Seven years later: baby snatched from mom’s womb
Little Hope was cut from the womb in a brutal attack seven years ago that killed her mom. Today she is thriving but her family is still heartsore
‘She knows what happened to her mother’
H ER eyes sparkle as she sits in her backyard with her family’s pet dog on her lap. She looks like any oth er lively seven-year-old girl but as she turns her head a jagged scar is clearly visible – a tragic reminder of her traumatic birth and the mother she never got to meet. Seven years ago her story left Soouth Africans reeling. As a nationn we’re used to being bombarded with grim news stories but this was in another league: an innocent baby becoming a victim of crime before she was even born. While little Hope was still in the womb, her heavily pregnant mother, Valencia Behrens, aged 35, was lured to a house in Toekomsrus, a township in Randfontein, Gauteng, by a neighbour with the promise of a spare pram and baby clothes.
But it was all a ruse. Desperate for a baby of her own, Loretta Cooke (then 30) decided to steal someone else’s. When Valencia arrived, she tied her up and, using a razor blade, cut open her abdomen.
In the process of making an incision in Valencia’s uterus during the attack, Lo retta also cut Hope’s head.
But while her mom bled to death, the infant miraculously survived.
Hours after her birth she was discovered lying on the cold floor of Loretta’s home in a pool of blood, still attached to her mother’s uterus.
As Valencia was nearing her due date, the birth wasn’t too premature but what concerned doctors was the big gash on Hope’s head near her right ear. She ended up spending a few weeks in hospital before her family was given the all-clear to take her home.
“The scar will never go away,” says Hope’s paternal grandmother, Siena Pieterse (85), who’s been helping to raise her since birth.
And neither will the void left by the terrible loss of her mother.
AS she enters the living room of her grandmother’s home, dressed in her smart school uniform, the little girl stops and greets us softly.
Seven years since that fateful day Hope, whose real name can’t be revealed, is a bright Grade 2 learner who attends a nearby primary school.
Photos of her adorn the walls of the modest home. She has a shy demeanour just like her mom had, we’re told.
“She knows what happened to her mother,” Siena says.
For years she agonised what she was going to tell her grandchild but in the end she decided it was best to let her know the truth.
“She and her siblings will tell you that their mother is in heaven.”
Even after so many years Valencia’s absence is palpable. She lived just down the road from Siena.
After her death the elderly Siena decided to step in. She’s helping her son, Joseph, raise his five children, including miracle baby Hope.
When we arrive, he’s just stepped out for a while but his sister, Jeannie Davids (49), and Siena welcome us in.
Jeannie remembers the fateful Friday of 6 January 2012 very well. “What a day it was,” she says. She was doing laundry for a neighbour when someone told her something had happened to Valencia.
“I ran to Loretta’s house and when I got to the front door I was told to go around to the back,” she recalls.
“When I got there I saw Valencia lying there outside, covered. People who were standing around told me she had fallen and that I was too late because she was dead already,” Jeannie adds.
She remembers seeing Valencia’s red dress protruding from under the cover ing. When police arrived and lifted the cover, she wasn’t prepared for what shee saw.
“Police told me she’d been cut open,”,” she says.
By this time Joseph, a part- timee painter, had already been alerted andd was on his way to the clinich-whereneigh bours said Loretta’sdmother, Matilda, had taken the baby.
No one seemed to know what had hap pened. The last time people had seen Valencia wast-whenshewalkedtoLoret ta’s housed to fetch the baby goodies she’d been promised.
DURING court proceedings it emerged Loretta had been faking a pregnancy. Apparently she’d even fooled her colleagues who threw her a baby shower. But it was all a lie.
After she was arrested Loretta continued to claim she was innocent and that Valencia had cut herself, but in 2014 she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Siena has also been helping to raise Valencia’s other daughters, aged between 20 and 11. Hope is too shy to speak to us but Jeannie tells us the children are doing well, although two of them have had a few problems along the way.
“The eldest finished matric last year, although with problems. She failed it the first time but now she’s done,” Jeannie says. Her 13-year-old sister is also struggling. “She developed epilepsy about two or three years ago,” Jeannie explains.
But despite this, they’re coping. She says she thinks it helps that they’re encouraged to talk about their mother as much possible.
“Her children were always around her. She loved them veryy much. Theyy were
very important to her.”
Jeannie admits she’s still struggling to come to terms with her death.
“It’s still hard for everyone. But we can’t all break down. Someone has to be here and remain strong. I break down on my own but when the children are around I can’t,” she says.
They maintain a close relationship with Valencia’s family.
No one in the Pieterse household is employed at the moment so Valencia’s cousins and aunts frequently help them out with things such as food and money for the children, Jeannie says.
It doesn’t make it easy for her that she sometimes bumps into Loretta’s mother. “She doesn’t want to greet us.” Jeannie tells us that Loretta sent correctional services to their house at the beginning of last year, asking for an opportunity to meet them so she could apologise. But she says they’ve declined to meet with Loretta because they don’t think she’d be willing to tell them what they want to hear.
“Only she can tell us the whole story but she doesn’t want to,” Jeannie says.
“We don’t want to hear the sorry. We want to hear the why.
“Why did she do what she did to Valencia? If she can’t tell us, she can’t say she’s sorry.”
Hope with her paternal family family, aunt Jeannie Davies (left) and grandma Siena Pieterse. The family is still trying to come to terms with the brutal murder of Hope’s mom, Valencia.
ABOVE: The scar where Hope was cut by a blade bl d whilehil stillill iinsideid herh mother’sh’ womb. b RIGHT: Hope with the family dog.
Jeannie is still haunted by the events of the day Valencia was murdered.