The woman who sits in a suicide suit in a Utah County Jail cell traded one prison for another. Megan Huntsman, charged with murder for the deaths of seven children that she claims to have birthed, then killed, had lived with her secretive deeds beginning in 1996, according to her statements to police.
While some neighbors have praised her in the terms many use when confronted with a horrible crime committed by a seemingly gentle person, others thought Huntsman was, quite simply, “cold.”
“I tried to be friends with her for a long time,” SanDee Wall told The Daily Beast. Wall, 70, lives next door to the house in Pleasant Grove, Utah, where the bodies of six infants were discovered Saturday. Another baby, stillborn, Huntsman told police, was also found.
“She was always aloof, quiet, and never put out any effort to reciprocate,” Wall said. “But knowing what we know now, she had to have felt so terrible about what she had done. How could she talk to anyone?”
Saturday was only the third or fourth time that Huntsman’s estranged husband, Darren West, had visited the house since being released from federal prison in January at the end of an eight-year stint for a drug-related offense involving the U.S. mail. Living in a halfway house, West came to the residence to visit the three daughters he has with Huntsman, who were living in the upstairs of a single story duplex owned by West’s parents.
He was there to clean out the garage, towing a small trailer behind a white closed cab pick-up truck.
“There had been stuff in there for years, boxes on top of boxes,” Michael Esplin told The Daily Beast. Esplin, an attorney who said he is representing the interests of West, who is not charged with any crimes.
“They wanted to get that out of there, take whatever old clothes were in there to [a local charity]. He was there and his mother was helping. They had just started and he was moving the trailer up to put things into it to haul and his mother opened up a box that was on top of a stack and down in there was a plastic bag.”
And there was a smell, the same smell a neighbor had complained of a few weeks earlier, said Wall, who added that the neighbor thought it might be the odor of a mounted deer head gone rancid that was also in the garage.
Inside the plastic bag was a zipped cloth bag, and inside that, the remains of a baby.
West called Huntsman, who lived in a trailer in Salt Lake City 30 miles to the north. She had lived at the West house until 2011, even after West was sent to prison, until West’s parents asked her to leave because of her drinking “and a guy she was dating,” Esplin said.
“So he called her at her place and said, ‘do you know anything about this, and she told him that she had miscarried that baby years ago,” Esplin said.
Within 15 minutes police arrived. At the outset, “we didn’t suspect more” dead babies, Pleasant Grove Police Capt. Michael Roberts revealed in a statement told to The Daily Beast. But within a few minutes of looking around, police filed for a search warrant. By the end of the day, six more bodies were found, each wrapped in clothing and blankets, each in its own cardboard box. Huntsman told police she did the killings between 1996 and 2006.
How did no one know?
“That’s the million dollar question,” Roberts said of her seemingly hidden pregnancies. “Everyone says the same thing—they did not know.” He didn’t believe that the children were part of a multiple birth, although gender and age have yet to be officially determined.
Through forensic anthropology, DNA and medical examination it will be determined who fathered the children, how they died and when.
Huntsman had dated West since 1993 according to a friend, Codi Sorensen, and neighbors said the couple has three daughters, two adults and one who attends junior high school.
On her Facebook page, Huntsman claims they are Sawyer Emme West, 11, Jacee West, 16, and Darian West, 17. Neighbors, though, say the older girls are late teens or early 20s.
“And how do you think that younger one feels?” asked Esplin. “She would have been born during this time span, and she is alive.” Were the babies who were killed all males? he posed. “Why would she live and these others die?”
Then there is the question of how a woman as slight as Huntsman—who stands 5-foot-4 and weighs 105 pounds, according to court records, could hide a pregnancy.
Walls, the neighbor, says now that she had a clue.
“She is tiny, but I saw her a few times and she had put on weight in her stomach and I thought, ‘is she pregnant?’ I’ve owned health clubs, and I thought it was odd for her to gain weight like that.”
She added that when the youngest daughter was born, “no one ever knew she was pregnant until the baby was born.”
When children are killed within 24 hours of their birth, criminal science calls it neonaticide, a rare but hardly unprecedented tragedy. Huntsman would have been between 21 and 31 when she committed the crimes.
That’s about the same age as Waneta Hoyt was when she killed five of her children, ages 48 days to 28 months, over a 6 ½ year period from 1965 to 1971 in upstate New York. Hoyt was arrested in 1994 and given a life sentence. She died in prison in 1998.
Michele Kalina murdered five of her newborns between 1996 and 2010, beginning when she was 30, record show. She received the maximum 20 to 40 years in 2011 in a Pennsylvania court.
During her bond hearing Monday, Huntsman’s voice was flat but she appeared alert, almost matter of fact, on an audio of the proceeding.
“How long have you lived here, ma’am?” the judge asked her.
“All my life,” Huntsman said.
“What keeps you in the area?” he asked.
“Mm, family and kids and I have a home.”
Bail was set at $6 million. Her next hearing is April 21.