"My husband and I are victims of an emotional rape," says Marie. About a year ago, she and her husband put a want ad online for a baby to adopt. Within three days, a woman e-mailed Marie. She said her name was Bella and that she was 29 years old. About four days after Marie and her husband met Bella online, she chose them to be parents of her baby.
"Bella had my friends and my family write reference letters," Marie begins, but her thoughts are halted by a wave of emotion. "This is hard," she says, wiping away a tear. "They poured out their hearts to her, telling her what kind of parents we would be. We just thought she was perfect."
When Bella revealed that she would be having a girl, the couple went shopping. They purchased clothes for the child, including a soft footed jumper, which Marie displays. "That's what she was supposed to wear home," she says.
They decorated their nursery and continued to make purchases, buoyed by Bella's encouragement. "'Send me pictures of what you bought the baby!'" Marie recalls her saying. "She called me. 'Are you going to the mall today? Are you going to buy the baby something today?'" she recounts.
Marie and her husband painted the nursery yellow, but Bella said if they kept it yellow the baby would think the sun was always up and would stay awake. So they redid the room in pink. Marie bought dark furniture, which Bella said was too depressing. "I hand painted the furniture white for her," says Marie. "Whatever she wanted, we did." Her desires included their buying plane tickets to come see her for the birth. Before long, the couple was out approximately $13,000, according to Marie. "Some of that includes the nursery, time off from work, plane tickets, reservations, a second mortgage on our home."
Marie and her husband spoke to Bella and agreed that she would visit them on the first of November, but the day before, she called to report that the doctor said her blood pressure was too high and that she was unable to fly. "I was a little paranoid that she was going to change her mind," says Marie, "so I paid a service to do a reverse cell phone search and it came back to her real name, Melissa. My heart sank. My stomach dropped.
Shawnee invited Jen out for the ultrasound. "I was just very, very excited," says Jen. "I left here to fly to Minnesota. When I stopped in Chicago, there was a voice mail. 'Hi, Jen, this is Shawnee. I'm really sorry that I wasn't able to contact you before you left, but I was admitted to the hospital last night and the baby was miscarried. I wish you luck, and I know you'll be a good parent.' She didn't sound upset, and after I listened to the message several times what I heard was just the slightest chuckle at the end of her comment. If she had held on the line any longer, she almost would have laughed."
Jen wasn't sure whether or not to believe it. "One of the first things that crossed my mind was, well she got a better offer," she says. "Once I returned home, I went back to the Web site where I had initially connected with her and I said, â€˜This is what's happened to me, and if anyone out there has been in contact with this woman, I need to speak with you,' and I began to get e-mails right away from other people whom she scammed and was able to uncover at least five families who said, 'We talked to her too.' They'd been victimized by her exactly the same way. I never really understood what her motive was because I didn't give her any money, and I wasn't supporting her. I ultimately realized she was just in it for the emotional torture."
Marie adds, "She ripped all of our hearts out, but she wouldn't tell me why. I asked her how she could do this to my son, how could she tell him, 'You're going to be a big brother,' and she knew there was no baby. She crushed our family, she stole our hopes, and she stole our dreams."
Marie says, "I did my crying, and then I said, 'I can't let her do this to anyone else. I'm going to stop her.' I got on the phone, wrote people, e-mailed people. I went to our local law enforcement. Although they sympathized with me, they stated they can't do anything because money did not exchange hands. I wasn't going to stop there. I started a MySpace page telling my story. One lady e-mailed me pictures of her yard. I posted them on MySpace page in hopes that someone who lived nearby would recognize it, and that's what happened. I knew I had the right house."
"I think that she got a great deal of pleasure [from] having people be that excited and having all the attention be on her," Jen speculates. "I think, if I could meet Melissa face to face, I would first like to know why. I think that's always been my burning question is why. Why would you do this?"
Melissa has contacted Marie using an online instant messenger. "She would post a picture of a newborn and put 'Hahaha' in the quotes," says Marie. "The very last thing that she told me was that she can't wait to see me, to look into my eyes and know that I'm the one. And I want to give her that chance."