MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A woman accused of kidnapping her 5-day-old nephew and leaving him outside an Iowa gas station as police closed in on her has a long criminal history with frequent moves and multiple names, but nothing in her past indicates why she might have taken a child.
The woman who was arrested in Iowa has been charged as 31-year-old Kristen R. Smith, of Denver. But court documents and warrants obtained by The Associated Press show the same woman faces other charges elsewhere as Kristen L. Pearson, who is 32.
Even Smith’s family appears confused by her identity. She is accused of taking her nephew from a Town of Beloit home where she had been staying with her half-sister and the child. In a 911 call released Monday, Brianna Marshall, the baby’s 18-year-old mother, told police after she discovered her son missing that she wasn’t sure of her half-sister’s last name. Police quickly tracked Smith to Iowa, and the baby was found the next day and returned to his mother.
Police have refused to speculate on a possible motive, though court documents say Smith had written emails saying she gave birth on Feb. 5. She also wrote Facebook posts about being pregnant and had a prosthetic pregnancy belly in her car when police arrested her.
She faces active warrants relating to fraud, false representation and document tampering in unrelated cases in at least three states. In Texas, she has been charged as Smith. But in Indiana and Wisconsin, she is charged under the name Pearson.
Smith appears to have changed her last name after marrying last year, a move that’s not unusual for women. But the use of different middle initials and two different birthdates seems to have tripped up law enforcement and may have led to Smith being released from a Colorado jail while she was wanted for felony crimes in other states.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office in Tarrant County, Texas, said her office confirmed the two women were the same person using fingerprints and photographs.
The office had an outstanding warrant for Smith when she was arrested in October and booked into the Arapahoe County, Colo., jail. Despite that, she was released Nov. 3.
Melody McDonald, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County district attorney, said she didn’t know why.
“That’s actually a very good question,” she said.
Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Capt. Jared Rowlison said he knew Pearson was wanted in Indiana and in Texas. He declined to comment on why Pearson was released or why police originally picked her up. Documents later provided by the sheriff’s office also did not answer those questions.
Smith faces charges under the name Pearson in Kosciusko County, Ind., and Marathon County, Wis. The AP matched a 2011 booking photo from Marathon County to a mug shot from Arapahoe County and the mug shot taken in Iowa last week to confirm that Smith and Pearson were the same person.
She was previously convicted in Wisconsin as Pearson on four counts of issuing bad checks worth less than $2,500 and was sentenced to nine months in jail, online court records show.
Smith’s attorney and husband have not responded to phone messages about the kidnapping case. Calls to other relatives, believed to be her in-laws, went unanswered before the phone numbers were disconnected this week. No one answered the door of the family’s Denver home.
Federal prosecutors allege Smith took the baby from southern Wisconsin early last Thursday, five days after he was born. After the baby’s mother discovered him missing and called police, an officer reached Smith on her cellphone while she was passing through Iowa and told her to stop for questioning.
Smith was taken into custody on the Texas warrant charging her with tampering with government records. She was charged with kidnapping the next day, hours after a police chief found the missing infant, alive and well, despite being left in freezing weather for up to 29 hours.
Wisconsin officials have referred all questions about the case to the FBI. FBI spokesman Leonard Peace said he couldn’t comment on the active investigation.
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