CHICAGO — A mother and her daughter have been charged in the killing of a 19-year-old pregnant woman who was strangled before her baby boy was cut from her womb, a horrific crime authorities said may have been committed because they wanted to keep the child.
Detectives found coaxial cable used to strangle Marlen Ochoa-Lopez in the same garbage can where her body was found outside the family's Southwest Side home, Chicago police officials said at a Thursday news conference.
Clarisa Figueroa, 46, and her daughter, Desiree, 24, were both charged with one count each of first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child causing permanent disability. The elder Figueroa's boyfriend, Piotr Bobak, 40, was charged with concealment of a homicide. Police said the younger Figueroa confessed to helping her mother strangle Ochoa-Lopez.
Police said the motive was unclear, but police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said "we can only assume" the Figueroas planned to raise the baby as their own. Officials said the elder Figueroa had lost a son in his 20s to natural causes within the last few years.
Ochoa-Lopez, who was also the mother of a 3-year-old son, disappeared April 23 after leaving Latino Youth High School in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood. Nine months pregnant, the teen went to Figueroa's home after the older woman offered a double stroller and baby clothes. The two had met through a Facebook group for mothers. Once inside the home in the 4100 block of West 77th Place, police said Ochoa-Lopez was killed and the baby removed.
The newborn had problems breathing, and the elder Figueroa made a frantic 911 call saying the baby was "pale and blue," officials said. The baby was rushed to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where the teen's family said the boy was brain-dead but still hooked up Thursday to life support.
Authorities said Ochoa-Lopez had been to the home before.. "Apparently, Ms. Ochoa had bought other baby items from Clarisa in the past, so they knew each other," Johnson told reporters.
Police said detectives didn't begin to piece the case together until May 7 -- two weeks after Ochoa-Lopez went missing -- when a friend of the teenage mom mentioned that she had joined a chat site on Facebook. On checking out the site, detectives learned Ochoa-Lopez had gone to the Figueroa home. Detectives went to the home and interviewed the younger Figueroa, who eventually disclosed that her 46-year-old mother had just given birth to a baby. A search of the neighborhood revealed Ochoa-Lopez's car parked not far away, police said.
That same day, detectives went to the hospital to talk to the elder Figueroa, who denied Ochoa-Lopez had shown up at her house on April 23. Police subpoenaed hospital records and eventually learned from DNA evidence that the newborn was not the elder Figueroa's child as she had claimed.
On Tuesday, detectives searched the Figueroa home. Inside a garbage can in the backyard, police found Ochoa-Lopez's body and the coaxial cable used to strangle her, authorities said. Detectives also found the remnants of burned clothes and the indication of blood throughout the Figueroa home, as well as bleach and cleaning solution.
Ochoa-Lopez's father was critical of police efforts, saying he didn't think the department gave enough attention early on to the disappearance because of the family's immigrant background.
"We came to this country to give a good life for my daughter," Arnulfo Ochoa said Thursday outside the Cook County medical examiner's office, where he had gone to view his daughter. "We just want justice for what they did for my daughter."
The family also questioned why doctors at Advocate Christ Medical Center didn't ask more questions when the baby was taken there. "Why didn't they notice?" Ochoa asked.
In a brief statement, Advocate Christ Medical Center declined comment "out of respect for patient privacy and in compliance with federal and state regulations."
At the police news conference, officials were pressed by reporters to explain why detectives weren't able to more quickly figure out what happened to Ochoa-Lopez.
"Once they got that break on May 7, then things started going quickly," Johnson said. "There was nothing to point us in that direction in the beginning.
"Remember, this is real life. This isn't '48 Hours,' " Johnson said later, referring to a TV crime show. "It doesn't work like that. It takes time."
Brendan Deenihan, deputy chief of detectives, said he understood "everyone looking back and playing armchair quarterback. It's like all these red flags that happened on the 23rd of April. But these defendants also ... were not that wise. I mean the body's in the garbage can on the premises with the murder weapon inside, and we were still able to get it that much later."
