California · Female Killers

Nurse kills pregnant woman, cuts baby from womb to claim as her own

May 15, 1975
Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California
Norma Jean Armistead kills Kathryn Viramontes to steal her baby

Armistead, an obstetrics nurse, visited Viramontes at her apartment. Viramontes was then anesthetized intravenously and stabbed, receiving a deep gash to her neck which penetrated her spine. The victim was 9-months pregnant at the time of her murder, and Armistead removed her son by cesarean section.

After the murder, Armistead took the baby to the hospital where she worked and claimed she had delivered the infant en route to the hospital. Hospital staff became suspicious, especially after an examination revealed Armistead had not delivered a child recently, and police were notified. It was also found Armistead had had a hysterectomy in the 1960s.

Viramontes was discovered later in the morning of her murder, found by her three children whose ages ranged from 4 to 8. Her autopsy revealed she had bled to death from her stab wounds. Police quickly connected the murdered woman and the stolen newborn, Armistead was arrested for murder, and the baby was returned to his father.

It was soon revealed this was not the first newborn Armistead had kidnapped. In September 1974, Armistead had been the only medical personnel in a delivery room during the birth of a baby girl. She told the parents their daughter was stillborn and produced a corpse. Unknown to the family at the time, the swapped baby had died nine days before, and had been kept in frozen storage at the hospital. Despite the body showing signs of deterioration, emitting a “foul” smell, and being noticeably smaller than a full-term baby, hospital doctors accepted Armistead’s story. Eight months later, the stolen baby was found in Armistead’s home and returned to her biological parents following a conclusive blood test proving her identity.

During trial, Armistead claimed she had gone to Viramontes’ apartment to administer labor-inducing medication (Viramontes was a week past her due date at the time of her murder). Armistead claimed she then had a “vision,” believing her victim to be her boyfriend’s former wife, whom she believed she was attacking during the murder. After she washed her hands clean of blood, she testified, she noticed Viramontes was “dead or dying” and cut her fetus from her womb to save his life.

Armistead was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Sources:
“Money Awarded to Mother, Daughter.” The Star Press [Muncie, Indiana]. August 1, 1979
“Woman Guilty Of Killing For Baby.” Pampa Daily News. February 19, 1976
“Nurse’s sanity contested.” The Citizen [Ottawa, Ontario]. February 18, 1976
“Murdered Mother’s Baby Awarded to Her Boyfriend.” The Burlington Free Press. December 20, 1975
“Slain woman anesthetized before baby was removed, doctor feels.” The Times Standard [Eureka, California]. June 14, 1975
“Blood Tests May End Mystery Of Lost Baby Linked to Slaying.” New York Times. June 1, 1975
“Parentage Ruling Awaiting.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. May 30, 1975 (image source)
“Mother Killed, Baby Cut Out.” Simpson’s Leader-Times [Kittanning, Pennsylvania]. May 19, 1975

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