to terms with.

Thus today, I blog the strange case of Michele G.M. Kalina out of Pennsylvania.

See Mysteries abound in case of 5 dead infants

Between 1996 and 2010, investigators said, Kalina gave birth to three boys, one girl and another infant whose gender could not be determined.

Investigators said the infants were 32 to 43 weeks old when they were killed by asphyxiation, poisoning or neglect.

Police found the remains of four infants in her apartment in the 700 block of Court Street during searches in late July and early August, investigators said.

Remains of a fifth infant were found Aug. 6 in the Conestoga Landfill, New Morgan, authorities said.

DNA testing linked three infants to Kalina as the mother and the boyfriend as the father.

The evidence linked a fourth baby to Kalina as the mother, with the boyfriend as the possible father.

The DNA evidence on the fifth infant was inconclusive as to the identity of the parents.

Kalina is charged with criminal homicide and related counts in the deaths.

As is so often the case in these hidden pregnancy/secret birth neonaticides and infanticides, Michele Kalina was apparently deep in pregnancy denial.

See, Wyomissing psychologist says mother’s denial often plays role in infanticides

Authorities said Kalina denied her pregnancies, which Ring said is consistent with other cases involving mothers killing newborns.

“The woman convinces herself she is not really having a child,” he said. “She has no attachment to the child.

“The child is just an object to cause obstruction, not a human being. They just go on living their typical dysfunctional life.”

Authorities believe Kalina had six babies by her boyfriend. They said she put one up for adoption and killed five.

As we’ve seen in other cases, sometimes a woman who has lost a child to adoption goes into denial and on to commit infanticide upon finding herself pregnant and giving birth again. I am not positing the two are directly related, merely pointing out that this is something that some of us have seen before when following other cases.

Kalina’s case is an extreme example in that she was pregnant a total of six times apparently resultant in five deaths.

Ring said factors such as isolation and a lack of support contribute to denial of pregnancy.

“The denial of pregnancy is so strong that when they have labor pains the women report gastrointestinal distress or a need to defecate,” he said.

Ring said women who deny pregnancy typically deliver their own babies in bathrooms.

He said such women often develop mental problems such as amnesia and hallucinations during childbirth

“When a woman delivers a baby on their own they have to disassociate themselves from their bodies,” he said. “Once it’s over they reintegrate back to basic, normal reality.”

Her motivations, whether in any way related to that adoption loss (which we’ll see further down, was in 2003, near the middle years of all this) or not remain completely unknown.

See Mystery of Michele Kalina: Reading infant homicides baffle experts

It’s a case that even experts are at a loss to explain or understand.

They’re struggling for answers – and theories – because they have no point of reference for the charges against 44-year-old Michele G.M. Kalina.

“We can’t really comment on a motive because this is unique,” said Dr. Avidan Milevsky, associate psychology professor at Kutztown University.

Milevsky, like other professionals interviewed, is not working on the Kalina case.

“At the end of the day we have to admit that sometimes we never have a motive,” Milevsky said of psychologists who look at criminal cases. “This is such a disturbing case that we have nothing to compare it to.”

Prosecutors in Kalina’s case do not have an explanation or motive for the crimes.

While I’ve tracked a number of cases of multiple older adoptees being murdered by their adopter, I’ve never seen a case quite like this in which one sees a pattern of multiple newborns.

Apparently the only known precedent is from France:

There is a recent case in France similar to Kalina’s, but experts are unaware of any other case in the U.S. involving multiple deaths of newborns.

In Villers-au-Tertre, northern France, Dominique Cottrez, 45, is accused of strangling eight newborns and hiding the remains in a garage from 1988 to 2007. The case is pending in court and local experts are not yet familiar with it.

As this article pointed out, there are questions of where the babies were kept prior to being killed.

Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams said Tuesday that investigators do not know where a 44-year-old Reading woman kept five infants before she killed them.

And they do not know where Michele G.M. Kalina, a home-care aide for the elderly, gave birth, Adams said.

He said no one has reported seeing Kalina with any of the infants and that area hospitals have no record of Kalina giving birth.

“Nobody knows where she had the babies,” Adams said. “We are still interested in gathering information.”

