Hundreds gather for slain pregnant victim’s funeral

? Hundreds of mourners gathered Tuesday in this small northwestern Missouri farming community to bury a young woman who was strangled and whose baby was cut from her womb.

Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, of Skidmore, was found by her mother Thursday in a pool of blood in her small home, her baby missing. A woman Stinnett knew from breeding and showing rat terrier dogs made a first court appearance Monday on a charge of kidnapping resulting in death.

Family and friends said the suspect, Lisa M. Montgomery, 36, of Melvern, Kan., tried to pass off the infant as her own before her arrest Friday. The baby girl, Victoria Jo Stinnett, spent the weekend in a Topeka, Kan., hospital before going home Monday afternoon with her father, Zeb Stinnett, and another relative.

A friend of the Stinnett family on his way to the funeral said he drove both Bobbie Jo and Zeb to school while they were students in the Nodaway-Holt School District.

“I’ve known her since she was a baby,” said Carl Montgomery, of Skidmore. “She grew up into a beautiful swan.”

He was part of a large crowd that filled the Price Funeral Home in Maryville for the service on a bitter cold day. The parking lot was packed, and cars lined the streets.

“I have lost several kids over the years, and this one hurts,” Carl Montgomery said. “I’ve never been so ashamed of my name in my life.”

The Rev. Harold Hamon, who married the Stinnetts in spring 2003 at the Skidmore Christian Church, spoke at the funeral. Stinnett was then buried at Hillcrest Cemetery in Skidmore, where members of the community gathered for an evening reception with her family.

Near the downtown Skidmore building where the potluck dinner was under way, Bill Dragoo recalled the shy, young mother-to-be and her husband, who lived about a half block from Dragoo.

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the Hillcrest Cemetery near Skidmore, Mo. Hundreds of mourners attended her burial Tuesday.

“There are not enough words to tell you how good of people they really were,” said Dragoo, 52, who helped construct Stinnett’s dg kennel. “The community is 100 percent behind them. Everybody knew how good of people they were.”

Inside the community building, mourners declined requests for interviews. Asked why, an older man piped up, “1980.” That’s when someone shot 47-year-old Ken Rex McElroy, a man with a violent history, to death in broad daylight. No one admitted seeing anything and the case has never been solved. Many in the community resented the media spotlight the case cast on their town.

Large crowd

Cars lined the highway for more than a mile outside the cemetery, and the mourners huddled tightly under a blue tent to ward off the cold during the 10-minute burial service. Hamon told them they were gathered not for an ending, but a beginning, and that Stinnett was now in a safe place.

Reading from the Bible at times, he stressed that now is not a time for anger, but healing.

Unidentified mourners grieve after funeral services for Bobbie Jo Stinnett at Price Funeral Home in Maryville, Mo.

The crowd that came for the funeral packed the flower-filled sanctuary and overflowed into the entranceway. Many mourners were unable to get into the service, and — some crying and exchanging hugs — they took turns letting each other get closer to the sanctuary so they could listen to what was being said.

Afterward, the pallbearers milled around outside in the cold as a gold coffin was loaded into a hearse.

Previous contact

The FBI would not comment on whether Stinnett and Montgomery had met before Thursday. But a Nebraska dog trainer who planned to attend the funeral said the two women had chatted on the Internet and attended the same dog shows, including one in April in Abilene, Kan.

The two were even photographed together at the dog show in Abilene, said Nancy Strudl, of Omaha, Neb.

During their down time at one show, Strudl said some of the contestants went to a cafe and talked for hours. Strudl said Stinnett was shy but “a sweetheart after you got to know her.” Stinnett knew so much about the genetics of the rat terrier breed that she gave advice to others, Strudl said.

Strudl also said Stinnett “stood up” for Lisa Montgomery, whom Strudl accused of misrepresenting the pedigree of dogs she sold and claiming photos taken by others as her own.

“She said, ‘Maybe it was just a misunderstanding,”‘ Strudl said. “She was so trusting and she convinced them to give (Montgomery) another chance.”

Strudl said she knew Stinnett and her husband were looking forward to the birth of their daughter. Montgomery also said she was pregnant, but the other breeders were skeptical because she “never gained an ounce,” Strudl said.

“She told us all she was pregnant with twins, and about a month and a half ago her messages were ‘I lost one of the twins. It’s so terrible, but they saved one twin,'” Strudl said. “We didn’t believe she was pregnant. I don’t know how she fooled her family and community.”