Woman charged with kidnapping baby found in Iowa

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TOWN OF BELOIT, Wis. (AP) - A woman who pretended to be pregnant stole her half-sister’s newborn boy from a Wisconsin home and left him in a storage crate outside an Iowa gas station in frigid temperatures as police closed in, according to court documents filed Friday.

Federal prosecutors in Madison charged Kristen Smith of Denver with kidnapping Friday afternoon, hours after an Iowa police chief miraculously discovered Kayden Powell, who is nearly a week old, alive and well in the plastic storage crate that morning. Police found a prosthetic pregnancy belly in Smith’s car along with baby clothes, a car seat and a stroller, but no sign of Kayden, according to the affidavit.

The discovery of the infant shortly after 10 a.m. Friday capped a frantic search that involved scores of police officers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.

“He’s strong,” the newborn’s great-uncle, Mark Bennett, said of the boy. “I’m glad that baby is still living instead of in a ditch somewhere on a strange highway.”

Online court records didn’t list Smith’s case or a defense attorney Friday evening. She faces life in prison if convicted.

According to police and the affidavit, the boy’s mother, Brianna Marshall, called police around 4:30 a.m. Thursday to report her newborn had vanished from his bassinet in Bennett’s home, where she and the baby’s father, Bruce Powell, had been staying.

She said Smith had been at the house but left a couple hours earlier to return to Colorado. While police were at the house, Smith called on her cellphone. She told police that Marshall and Bruce Powell were planning to move to Denver on Saturday to live with her and she had Kayden’s clothes in the car but didn’t have the boy with her.

Police told her to pull over for questioning. An officer met her at a Kum & Go gas station near Interstate 80 in West Branch, Iowa. She was arrested about 5:30 a.m. on an outstanding Texas warrant.

The affidavit said Smith denied any knowledge of Kayden’s whereabouts. A search of her cellphone revealed emails in which she said she gave birth on Feb. 5, according to the document. A search of her Facebook page turned up postings in which she claimed she was pregnant.

Smith didn’t appear pregnant, according to the affidavit. A pregnancy test administered while she was in custody came back negative, U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said. Smith also failed a lie-detector test regarding Kayden’s location, eventually saying that the infant’s parents had given the infant to another family member in Chicago, the prosecutor said.

Meanwhile, dozens of police officers began searching for the child at possible stop-offs along Smith’s route from Wisconsin to Iowa. West Branch Police Chief Mike Horihan decided to check the area around a BP station about 500 yards from the Kum & Go station where Smith was arrested. He heard a baby’s cries and discovered Kayden in a closed storage crate alongside the building. The newborn was swaddled in blankets and was responsive and healthy, the chief said.

“I had tears in my eyes,” BP station manager Jay Patel said, recalling his reaction to the police chief telling him that the infant had been found. “It’s good news but it’s sad, too.”

Temperatures in West Branch, about 180 miles southwest of the Town of Beloit, dipped below zero Thursday night into Friday. They were still in the single digits when the baby was found.

“Surprisingly with the weather the way it was, he was surprisingly healthy,” Horihan, the Iowa police chief, said. “To be honest with you, that’s not what I expected.”

The baby was transported to an Iowa City hospital, where he was reunited with his parents and released Friday evening.

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