This takes on additional significance when we look at the estimated age of the deaths of the infants:

Investigators said the infants were 32 to 43 weeks old when they were killed by asphyxiation, poisoning or neglect.

Where she gave birth and where she kept some of these secret babies during their brief lives remains completely unknown.

After death, she kept their remains in her apartment in a closet her family was forbidden to open.

Investigators said the remains of four babies were kept in plastic containers, and a that fifth was found in a plastic bag in the closet of her apartment in the 700 block of Court Street.

The same article goes on to make a comparison to the case of Marybeth Tining, who may have killed to gain attention.

Weiss said most women who kill their babies are suffering from a form of postpartum depression.

“You have to find out if she was mentally ill,” Weiss said. “What were her other circumstances? These may have been unplanned pregnancies. What was she intending when she conceived?

“That sort of pattern would lead one to believe she has mental illness.”

Bowen-Hartung said the Kalina case has similarities to the case of Marybeth Tining, 68, of Duanesburg, N.Y., who is serving 20 years to life in prison for killing a 3-month-old. Authorities said she could be responsible for killing seven other children but has not been tried or convicted in those deaths.

Tining admitted to killing one infant but has told authorities that the other deaths were accidental. Prosecutors did not have enough evidence to prosecute Tining in the other deaths because she brought the children to a hospital, where all the deaths were ruled accidental.

Bowen-Hartung said Tining suffers from Munchausen syndrome, which involves killing children for attention.

One of the few clues seems to pertain to the earlier adoption,

The number of babies intrigues Bowen-Hartung.

Why, she wondered, would someone carry the babies to near term, allowing one to be adopted but killing the others?

Investigators said Kalina wrote a letter to her boyfriend in 2003 in which she informed him that she had delivered a girl and offered it for adoption.

Which is then clarified a bit in this later article,

Kalina also gave birth on Oct. 22, 2003, to a girl she had with the boyfriend, whom authorities declined to identify.

The boyfriend has denied to police knowing of that birth or that Kalina had put the infant up for adoption, officials said.

As the deaths appear to have taken place between 1996 and 2010, this secret adoption the would have fallen near the middle.

Returning to this article again,

Bowen-Hartung said Kalina might try to claim that she is not guilty by reason of insanity.

If such a defense were successful, Kalina would be committed to a mental health institution.

Milevsky said about 70 percent of women suffer postpartum depression for a few weeks after delivery, and that about 10 percent of women have more severe depression with symptoms that linger for months.

He said it appears Kalina suffers from severe postpartum psychosis, a condition he said affects less than 1 percent of women.

“Usually the mothers going through severe extreme psychosis would be the ones more likely to kill infants,” he said.

Once a mother harms a baby, she enters into a mental dysfunction that is unimaginable, Milevsky said.

She was arraigned at the end of October, where she was represented by a public defender.

Following a 21/2 month investigation, Kalina was charged additionally with a blanket charge of criminal homicide in the five deaths.

Adams said that prosecutors will determine before trial the number of homicide counts. Homicide could include murder or manslaughter.

Kalina was arraigned Monday before District Judge Wally Scott on the homicide and related charges. She was returned to Berks County Prison without bail.

If she does not manage a mental illness defense, this could go very badly for her.

Following her Aug. 9 arrest, Kalina was linked to the deaths by DNA evidence conducted at National Medical Services, Willow Grove, Montgomery County, Adams said.

Dr. Neil A. Hoffman, a forensic pathologist, reported that the deaths were violent, caused by asphyxia, poisoning or neglect.

Over the course of the years, she moved, taking the remains with her. (Somewhat similar to the Renee Bowman case in Maryland, she moved her dead adoptees bodies repeatedly)

In an interview with police on Aug. 9, Kalina said the family moved in April 2008 to Court Street from a house on Raymond Street in Muhlenberg Township.

At the time of the move, Kalina told police, three containers of human remains were moved from the Raymond Street house and placed in a closet in the Court Street apartment.

She said they lived in Muhlenberg Township from 1997 to 2003.

This article is particularly illuminating. Allow me to quote at length,

Kalina admitted that she is an alcoholic.

Kalina told police that she was upset the night they found the remains in the apartment closet.