Johnson also addressed the frustration felt by Ochoa-Lopez's family.
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"All of us up here are parents, brothers, sisters, sons or daughters, so it doesn't escape us the emotional drain that something like this takes on people," the superintendent said. "I can't even ... pretend to imagine what that family is going through right now. They should be celebrating the birth of a young baby. Instead ... they're mourning the loss of the mother and possibly that young child."
Cook County court records show that the elder Figueroa had two separate misdemeanor charges years ago, one for battery in 1998 and another for marijuana possession in 2008. Both cases were dropped.
Bobak has convictions for two misdemeanors -- one for public indecency in which he was sentenced in 2009 to six months of court supervision, the records show. He was also convicted of battery in 2012 and sentenced to two years of court supervision and community service in the Cook County Sheriff's Department's Sheriff's Work Alternative Program.
At the time of his arrest, Bobak was on parole after being convicted of aggravated battery to a peace officer in downstate Morgan County. He was paroled in 2018 after being sentenced to three years in prison, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
In February of this year, an arrest warrant was issued for Bobak in a misdemeanor theft case where he was accused of stealing someone's methadone.
Desiree Figueroa was convicted this past January for misdemeanor theft and was sentenced to four months of court supervision and community service. She missed a court date on April 29, the same day an arrest warrant was issued for her. She was also charged in 2013 with misdemeanor assault but the case was dropped.
The following is a timeline of the case, pieced together from police, fire officials, the medical examiner's office, Ochoa-Lopez's family and neighbors of the home where Ochoa-Lopez was found.
In the days before she disappeared, Ochoa-Lopez visited an online Facebook group for mothers, looking for a stroller and baby clothes for her son, due to be born in less than a month. She came into contact with a woman, allegedly the elder Figueroa, who told her "my girl has all brand new boy clothes her son never wore," according to a screenshot provided by Ochoa-Lopez's family.
"Yes girl thats fine thank you so much," Ochoa-Lopez responded.
"No problem girl," the woman replied. "I know how it is she was lucky to have two baby showers so she just loves to spread the wealth I'm fine with the help inbox me for more info ok."
After classes on April 23, Ochoa-Lopez drove from her high school in Pilsen to a one-story brick home in the Scottsdale neighborhood, about 9 miles away. Around 6 p.m. that day, the Chicago Fire Department answered a 911 call from the home reporting that a child had just been born. When paramedics arrived, they saw "the baby was in obvious distress," according to department spokesman Larry Langford, and the child was taken to the hospital.
Some paramedics stayed on the scene with the woman they believed to be the mother and asked the woman if she had any cramps, bleeding or dizziness, and she said no. She was taken to the same hospital as a precaution.
Paramedics do not typically conduct physical examinations after childbirth, Langford said. At the time, there was nothing suspicious that raised alarms.
The baby was placed in the intensive care unit, where he remained Thursday. The family has said the boy has no brain function, apparently from lack of oxygen. In the following days, the residents of the home on 77th Place apparently set up a GoFundMe page for the baby, according to screenshots provided by Ochoa-Lopez's family. The elder Figueroa was listed as organizing the fundraising drive, which sought $9,000. The page featured the picture of a small baby hooked up to a breathing tube and monitors.
It has since been taken down. A spokeswoman for GoFundMe said "this campaign was removed from the platform because it violated GoFundMe terms and conditions. All donors will be refunded."
After police learned of the connection between Figueroa and Ochoa-Lopez, the 19-year-old's black Honda Civic was found abandoned in the 7700 block of South Keeler Avenue, not far from where her body would be discovered. Neighbors on the block said they had seen the car around the neighborhood and noticed several parking tickets on it.
Ochoa-Lopez's family said police told them that DNA samples from the baby were a match with DNA extracted from the teen's toothbrush and hairbrush. The family has been visiting the baby at the hospital.
On Tuesday afternoon, police officers were seen escorting four people from the home on 77th Place, two women and two men. A day later, the medical examiner's office was notified of a body at the 77th Place address, and it was identified as Ochoa-Lopez.