A Chicago woman accused of strangling a pregnant teen and cutting out her unborn baby had planned the killing for weeks, having first lied that she was expecting a child, and then using Facebook to find and lure her target, authorities said Friday.
Clarisa Figueroa, 46, strangled 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez at Figueroa’s Chicago home last month, then removed the teen’s baby from her body and pretended it was hers, authorities say.
Figueroa and her daughter, Desiree Figueroa — who police say helped in the strangulation — were arrested this week after investigators found the teen’s body in a trash can in Figueroa’s yard Tuesday.
Clarisa and Desiree Figueroa, 24, were charged Thursday with first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child less than 13 years old. Clarisa Figueroa’s boyfriend, Piotr Bobak, 40, has been charged with concealing the death of a person and one felony count of concealing a homicidal death.
Police have said Ochoa-Lopez, a high school student, went to Figueroa’s home at least twice this year after connecting on a Facebook group for mothers, where the teen accepted Figueroa’s offer of baby items.
The baby boy is hospitalized in grave condition, and was on life support Friday, Chicago police said.
Suspect pretended she was pregnant and lured victim to her home
Friday, assistant state’s attorney James Murphy outlined for reporters the alleged actions Clarisa took to lure the pregnant mother.
According to prosecutors, Clarisa Figueroa’s 20-year-old son Xander died in 2018. In October, she announced that she was pregnant, which was a surprise to her family, since she had her Fallopian tubes tied.
By December, Clarisa Figueroa had posted a picture of an ultrasound on Facebook, showing what she claimed was the baby she was carrying, Murphy said.
In February, Clarisa Figueroa posted a picture of a crib and baby’s room to a Facebook page aimed at helping improve access to baby items for families in need, Murphy said. The next month, she posted on the page again, asking, “Who is due in May” and “Where is the May mama’s at.”
One of the people she connected with, Murphy said, was Ochoa-Lopez, who at that time was seven months pregnant. Clarisa Figueroa offered Ochoa-Lopez clothes for the baby and suggested they talk in a private message.
Murphy said that by April 1, Clarisa Figueroa had told her daughter that “she needed help killing a pregnant woman and taking a baby.”
Around that time, Ochoa-Lopez first visited with Figueroa and Desiree, Murphy said. Desiree’s boyfriend was also present.
At some point on April 1, they were all together, and Clarisa and Desiree “kept acting strange and on numerous occasions went into a separate room together,” leading the boyfriend to tell Desiree that he would call police if they attempted to kill Ochoa-Lopez.
The teen then left the house, and Clarisa Figueroa and Desiree told the boyfriend that it was simply an April Fool’s joke, Murphy said.
How prosecutors say the killing happened
On April 23, Murphy said, Ochoa-Lopez returned and sat on a couch. While Desiree Figueroa distracted the teen with a photo album, the elder Figueroa wrapped a cable around the teen’s neck from behind, Murphy said.
When the teen was able to put her fingers between her neck and the cable, the elder Figueroa told her daughter that she wasn’t doing her job, Murphy said.
Desiree “then stepped up and began to peel the victim’s fingers from the cable one by one,” Murphy said.
Clarisa Figueroa then got on top of the teen and strangled her for about four to five minutes, the prosecutor said.
When Ochoa-Lopez was dead, the elder Figueroa cut the teen’s baby from her womb, and then called 911 and said she’d just delivered a baby that wasn’t breathing, according to Murphy. Both were hospitalized, but Clarisa Figueroa showed no signs that might have suggested she had just delivered a baby, Murphy said.
Ochoa-Lopez’s husband reported her missing on April 24, police say.
But it would take nearly three weeks before police unraveled what happened, culminating in investigators finding Ochoa-Lopez’s remains in a trash can in the backyard of Clarisa Figueroa’s home, authorities say.
The victim’s family alleges police should have made the arrests much sooner, saying that investigators didn’t immediately act on leads that the family and community members were providing.
‘A nightmare, a horror film’
The three defendants appeared in court Friday and a judge ruled they would held without bond.
Before the hearing, Ochoa-Lopez’s family publicly asked that the suspects not be granted bond.
Julie Contreras, speaking on the family’s behalf, said the relatives were living “a nightmare, a horror film.”
“Giving (the suspects) no bond not only helps this family, it helps the public security in the city of Chicago, the nation and probably even the world,” Contreras, of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Friday at a Cook County court building.
Police say their break in the case came last week
Police say a break in the case came May 7 when a friend of the victim told detectives about her Facebook exchanges with Figueroa before she vanished.
Detectives visited the Figueroa home that day. Desiree Figueroa told them her mother was in the hospital for problems with her legs. Then she revealed that her mother had just delivered a baby, authorities said.
The investigators searched the area and found Ochoa-Lopez’s vehicle “not far away,” Chicago police Deputy Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan told reporters Thursday.
That same day, detectives interviewed the elder Figueroa at a hospital. She denied Ochoa-Lopez came to her house April 23 but admitted to meeting her in the past, Deenihan said.
Suspicious, detectives spent the next several days subpoenaing hospital records and collecting DNA samples from the baby and Figueroa.
“We determined that Clarisa (Figueroa) was not the mother through DNA,” Deenihan said.
DNA testing did show that Ochoa-Lopez’s husband, Yovani Lopez, was the father, Deenihan said.
The woman’s body was found in a trash can this week
Tuesday, armed with a search warrant, crime lab officers searched Figueroa’s house.
Detectives discovered bleach and cleaning solutions in the home, along with evidence of burned clothing and blood on the floors of the living room, bathroom and a hallway, according to Deenihan.
“They are finding remains of burned clothes, they are finding some blood indication on the living room carpet, some blood indication on the hallway, some blood indication on the bathroom floor,” Deenihan said.
Ochoa-Lopez’s body was found in a garbage can in the back yard, along with a cable used to strangle her and other evidence, police said.
A medical examiner determined that Ochoa-Lopez died of strangulation. Early Thursday, Desiree Figueroa told detectives she helped her mother strangle Ochoa-Lopez, police said.
The motive for the killing is under investigation, but Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Thursday he believes Clarisa Figueroa wanted to raise the child as her own.
Family says police had opportunities to learn what happened sooner
Ochoa-Lopez’s family said they notified authorities about her interaction with the woman much sooner than May 7.
Her husband tried to immediately report her missing to the police, but was told to come back in 72 hours, according to Jacobita Cortes, a pastor of a Chicago church that the family had asked for help.
The husband did, and the family hired a private investigator who Cortes says helped to find Ochoa-Lopez’s car near the Figueroa home.
They also turned to the church for help in reaching out to the community at large, plastering the neighborhood with fliers.
Residents last week started calling the church to report that they had seen the young mother enter the house where she was found dead. They said that one of the women who lived there, in her 40s, suddenly had a baby without ever appearing to be pregnant, according to Cortes.
Ochoa-Lopez’s father, Arnulfo Ochoa, said there were opportunities to find his daughter sooner.
“(The private detective) went into that (Facebook) page and found all the information, and he gave it to the police. But even then, they took too long to get there,” Ochoa said at a news conference Thursday.
“There’s going to be anger associated,” Johnson, the police superintendent, said Thursday. “When things of this nature occur, the first thing people do is look in retrospect, what could we have done to maybe prevent this? I know our detectives do the best they can.”