Jeffrey Kalina quoted his wife as saying: “I don’t know where to go. I can’t find peace there. I can’t find peace anymore.

“I’m concerned I’m being framed.”

The investigation began July 29, when Elizabeth Kalina called Reading police at 5 a.m. to report that she found human remains in a red cooler in a storage closet.

Patrol officers responded and looked at the remains. They told Elizabeth and her father the remains were not human.

The father and daughter then threw them in the trash.

At 9 that night, Jeffrey Kalina notified police again, saying he and his daughter had found two more plastic containers.

During a search of the Court Street apartment, police found three containers, including one filled to the top with cement.

The following day, police searched the trash bin outside the building for the remains that had been in the first container. The remains had already been taken to the landfill.

On Aug. 5, police searched the apartment again and recovered another set of bones in a plastic bag.

Police also found a letter that Kalina had written to her boyfriend informing him that she gave birth to a girl on Oct. 22, 2003, in St. Joseph Medical Center, then gave the baby to the Diocese of Allentown Catholic Social Agency for adoption.

Hospital records showed that Kalina had a normal delivery.

On Aug. 6, police went to the Conestoga Landfill in New Morgan and found the red cooler and one human bone.

After locating the five sets of remains, police interviewed Jeffrey Kalina.

He said his wife had been employed for 14 years as a home-care aide for the elderly by Interim Healthcare, Wyomissing.

Employment records did not indicate that Kalina was pregnant or had taken time off to have children.

Jeffrey Kalina said the remains were in a closet since the family moved to the Court Street apartment in 2008. He said his wife told him and his daughter never to go into the closet.

Which brings us to yet another possible clue, and yet another dead child in the course of Kalina’s personal history,

Kalina and her husband also had a son, Andrew, who died June 9, 2000, at age 13 of positional asphyxiation, Hess said.

The son suffered from cerebral palsy, a debilitating disease that rendered Andrew bed-bound.

Earlier this month her hearing was waved.

Kalina is charged with an umbrella charge of criminal homicide, but prosecutors will provide specific charges when Kalina is arraigned in Berks County Court before Judge Linda K.M. Ludgate in December.

Those charges could include first- and third-degree murder and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

“We were prepared and ready for the hearing,” District Attorney John T. Adams said. “The defense acknowledged that we could prove the charges for court.”

Kalina’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Holly Feeney, decided to waive the hearing after meeting with First Assistant District Attorney M. Theresa Johnson and Assistant District Attorney Adrian Shchuka to discuss evidence.

Prosecutors said Kalina’s daughter, Elizabeth, 19, would have testified during the hearing before District Judge Wally Scott that she found the remains in plastic containers in a closet in the family apartment in July.

Kalina has been in the county prison since Aug. 9, when she was initially charged with abuse of corpse.

The charges were upgraded to homicide after a 21/2-month investigation.

She claims she did not kill the infants.

Kalina has denied killing her babies. She told her husband, “I am concerned I’m being framed.”

She told her boyfriend that when her stomach enlarged it was because she had cysts on her fallopian tubes.

Dr. Neil A. Hoffman, a Reading Hospital forensic pathologist, ruled the deaths homicides. He said they were caused by violence, including asphyxia, poisoning or neglect.

Kalina is in the county jail without bail.

Her formal arraignment is set for December 14. (See video on this piece.)

Women like Kalina are simply highly unlikely to utilize a “safe haven” law. No amount of additional funding for advertising such would have changed this outcome.

Pennsylvania’s baby dump law enacted in February of 2003 allows infants up to 28 days old be legally abandoned, yet clearly, these were five kids that the law did nothing for.

No amount of reminders by the state even through the time period Kalina was going through these pregnancies made a bit of difference.

I have long argued that there are some number of women for whom neonatacide or infanticide are simply some completely other thought process, one that may or may not be rooted in postpartum psychosis or extreme denial.

Rather than treating such cases as the severe mental breaks they sometimes represent, baby dump advocates insist they utilize the legalized abandonment schemes OR face harsh jail penalities offering nothing other than a false dichotomy.

For some number of women, these behaviors represent extreme mental health problems and a genuine need for medical treatment, not imprisonment nor the “no name, no shame, no blame” just make it all go away mythology the dump advocates push.

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